Born in Málaga, southern Spain (incidentally the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, who he will be playing in an upcoming role), Antonio Banderas began his acting career at the tender age of 19, touring Spain with a theatre troupe until he landed a spot with the National Theatre of Spain.
His breakthrough in Spain came in part from working with acclaimed director Pedro Almodóvar throughout the 1980s (reuniting with him for 2011’s The Skin I Live In), eventually achieving worldwide recognition and huge box office success with high-profile appearances in films including Philadelphia, Interview With The Vampire, Desperado, Evita and the Shrek, Zorro and Spy Kids sagas.
To celebrate the release of his latest film Black Gold, out at UK cinemas this Friday 24th February, we take a look at Antonio’s illustrious film career.
Labyrinth of Passion (1982)
Antonio’s on screen debut came thanks to Pedro Almodóvar’s 1982 screwball comedy Labyrinth of Passion (Laberinto de Pasiones), set against the backdrop of the countercultural movement known as the “Movida madrileña”. A fine example of Almodóvar highly transgressing style of the time, the plot follows a nymphomaniac pop star (Sexilia, played by Cecilia Roth) who falls in love with a gay Middle-Eastern prince (Riza, played by Imanol Arias).
Their unlikely destiny is to find one another, overcome their sexual preferences and live happily ever after on a tropical island. Antonio Banderas plays the role of Sadec, a gay Islamic terrorist who falls in love with Riza, who he’s meant to capture and take back to the fictitious country of Tyrán. Almodóvar’s second feature-length film also features a cameo appearance from the director, as a leather-clad transvestite pop singer who performs the song “Suck It To Me”.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! was Almodóvar’s first major step away from comedy and the film that began to attract some serious international attention both towards him and Antonio, with the latter making his way into Hollywood shortly after. In the film, Antonio plays Ricky, a former mental hospital patient who hunts down Marina, a porn film star he once had sex with, and tries to convince her to be his wife. With her being initially reluctant, he decides to tie her up (pretty much kidnapping her in her own apartment) until she changes her mind. A love story…with strings attached!
While not his first incursion into Hollywood (that would be Arne Glimcher’s The Mambo Kings in 1992) or his first English-speaking role (which came from Bille August’s The House of Spirits, also in 92), Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia was a pivotal film in establishing Antonio’s international status as a film star. The film, which was one of the first mainstream Hollywood productions to acknowdledge HIV/AIDS, homesexuality and homophobia, was inspired in part by the story of Geoffrey Bowers, an attorney who in 1987 sued the law firm Baker & McKenzie for wrongful dismissal in one of the first AIDS discrimination cases. Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his role as the Bowers-inspired Andrew Beckett, while Banderas played his partner Miguel Álvarez.
The success of Philadelphia was promptly followed by a role in Interview With The Vampire opposite Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, but it wasn’t until 1995 when Robert Rodriguez gave Antonio his first lead role in a Hollywood production with Desperado. The sequel to Rodriguez’s 1992 independent film El Mariachi, the film also stars a young Salma Hayek as well as one of the first high-profile appearances from Machete star Danny Trejo, a welcome regular in Rodriguez’s filmography. Cue in gunfire, Mexican drug lords and a cameo appearance from Quentin Tarantino!
Shrek Saga (2001-2011)
The fifth highest-grossing film series (behind Harry Potter, James Bond, Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean) and highest-grossing animated franchise, Shrek was joined by Antonio Banderas in the second film in the series, playing the role of the lovable Puss In Boots. The character was such as success that in 2011 it saw the release of its own spin-off film, the spectacularly well received Puss In Boots 3D which reunited Antonio with Desperado co-star Salma Hayek.
Black Gold (2012)
Set in the 1930s Arab states at the dawn of the oil boom, the story centres on a young Arab prince torn between allegiance to his conservative father Salmaah (played by Mark Strong) and modern, liberal father-in-law Nesib (Antonio Banderas). While still boys, Auda (Tahar Rahim) and his brother Saleeh (Akin Gazin) were “adopted” – or taken hostage- by Nesib as a guarantee that neither man could invade the other or lay claim to the area of no man’s land between them called the Yellow Belt. The arrival of a Texan oilman who tells the Emir Nesib that his land is blessed with oil creates a new problem, as the precious oil is located in the Yellow Belt. Freida Pinto plays Leyla, Nesib’s daughter, who marries Auda to effectively end the treaty and allow Nesib to seize control of the Yellow Belt. Helmed by director Jean Jacques-Annaud (Seven Years In Tibet, Enemy At The Gates), Black Gold blends a heart-gripping story with stunning visuals and epic battle scenes, filmed over 4 weeks in the Qatari and Tunisian deserts.
Black Gold arrives at UK cinemas this Friday 24th February.