The big screen's latest hero is an old-style matinee swashbuckler. And with ANTONIO BANDERAS hiding behind The Mask Of Zorro, who needs a light sabre when you've got a flashing blade?

Words: James Mottram


THESE DAYS, IF LATINO ACTORS AREN'T PLAYING COLUMBIAN drug barons. llollyvvood tends to pigeonhole them in No categories: ‘feisty' for vvomen (think Rosie Perez. Jennifer Lopez). or ‘C‘asanova' for men. Think. in this case. Antonio Banderas. He may have slung shots for Robert Rodriguez in l)('.s‘/)('rado. crooned alongside Madonna in lii‘ila and out- sucked Brad Pitt and Tom (‘ruise in lnn'rrimr With The Vampire. but once a Latin lover. alvvays a Latin lover.

‘I like the Latin part of the Latin lover. I just take the Latin and throvv the lover avvay.’ protests Banderas. passion lighting in his dark brovvn eyes. 'If you look closely at my American career. I haven't really done Latin lover things. I‘ve done vampire movies. musicals. a comedy. drama. psycho—thrillers.‘

To be fair. it‘s an image he has gently exploited along the

vvay. none more so than in his latest film. The .I'Ias'k ()f

Zorro. vvhich re-tells the legend of the svvordsman with the zest of an old-fashioned svvashbuckler. Paired alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta Jones (as tutor and love interest respectively). Banderas revelled in the chance to subvert the hero image.

‘To me. Zorro \vas alvvays a character reaching for perfection.‘ he says. ‘You never savv Zorro in movies vvith a spot on his suit. We had the opportunity to make him fail in front of the audience. make mistakes. This brings him to a human level. bringing the audience to your side. By the time you get epic. you have the people in your pocket. ()ur story goes back to the old days of adventure and action movies. the ones from the 40s and Sllsf

lirrol lilynn movies ('aptain Blood and The .'I(/I‘(’Illlll‘(’.\' (2/ Robin Hood spring to mind. but Banderas sees his nevv movie as a chance to alter the path set by previous Zorro incarnations. ‘lt‘s more about the concept —- who is carrying the mask. We never savv a hero die on screen. or someone picking up the torch and continuing the tradition of Zorro.‘

It was the stage. not the screen. that had been the Malaga— born actor‘s first calling alter a foot injury and a trip to see Milos l’orman‘s Hair —— quashed his urge to be a soccer player. Against his parents vvishes. the young Banderas enrolled in his home tovvn’s School of Dramatic Art. and then vvent on to form a travelling theatre troupe. Later. vvhile performing in Spain's esteemed Madrid-based National Theatre during the liberated post-liranco climate. the actor met film director Pedro Almodovar —- the pair have novv collaborated five times. Iiventually. this film vvork vvould open doors in America.

’I never had llollyvvood dreams when l vvas a kid. not even vvhen l vvas a professional in Spain.’ Banderas admits. ‘l'or me. going to Hollyvvood started as an accident. I vvent to do this movie. .Wum/m Kings. which I did vvithout speaking the language. Then I vvent back to liurope to continue my career. It was too far avvay from my home town:

The Arne (ilimcher film. based on the Pulitzer Prize vvinning novel The Mambo Kings Sing Songs ()_/'I.oi'('. cast Banderas as a (‘uban trumpeter at a time vvhen the actor could speak no linglish. Learning his lines phonetically and taking intensive Berlit/ language courses. Banderas sent ripples through Hollywood. who proclaimed him the next Rudolph Valentino. Despite the film's mild reception. Banderas intends to vvork again with the director on The White River Kid. a story of a redneck evangelist and a young

serial killer vvho tramp the Midvvest posing as monks.

Nowadays. he‘s eloquent in speech. although a heavy Spanish accent betrays his roots 'l‘m not going to lose my accent. never. don’t vvorry'. The 38-year-old actor is also destined to never fully escape llollyvvood‘s amorous insistences. vaarthy and brooding. yet vulnerable and sensitive. Banderas' traits simply lit the mould of a screen lover. It’s a curse that haunted his Spanish film career too: Banderas played a number of gay roles for Almodovar. and his male-to-male kiss in [.(lIt' (If/harm) caused outrage in the Spanish press.

Shrugging off claims that he was gay in real life. he vvent on to play Tom Hanks lover in AIDS drama Philadelphia. llis introduction to American audiences came at the right time. as he was unable to get much vvork in Spain outside of Almodovar’s movies. ‘I had to get avvay from the type of character that l vvas predestined to do. It vvas my fate.‘ he adds in reference to roles that included a mental patient- cum-kidnapper in 'lie .llt' (5'1), 'l'ii' My l)ou-n.’.

Post l’hi/adv/phia. Banderas has bobbed through some dire vvorks (romantic comedy .lliami Rhapsody. the Stallone- actioner Assassins. the Rodriguez segment of Four Rooms) but managed credible performances in all. ()ne such vvas screvvball comedy 'l'n-o .I/llt'll. which introduced him to his second wife. Melanie (iriflith. Divorcing his love—at—lirst-sight actress wife of eight years. Ana Le/a. he braved the reactions of shocked fans and family to marry (iriflith a year later. amongst a flurry of publicly displayed signs of affection.

.\'ovv the father of baby girl Stella del Carmen (‘my little baby, vvho’s tvvo years old. calls me Zorro Papa novv'). Banderas has once more teamed professionally vvith (iriflith. this time vvith hubby making his directorial debut ('ra:_v In Alabama. .\'epotism is ruled out. of course.

’li'our. five years ago. I started feeling the need to go behind the camera. I started telling hovv I see the vvorld. hovv I see events. and I got this opportunity. I found this book. and script. Working with Melanie \vas a pleasure. It‘s true. at the beginning of the process. because I knovv hovv actors vvork in front of the camera. it could have created certain problems in our relationship but it didn't. She vvas very professional. You mustn’t forget. I admired Melanie before I loved her.‘

Banderas should be next seen in tmich—troubled The [3!]! Harrior. as l5adlan. a fortune-blessed soldier recruited to a Viking clan. Based on Michael (‘richton‘s supernatural novel Kale/is ()fT/It’ Dead. and directed by [)11' Ila/'d‘s John Mc'l‘iernan. the film finished shooting a year ago and. after a long delay. a summer WW) releasedate has been ear- marked. Reshoots. a title change. an on-set injury and a $100 million escalating budget have all hampered the vvork —- but Banderas’ name novv goes some vvay tovvards securing box oflice safety.

The one thing he vvon‘t be doing. however. is crossing over to the music industry. as he modestly plays dovvn his singing talents - even though he's just signed up to do l’hunlnm ()f The ()IN'I'U. ‘I got some offers after lz'i'ila. Some guy in an office savv millions of dollars if I did a record.‘ he bemoans before smiling and adding. ‘vvhich l’m not. Don‘t \vorry?’

The Mask Of Zorro goes on general release on Fri 11 Dec. See review, page 37.

3 ‘7 OM 1998 THE llST 25