Family & Companions
A gifted actor with matinee-idol looks, Antonio Banderas smoldered his way to an international following with his work for filmmaker and fellow Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar. Following a string of early projects with the iconoclastic director, Banderas attracted international attention as a love-struck kidnapper in Almodóvar's controversial "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" (1990). After being introduced to American audiences as the object of Madonna's lust in her documentary "Truth or Dare" (1991) Banderas - despite not speaking English - made his Hollywood acting debut in the drama "The Mambo Kings" (1992). Proving that he was more than just a pretty face, the actor drew raves for his performance as Tom Hanks' devoted lover in the Academy Award-winning AIDS drama "Philadelphia" (1993). The in-demand Banderas quickly cashed in as an action hero in hits like Robert Rodriguez's shoot-'em-up, "Desperado" (1995) and as the titular swordsman in "The Mask of Zorro" (1998) opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones. He made his directorial debut with "Crazy in Alabama" (1999), a comedy-drama starring his then-wife, Melanie Griffith. Banderas also took part in several family features, including Rodriguez's popular "Spy Kids" (2001) franchise and as the voice of Puss in Boots in "Shrek 2" (2004) and its subsequent sequels. For the first time in more than two decades, he reunited with Almodóvar for the psychological thriller "The Skin I Live In" (2011), delivering what some called his strongest work in years. Handsome, charismatic and undeniably talented, Banderas rightfully earned his place as one of cinema's greatest leading men.
Born on August 10, 1960 in Malaga, Spain, Banderas actor set out to be a professional soccer player. But when a foot injury sidetracked his plans, Banderas turned his attention to the stage, completing his studies at Malaga's School of Dramatic Art before embarking upon a five-year stint with the prestigious National Theater of Spain, where he quickly caught the eye of Almodóvar. He made a fine feature debut as a dim-witted terrorist with an uncanny sense of smell in the director's "Labyrinth of Passion" (1982), a sometimes crude and always outlandish sex farce peopled with transvestites, punk rockers and nymphomaniacs. Even more effective was their second collaboration, "Matador" (1986), which saw Banderas play an emotionally-repressed student of the bullfight who confesses to the police not only his attempted rape of his teacher's girlfriend, but also to a series of murders he did not commit.
Banderas' fortunes rose with Almodóvar's, and the self-deprecating actor showed little concern for his image when he courageously portrayed his first gay character in the director's "Law of Desire" (1987), accepting the passionate kiss of another man as just another day at the office. As a heterosexual who discovers homosexual love for the first time, he was a madman whose maniacal possessiveness leads first to murder, then suicide. Almodóvar's next two pictures introduced the charming, heartthrob to American audiences. His Clark Kentish nerd took a back seat to star Carmen Maura in the director's breakthrough "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (1988), but Banderas was front and center in "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" (1990) as Ricky, the charismatic mental patient who kidnaps, binds and woos a drug-addicted porn star. Though it still possessed Almodóvar's unpredictable black humor, this change-of-pace film replaced the director's campy, boisterous hilarity with an anguished-albeit offbeat-romantic heterosexual yearning and provided a stunning showcase for the actors' vulnerable masculinity.
Despite knowing only a handful of English words, Banderas pulled out of Almodóvar's "High Heels" (1991) to make his Hollywood debut in "The Mambo Kings" (1992), portraying a soulful Cuban trumpeter who comes to America in the 1950s. When an intensive, crash Berlitz course proved insufficient, the actor had to learn his dialogue phonetically, and audiences came away sensing he had no idea what he was saying. Still, his screen presence was undeniable, and the commercial failure served as a springboard to supporting roles in major productions. In "Philadelphia" (1993), he was cast him Tom Hanks' understanding boyfriend, but in obvious contrast to the highly-charged gay love scenes he'd shot with Almodóvar, scenes of non-sexual intimacy did not make the final cut, prompting Hanks to explain weakly, "These guys have been together nine years. They're probably just once-a-weekers." (Neon, January 1999) That year's "The House of the Spirits," directed by Billie August, featured him as a revolutionary romancing both Glenn Close and Winona Ryder, but "Interview with the Vampire" (1994) gave him better scene-stealing opportunities opposite Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as Old World vampire Armand, a former flame of Cruise and the sexiest vampire of the highly publicized production.
