Antonio’s shades of grey

Banderas on maturing, Almodovar and helping new actors

by Richard Mowe

Antonio Banderas and Michael Radford: 'When you have an actor of the calibre of Antonio you can simply build the part around him'
Antonio Banderas and Michael Radford: 'When you have an actor of the calibre of Antonio you can simply build the part around him' Photo: Richard Mowe
Hispanic heart-throb Antonio Banderas, whose reputation in part has been forged on his normally clean-shaven, chiselled Latin looks has undergone something of a transformation for his latest screen incarnation in The Music Of Silence.

The 56-year-old adopts a much more mature look than his years suggest with grey hair and a luxuriant grey beard to play the Maestro who helps the young Andrea Bocelli realise his potential to become the golden voiced tenor known to millions in the film, directed by Michael Radford (of Il Postino and The Merchant Of Venice renown).

Antonio Banderas: 'Pedro Almodovar is not an easy guy. He's a tough director but very creative'
Antonio Banderas: 'Pedro Almodovar is not an easy guy. He's a tough director but very creative' Photo: Richard Mowe
Based on Bocelli’s memoir in which he names his alter ego as Amos Bardi, the film recounts how his musical gifts emerged with the support of his loving family and despite blindness caused by childhood glaucoma, his struggles to read music in Braille and making ends meet as a singer in a bar. Toby Sebastian, the British Game Of Thrones star, plays the character based on Bocelli and mimes to the songs that made his reputation.

Banderas, who presented the film last night (September 6) at the Deauville Festival of American Cinema says his crucial role only appears late in the film. “I knew I could not play the actual character who was the Maestro because he is a lot older than me. But he was a fascinating character who exhibited a kind of paternalism as well as a discipline based on love for Bocelli’s extraordinary voice and the possibilities for the youngster. He felt he could help him realise his true potential and help to make him understood.”

He worked for five days on his scenes with Sebastian in a room with a piano in Rome. “We just seemed to bounce off each other,” he adds.

If Banderas had to choose a mentor-maestro from his own life obviously he would plump for Pedro Almodovar who “discovered” the actor long before Hollywood found roles for him as varied as Zorro, Evita, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Spy Kids, Shrek, The 13th Warrior and The Expendables 3.

Michael Radford: 'Music and the collaboration between it and the image is the soul of the movie'
Michael Radford: 'Music and the collaboration between it and the image is the soul of the movie' Photo: Richard Mowe
He said: “Pedro is not an easy guy. He is a tough director but very creative. He’s the leader of the whole bunch and he controls practically everything from cinematography to costumes, make-up, everything. And Pedro is one of the directors that actually doesn’t allow you to create very much. In fact, I remember the times that I was working with him, I used to say, ‘I have an idea.’

“He’d say, ‘No, no, you don’t have ideas. I have the ideas. You just come here very fresh in the morning, very happy and I will direct you.’ So that’s the way that Pedro does things. When you have a director that has the talent that he has, you immediately jump into that pot and you don’t care. You say, ‘Well, I want to do exactly what you want to do. Write it, use me as if I was a pen.’”

Banderas described Almodovar as someone who pushed him to the limits but he did so “with tremendous love and friendship. He could guide you because he had all that experience”.

With the wealth of his own experience accumulated over the years, Banderas, who now lives some of the time in his home town Malaga, mostly in London but also in New York with his girlfriend Nicole Kimpel, would also like to do his share of mentoring. “Of course I have been happy help younger actors when they needed it, but at the moment I am negotiating to run a theatre in Malaga. One of the spaces would be devoted to more classical and commercial productions while the other space would for young people to experiment. That was a dream I had when I was young but it never happened. This might be my opportunity to share all that experience I have garnered over the years,” he says.

Despite his brief time on the set he and Radford hit it off and want to work again early next year. “Originally I had Christopher Plummer in mind for the role of the Maestro,” confesses Radford. “Then I realised that when you have an actor of the calibre of Antonio you can simply build the part around him. You do not always need to cast the person you might have had in your head in the first place.”

A bearded Antonio Banderas as the Maestro and Toby Michael, who plays a character based on Andrea Bocelli
A bearded Antonio Banderas as the Maestro and Toby Michael, who plays a character based on Andrea Bocelli Photo: Deauville Festival of American Cinema
Radford has no particular musical skills but feels an affinity with music. “It speaks to my soul the way that films do or theatre does - or indeed any kind of art. Music and the collaboration between it and the image is the soul of the movie. It comes together when you have an image that you love and you have a piece of music that you never thought would go with that image, but it does. Without being too sentimental that some times moved me to tears on the set.”

Shooting in English, meant that Italian actors spoke it with an Italian accent while Toby Sebastian spoke English with an Italian accent. The linguistically adept Radford had both dialogue and dialect coaches on tap as well as music experts and blind experts. “It was all quite amazing,” he says. Bocelli left him along to get on with the shoot with only one stipulation: that his blindness was not portrayed as a disability.

Banderas’s next project will be to play Pablo Picasso in the second season of Genius for National Geographic.

"The life story of Pablo Picasso has long since fascinated me and I have so much respect for this man, who also comes from my birthplace Malaga,” said Banderas whose litany of real-life iconic figures on screen includes Pancho Villa and Che Guevara.

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