Sexy Spaniard Actor Antonio Banderas Turns Up The Heat With New Film About Mexican Musician
Mon., Aug. 28, 1995
The heat around Antonio Banderas is absolutely withering. The Spanish actor has been building up steam in America for more than three years, beginning with “The Mambo Kings” and stoking along through supporting roles in “Philadelphia,” “Interview With the Vampire” and “Miami Rhapsody.”
Now Banderas is about to ignite in his first of many starring roles, as the vengeful Mexican musician in “Desperado,” director Robert Rodriguez’s follow-up to his $7,000 action sensation “El Mariachi.”
In “Desperado,” Banderas’ gun-crazy Mariachi comes decked out in sensuous, form-fitting black and carnal, cascading curls, and he’s framed in enough loving close-ups to fuel a decade’s worth of Calvin Klein ads. And as if his unparalleled capacity for sexy poses were not enough, Banderas also comes to U.S. stardom equipped with a provocative real-life peccadillo: his whirlwind romance with Melanie Griffith, which drove the final nail into her second marriage to Don Johnson and finished things between Banderas and his wife of many years, Ana Leza.
In other words, on every level, this guy makes Hugh Grant look about as sexy as Margaret Thatcher. But don’t call Banderas a Latin lover, even if every tabloid does.
“Even before I did ‘Mambo Kings,’ people treated me like the sexiest guy in town,” Banderas says with a dismissive shrug. “It’s probably the image that you have of guys with dark hair; you’re looking to fill an empty space that Valentino left 60 years ago.”
Well, you can hardly blame us easily aroused Americans, especially those of us who saw the kinky Pedro Almodovar films - “Matador,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” - that brought Banderas his early international fame.
“In ‘Philadelphia’ I was a homosexual; in ‘Vampire’ I was a vampire,” Banderas says in a heavily accented voice that sounds totally unaware of just how attractive he was in those supposedly asexual roles.
Not like the Mariachi, a character even Banderas concedes is eroticized and mythologized to ridiculous proportions. Lithe and dead-eyed, the Mariachi mows down dozens - and looks really cool doing it. He also takes a little time out from the slaughter to romance a local woman played by Mexican actress Salma Hayek, a world-class beauty with eyelashes almost as pretty as her leading man’s.
“Action heroes have to have an iconic image,” the actor reckons. “Something that you can recognize immediately, or in the way he moves, that’s attractive. It has to do with sexuality, but at the same time it has to do with energy.
“Normally, action heroes are very tough and heavy,” Banderas continues, “which is very good when you see Schwarzenegger playing the Terminator. But what I kept in mind was that the Mariachi always has to be smooth and elegant - like a dancer, like a bullfighter. I figure I am more elastic than thick, and I am more soft than tough, more a panther than an elephant. I had to use the possibilities that I have as an actor to convince people that this guy cannot be killed.”
Although it owes more than a little to such masters of cinematic slaughter as Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino (who makes a brief, fatal appearance) and Hong Kong’s John Woo, “Desperado” takes its violent imagery to such extreme lengths that it turns into something unique. Banderas calls it a “cartoon opera.”
“The movie is violent, of course; I kill, like, 81 guys,” Banderas says, rapid-fire, provoking the chuckle he’s looking for. “But I say this and you laugh. That’s because the movie crosses the border - it goes into comedy. We are making fun about that. We are making fun about movies, about the action and violence in them. So I don’t feel so bad about it.”
Indeed, trained as he was in the anything-goes Spanish cinema of the ‘80s, Banderas finds the current debate about movie content in this country rather absurd.
“The first thing we have to do is eliminate violence in the real world, in the streets,” says Banderas. “I hate guns in real life; I won’t have them in my house. But as dramatic instruments in movies, they’re fine just to play with. I think that the movies, like art in general, have to be open to any kind of vision.”
Banderas applies the same kind of free thinking to his burgeoning role as America’s newest European - and Spanish-speaking - movie star. His long slate of upcoming projects promises an eclectic variety of performances.
He’s Rebecca DeMornay’s dangerous lover in the erotic thriller “Never Talk to Strangers.” He’s a careerist hit man who competes with Sylvester Stallone in “Assassins.” He’s the flustered father of pre-teen terrors in Rodriguez’s segment of the episodic hotel comedy “Four Rooms.” And he’s a conniving art-gallery owner torn between Daryl Hannah and Griffith in the romantic farce “Two Much.” At the end of next month, he begins recording the music track for the long-delayed movie version of “Evita,” in which he’ll play Che Guevara to the Eva Peron of Madonna.
Banderas uses his sense of humor to douse the smoldering sex symbol label.
“The screen is something that just really deforms people in different ways, for good or for bad. But I just take the whole thing in a natural way and laugh about it. This is not important for me. It’s not even something I can work for or against; it’s just the way I am. All I have to worry about now is to fulfill my soul and be a better actor.”
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