CANNES 2019 Competition
Antonio Banderas • Actor in Pain & Glory
by Marta Bałaga, Cineuropa
“Pain & Glory is about reconciliation.” Banderas wins Cannes ‘best actor’ as Almodovar alter ego.
CANNES 2019: Cineuropa met Spanish thesp Antonio Banderas to discuss Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain & Glory, in which he gives one of the best performances of his career.
In Pain & Glory, shown in the Cannes Film Festival’s main competition, Antonio Banderas teams up with Pedro Almodóvar once again to reminisce about their shared past after having collaborated on eight films, starting with 1982’s Labyrinth of Passion and followed by the likes of Matador and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Here he takes on the role of an ageing film director who is trying to make amends with people he has almost forgotten, while also struggling with his ailing health.
Antonio Banderas • Actor in Pain & Glory
(© El Deseo - Manolo Pavón)
"Almodóvar is my mentor. We have been friends for 40 years... I saw things in the script that I didn't know about him. He was very sincerely confronting himself in front of an audience in the film," the actor said.
In the film, which also stars Penélope Cruz, Banderas plays a director who reflects on the choices he's made in life as past and present come crashing down around him.
Cineuropa: It was actually The Skin I Live In that saw you reunite with Pedro Almodóvar after a break of over 20 years. But it’s only now that you really seem to address it.
Antonio Banderas: When I came from the United States, I came back with experience. And he didn’t want to use it at all! He said: “It might give you a sense of security in front of the camera, but it’s not what I am looking for. I need something fresh.” Instead of listening to those wise words, I confronted him. I know that some of the relationships he had with his actors were much more dramatic than ours, and there is a friendship, but still, it was tough.
For years, I have been trying to work in a certain way, and he asked me to go to a completely different place, to get rid of all of the tools and tricks I was using before. All of these things that people associate with me: the actor Antonio Banderas.
When you are working with him, he doesn’t show you anything, but then the movie turned out to be something I wasn’t quite expecting. He opened up a whole discussion about humility, basically.
And is the result a character that nobody would expect?
Certainly not from me. It’s another me, which makes sense, as I am one year away from turning 60. It has been a very satisfactory, very creative experience. It was painful, too, as suddenly you don’t have the safety net and the things that used to work so well for you. But that’s the easy way to go, and real creation starts when you don’t know where you are going. You don’t have a clue! You are stuck in the jungle, and you don’t know how to get out.
I am happy with what we did, even though the result is still somehow mysterious. Maybe some years from now, I will be watching TV, and then Pain & Glory will come on, and perhaps I will finally understand it. Right now, I am too intoxicated by it.
Those crazy, early years referenced in the film are something that you actually got to experience together. Every single film you made at that time, starting with Labyrinth of Passion, caused a national outcry.
It’s funny because when we first met, I asked: “Who is this guy?” Someone said: “His name is Pedro Almodóvar; he made a movie, but he will never make another one.” In Spain, we have the best prophets. But yes, it made us both look back. Pedro called me on the phone, saying: “Antonio, I am going to send you something, and you will find references to our lives. You are going to recognise these characters.”
Some of these lines are things I actually said. It’s a compendium of sorts – of all the things he wanted to come to terms with. But it’s not an apology. It just serves to close some chapters that were opened many years ago and say, “Thank you.” The way my character, Salvador, does it in the film is actually very sweet. He calls up this guy [played by Asier Etxeandia] after 30 years and then just goes to his house, just because he has something important to say.
The same goes for his mother, his loved one. This movie is about reconciliation. Is everything in it true? No. But it’s more real than not in a way. It’s Almodóvar saying things that he probably wanted to say but never got to say, or doing things he never got to do. We all travel through life with a backpack full of pain and glory, misery and greatness. I think everyone who watches this film can say: “I know what this guy is talking about.”
Antonio Banderas and Pedro Almodóvar
How do you deal with such pain yourself?
Right now? I’ve taken some paracetamol [laughs]. There is no recipe; it’s all very personal. I like working, so I become a workaholic whenever I am in trouble. Recently I had a heart attack, and when I was in hospital, this older nurse came up to me and said: “Antonio, why do you think people say, ‘I love you with all my heart’ or ‘You broke my heart’? And not ‘I love you with my brain or my liver’? They say that because the heart, besides pumping oxygen into your body, is a warehouse for feelings. And, my friend, you will be very sad for a few weeks.”
And she was right. I don’t have any scars, but there must be some kind of scar there because Pedro said there is something different about me now. “I don’t want you to hide it,” he said. “I want you to show it.” I know exactly what he was talking about.
Pain & Glory tells of a series of reencounters experienced by Salvador Mallo, a film director in his physical decline. Some of them in the flesh, others remembered: his childhood in the 60s, when he emigrated with his parents to a village in Valencia in search of prosperity, the first desire, his first adult love in the Madrid of the 80s, the pain of the breakup of that love while it was still alive and intense, writing as the only therapy to forget the unforgettable, the early discovery of cinema, and the void, the infinite void that creates the incapacity to keep on making films. Pain and Glory talks about creation, about the difficulty of separating it from one’s own life and about the passions that give it meaning and hope. In recovering his past, Salvador finds the urgent need to recount it, and in that need he also finds his salvation.