Antonio Banderas says heart attack gave him a 2nd chance to appreciate life and career
LOS ANGELES—“It’s a second chance, and I am taking it,” Antonio Banderas said about surviving a heart attack in January last year.
The actor said the health scare made him appreciate the pleasure of acting per se. And “two beautiful things” came: the anthology series, “Genius: Picasso,” and the film, aptly titled “Life Itself.”
Antonio, who underwent a procedure to introduce three stents in his arteries, shared that recovering from that health setback gave him equanimity to tackle the challenge of playing famed artist Pablo Picasso.
In Season Two of National Geographic’s “Genius,” the Spanish star throws himself into playing the cofounder of the Cubist movement who also hailed from his hometown, Malaga, Spain.
Pedro Almodovar’s former muse has been divorced since 2015 from Melanie Griffith, with whom he has a daughter, Stella. He has been dating Nicole Kimpel.
Is playing Picasso something you’ve always dreamed of? No (laughs). I’ve been running away from playing Picasso for many years. The role has been offered to me in different periods of my life.
Until I received a call from Ron Howard and Ken Biller (both producers) in London. They put on the table the possibility of doing a TV show with 10 episodes. I just finished watching “Einstein,” the first season of “Genius,” and I loved it. It was quality television, so it was very difficult to reject it.
Also, the presence of National Geographic behind the project gave us the guarantee and credibility that we needed. So there was no excuse for me to just jump into the skin of Don Pablo Ruiz Picasso.
Why were you hesitant to play Picasso? I had this reticence to play him because he was big. But at the same time, because he was born in my hometown (Malaga, Spain), which means a lot to me. I had a certain fear of putting that “backpack” over my shoulders and taking that burden because I knew that I was going to be judged, especially because there is a certain love that is very specific for one person who is a son of Malaga. Like I am, too.
So, yeah, I was afraid of failing. I was afraid of not hitting the right notes in playing somebody I idolized. He’s been my hero since I was 5 years old.
I remember my mother holding my hand and taking me to school. Every day, we crossed in front of the corner of La Plaza de la Merced in Malaga. She always said that Picasso was born there. Picasso was the only hero in Malaga at a time in which Spain had very few heroes. That was always very interesting to me—oh, there’s a guy from Malaga who made it big outside.
What was the essence in playing Picasso? The essence was trying to understand his personality. We know what he did. We know what he said, but we don’t know why. It’s complicated because the sources of the life of Picasso that we have to study are coming from different people who had different relationships with him.
So, if somebody had a bad relationship with Picasso and he wrote something about him, he was going to criticize him specifically for that. It was very interesting when I was doing the research. You find the same events and situations that are described differently by different people, depending on their relationship with Don Pablo. So, you have to start reading between the lines to understand his very specific actions.
Picasso talked very little. There are few interviews with him on TV. I know one on Belgian television that I saw like 150 times. And yes, some radio interviews, but he was mysterious. He loved being laid-back.
He was not like Salvador Dali, for example, who was in front of the press all the time.
Do you own any of Picasso’s paintings? I used to own two, but in my divorce (from Melanie Griffith), I lost one (laughs). But I still have one. I may just trade. I have to talk to Melanie and trade it for the other one (laughs). Yeah, because I have a Diego Rivera that she likes very much.
Which of his other paintings do you like? I like “The Kiss,” “La Vie” and, of course, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” which changed the history of painting. I would love to own some of those paintings when he arrived in Paris.
Can you put this role in the context of your long career? Is it one of the most difficult? It fit in a moment of tranquility. After I had my heart attack, some magic things started happening.
I lost the anxiousness for certain things and just enjoyed the pleasure of acting by itself. It was almost like my life gave me the possibility of taking a step back and looking at things with a little more perspective.
Two beautiful things happened. A movie called “Life Itself” that is going to come out in September with Dan Fogelman as director. And “Picasso,” which got to me at the right time. Yes, destiny sometimes plays a role. This was the time that I could understand this man and have the tranquility to just go into this role in a completely different way than I would’ve done two years ago.
It was because life gave me a touch to see death in front of my very own eyes, and understand my vulnerability. The only certainty that we have is death. There’s nothing more perfect than that. Everything else is relative. It’s a second chance, and I’m taking it.
You’ve traveled extensively as an actor, but on your own, where would you like to go? I’d like to go to a place where there is a sofa (laughs) and a television set. I’m very tired now. I would like to go home because I live in hotel rooms all the time.
I’d like to write, which I am doing a lot of lately, read, take long walks, take my bike and go outside with my girlfriend, see movies and go to London to see theater. Those are my passions now.
Which place would you recommend as a travel destination? I always recommend Malaga. I say, “Go to Malaga.” It’s becoming a beautiful cultural city. I bought a theater there. I finally found the perfect way to ruin myself (laughs).
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