Actor Antonio Banderas is going home -- returning to Spain to portray his hometown's great 20th century artist, Pablo Picasso. Our Seth Doane tagged along:
To Antonio Banderas, Málaga, Spain, becomes "a little village."
To see his hometown with Antonio Banderas, well, you've gotta keep moving.
"You create quite a fuss when you go someplace," Doane said.
"Yeah, somebody's the mother or the son or the daughter or the cousin, so everybody knows everybody over here, so it's normal," he said. With the result, "Everybody wants a photo."
Dodging the perils of near-constant requests for photos, Banderas took us on a whirlwind tour of his Málaga, this ancient city of half-a-million on the Spanish coast.
He wanted us to see the church where he was baptized, and where he returns each year to help carry a massive float in Holy Week processions.
His advice: "Don't forget who you are and where are your roots. A man without roots is a nobody."
His roots in Málaga, growing up with his brother Javier, were humble -- far from the life of a celebrity who'd need to don a hat and sunglasses to avoid detection.
His father was a policeman, his mother a schoolteacher. "What did they think about you becoming an actor?" Doane asked.
"Oh, they didn't like it at all! In the beginning was very bad."
Of course it turned out to be very good for Banderas, who went on to star opposite Madonna in "Evita," and Brad Pitt in "Interview With a Vampire." He played a suave swordsman in "The Mask of Zorro." And he was the big voice of the tiny cat Puss in Boots in the "Shrek" sequels.
Doane said, "Your career is hard to characterize."
"I love that!" Banderas laughed.
His latest role hits a little closer to home. Banderas plays another famous malagueño: Pablo Picasso. "I really have the opportunity here to discover a man who was born in my town, to whom I feel linked," he said.
He showed Doane around the Picasso Museum in Málaga -- but it was in a makeup trailer in Budapest, Hungary, where we saw him become Picasso.
"I shave my head, I shave my eyebrows; over that, they start creating the character," Banderas said.
In two-and-a-half hours, makeup artists transformed the youthful 57-year-old into a much older-looking Picasso for the National Geographic series, "Genius."
"Playing the dark side of him is hard, because he is my idol," Banderas said.
Picasso, of course, was a legendary painter and philanderer. His life is chronicled in the 10-episode series premiering later this month.
To watch a trailer for "Genius," click on the video player below.
On the set, Doane said, "This takes endurance … take after take after take."
"Yeah. I'm happy you are watching this, because this is the life of actors," Banderas said. "People sometimes believe that we live on a red carpet or something like that. Acting in movies, in theater is hard work."
"We're not used to seeing you as an older man as we saw in 'Picasso.'"
"Yeah, I found incredible liberation in that because you escape from certain labels that people put you in -- you know, the Latin lover or other thing, you know, is fine for a while and it's fun for a while. But I'm 57. I don't want to be the sexy boy my whole life, because that would be pathetic."
Banderas has long been a fixture on that red carpet. His 19-year marriage to fellow A-Lister Melanie Griffith plunged him into the spotlight.
It was a long way from the small stage in Spain, where he was once arrested for doing politically-sensitive theater, and where he was discovered by ground-breaking Spanish director Pedro Amlodóvar. "He stepped into territories that were totally forbidden before, [like] homosexuality," Banderas said. "It was a number of things that never were seen in this Spanish cinematography."
Banderas' work with Almodóvar -- specifically, the Oscar-nominated "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" -- led to a meeting with a Hollywood producer. There was only one problem…
"This guy said to me, 'I told him that you speak English,'" Banderas recalled. "And I said, 'How can you say that? I don't speak at all!' So, I sit down and I fake the whole entire dinner -- that I was a very shy guy, just Yes and No."
"But it worked!" said Doane. "You got the part in 'Mambo Kings'?"
"He believed it!"
So, for his first Hollywood film, "The Mambo Kings," Banderas -- who still could not speak English -- learned the lines phonetically. That was 1992.
"So, I get back to Spain and I say, 'Okay, I can tell that to my grandson, I did a movie in America!'" Banderas said.
And then came "Philadelphia."
In that 1993 drama Banderas played the lover of Tom Hanks' character, a lawyer with HIV. "It was like a fresh air," he said. "Yes, it's about time. It's about time Hollywood comes out of the closet."
He's super-critical of himself, and his performances. "I think I will die thinking, 'I didn't get that thing that I will be remembered for.'"
And it was a real-life brush with death -- a heart attack he suffered in January 2017 -- that made him more reflective of the roles he plays … a dad being the most important one.
Photos of Stella del Carmen -- his daughter with Melanie Griffith -- are up at El Pimpi, the restaurant he adores, and co-owns.
He keeps a room for Stella in his sprawling Málaga apartment, which is filled with awards, and art -- some of it quite recognizable, such as a Picasso sketch: "I had another one, but I gave it to Melanie after the divorce. She kept one and I kept the other one."
Asked to describe going through the divorce, Banderas said it was "painful. It's always painful, until you start discovering that not everything is over. We can keep our friendship, we can keep our memories, we can be proud of them. I think we've handled it very well. She's part of my life, and she's my family, and she will be until the day I die."
Upstairs, on the roof terrace, where Moorish walls and a Roman amphitheater provide a breathtaking backdrop, he pointed out where he was raised, and where Picasso was born.
Doane said, "You grew up surrounded by Picasso, knowing about Picasso, being proud of Picasso…"
"And finally being Picasso!" he laughed.
Still, he's always searching: He wants to direct again, and has gone back to school for fashion design. Antonio Banderas relishes playing many roles -- not only those on-camera.
"Yeah, I do a lot of things. There's only one life, you have to do it," he said. "And there is time. Absolutely, there is time for everything."
For more info:
- "Genius" (National Geographic) premieres April 24
- Follow Antonio Banderas on Instagram
- El Pimpi, Málaga
Story produced by Mikaela Bufano.