Genius: How Antonio Banderas Conquered His Fear of Playing Picasso

National Geographic's Genius returns with Antonio Banderas painting a portrait of Pablo Picasso.

In season two of National Geographic’s anthology series Genius, Antonio Banderas transforms into the legendary artist Pablo Picasso. To say this role was years in the making is an understatement. After all, Picasso and Banderas are the two most famous sons of Málaga, Spain. Banderas has had a few opportunities to play Picasso in the past, but the timing never felt right for him, until now. 

“I was really afraid of playing him,” Banderas said in a Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Genius season 2. “So many times in my life I didn’t feel prepared. He was such a big figure for me, so complicated. At the same time because it was with my hometown, I felt a sense of responsibility.”

Some of the fears Banderas had disappeared after he suffered a heart attack a few years back. “I said if I don’t do it now, I better close the door to Picasso and I’ll go and see him and enjoy him at the museums,” he said. “So I better jump. And here we are.”

Banderas has called Picasso his hero in the past, though he clarified that playing the role and researching the artist has painted a more complicated picture of the larger-than-life figure. Renowned for his groundbreaking and distinctly modern paintings and sculptures, Picasso’s personal life was filled with tragedy, lust, and tremendous sacrifice for his work, resulting in damaged relationships with loved ones. 

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“Picasso is still a very mysterious man,” he said. “It still feels like that after playing him every day for five months, stepping into his shoes, reading everything possible, seeing all the photos, talking with his family. I think he was mysterious to the people who surrounded him. I think he was mysterious for himself.”

Genius: Picasso is a portrait of a complex figure, and the portrayal of Picasso doesn’t always come off flattering. But Banderas is relishing the chance to honor his countryman. 

“We didn’t have the opportunity of giving Picasso the applause the Spanish people wanted to give him. We wanted to say we love you. That was the relationship I had with this man. He was the hero that escaped everything that [Dictator Francisco Franco] was trying to keep closed.”