Barack Obama's visit to the residential neighborhood of Hancock Park in Los Angeles was, for him, just another stop among the half dozen events he had scheduled on his lightning trip to the West Coast. But for Antonio Banderas, it was a moment to remember. It's not every day, after all, that the president of the United States comes calling at your door.
"The truth is that up close, he is just like he seems: charming, cordial and fun. You forget who he is," the Malagueño says, describing his experience to EL PAÍS after the last rose petals from the private affair had been swept up.
It was not a surprise visit, of course. On the suggestion of his friend Eva Longoria, Banderas and his wife Melanie Griffith offered to host the first Latin fundraising gala of the president's re-election campaign. It was an intimate affair, in contrast to the formal dinner held just hours before by producer James Lassiter, actor Will Smith's business partner and representative.
Banderas and Griffith chose to provide their guest of honor with a chance to unwind. "We tried to take a backseat, to be discreet, and to give him everything he needed to feel comfortable," recalls the actor of the four-hour affair.
The guest list, previously approved by the White House, featured some 200 people, including Longoria, actor George López, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and most importantly, businessmen and donors who were all willing to pay $5,000 a head for Obama's company.
"We were at the beck and call of the Secret Service for a week," the actor reveals. "They dictated the protocols to follow and the security measures." They also set up a communication center in the house, and ordered it vacated a few hours before the event in order to run a last inspection. Even Antonio and Melanie were asked to leave.
"We knew what we were getting into, and they tried to cause as little disruption as possible."
It was worth it. "Seeing that armored car pull into my driveway was amazing. Definitely something to remember, especially for the kids who can say they met the president at home," says Banderas, who does not have American nationality and, as such, cannot offer his vote of support to Obama.
"But it's not just my house," he adds with a wink that shows he has accepted that in these kind of events, he is just "an escort." Maybe that's why Obama chose to speak to the actor about the positive reviews in the US for his work in the movie The Skin I Live In and about his new animated feature Puss in Boots. "He told me his girls wanted to see it on a school night, but he made them wait until the weekend."
Like all good cocktail parties, the event did not have a specific menu, but trays offering a wide variety of Spanish hors d'oeuvres ? from lamp chops to Spanish omelet ? were never-ending, while pasadobles, traditional Spanish dance tunes, played softly in the background.
This was not Mr and Mrs Banderas' first meeting with the president, whom they supported during his previous presidential campaign. A framed photo of the couple next to Obama in their living room is evidence of this. Now they will have one more, taken by the White House's official photographer ? only this time, the interior of their own house will be the background.