He welcomes us in a white T-shirt and jeans that he designed himself and Balenciaga trainers, sporting a grey beard (“my age, friend, my age”) as demanded by the script of a new film. Nicole (Kempel, his Dutch investment consultant girlfriend) leaves to go to the supermarket. It’s four in the afternoon and Antonio Banderas takes a seat in his spacious living room.
The actor’s new home in Malaga is at the heart of the cultures that gave life and soul to the city: the Phoenician salting vats, the Moorish Alcazaba, the Roman theatre, the Jewish quarter and the Christian cathedral. Above, at the top of the hill is the Gibralfaro castle. The San Juan church tower almost comes through the window. Opposite is Picasso and his museum. Surveys carried out in February revealed that Banderas is the best known living Andalusian in the world today.
There’s little doubt about it. In his apartment that is one big tribute to the city, Antonio Banderas appears relaxed. Very much so.
How do you feel after your fright? [Banderas suffered a minor heart attack in January.]
I feel fine. What all this has started [he points to his heart, a gesture he repeats several times throughout the interview] is a time for reflection. I know why this happened to me. In the last few years I’ve been working on adrenaline, and when I slowed down, it hit me like a train... It happened due to an excess of everything, mainly work, because I don’t drink. I did smoke, but I don’t anymore. If something good has come out of this it’s that I’ve given up smoking just like that, without needing pills or anything. Last year I would say that my natural state was one of fatigue, I couldn’t remember what it was like to rest and when I did, my body got scared and my heart said, that’s that. Now I have to think about how I’m going to carry on... My life has not been a normal one.
And how is Antonio Banderas going to carry on?
Well, I’m still going to work, but at a slower pace. I’m going to give myself some space, take a break between productions, and above all I’m going to take the step I’ve been wanting to take for some time and put myself behind the camera, write screenplays, and that will take time. Make a film, for example every one or two years. And you can make great films from Malaga, from Madrid, from Hollywood or from anywhere. I really feel like telling the stories I’ve lived through, my stories. I think that will calm me down: being able to say, I’m coming to Malaga or to my house in Marbella and spend several months preparing one thing or another. Of course I’ll still keep my commitments, but cutting everything down, not going around as I have until now at full throttle.
That will mean a significant change of attitude..
Yes, of course. A big Hollywood agent I worked with for two years once told me: “You know what the most important word is in Hollwood? Well it’s ‘no’ and that’s true in life as well.” I haven’t learned how to say no, and I have to. You want to please everyone, but that’s impossible.
Do you regret anything you’ve done so far?
No, not at all. I carry the good and the bad of my life in the sack on my back and that’s what’s taught me to live as I am; I can’t get away from what I am, because I also come from my mistakes, it’s logical. I’m human.
At a press conference you said you were foolish...
You see there’s a point of foolishness in things I’ve done in my life. I set my sights on things that made people say “This guy’s crazy - he’ll never be able to do that.” It’s a bit like someone who does dangerous sports - even if they know the technique, the truth is they could kill themselves. I jumped off a cliff one night without knowing whether there were rocks or water below. There was water, but...
The first interview you ever gave was in SUR. Do you remember?
I remember that interview as if it were yesterday – perfectly in fact. It was just before I left for Madrid.
You said then, “I must be mad, I’m going to Madrid with nothing, if it works out I’ll stay, if not I’ll come home.”
It’s true. I got together a few pesetas from my relatives and left for Madrid on 3 August 1980, on the Costa del Sol train. I remember it perfectly.
And did that kid who said goodbye to his parents and friends that day think that he would go as far as he did?
No, no, I couldn’t have imagined it. It would have been crazy. In the late 70s it was inconceivable that a Spanish actor could make films regularly in Hollywood, rather than just a one-off chance, and have a star in Hollywood Boulevard. The American president [Obama] came to visit me because he thought that was essential to convince the Hispanics that they had to vote for him again. All these things are incredible if you look at them from a child’s perspective, because I was just a kid, only 19, when I got on that train with 10,000 pesetas in my pocket.
And when did you decide to go to the States, and why?
It was an accident.
You couldn’t speak any English
The first time I went to Los Angeles was when [the Almodóvar film] Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was nominated for an Oscar. The film had been a hit in the States. There was a party organised by Jane Fonda and even the Hollywood actors were expectant to see those crazy Spaniards who were capable of making films so extraordinarily different to theirs. They wanted to meet us and then the companies wanted to interview us to see who was best at English to work in films over there, but I couldn’t speak a word.
When you were offered the part in The Mambo Kings you must have thought you were a fantastic actor to be picked when you couldn’t even speak the language.
-No, no. One thing I noticed was that in Spain we are still naïve in the sense that we don’t realise the immense strength we have. There was a great impasse in Spanish culture during the dictatorship when we completely lost all faith in ourselves, especially internationally. People like Dalí and Picasso didn’t suffer from this complex, for example, because they were self-confident, but that was lost in our country for many years. I discovered the value of being different, of respecting you origins because that was what gave you your individuality. They saw me as exotic. They weren’t used to European Latinos. That was an added value.
What did Melanie Griffith mean for your professional career?
In my personal life she meant a lot, but professionally-speaking practically nothing. She still means a lot today. Since this happened [he points to his heart] she calls me every day and we still have a good relationship, and she adores Nicole.
And Nicole came into your life like a gift...
Nicole has given me a lot. She’s complete and very different from me, as she doesn’t come from the movie world. She was like a glass of cool water in the middle of the desert.
How’s Stella del Carmen, your daughter with Melanie?
Fine, she’s studying film.
Like your nephew Javier - the Banderas saga continues...
They’re both on the same course at the same university, but I think Stella is more interested in directing.
Does her grandmother, Tippi Hendren, influence her?
Of course. And her sister Dakota [daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson]. They both came to London to see me when I had the heart attack. I’m happy that Stella has experienced Malaga since she was a child. I couldn’t go with her but my brother Javier took her around all the streets in Semana Santa so she’s experienced all the smells, the colours that are so typical.
Your film festival speech was the announcement of a longed-for homecoming? Am I right?
There are projects that don’t necessarily have to be done elsewhere and others that need to be done in Malaga, such as one related to theatre.
To direct a theatre here with your name.
Well, with my name... that’s for others to decide.
When will you come back for good?
If I have to go and make a film in Rome or London - where I live now - I’ll go. This homecoming doesn’t have a timeline. If we have to construct [the theatre] it could take two or three years, and that’s when I’ll think about leaving London, about whether Stella comes here...
And would Antonio Banderas like to be mayor of Malaga?
Not at all! (He laughs.) Me? Why? What would I do messed up in that? I don’t want public funding for my theatre project. No that’s never entered my head.
And to buy Malaga football club?
I haven’t got enough money for that - I’d like to.