One of the greatest strengths that Antonio Banderas possesses as an actor is his ability to be beloved by audiences for entirely different reasons.
For many, especially children, he’s the perfectly (I avoided a cat pun there) charming voice of Puss in Boots in all the DreamWorks incarnations, as well as the father of some uniquely problematic youngsters in the Spy Kids franchise. He’s also developed a rather substantial following of older viewers who appreciate his more romantic and smouldering side in the likes of Evita, Original Sin and Interview With The Vampire, as well as his earlier and racier work with Pedro Almodóvar.
However to me, as well as many of our readers I suspect, Banderas has made a great action hero over the years. Desperado marked the first of his many collaborations with Robert Rodriguez, which really broke him into mainstream Hollywood as a leading man and one with the kind of cinematic flair for weapon wielding that would make John Woo proud. That film saw a sequel eight years later with Once Upon A Time In Mexico, by which time he’d made a great Zorro in Martin Campbell’s thoroughly entertaining The Mask of Zorro and wielded an even bigger sword in the underappreciated Viking slash-fest, The 13th Warrior.
More importantly, he’d also starred alongside Sylvester Stallone in Assassins, which was the part that would secure him a role in the film at hand, The Expendables 3, nearly two decades later. While Assassins saw Banderas in a state of full blown psychotic mania, his role as Galgo in The Expendables 3 gives him a chance to play some fine tragi-comic scenes – and heeffortlessly steals every frame he’s in. So, without further ado – and with thanks to the man himself for his final answer that took us over our allotted time – here’s how our chat went…
[PLEASE NOTE: THERE ARE SLIGHT SPOILERS FOR THE EXPENDABLES 3 IN THIS INTERVIEW]
How did Stallone approach you about getting involved?
Well it was Sly, he called me one day and he said he was going to send me the material and the script and just to read it and review the character for him. But immediately, even before I read it he said, “Listen, Antonio, if you want to change something, if you wanna just give me your opinion and even write something new for the character, just do it.”
So I read it and when I was just reading the character I was seeing the possibilities that he has in comedy, but the thing is I recognised from the beginning – yeah you can do comedy with him, but at the same time I saw the pain inside this guy and how lonely he was, how solitary of a guy he was and how we human beings, sometimes we protect ourselves with the most unexpected weapons, and in this particular case his weapon was this kind of compulsion for talking and not stop to think. He didn’t allow himself that possibility. If he stops for a second and falls and he starts thinking about what happened to him, he would have become a very depressive character.
So I said that to Sly from the beginning, and we wrote some stuff, he approved that, and then I asked him if would allow me just to improvise and he said, “Absolutely, because I don’t know what I’m going to say [in response].” The interesting thing is that he cannot stop talking and so it doesn’t matter that he’s talking about the structure of the plane, or if he’s jogging around it and nobody understand actually what this guy is all about until later. And it will be you [that discovers] in a scene that was written – that one I didn’t touch – by Sly in which actually the guy reveals, walking in the woods, the source of his pain. And then he makes sense, everything clicks and you say “Oh that’s what happened.”
And it’s a strange scene, for such a big action movie, that’s really lovely to see because it’s like a moment of quiet in amongst all of the bombastic trappings…
It’s an island in the middle of everything… yeah…
And goes against what people have perceived as just a comedy character, because the people that he’s been endlessly talking up with his “I knew the greatest this and I knew the greatest that” have all gone, he’s lost them.
That’s right, exactly.
Hearing you mention the scripting process is interesting and how you had input into it, because I was very curious to know if the role had been written for you, as it certainly seemed that way…
It was very important though because what I did… I remember seeing the first one, but it was blurry in my mind so when he called me I read the script and then with the idea that I had I went back – I think I rented on Apple television – I saw the two of them, now knowing that I was going to perform, so I wanted to do that job in the parameters of what the movie was about without creating a style that was completely out.
I thought, for example, the first one was the most serious one, the second one they allow themselves to start cutting loose and I thought this for the third step ‘I think I can allow myself to do this without completely being out of the plate.’
And I thought, and I was right, that it was one of the biggest concerns on Sly’s side – I remember one scene, I didn’t see the movie yet so I don’t know out of the thousands of words that I said what really made it on the screen! But I remember there was a moment in which I am describing the personality of each one of those guys “Oh I remember this sniper, this guy that was blahblahblah” and there was a moment where I am singing, I think I start singing [he sings the song a little!] because it was a Spanish legionnaires song – because there was this story I created for him – and I did it very funny, but Sly came down from fixing the plane while I was talking to him and he says “Antonio this one, this particular one, you can start taking him to that serious side, it’s almost like he can’t even avoid it. He’s trying to be funny and explain to me about this anthem that they used to sing, but in the middle of that – get caught by that. I need something” he said to me “that makes me turn my face and see you in a different way.”
