Every great filmmaker has his muse. For Hitchcock, it was Grace Kelly. For Scorsese, it’s DeNiro. For Woody Allen, it was first Diane Keaton, then Mia Farrow. And for acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, it’s certainly been Antonio Banderas. Almodóvar first cast the hunky actor in 1982 barely out of his teens in his film Laberinto de Pasiones (Labyrinth of Passion).
Fresh off a successful run at Cannes, Almodóvar appeared alongside Antonio Banderas and the film’s composer for a capacity crowd Q&A following a Los Angeles screening of his latest work Pain and Glory starring Penelope Cruz and Banderas. The event was bookended by rapturous standing ovations. The occasion also provided a rare glimpse into the storied collaboration between the queer filmmaker and his straight leading man who rose to international acclaim in a string of movies that date back to 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down two years later which went on to make household names of the pair.
The audience seemed to hang on Almodóvar’s every word, which was a bit of a challenge, considering his broken English. It’s a shame the Q&A wasn’t subtitled (like the movie), but a few highlights from their exchange were plain and clear.
Banderas first offered a glowing appraisal of Almodóvar’s work, proclaiming the director’s contribution to Spanish society following the demise of the repressive Franco regime and his positive impact on societal attitudes toward the LGBTQ community.
Banderas recalled one of his first impressions after reading an Almodóvar script was how frank and candid it was. He understood he would be playing Almodóvar’s alter ego in the film. But as Almodóvar attested, “he [Banderas] didn’t want to do an imitation of me.” The actor maintains that over the length of their four-decades-long friendship and having worked together on eight films, he still considers Almodóvar a very private person. “I was always respectful of his personal boundaries,” said the actor. “So it was surprising to discover things [about Almodóvar] that I never knew.”
Insofar as their work dynamic is concerned, Banderas says, “we made this like any other movie.” What’s different about Pain and Glory is its emotional terrain, which Banderas describes as being extremely fragile and ephemeral. “They [emotions] are made of crystal. They are not precise.” For his performance, the actor says he relied on an unspoken dialogue between himself and his mentor. “I could feel things that were very emotional for him. There were moments in this movie that were very personal. We used everything.”
Almodóvar then explained that Banderas’ role required him to abandon all the little tricks and tools that any actor collects from throughout a career. Apparently bemused by his outsized stature as an American movie star, Banderas readily acknowledges that he had to approach his character with vulnerability. Almodóvar encouraged Banderas to draw from his own health problems to delve deeper. (Banderas suffered a heart attack in 2017, and underwent a procedure to increase his heart’s circulation. )
When the moderator asked Banderas if his longtime collaboration with Almodóvar left him feeling secure, Banderas offered up an instant and surprising reply. No, he said. “We don’t feel a sense of security. He’s always experimenting. You never know what you’re going to find. He’s very meticulous and he has a very clear idea of what he wants to do.”
Banderas said he began to see Almodóvar’s talent on display yet again after the first week of shooting Pain and Glory. Almodóvar began to relax, and the duo slipped into some of the rhythms that have burnished their careers individually and together for the better part of a lifetime.
Just recently, Banderas nabbed the Best Actor award at Cannes. Now both mentor and muse look forward to the Golden Globes and Oscars — and the projects that will bring them together again.
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Last modified: November 6, 2019