Antonio Banderas: I Needed to “Get in the Mud” With Pedro Almodovar Again

Antonio Banderas says he's more comfortable in the skin of a working actor than an international superstar.

“Sometimes I picture myself like those actors in the 19th century who would go in chariot from village to village and they used to play a comedy at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and Shakespeare at night,” muses Banderas. “And I love that, because it’s my turf.”

The actor isn’t turning the clock back quite that far, but he has revisited his own past by re-teaming on “The Skin I Live In” with director Pedro Almodovar, who discovered him in their native Spain as a 19-year-old for 1982’s “Labyrinth of Passion” and continued to cast Banderas in his films until his turn in 1990’s “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” led the actor’s to global acclaim and subsequent Hollywood movie stardom.

Banderas admits that, despite his roots in Almodovar’s risky, adventurous and art-minded cinema, he’s thoroughly enjoyed headlining in popular mainstream fare like“Desperado,” “The Mask of Zorro” and “Spy Kids.” But he’s also glad to be back in collaboration with the auteur that put him on his path.

“As an actor, I cannot ask a guy working on a road the whole entire week under the sun to go and watch '8 ½' on a weekend, because maybe that’s not what he needs,” he explains. “He probably needs to sit with a girlfriend with a huge bag of popcorn and just watch and entrust in a movie that’s going to make him laugh. But there are people that are searching for movies like this, that they just want to go there and be proposed something different. And Almodovar, that’s what he is.”

“He never played mainstream because he’s not made for that,” the actor continues. “His movies are going to make people have radical opinions about him, whether they want to put him on an altar or they want to just crucify him. That’s what he is – he’s an investigator. He experiments with narrative, actually takes references from many directors, from many different styles, but at the end he became his own genre. Pedro Almodovar is a genre in himself.”

Banderas says that after over two decades of working in Hollywood, he was ready to turn himself over to his mentor once again. “In this particular time in my life as an actor, I really needed to get in the mud with him,” he explains. “I really needed to get my hands dirty and start doing what we used to do in the ‘80s. The satisfaction after the difficulties of the work that has been really difficult at some points is enormous. Because the first time I saw the movie, I was totally surprised. I said ‘Oh my God – he made me play a note that I didn’t even know I had.’ It had to happen, 21 years later, to go back to Pedro Almodovar, my great friend, a great filmmaker, just to realize that there are other doors for me. I am tremendously thankful to him.”

Banderas says that Almodovar first approached him with the idea for “The Skin I Live In” nearly 10 years ago after the director purchased the rights to Thierry Jonquet’s novel "Tarantula," hoping to adapt it into a film. “But then, for all this time, he got involved with other projects and it didn’t happen,” he remembers, “but then I knew that he was working all this time just trying to adapt it in his own personal way…When I read the script I was very surprised, knowing already the fundamental premise of the movie and the story. He was not going to shoot in a linear way, that he established a very strong game with time in the movie with flashbacks, making basically the first part of the movie a question without an answer.”

“The Skin I Live In” has been characterized as something of a horror-thriller, and indeed the film plays almost like Almodovar’s florid take on a David Cronenberg-style story. The twists and turns of the plotline, and the nonlinear way new information is unveiled, are frankly too original and surprising to risk ruining by to summarizing the story here. Suffice to say that both the actor – who plays a brilliant, driven surgeon pushing the extreme boundaries of medical ethics, for intimately personal reasons – and the filmmaker are already generating substantial awards buzz with a film unlike any other that audiences have seen before.

“When I read the script for the first time it was the only time it wasn’t as a spectator of my own movie. Right after that I was contaminated, and it was just jumping into working with Pedro,” says Banderas, who halted his early preparatory work on the upcoming Broadway revival of the musical “Zorba” to take on the film, though he admits the job wasn’t a simple one. “Working with Almodovar is not an easy task. He’s unbelievably precise in the things he wants from you. He doesn’t like you to come in with a bag full of experiences that you’ve have been accumulating over the years as an actor. He loves to just take all of that, throw them out of the window and tell you ‘We’re going to start from zero – that’s the way that we always work, Antonio, and we’re going to repeat that as we used to do in the ‘80s. I didn’t actually call you because of the things you did with me in those years. I want a new you and we’re going to just attack the work and the character from a different perspective.’”

"The Skin I Live In" opens in limited release this Friday

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