We talk about the new Pedro Almodovar movie with Antonio Banderas…

At the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, Brogen Hayes caught up with actor Antonio Banderas to talk about The Skin I Live In and how it felt to work with Pedro Almodovar again after a 20 year break.

It was in Cannes, maybe eight or 10, or 20 years ago that you announced this project…

AB: Don’t say any more, you will make me seem older! [laughs]

…Why did it take so long?

AB: Well the genius was thinking! It was cooking! [laughs] I don’t know, some other projects came in the middle and we had to do them. So it didn’t happen until this time. It was great because I wasn’t expecting it, actually. He called me and said ‘It’s time!’ and I said ‘Sure’.
Do your conversations always go like that?

AB: Sometimes they go like that because we know each other so well that there is not many words needed. It is very radical and very simple.

Why was there such a long hiatus?

AB: There was a time of 10 or 12 years where I was booking my work, literally, two or three years in advance. So I couldn’t break those contracts. Pedro is very precise, when he calls you; it is for a very specific reason.

What are your best memories of working with Pedro Almodovar?

AB: The best memories are coming back because I had the same feeling the other day as I had in the 80s, and they were provoking exactly the same reaction in the audience. People didn’t know how to label this. The audience needed time to metabolise this new language in the 80s. It was very satisfying, but at the same time people were in a very uncomfortable position because it’s so extraordinarily baroque. Look at this movie! The process in which we make this movie… It’s so alive! He is pushing the limits so far away, and it’s taking us. Talking with Elena [Anaya] on the set of this movie we were saying we are at the perch… We are going to go so far with the melodrama; we are going to go so far with this! We are mixing genres. We go from Shakespeare in one scene to soap opera in another with everything in the middle. How does he take this leap in the air? It is unbelievable to me, but it happens! So its been so rewarding; the recognition of that feeling that I had in the 80s when we were travelling around film festivals, and seeing exactly the same type of reaction. Those movies from the 90s became classics.

Has Almodovar changed?

AB: Has he changed? Of course he has changed! He is more complex, more serious, more profound and yet content with his work, but at the same time he is more minimalist, more austere in the film. I used to say, as a joke, to him ‘You are becoming more Japanese’ as we are filming the movie [laughs] I was very happy to find the feeling that I was talking about before. You can become, very easily, a crowd pleaser – you know what the audience wants from you and [claps] you just provide it. Then you become a hamburger store. You feed hamburgers to the audience. Pedro doesn’t do hamburgers. What he does is say ‘No, let’s invent a new dish with the same language’. For me, this movie is more Almodovar than Almodovar; he is going right to the centre and with that kind of reinvention of himself what he has done is to go back and bring back that guy that I met 25 years ago. That is my impression.

Did you have reservations about playing such a cruel character? Did you do any research about real life kidnapping cases?

AB: I don’t take characters because I judge them for their morality. Did I do research? Yes, and we talked. We talked about the Austrian case and he became a kind of key for what Almodovar was doing with the character. The fact that these kinds of psychopaths and monsters have a complete disaffection to everything that happens around them and they don’t feel the pain of the others, they don’t feel the suffering of the others.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that when Almodovar starts genre bending with the thriller, there you are?

AB: I didn’t think about that, but thank you for giving me the key [laughs]. I am going to use that in interviews from now on.

Do you feel that your characters with Almodovar now delve a little deeper because it has been 20 years since you have worked together?

AB: Of craft… and of age… I am 50 already… But I don’t think so, because I think it’s the nature of the character, it’s not in my persona, it’s the nature of the character. Some people have said to me it’s almost like the companion of Ricky [in Tie Me up! Tie Me Down], almost like the father… No! That guy was very vulnerable, he was actually a real victim and I don’t see this guy like that. Many people, especially Americans, they are coming to me and talking about the revenge issue in the movie and I say ‘is the movie about revenge?’ because in my mind it doesn’t play like that. The mission or the justification of this guy is just to operate whatever he has inside – which is very dark. If somebody did something like this to my daughter, and in the heat of the moment you will do anything and you will understand. You could just kick the guy to death. For five years… Day after day… This is methodical… And there are no answers, no nothing, to the cruelty in this family doctor. To do a vaginoplasty like he does… It’s just very eerie and that is the nature of these monsters.

Do you think this character says something about where you are in your life at the moment?

AB: Not the character. I didn’t take this character because I wanted to develop my psychopathic side! [laughs] Did I need to work with Almodovar again, to go back to my roots, to my language, to my country? Yes. It’s been like fresh air, it’s been like a big glass of fresh water.

Do you try and control your career like that?

AB: Not at all. I serve the waves that come.

You are critical of beauty surgery. Has your position on this changed through this movie?

AB: Someone said ‘If the movie doesn’t work, Antonio, you can dedicate your entire life to making boobies’ [laughs] I think that this [cosmetic surgery] is something that people associate with Hollywood but it’s not true, but in Hollywood – it’s true – there is tremendous pressure on the women. It’s a human thing, and it’s going to get worse. Men, we don’t have so much pressure, actually. It’s more on women, but that is a constant, always. You see a woman who is 22 years old going around with a guy who is 60 and that is kind of natural, but if it happens the other way around it’s like ‘Woah. What’s going on there?’ In terms of what science is doing in this movie, this character – in search of perfection – is kind of a fascist. That’s what he is. He’s a maniac; he wants to become god. Are we close to that? Yes, definitely. It’s going to happen in 20-25 years, they are going to give you the possibility of living to 100 years old. Look at this kind of discrimination; if you are rich you can live longer, if you are poor, you die. We are now in such a weird moment in our history of mankind. Personally I think we are in the middle of something. The mixture of robotics and mankind. Koreans are working on robotics that are unbelievable and the moment that they start fixing themselves, it’s going to change the story of mankind.

Moving on slightly, what do your kids think about your upcoming Dreamworks animation ‘Puss in Boots’?

AB: They love it. All the we ask, as audience and film makers, is that we be honest in what we do. You know I understand that a guy who has been working as a mechanic for example, wants to take his girlfriend to a movie. He doesn’t want to watch [Fellini’s] 8½, he wants to watch some comedy. They eat popcorn, they laugh and they go home. Then there are people who are looking for depth of the human spirit and relationships in another way and they go to see movies more often… The only thing you want from the people who make movies is that they are honest. Puss in Boots is that. Puss in Boots is a great crowd pleaser that goes to make the family laugh. It is extraordinary to work in America, a country that I went to without knowing the language, and they are using my voice! It’s incredible! [laughs]

Words – Brogen Hayes

The Skin I Live In is currently showing in Irish cinemas