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Hispanic Heritage

Antonio Banderas

Antonio Banderas

Also known as: Jose Antonio Dominguez Banderas

Birth: August 10, 1960 in Malaga, Spain
Occupation: Actor, director

Antonio Banderas made a quick transition from little-known Spanish actor to Hollywood heartthrob with his 1992 American film debut in The Mambo Kings. Though he seemed to have come from nowhere, he had already made a name for himself in his native Spain, having acted in more than 30 films. He never considered himself a sex symbol during the early part of his career, but his American debut paved the way for a series of macho roles. Yet, whether playing a bullfighting student who faints at the sight of blood in Matador or a hitman in Assassins, Banderas has managed to maintain his box office allure and still produce an eclectic and respected body of work.

Jose Antonio Dominguez Banderas was born in Malaga, Spain, on August 10, 1960, to Jose, a government employee, and Ana, a school teacher. He was named for his father and for his mother's beloved brother Antonio. His brother, Francisco, was born just eighteen months later. Banderas grew up in a middle-class household and had an authoritarian upbringing. "My parents were very strict with me, but not to the point where I'm complaining," he told Cindy Pearlman of The Chicago Sun-Times. "It was necessary because I was a wild boy." He excelled in sports and dreamed, like most young Spanish boys, of becoming a professional soccer player. His aspirations were crushed, however, when he broke his foot playing soccer. It was then that he began to think seriously about becoming an actor.

Struggled as an Actor

Banderas enrolled in drama classes at the School of Dramatic Arts in Malaga--against the wishes of his parents, who imagined a more traditional career for their son--and joined an independent theater group. After years of suppression under Spanish dictator Franco's regime, independent theater was beginning to take root. The group traveled all over Spain with little financial support and often performed on the streets, sometimes hassled by the police and drunken onlookers. In 1981, at the age of nineteen, he moved to Madrid to further his acting career. It wasn't long before he won a place as an ensemble member in the esteemed National Theater of Spain, becoming the youngest member of the company. Being a struggling young actor, he also worked as a waiter and took small modeling jobs.

After one theater performance, he was introduced to radical young film director Pedro Almodovar. At the time, Almodovar was one of the most outrageous and talented of an emerging breed of cinematic pioneers, and he approached Banderas to help him forge a new film industry. They joined forces and made several acclaimed and sexually provocative movies beginning in the 1980s, such as Labryinth of Passion, Matador, and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! During this time he was also busy working with other Spanish directors, such as Felix Rotaeta and Rafael Moleón, making more conventional films such as The Stilts, The Pleasure of Killing, and Baton Rouge. Banderas had become a well-known actor in Spain, but it was the 1988 Almodovar hit Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown that earned him international attention and a prestigious Spanish film award nomination for Best Lead Actor.

Made American Film Debut

In 1992 American director Arne Glimcher cast Banderas opposite Armand Assante in The Mambo Kings, even though Banderas knew very little English. Determined to conquer the language barrier and break into the U.S. film industry, Banderas learned all of his lines phonetically and took intensive lessons at a Berlitz school. His efforts paid off when he delivered a stunning and deep rendering of his lines, winning high praise for his performance.

His breakthrough Hollywood role was in the highly acclaimed 1993 film Philadelphia, in which he played Tom Hanks's sympathetic gay lover. Banderas received monumental praise for his role in the film. Soon, offers started to roll in, including a part in The House of Spirits, and the role of Armand in the high-profile production of Interview With the Vampire, starring alongside Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.

His first leading role in an American film came in 1995 when he teamed up for the first time with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez in Desperado. Banderas formed a lasting relationship with Rodriguez that led to the making of 1995's Four Rooms, a four-director experimental comedy that cast Banderas as a father trying to keep his children in line. This film would inspire his character in Spy Kids, another Rodriguez film shot several years later. During the 1990s Banderas worked at a breakneck pace, completing work on Miami Rhapsody, Never Talk to Strangers, and his biggest budget film yet, the $75 million Assassins, in which he starred alongside Sylvester Stallone. But it was the 1996 musical extravaganza Evita that surprised audiences the most. The musical, based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway phenomenon, showcased Banderas's eclectic style and gambling spirit when he sang and danced opposite Madonna as Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.

It wasn't long before Banderas commanded more than $1 million for a film and was being labeled the Latin lover. It was quite a long way from his days as a struggling actor in Madrid, when he played numerous gay roles. Banderas enjoyed the success, but was careful not to embrace his new image. "I don't think there is a guy that plays more gay characters than I have done in my life," he told Diane Sawyer in an ABC television Primetime Live interview. "I mean, that doesn't feed the Latin lover. So I never was careful of trying to--to keep an image and explode that image." Still, he has continued to be named to such lists as People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World and Entertainment Weekly's "It" list, which described him as "five-alarm Tabasco-hot."

Married Melanie Griffith

In 1995 Banderas became romantically involved with Melanie Griffith while working on the film Two Much. He had been married to Ana Leza since 1988, but their eight-year marriage soon ended. Banderas and Griffith were married after a whirlwind romance in May of 1996. They welcomed the birth of their first child, Estella del Carmen, the following September. So far, their marriage has managed to endure the wrath of the tabloids and the paparazzi. "Until I met Melanie, everything was quiet." he told John Miller of the Express On Sunday, "It was after we got together that it exploded."

