Spanish actor Banderas to play Picasso in two different roles

Antonio Banderas is starring as Picasso in a TV adaptation of the artist's life by US director Ron Howard and is also set to feature as the Spanish painter in a film about Guernica.

Spanish actor Banderas to play Picasso in two different roles
Banderas (top row, second from left) on the set of Genius Picasso. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP.

It was written in the stars that one day Spanish star Antonio Banderas, who used to walk to school every morning past Pablo Picasso's childhood home, would have to play the great painter.

For years Malaga's second most famous son has been turning down offers to play its greatest, knowing that he “would be looked at with a magnifying glass.” But finally Banderas has said yes — twice.

He's playing Picasso in a 10-part television series on the artist's tumultuous life steered by Hollywood heavyweight Ron Howard, and in a film on the 33 days he took to paint his anti-war masterpiece “Guernica” written by the Spanish great Carlos Saura.

“Movies are very good for events,” Banderas said, “but for somebody's life, 10 hours of TV is a very interesting vehicle.”

Even so, with someone like Picasso “no matter how well you do it, you are going to face criticism”, the 57-year-old actor told AFP from the set of the new series, “Genius Picasso”. 

“It was same for Picasso,” Banderas insisted. “He knew when he painted 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' people were going to try to kill him for it because it was not seen as proper at the time.”

Picasso loomed large over Banderas' childhood in Malaga, the Andalusian port where they were born only four streets apart.

Paloma: 'You sound like my father'

“He was a hero. I remember my mother holding my hand and taking me to school in the morning past his house on the Plaza de la Merced,” said the actor, who without his hair is not physically unlike the artist.

Another thought also comforts Banderas. He once met Picasso's daughter Paloma when he first arrived in Los Angeles and spoke very little English.

“I started to speak Spanish with her” and after a while “she closed her eyes and I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm boring this woman.'

“So I asked her if she was tired, and she said, 'No, not at all. When I close my eyes I can see my father, because you speak with the same accent as my him. That's how my father spoke, he spoke like you.'”

“I cannot compare myself with the most important artist of the 20th century, it would be stupid and ridiculous,” said Banderas, who plays the artist in his later years, spending five hours a day in makeup before he steps onto the set.

Rather than a typical biopic, the series for National Geographic – shot partly in Budapest – is a “kind of cubist painting of him actually,” he said. “We're going back and forth in his life continuously. It starts with the bombing of Guernica,” the Basque town which was levelled by Hitler and Mussolini's bombers during the Spanish Civil War in 1937.

Pablo Picasso's painting Guernica, created in response to fascist forces' bombing of the village of Guernica in 1937. Cristina Quicler/AFP. 

Reading between the lines

“The narrative is not linear, which is very good I think,” said Banderas, who made his name in Pedro Almodovar films like “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” before going to Hollywood.

He said his biggest struggle was not the makeup but trying to “understand Picasso”, the choices he made politically and artistically and his relations with the women in his life.

“You have to constantly read between the lines trying to understand what was his truth,” Banderas added.

As well as combing biographies of the painter, the actor talked with his grandson Olivier Widmaier, whose book “Picasso: An Intimate Portrait” is published in March.

Banderas' passion for the painter has also seen him keep faith for more than six years with Saura's long-delayed film “Guernica 33 Days”, which sets his creation of Picasso's great painting against the backdrop of his stormy relationship with Dora Maar.

“It is completely different to what we're doing here, it is dedicated to 'Guernica', his great reflection on violence and the civil war. Carlos Saura wants to get away from realism and do something that is literally a painting. I am interested in that and I may still do it.”

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‘The Girls’ wins big at Spain’s live-streamed 2021 Goya awards

Pilar Palomero’s debut coming of age film ‘Girls’ was the big winner at the 2021 Goya Awards on Saturday, held via a live-streamed ceremony.

‘The Girls’ wins big at Spain's live-streamed 2021 Goya awards
Antonio Banderas presented the 35th Goya Awards with Spanish journalist María Casado. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

The Goyas, Spain’s prestigious annual film awards ceremony, was held at the Teatro del Soho CaixaBank in Málaga. It was a hybrid on-site/virtual ceremony, with no audience nor nominees attending in person.

‘The Girls’, a generation portrait of Spanish women who would now be in their 40s, swept the awards, winning best picture, best new director, best original screenplay, and best cinematography.

Nominees appeared on a large video screen in a Zoom-like setup, and winners accepted prizes from their own homes with their families, giving the ceremony a more intimate feel than usual.

Málaga-born Antonio Banderas directed the ceremony, and other big stars such as Pedro Almodóvar, Penélope Cruz, Paz Vega, and Alejandro Amenábar also made appearances to present the awards.

The non-audience format gave the ceremony, which is broadcast on TV, a larger reach than usual. Celebrities including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron, and Isabelle Huppert sent in pre-recorded messages of support.

Just two days before international women’s day, gender issues featured strongly in nominated films and acceptance speeches. Women won almost as much as men, taking 12 categories, and Daniela Cajías became the first woman director of photography to win the best cinematography award for “Girls.”

In other categories, Mario Casas won best actor for “No Matarás” (Cross the Line), about a good-natured man who has an unexpectedly deadly confrontation, and Patricia López Arnaíz won best actress for her role in Ane (Ane is Missing), in which she plays a mother who investigates her daughter’s disappearance.

The Honorary Goya was awarded to actress Angela Molina, who starred in Luis Buñuel’s last film, “The Obscure Object of Desire”.

Last year, Pedro Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical film Pain and Glory was the star of the ceremony, winning seven honours, including best picture, best director, original screenplay, and best actor for Antonio Banderas.