ntonio Banderas is the latest actor to step into the “Genius” chair, playing troubled painter Pablo Picasso in NatGeo’s “Genius: Picasso.” In the show, Banderas plays Picasso over the course of 50 years of the artist’s life, from 40 to 90. The actor has the potential to earn his second Emmy nomination in his career, following his work as the titular character in “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself.”
Banderas recently spoke with Gold Derby managing editor Chris Beachum about why he took on the role of Picasso now, his relationship with co-star Alex Rich, and his experience at various award shows over the years. Watch the exclusive web chat above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Antonio Banderas currently starring as Pablo Picasso in “Genius” for Nat Geo, I’m wondering, as you and the producers were assembling this project, and as we’ve been watching it, you give everything about him. You give the good side, the bad side, the warts and all. Why was that important to you that you show all the different qualities of this man?
Antonio Banderas: When I do a character, independently of whatever the opinion that the people have about a persona, if it’s a negative guy for mankind, if it’s a positive guy, I don’t establish a morality judgment over them. I try to play them as human beings, and we all human beings, we travel through life with a backpack filled with greatness and miseries and I thought that Picasso was no different, even if you’ve got this genus side of his persona which is completely focused on his work as a painter and as an artist in general. But then his private life he got a lot of controversial situations, not only just with women, which is very known, but with his friends, relationship with the world in general. He was a very egotistical guy, like a good genius, complex and difficult, complicated person to be around.
GD: You’re from the same hometown. I’ve heard you talk about that before. He’s a hero to you, a hero to so many people in your family and your friends and many people you know from your hometown. What has been the reaction now that they’re starting to see those episodes?
AB: So far it’s good. They accept it, the interruption that we made of the life of Picasso. They were also at the same time very thankful that the production decided to go there and shoot for five days there in Malaga. And at the same time, Malaga was the city chosen by National Geographic and Fox to do the world premiere of “Picasso.” So people from Institution of Picasso, different cultural institutions, political institutions in town, they’re very thankful to the production and at the same time my friends, the people that I know that have been following the show, they see the quality of it and they thoroughly approved it, which is really relieving to me because it would have been horrendous if it didn’t and then they live there for the rest of my life with everybody just pointing at me, “You didn’t represent Picasso in the way it should have been.” So I’m fine with that. But in my own opinion, I still don’t have objectivity to see what I have done. I need time to pass and then I will see the show 10 years from now and then say, “Ah.” Right now I cannot follow. I am watching the show and I know what is happening the day we were shooting that scene. It’s very difficult for me to separate the experience of shooting from the final results.
SEEAlex Rich Interview: ‘Genius: Picasso’
GD: Well you mention Ron Howard. He and Brian Grazer has been as good as it gets in this whole entertainment business for three decades or more. Now that you’ve worked with them on this project, what is it about they do that works so well?
AB: They surround themselves with fantastic teams of professionals, and that helps a lot. In something this we needed those things. For example, makeup artist very important and I was gonna just perform a character that I pick up at 40 and leave him at 90. So if we don’t have the right people it could be dramatic. Also, costume designers, the camera team, they surround themselves with the best of the best and so you feel very comfortable on the set. You feel helped at any given moment. That is essential.
GD: I’d love to know with all of that combined, the production design, the hair and makeup, the costume design, all the visuals that we see. Was there a wow moment for you one day where you stepped out of the trailer and you look around and you just go, “This is amazing”?
AB: (Laughs.) Yeah, there were moments that were very beautiful in which I fell almost totally channeled with Pablo Picasso, totally. And there were days that were very hard, too. The days of the use of prosthetics at the end. The last two episodes were very hard, waking up and being picked up at the hotel at 2 o’clock in the morning, getting in the chair of makeup at 3 and being there for five hours and a half, six hours. Then going to shoot for 10 hours with all this glue attached to your face, trying to understand what is your new character you play, let your body move as the image that you offer with your face. What is the effect that this age is gonna produce in my voice? So it’s a lot of rethinking, acting in a completely different way I’ve never experienced before. That was very interesting, actually. It’s very interesting when you go and see yourself and you don’t recognize yourself. You don’t know if it’s good or bad, but you don’t recognize yourself. You’re watching in the combo, some of the scenes that you’ve done and it’s like, “Oh my god. Really? Wow.” It’s very powerful, all the work from many different people and from yourself, you put it into a character and create something that is new. Those moments were really emotional at some points. You can see that you are achieving something that was impossible at the beginning of the process.
GD: Playing the younger Picasso is really a newcomer to acting, at least in terms of what we’ve seen, Alex Rich. And we interviewed him a few weeks ago. As a more veteran actor yourself, what’s your responsibility in working with somebody younger like that, especially playing the same role?
