How a Heart Attack Inspired Antonio Banderas to Open a Theater Company in His Native Spain (Listen)

Marc Malkin

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Antonio Banderas has introduced Spain to “A Chorus Line.” A Spanish language adaptation of the classic American musical about struggling actors auditioning for a chorus line on Broadway was the opening production last month of the actor’s new Teatro del Soho CaixaBank in his native Málaga. It also marks the first production of “A Chorus Line” to be staged in Spain.

“There is something about me as an actor that many people don’t know, and is that I am an actor because of theater. Not because of movies,” Banderas says on this week’s “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast.

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“Movies became an enormous accident in my career, an accident of over 112 movies, but the thing that I fell in love with in my profession is the theater, seeing actors on the stage, a group of people just telling stories to another group of people,” he said. “I just love that ritual. There was something there, very specific, very beautiful that has to do with civilization, with the possibility of these people reflecting in front of others about ourselves. You can make them laugh, you can make them cry, you can go to many different places.”

The new theater company — which also includes a school for 600 students — is a direct result of the heart attack that Banderas, 59, suffered in 2017. “I came [to] the conclusion that I had to do the things that I want to do, that I don’t want to die thinking, ‘I should have done that or I should have said that,'” he said. “Money in the bank became kind of a very Machiavellian intellectual thing.”

He added, “When you get close to death, only the essential things remain. Things that you thought at some point that were very important, they disappear.”

Banderas is now enjoying one of his most successful times on film, receiving some of the best reviews of his career for “Pain and Glory,” a semi-autobiographical film written and directed by his longtime collaborator Pedro Almodóvar. Banderas stars as a director confronting his past as he grows older. Suffering from health issues, he develops a heroin addiction.

Reading the script for the first time, Banderas admits that he learned things about Almodóvar that he never shared with him over their 40 years of friendship. “We have kept a very beautiful friendship, but with certain limits, because Pedro is a very private person,” Banderas said. “I always wanted to respect that privacy. There were spaces that I knew that I didn’t have access and I never forced that. We created a friendship that has its own universe.”

Antonio Banderas photographed exclusively for Variety’s “The Big Ticket” podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety

Banderas won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in May for “Pain and Glory.” He’s also a contender to pick up his first Oscar nomination in a crowded category that includes Robert De Niro (“The Irishman”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”), Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”) as well as Robert Pattinson (“The Lighthouse”), Christian Bale (“Ford v Ferrari”) and Paul Walter Hauser (“Richard Jewell”). The film is Spain’s official entry for best international feature.

“It’s not only a movie about the things that Pedro has done,” Banderas explained. “It’s about the things that never did that he wanted to do, the things that he never said that he wanted to say. In that aspect it is more Almodóvar than Almodóvar because he completed the circle, closed some wounds, and the movie is pretty much…about reconciliation and then coming to terms with many people and with yourself.”

That is why Banderas thinks the film is resonating with audiences: ”We all do have that suitcase filled with miseries and grievances, with pain and glory.”

In addition to navigating awards season while starring in and co-directing “A Chorus Line” — and possibly moving it to Broadway — Banderas is working on building a second performance space for Teatro del Soho CaixaBank, a black box theater for more experimental material set to open in June.

As I do with most of the guests on “The Big Ticket,” I asked Banderas to name a movie he will never get tired of watching. Without missing a beat, he said, smiling, “‘Singin’ In the Rain — I can watch that over and over and over again.”

“There is an energy in the movie that is very special, that is very romantic in a way.” Banderas said. “It tells us a story about the old Hollywood and our time in the history of this town that it was very hopeful and colorful, and he had a lot of hope for a life that was beautiful. Maybe we have lost that innocence and that’s what I like about that movie, the innocence inside it.”

You can listen to my full interview with Banderas below. You can also find “The Big Ticket” on iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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