Antonio Banderas
Antonio Banderas
Image: Supplied

“Never meet your heroes,” the saying goes, for disappointment is sure to follow. Antonio Banderas is an A-list actor, boasting a multitude of accolades and leading roles. He’s played some of popular culture’s most-loved action heroes, including Zorro in The Mask of Zorro, El Mariachi in Desperado, Jeremiah Ecks in Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever, and even Puss In Boots. Thus I felt a slight veil of anxiety descend upon me when the opportunity to interview Banderas in person arose during his visit to South Africa for the launch of his Women in Gold photography series exhibition.

He was on a tight schedule of bumper-to-bumper TV and magazine interviews, and had only 20 minutes to spare for me, so I was expecting to find a very irritable and possibly still jet-lagged Banderas. But ushered in by his publicist, Banderas walks into the room, dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt, with slightly tousled, salt-and-pepper hair and a boyish smile on his face. I was expecting a boisterous personality to greet me with a flurry of flamboyant gestures; instead, he politely murmured a soft “hello”, and, with a nod of his head, shook my hand and picked a chair to sit on, sipping a cup of black tea before commencing.

Banderas is a reserved, soft-spoken gentleman and a humanitarian, who has the ability to make you feel as if you have his undivided attention, and reinforce your confidence with his genuine smile or laughter.

It is no wonder that, as part of his 20-year partnership with Puig, Antonio Banderas fragrances has spread its wings to South Africa to continue its philanthropic work with charities all over the world, including Unicef.

Puig is a Barcelona-based company that has been instrumental in the success of some of the world’s biggest fashion and fragrance brands (including Carolina Herrera, Paco Rabanne, Jean Paul Gaultier, Prada, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Valentino. and Comme des Garçons).

With the help of the auction of his latest photography series, Women in Gold, Banderas and Puig were able to raise funds of up to R1.2million for Nkosi’s Haven, the charity he chose to support in South Africa. “They were quite invisible and we want to make the invisibles visible,” Banderas said. “They have been working hard and are, in a way, created by angels that basically sacrifice their lives to obtain a result. I visited Nkosi’s Haven the other day and it was very emotional to see all those kids and they explained to me how they work and the funds that they need. We chose Gail Johnson’s dream, so we are going to share the dream with her. The idea is that it doesn’t stop here.”

As well as acting, Banderas harbours a secret talent for photography, a passion that began as an activity to while away time on set, snapping behind-the scenes shots of cast and crew. Even with a second photo exhibition under his belt, Banderas maintains he is not a photographer. “I am an aficionado and I do photography just to serve some other purpose,” he explains. “In this case, it’s a charity. It’s true that as an aficionado, I’ve been taking pictures for a long time to obtain more funds for the charities that we have been working with for a number of years. Photography in particular, I love photography. I think that a frozen instance sometimes can say more than a book, depending on the circumstances.

“I remember when I was doing the preparation for Pancho Villa, a character that I played years ago (in the TV film And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself), I read and read about Pancho Villa and I thought I had it — then there was one picture that actually gave me the key of who this guy was. It was a picture and he was going to be executed — it didn’t happen — but he was going to be executed at some point, and an order arrived in the last second to say ‘cancel this’,” Banderas continues. “But there is a picture of him, with guys pointing at him with rifles and he is like ‘what the heck’ and that picture, of a guy who in front of death, in minutes could be dead is confronting this — defying the ones who were going to kill him and I thought wow, that is powerful. And that actually gave me the strength to play that character.”

The launch of his latest olfactory offering, The Secret Temptation and Her Secret Temptation proves that after all the movies, photography and his vocation as a humanitarian Banderas shows no signs of slowing down.

So what is next for the bighearted actor? Set to start his preparation for his biggest role yet, Banderas will portray one of the world’s most respected artists, Pablo Picasso. “He was born two blocks from where I was born, in Malaga, so the shadow of Picasso has always been there”, Banderas said. “I admire him very much. He is obviously a very mysterious man and we don’t know much about his personal life. We know that he had a lot of women, but about his own personality it’s difficult, because each person I met who lived with him talks about him in a different way — it depends on how your interaction with Picasso was.”

The 10-part bio series, forming the second season of National Geographic Genuis, which previously featured Albert Einstein, will be executively produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, and is set to air in 2018.

BANDERAS ’ MOODBOARD

Who are some of the photographers who you admire, or who have inspired you? There is one photographer called Capa, who was taking pictures of the Spanish Civil War. This is a guy who was embedded in both sides of the conflict, with the nacionales and also the rebels, and was making extraordinary documents with his camera. I have also worked with some fantastic artists, including Herb Ritts, who died 15 years ago. He is probably one of the guys who impressed me the most. The way he inspired you as a model was fantastic: in one day’s work, he was super creative.

What inspired you to create the photography series Women in Gold? It is a consequence of the first exhibition that we did called Black on Black, which (both) actually describes a very specific type of woman. The first one was way more aggressive because I used Spanish iconography of bull fighting, the paintings of Goya and operas, such as Carmen, so I put together something that was aggressive. But the second one is more ironic: it has humour and is still indicative of a woman who is independent.

It’s very theatrical, in a way — it’s almost like you are watching a play or a scene. So you see a woman that is getting married and wearing boxing gloves almost to say “don’t mess with me”, so the entire thing is like that. At some point I would like to propose to my team, because I think it would make more sense, to put both collections together so they will make more sense because they are linked.

Which is your favourite image from the Women In Gold series? My favourite is actually the one where you see a black woman and a white woman and we have thrown milk on the black woman and chocolate on the white one. It’s a fusion and a “wink of an eye” to say that racism is something stupid.

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