AB: Well, in a way I had it a little bit easier than him because for example, basically because of the accent. I am from Malaga. I am from the place where Picasso was born, so if somebody had to modify the accent, that was him. It was very interesting because of the nature of the narrative of the show. We are basically going back and forth all the time. We were a long time together shooting, so we saw each other on weekends, at the hotel, wherever we were shooting. He came to the set. So that was a common thing. But it was very interesting because we were serving each other almost in an insane way (laughs). Almost unhealthy, looking at each other trying to see a little detail over here or over there so you can imitate. I love Alex, not only as an actor. I think he’s a very good person, a very nice kid that I think is gonna have a nice career. He deserves it. He’s been a struggling actor for many years and I think he should just take a step forward and the right people surrounding him and he can achieve beautiful things in the future. I’m pretty sure about that.
SEERyan Purcell Interview: ‘Genius: Picasso’ cinematographer
GD: Let me ask you a couple of career questions. We’re an awards website so I wanna ask you, you’ve been going to awards, presenting at awards, nominated at awards, most of your career, a long time. What was your very first big award show?
AB: The first big one internationally was the Golden Globes. I think I was nominated the first time for “Evita,” the musical. Then I’ve been nominated two times there for “Zorro” and also for “Pancho Villa,” on television for HBO. And that was actually my first nomination and the only one for an Emmy, with that.
GD: I always try to end an interview if I’ve got an Oscar voter with me,
I guess you vote on the Oscars every year, you’re a member?
AB: I do.
GD: I always like to end this way with someone like yourself. You don’t have to give specifics of who you voted for, but what are you looking for as an actor when you’ve got that nomination phase and then you’re voting on winners a little later on? What is it that triggers you and says I wanna vote for that person?
AB: The work. There is nothing else that I consider but that specific thing that the Academy is asking me, is just to judge as best as I can the works of that year. This is what this year has been done. I do it in a different way now but I used to have a little notebook. I took it very seriously, and so the Academy is sending you tapes, sending you any other format just to see the movies of that year, with potential nominations and I would just write in that. It’s very important because you as an actor you may remember just the best actors, supporting actors, but then you forget about lighting and best editing and things like that that ultimately you’re gonna have to vote, too. So I wrote it down, because otherwise the votes would go to the movie that you like the most and the movies you just throw everything, music and editing, but I like to be precise because maybe movies that have not been very strong that year, but they have a fantastic soundtrack or they have a fantastic lighting that I love and it was very specific. So I wrote in that notebook everything and by the time that I had to fill the ballot, I took my notebook and I would go, “Oh yeah, I remember the light of that, boom.” So that’s what I did. I don’t know if some of my colleagues do the same thing (laughs).
GD: Oh, as I’ve talked to people over the years almost everybody, especially actors, I think they take their job very seriously.
AB: It has to be like that, because it’s a big responsibility and the awards are very important, for the audiences and for ourselves.
GD: As we wrap up, being an actor, what’s a performance in your lifetime that you just went, “Wow, that’s as great a performance as I’ve ever seen in a movie”?
AB: I’ve seen so many, it’s very difficult to establish, but I remember performances that got stuck forever and one of those was “Raging Bull,” Robert De Niro. That is one of those performances that I will never forget. It was so intense when I saw that movie. I remember the exactly the day in Madrid that I saw “Raging Bull.” I remember that I came out of the theater and I thought I had the De Niro face. I had to just look in the display of a store just to see that it was me. I was totally caught by that character. I thought it was spectacular. But then I have seen so many wonderful performances.
GD: Oh yeah, there’s so many every year. I just wondered if anybody like that stuck out to you from your past.
AB: I love to watch old movies. I go back to the ‘40s and ‘50s and just see movies by Douglas Sirk and the big directors, Frank Capra, I love those movies. Beautiful performance, another type of acting, another way to be in front of a camera, but there are beautiful things done in the past and now in the present, young kids that are coming that do unbelievable things in front of the camera. I say, “Oh my god, how is that possible?” I am an actor because I love actors. That’s the only reason that I am an actor. I remember going with my father and my mother to a theater when I was very young and I just loved the ritual of people just playing there on the stage and telling a story to a bunch of other people that were there and just completely engulfed. So there was a moment that I was starting to feel very uncomfortable going to the theater, and the uncomfortability was that I wanted to jump to the other side of the mirror. I wanted to be there, living those realities with those guys that I used to admire so much, so yes, I am an actor because I love actors.
GD: Well, I’m hoping we see you on that Emmy red carpet in a few weeks. It’s a phenomenal performance. Thank you so much, this was a real pleasure.
AB: Thank you, bye bye.