The appointment was at 1.30pm. Lunch break, according to the rehearsal timetable. As we waited at the Escuela Superior de Artes Escénicas in Malaga, where rehearsals are taking place for the musical A Chorus Line, we could hear them singing one of the best-known songs, I Hope I Get It. That could apply to Antonio Banderas and his team at the moment, working to inaugurate the Teatro del Soho Caixabank with this Broadway-style show. The actor admits that this project is the most important thing for him at present. Not even the delays - they wanted to open in October - can take away his smile. He talks of the heart attack he suffered a couple of years ago, when he came face to face with reality and decided to make his profession his hobby instead. He says his theatre project has become even bigger than he had dreamed, and he reflects about money and the delay in being given an award such as the one he received at the Cannes Festival in May, the first in his long career. He also talks about the failure of his initiative at the Astoria, the Oscars and Goyas, the forthcoming elections, the complicated situation of Malaga and his argument with Carlos Saura, who accused him of betrayal. His heart is still beating a bit fast because he hasn't slowed down his lifestyle, but Banderas confesses that, after inaugurating his theatre, he will have no reason to rush around and will sit and wait for "something good" to come along.
Why the interest in theatre now?
There comes a moment in people's lives when there is only room for truth. In my case, that was when I had a cardiac event that made me face reality, and reality is when death is looking at you from close at hand. Then you say: "I have to do the things I really want to do." And there are things that you used to think were really important and they stop being so, while others stay with you. What remained was my family, my daughter, my friends and my vocation as an actor. I decided to turn my profession into what it was at first, my hobby. And there was the possibility of creating a theatre, which is really my passion. I'm a theatre actor at heart, despite all the films I have made. The money, at a certain moment, starts to become a Machiavellian intellectual process which keeps you tied to something that doesn't really exist. But a theatre is tangible, it's a temple for people to enjoy. And you contribute to your city. It was also important to recognise that there are things happening in Malaga; it's a naturally imperfect city, but that's great because there are things to do. There is a commitment to culture and a wave to surf and you can't surf with words, you have to do it with action. You have to take a step forward.
Is the Teatro del Soho Caixabank the project you dreamed of?
It's bigger than even I thought it would be. I never imagined Lluis Pasqual would get involved. I saw the opportunity and approached him, because we had worked together and are friends. And he's not just one of the best theatre directors there has ever been in this country, he is a great manager as well. When he went to the Centro Dramático Nacional he reinvented it, and he did the same with the L'Odeón national theatre in Paris. He has provided me with a great team of professionals who have put everything here in order and we are moving forward, with the best there are on the Spanish theatre scene at the moment.
Can you tell us about any future productions?
There is a programme, with some important actors and shows, which will be released soon. Setting up a theatre where everything is privately funded and there is not a single euro of public money is very complicated. Culture in Spain receives a lot of support from the State and that is all very good, we're not against that. The model for the Teatro del Soho Caixabank comes from American culture and there, the State doesn't support culture. Broadway, like Hollywood, is an absolutely private world and the competition is extremely strong. That has given certain results, which you might like or not. Hollywood generates, rather than works of art, very well made products. But make no mistake, Hollywood and American cinema are two different things. There are some very interesting people within American cinema who in reality have nothing to do with Hollywood. Europe is something different. If Hollywood is like a well-made soft drink, Europe is a more serious wine, complex and with a special flavour.
And what flavour will the Teatro del Soho Caixabank have?
We are bringing a different type of theatre. You go to the Opera Theatre in San Francisco and in the entrance you see a plaque with the names of the families who wanted a theatre and paid for it. We want to convince companies and people to do something for the theatre and culture where they live. That is called social corporate responsibility nowadays.
When will this new theatre be inaugurated?
Very soon. I'm not going to hide that getting to where we wanted to be in mid-October has been an incredible obstacle race, and in addition some very good things have happened in my career this year and I have to attend to those at the same time. I have to divide myself. I've just got back from New York. I was here rehearsing for two weeks beforehand and I had previously come from Toronto. Now I have to go back to Los Angeles. I'm rehearsing a show that we have to inaugurate and at the same time I'm involved in the promotion of Almodóvar's film 'Dolor y Gloria', with different time zones, a lot of travelling and hotels. The theatre project has been getting behind, but we are making progress and we are about to start selling tickets for the show.