And I understood and I say “Ah ok, I know.” So in the middle of that he got kind of hypnotised, you know with the thing that is different, that is real. And it’s true and I remember he was there fixing the plane thinking ‘Oh my God, this guy’ and suddenly it’s not ‘Oh my God’ anymore, it’s like an ‘Ooh there’s a real guy there.’
And that moment hooks in later too doesn’t it, when your character realises that Ross was actually listening to his supposed ramblings…
And that actually relates to the story of all The Expendables, it relates to each one of those stories and as the title says it ‘Expendables…’ like Kleenex, like something that is useless and so that’s the way they feel, in a way. And believe me I… even if this is what the film is, it’s big entertainment, it is what it is, but there is a certain truth in many of the elements that are in the movie – I remember I’d been working with the United Nations for a long time and in 1994, right when the American troops left Somalia, I was working with UNICEF at the time, so I travelled there and I went all over the country and there were many guys like that.
There was a guy piloting a helicopter for the United Nations and they moved us around from Mogadishu to Baidoa, to different places in Somalia and I remember sitting with this guy in the front of the helicopter as I like to see and I love to flying in a helicopter, so the guy says “No come over here” and he was in his 60s and I ask him, “So how did you get to be here?” and he said, “Oh I was a soldier and I was in Vietnam, when I was very, very young and I got caught.” And I said “What do you mean you got caught?” and he says “I cannot live in a normal place anymore. I have to be in situations like this, of war, continuously because I need this adrenaline. If I go to a normal place I will become nuts. I became a mercenary after [Vietnam] and afterwards I started working for the United Nations and I go everywhere that there is a helicopter that I can pilot. So I rescue people, I bring food to different organisations, that’s what I do. I’m flying all the time and I am in this kind of field.”
So there are many people that got caught in wars and it’s very interesting – did you know that more American soldiers died committing suicide from the Iraq war, than in the war itself? They get caught. So what we see on television is not even close to what people who live in this time of battlefields go through.
It’s unimaginable really…
They cannot tell their story, they cannot be understood – they try, but you see it still now, now they are very old these ex-Vietnam guys that live alone in the middle of the desert, in the Mojave, living in the mountains somewhere and they don’t have anybody around. No family members, no friends, they live alone, long beards and that’s all they do is just to get together gathered with people lived through the same experience as them, play poker, play pool and then go back to their solitary life.
So in a way, knowing that what we have in front of us is a movie that is entertainment, that is a comic book kind of thing, but there is a certain truth in the source of these characters in a way. And I think Galgo has it in a different way, the way that he protects himself is different to the rest, but it is still in the parameters of what we were looking for.
For my last question, if I may, I wanted to ask about Desperado as it’s one of my all-time favourites. I’ve loved your work with Robert Rodriguez over the years, but wondered if you could share either a favourite memory from filming Desperado, or your early working relationship with Rodriguez?
Well Robert Rodriguez is like… Pedro Almodóvar and Robert Rodriguez, their movies don’t have anything to do with each other, but they have something in common. They are guys with enormous personality, you recognise immediately their work, like Tarantino – it’s the same. Expendables is not like that, Expendables can be directed by many different guys, it’s a classic Hollywood product, very clear.
But in the case of these guys, they have a very strong personality and very specific parameters of how they will tell stories and so you have to actually understand what is their universe, in order to get in there… it’s not normal. The first time I met Robert was because Sony pictures called me to see El Mariachi and at the end of the movie I freaked out, because I couldn’t believe that this guy made the movie with five thousand dollars. So at the end of the projection he was there and he says “So what we are gonna do now is just do this, but here in Hollywood.”
We didn’t have too much of a budget, it was down for a few million dollars, which for Hollywood is not very strong, but what I remember is feeling that this was a guy that, like me, at that time was just making his way into the structure of Hollywood. So we both hold hands together and it was a feeling of solidarity almost, you know, from the beginning. So we became very good friends and that produced seven movies together, with Spy Kids and the second Desperado and Four Rooms and the things that we did during those years.
What I remember is having a pal, a friend that I understood what he wanted to do. He broke a little bit the structure of what action movies were at the time and I was very together with people who were actually creating new styles, like Quentin – Quentin actually was in the movie and we killed him! [laughs]
And so it was just like getting in to this new wave of directors that were arriving to Hollywood, who were younger and saw reality in a different way, that actually made a wink of an eye for past movies in the 70s and they tried to reconstruct movies in a completely different way. They were people who had observed a lot of other movies and classics and now they want to do it in a different way.
Peckinpah was very important for them for example and those action directors… Sergio Leone of course, very much in the case of Desperado – Sergio Leone is everywhere! [laughs] The music, everything [does a western music cue] that type of thing. So that’s what they were trying to do and my memories at that time were like that, with Robert you know? Exciting.
Mr Antonio Banderas, thank you so much!
The Expendables 3 is released in cinemas across the UK on August 14th and the USA on the 15th.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.