Even with the stress of media attention, Banderas continued to work aggressively in the 1990s, making a string of critical missteps, including The 13th Warrior and Play it to the Bone, as well as some successes, including The Mask of Zorro, a critically acclaimed action romp that brought him rave reviews as the swashbuckling hero. He was the first Spaniard to play the Spanish hero Zorro, who had previously been portrayed by Douglas Fairbanks on film and by Guy Williams on television. After a series of movies that had portrayed him as the macho leading man, Zorro allowed Banderas to restore the element that made him so appealing in Almodovar's films: his sense of humor.

He made his Hollywood directorial debut in 1999 with Crazy in Alabama, a civil rights drama about a woman who kills her husband to get out of an abusive marriage, and then heads for Hollywood, leaving her seven kids behind in Alabama. The film starred his wife, and the couple's daughter, Stella, had a bit part. The film was panned by the critics.

Developed Eclectic Style

Deviating from his usual sexy roles, in 2001 Banderas re-teamed with Rodriguez on a family movie, Spy Kids, in which he lampooned his Latin lover image and played the role of a patriarch in a family of spies. The movie was Banderas's biggest financial success up to that point, grossing $113 million and increasing his clout in Hollywood. This was his sixth film with Rodriguez and would guarantee their future working relationship. Just a year later, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, was released on the coattails of the first film's success. Banderas has been fully aware that Hollywood rewards moneymaking and not talent. He told Ron Dicker of The Hartford Courant, "That's beautiful for the studio and probably for your career in some way because they value you for the money you produce, not what you are as an actor."

Banderas continued to juggle a full schedule of eclectic projects. He released four new films in 2002, with supporting roles as the painter David Siqueiros in the successful Frida Kahlo biography Frida, and as a photographer in Brian DePalma's box office bomb Femme Fatale. He also had a leading role in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, an espionage-action film that received dismal reviews. His 2003 films included Desperado II: Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Imagining Argentina, a political thriller.

Banderas credits Pedro Almodovar with his overall success. "Almodovar is the most important person in my career," he told Roger Moore of The Orlando Sentinel. "I am in America, making movies, because of him. He made me. Americans saw me first through his movies. He is the guilty one, the reason I am here."

Banderas's success in Evita also led to another Broadway role in a 2003 revival of the 1982 Tony-winning musical Nine, based on Federico Fellini's autobiographical film Eight and a Half. "I need to take a risk in my life," Banderas told Moore of the Orlando Sentinal. "That is what I love to do. Everything has to have some risk in it. Since my time with Almodovar, when nobody else dared to play gay characters, I learned there is much to gain by taking chances." For Banderas, this attitude seems to have paid off.

UPDATES

May 21, 2004: Banderas starred as the voice of Puss in Boots in Shrek 2, which was released by DreamWorks. Source:New York Times, movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=286672, June 2, 2004.

June 2004: Banderas was named to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, June 17, 2004.

October 18, 2005: Banderas was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, October 19, 2005.

October 28, 2005: Banderas starred in The Legend of Zorro, which was released by Columbia Pictures. Source:New York Times, http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=291163, October 31, 2005.

April 7, 2006: Banderas starred in Take the Lead, which was released by New Line Cinema. Source:New York Times, http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=320862, April 30, 2006.

PERSONAL INFORMATION

Born Jose Antonio Dominguez Banderas on August 10, 1960, in Malaga, Spain; son of Jose and Ana; married Ana Leza, 1988 (divorced, 1996); married Melanie Griffith, 1996; children: Estella del Carmen (second marriage) Education: Attended the School of Dramatic Arts, Spain's national theater company. Addresses: Agent--Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

AWARDS

Golden Apple Award for Male Discovery of the Year, 1995; ALMA Award for Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film, 1998; Imagen Foundation Lasting Image Award, 1999; European Film Audience Award, 1999; ALMA Award for Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film, 1999; European Film Award for Outstanding European Achievement in World Cinema, 1999; ALMA Award for Best Director, 2000; Anthony Quinn Award for Excellence in Cinema and the Arts, 2002.

CAREER

Actor in more than 70 films. European film appearances include Labyrinth of Passion, Closed Case, 27 Hours, The Law of Desire, Baton Rouge, and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! English-language films include The Mambo Kings, Philadelphia, The House of the Spirits, Assassins, Four Rooms, Evita, The Mask of Zorro, and Spy Kids. Directed film Crazy in Alabama, 1999; named world ambassador of tourism (with Melanie Griffith) of Spain's Andalucia region, 2002.

FURTHER READINGS

Periodicals

  • Chicago Sun-Times, August 4, 2002.
  • Express on Sunday, August 25, 2002.
  • Hartford Courant, August 11, 2002.
  • Hollywood Reporter, May 16, 2002.
  • InStyle Magazine, October 2002.
  • Orlando Sentinal, August 9, 2002.
  • South Florida Sun-Sentinel, August 7, 2002.

Other

  • Additional information for this profile was obtained through a transcript of Primetime Live, ABC News, August 1, 2002.

SOURCE CITATION

Contemporary Hispanic Biography. Vol. 3. Gale, 2003.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale. 2007.

Photo credits

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