Antonio Banderas takes a short break from the auditions, but he doesn't leave through the back door or look for a quiet corner in which to relax. He goes into the corridor where, nervous and concentrating hard, the next hopefuls are waiting to take their turn. He encourages them, wishes them luck, makes them laugh, just as if he were one of them. He always looks directly into the eyes of the person he is talking to. "Now I'm doing what I really want to do," he says firmly to me.
After more than two weeks of auditions in Malaga, Madrid and Barcelona, the final cast of A Chorus Line is being decided this week at ESAEM, the Senior School of Performing Arts in Malaga. About 500 applicants have come here to audition, of the nearly 2,000 who originally applied to accompany Banderas in the inaugural musical at the 931-seat Caixabank Soho Theatre in October.
"I'm finding I have a fantastic problem. There is so much talent and it's going to be sad, because we're going to have to turn down some very good people and that is a painful thing to do," says Banderas.
In order to go ahead with this local project, he has already turned down two films this year, but he doesn't care. The heart attack he suffered a couple of years ago was a warning that made him decide to change his life.
"People live as if they are never going to die, but we all will. And I don't want to die asking myself why I hadn't done something. When I saw death close up, I thought: I have to do something I really want to do. I started my career in theatre and got into cinema almost by accident, although it has brought me some very good things," he says.
The Malaga-born actor has made 112 films, spent 26 years in Hollywood and is now tired of living abroad. "I want to do things in my own city, live in my home and only leave when they need me for work somewhere else," he explains.
When he isn't filming, he'll be found backstage, on stage or teaching a masterclass because, he insists, Soho won't just be a theatre: it'll be a cultural and production centre.
"Our slogan is 'for Malaga from Malaga'. Local people will be the first to enjoy the shows we produce, but we will also have to take them to Barcelona, Madrid, New York, wherever. The idea is to have a stage arts production centre which gives value to the city," he says. "We want people to come, and find out what theatre is all about. Sometime in October we will be here, waiting for them, keen to perform for them on their doorstep, in Soho".