The Astoria is being demolished. Does that pain you?
No, not at all. And I say that from the heart. I have no bitterness against anyone. I understand that is the way politics works, but never mind. And all the people who were involved in that commotion in some way are invited and I hope they will come to the theatre and enjoy it like anyone else in Malaga. We don't want an exclusivist theatre, we'd like to collaborate with the institutions in Malaga. The doors are open, there is fresh air. I don't want any type of rancour or unpleasantness. Things always happen for a reason. Now there is another chance that the Astorga can become another cultural venue for Malaga. And I have a few ideas about that.
What are they?
I'm not the one to do it now, but I would love Malaga to have a music palace, but for classical music and even jazz. We have very good orchestras and a place where they could rehearse seems a really good idea to me. I have someone very famous in mind, too.
Carlos Álvarez, I imagine.
Of course. I will always support Carlos, not just on a personal level, but the Teatro del Soho Caixabank, as an institution, would also support the chance to have a music palace in Malaga, like the Palau in Barcelona and those in other cities.
So do you think that music palace should be in the Astoria instead of the port?
Meeting with Almodóvar
Has working with Almodóvar again been more wonderful than painful?
Yes. It has been one of the nicest things in my career. It's difficult to talk about, because it sounds like a story, but it has been an incredible experience of recognising a person with whom I maintain a friendship and, at the same time, have admired and respected for nearly 40 years. We have made eight films and suddenly we have found ourselves playing him or his alter ego, and that has been incredible and very emotional. The film ended a week and a half ahead of schedule. That's unknown in the world of cinema, but it also shows that we understood each other and we were heading in the same direction. It is a film that speaks to people because we all travel with baggage full of bad times and good times, pains and glories. We all have open wounds, some forgiveness to ask for and to reconcile ourselves with the past, and the film talks about that.
Do you usually ask for forgiveness?
Yes. When I've made a mistake and caused harm to someone, I say sorry and ask for forgiveness.
I know you don't like to talk about being owed anything, but the award at the Cannes Festival was the first of its type in your long career.
For four decades, I have always been a nominee! Four nominations for the Golden Globes, two for the Emmy, one for the Tony, four for the Goyas... but I never won them. And what happened in Cannes was fantastic because I was expecting it for the film, not that they would call me that morning. And it was great fun because Thierry Frémaux, the president of the festival, was greeting the actors on the red carpet and he thought I had left Cannes and come back after the phone call, so he asked me "How long did it take you to get here?" And I said "40 years". And he understood, started to laugh and gave me a hug and a kiss. And it's true, it has taken me 40 years to be given an award of this category, the most important festival in the world.
And will there be an Oscar for 'Dolor y Gloria'?
I don't know. Expectations are nothing more than the mother of all frustrations. So I'm just satisfied that we have a film which has made its mark not only in our country but internationally, and that doesn't happen every day.
The Goya gala in Malaga is going to be at the Martín Carpena and some people have said they don't think it's a suitable location.
I have no doubts about it. The people working on it are professionals, and they will do it really well. People responded to the Malaga Festival with great affection and professional friends have told me they are always well received and people are very hospitable. That will also be the case on the night of the Goyas.
There is another general election coming up. Will you vote?
Yes, I always vote, but I never tell anyone how I voted. Voting should be secret and personal.
Are you bored with all these elections?
Modern politics are very complicated. I'm afraid of Spanish politics becoming Italianised, and they won't be able to reach agreements.
You hadn't given up on your Picasso project with Carlos Saura, but he has ruled it out because of your participation in 'Genius: Picasso'. Did you betray him, as he says?
No. I can understand his feelings and I rang him when I read the news. And he said "No, they have misinterpreted what I said". I told him we didn't have a script, because it had been trapped in a bankruptcy proceedings, and had written another, but I had already told him it wasn't the same standard as the first. We didn't have actors or funding. The grant application had been denied and we spent over three years running around. We had nothing. What could we do? Say no to Ron Howard when he came to me with a funded project and an offer on the table? I couldn't, not just for him but I couldn't say no to Picasso. Carlos got carried away by emotion but he is a friend and it's OK. We talk on the phone and we sorted it out privately, which is how these things should be done.