Antonio Banderas: ‘It really pisses me off that one day I’ll die’

The actor and director talks to EL PAÍS about his love of theater, the cult of celebrity and why he is considering putting up a life-size cutout of himself on his balcony

Antonio Banderas
Antonio Banderas, this week in Madrid.Bernardo Pérez (EL PAÍS)

The Albéniz theater in Madrid is about to be reborn. Swarms of workers and the crew of Company, the musical with which the theater’s doors will reopen after 17 years, are adding the final touches that will ensure the show’s success. It smells of sawdust, of paint – of everything brand spanking new and approaching the eve of something big.

Enter, the boss. Antonio Banderas, 62, takes off his hat and dark glasses and puts himself in the photographer’s hands. Subsequently, he sighs and collapses into a chair in front of me and we engage in long, lively chat. What follows is a somewhat abbreviated version of what was said.

Question. You seem tired. Are you nervous about the opening night?

Answer. No. Being tired is my natural state. I work a lot. I’m hyperactive: I’ve tried to reduce the volume of work since my heart attack in 2017, but, in the end, I still do everything and whatever has to happen will happen.

Q. Have you stopped feeling worried about your health?

A. Yes. We all know that we come here to die. I engage in less nonsensical stuff now and only do exactly what I want. People ask why I come to Madrid with the same show I put on in Málaga. Well, I do it because I like it. I’m addicted to working in what I want. My life starts when the curtain rises, and I hear “action” and ends when I hear “cut.” For many years, my agents were not keen on me doing theater, because it is not profitable. In fact, I come here knowing I’ll lose money. Success is a very weird thing, but what I do look for is excellence. I can afford that luxury, I don’t have to report to anyone.

I’m not bright or witty. I need time to think, to find the truth

Q. But you do have to pay 300 employees.

A. And I do it out of my own pocket, in this case. But the pleasure I’m giving myself? That’s priceless.

Q. Bernardo Pérez, the photographer who has taken your portrait, also had a heart attack and swore that, if he got better, he would fulfil his dream and buy a Harley.

A. That’s exactly what it is. The theater is my Harley, my private plane, my boat. My passion. After the heart attack, I got rid of a lot of expensive toys, and returned to the essence of myself. People forget that I am an actor because of the theater, regardless of the fact that later I had a career that was financially profitable and fun, regarding the fame. The cinema has been a 120-film accident that has allowed me to do the theater I want, how I want.

Q. This is the second time you have inaugurated a theater: the Albéniz and the Soho in Málaga in souther Spain, which you opened yourself.

A. Wow, I hadn’t thought of that, but yes, I must be one of the few people in the world who have. And it’s a miracle in this era when theaters are closing and becoming department stores, bingo clubs and nightclubs. Every time one opens, there is a ray of hope, because I believe that the problems of modern society come from a lack of culture and ideas. There is almost an exaltation of ignorance. The other day I saw a meme that made me laugh: “They are going to do 3D so well they’ll soon invent theater,” it said. Theater has been around for 3,000 years, we just have to nurture it.

Q. You are so loved in Málaga, you’re one step away from canonization: you would be San Antonio Banderas del Pimpi. (Pimpi, the most famous bar in Málaga, is co-owned by Banderas.)

A. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I would like to help Málaga look like what I once dreamed it would become. And the truth is that it is becoming increasingly close to it. But weird things happen. Once, in the stalls of the Soho Theater, a lady stood up and said loudly: “Are you really Antonio Banderas?” I didn’t say anything, but I felt like answering her: “Yes, ma’am, and the Earth is not flat.

Q. Tourists often photograph your penthouse from the Alcazaba fortress in Málaga, trying to catch you out on your balcony.

A. I’m about to put up a life-size cutout there, so they can leave happy. It doesn’t bother me. When it comes to living where and how I want to, I take the discomfort in my stride.

Q. When you were about to turn 50, you told me that your adrenaline was going up and your testosterone was falling. What’s happening now at 62?

A. The testosterone is just fine: in place. It’s funny, but I haven’t noticed any big changes. There will be, I suppose, but I feel very, very good.

Q. So, you haven’t had a midlife crisis, like Bobby, your character in Company.

A. Not in that way. Bobby’s crisis is terrible because, all his life, he’s chosen loneliness, not wanting to commit and, at one point, he realizes he has no one to tell him “I love you,” and he’s overcome with a fierce fear of being alone.

At the start in the US, everything was very disconcerting, even the good things, because I didn’t see them as normal. They insisted that I was something I didn’t feel I was

Q. Loneliness is hard for everyone.

A. The play is hard because it talks about very simple things that we can all identify with. That wanting and not having someone to steal your place on the couch.

Q. The poet Luis García Montero talks about the sofa in his living room as “a boat adrift,” after the death of his wife, Almudena Grandes.

A. Well, if Luis comes to see us, it’ll be hard for him. One night, in Málaga, after the show, I was walking home, as usual, and a girl in her thirties came up to me and told me that she had spent the whole performance crying. She had just gotten divorced.

Q. Have you ever felt lonely?

A. Yes, but it’s always been a chosen loneliness, something I needed. Sometimes I have too much company, with a lot of noise and people around.

Q. Men of 60 like women of 22. Do you understand that?

A. I have almost always dated women older than me. My [ex-]wife, Melanie [Griffith]. But, of course, I get it. What I don’t get is the 22-year-old.

Q. Have you ever felt out of your depth?

A. I’ve felt out of place. At the start in the US, everything was very disconcerting, even the good things, because I didn’t see them as normal. They insisted that I was something I didn’t feel I was.

Q. Was it too much or too little?

A. Too much. I don’t take kindly to flattery, because sometimes it’s delivered by the devil. I’d rather have someone who can speak truthfully and accurately even if it means risking annoying you than a brown nose.

Q. Well, there are stars, and bosses, who love to surround themselves with hangers on.

A. Now that I am the boss at the theater, it could happen. But I’ve got some very experienced professionals with me who won’t allow me to do anything foolish.

Q. What do you admire in others?

A. Fuck, so many things. Intelligence, of course, talent and, above all, work ability. I’ve based a lot of my career on being conscientious and persevering.

Q. Is your success more to do with application or talent?

A. At this point, I would say it’s 50/50. I’m not bright or witty. I’m terrified of those kinds of interviews where they give you a word, say, Spain, and you have to answer with another – I don’t know, say, paella. I need time to think, to find the truth. I have been writing for a long time.

Q. What do you write?

A. Poetry, thoughts, personal essays on the need for art in times of crisis. It helps me to reflect and find answers.

Q. What do you see when you look in the mirror?

A. This is the question I have been asked the most in my life. I see a person very much in love with life. It really pisses me off that one day I’ll die. Now that science is suggesting we could live 150 to 200 years, there are those who say they don’t want to live that long. Well, I do.

Q. To live that long, you would have to fast a lot and deprive yourself of a lot of things. Would it be worth it?

A. Well, I haven’t eaten yet and it’s 3pm [laughs]. I only drink white tea in the morning, and then I eat a lot and well. The truth is that right now it’s great for my vocal cords, but it also fills me with energy and, so yes, I’m all for it.

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