Banderas compromised his rising star by making six movies in 1995, including his first starring turn in an American feature, Robert Rodriguez's "Desperado." Though he came off well as the shimmering gunslinger in the director's reworking of the low budget success, "El Mariachi" (1992), the physical attraction between the actor and femme lead Selma Hayek could not provide enough juice to make up for the lack of story. He also appeared Rodriguez's segment of the embarrassing "Four Rooms," played Mia Farrow's lover in "Miami Rhapsody," busied himself alongside Sylvester Stallone as one of the titular "Assassins," portrayed the mysterious stranger who sweeps into Rebecca De Mornay's life in "Never Talk to Strangers" and starred opposite future wife Melanie Griffith in "Two Much." Ridiculously overexposed, Banderas realized he could ill afford to take every role offered, and his relationship with Griffith gave him his first experience of the paparazzi, while the media painted him as a home wrecker - who had left his first wife broken-hearted - and his new amour as a bubblehead. (After 18 years of marriage, Griffith filed for divorce in June 2014.)
Banderas got his career back on track as the ubiquitous narrator Che in Alan Parker's long-awaited film version of the stage musical "Evita" (1996). Teamed with Madonna (as Eva Peron), whose public panting after him in "Truth or Dare" (1991) had proved a boon to the then-unknown Spanish actor's career, he displayed an easy charm and a surprisingly supple singing voice, catapulting to the front of the ranks considered for "The Phantom of the Opera, which was still in development at Warner Bros. Opting for quality over quantity, he returned to the multiplexes after a two-year absence as a thief hand-picked to succeed Anthony Hopkins as the masked avenger in "The Mask of Zorro" (1998), joining the august likes of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Tyrone Power as the first Latino to ever play the 19th-century Mexican swashbuckler.
Banderas acquitted himself admirably in his producing and directorial debut, "Crazy in Alabama" (1999), starring Griffith, though its darkly comedic subject matter appealed more to art-house tastes and he cut a fine figure as the Arab lead amidst Vikings in John McTiernan's "The Thirteenth Warrior" (1999), which, though appropriately gory, fell short of true epic stature. He then starred with Woody Harrelson as rival boxers in Ron Shelton's "Play It to the Bone" (2000). He was on surer ground as a retired secret agent who must rely on his children to rescue him when he is caught by villains in the appealing "Spy Kids" (2001), directed by old pal Robert Rodriguez. On the other hand, his prodigious talent was virtually wasted in "Original Sin" (2001), a would-be steamy adaptation of the novel "Waltz into Darkness" about a man who orders a mail-order bride and then becomes erotically obsessed with her.
In 2002, Banderas reunited with the cast and crew of "Spy Kids" to film "Spy Kids 2: The Island Of Lost Dreams". In "Spy Kids 2," the Cortez children (Vega and Sabara) set out to save the world from a genetic scientist and rival spy kid, and as expected it was a strong performer at the box office. He was then seen in director Brian de Palma visually arresting neo-noir thriller "Femme Fatale" (2002), which also co-starred Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, a film that drew more than its fair share of negative reviews but was also touted as brilliant cinema in some circles. After a well-received stint on Broadway in "Nine," a musical inspired by Fellini's film "8 1/2" Banderas as a film director in the Fellini mold, the actor next returned to familiar territory for "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over" (2003) and reprised his role as El Maiachi for Rodriguez's successful sequel "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" (2003). Tweaking his image as a sexy, macho swashbuckler, Banderas next provided the pitch-perfect voice of the rapier-wielding Puss-in-Boots for the CGI sequel "Shrek 2" (2004). More serious was his turn in "Imagining Argentina" (2004), as an Argentine playwright in Peron-era Buenos Aires who has a preternatural ability to see what will happen to people's loved ones-many of whom are missing, or soon will be-when he looks into their faces and must turn this power inward when his activist journalist wife (Emma Thompson) disappears.
Banderas reprised his role as the titular masked avenger in "The Legend of Zorro" (2005), who becomes pressed to give up his swashbuckling ways and lead a responsible life or lose his wife and child. The long-delayed sequel-released seven years after the original-was a mere shadow of its predecessor, both in terms of thrills and box office dollars. In "Take the Lead" (2006), Banderas tackled the true-life story of ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine, who volunteered his time to teach a group of inner-city hard cases how to dance. Ridiculed at first, Dulaine eventually wins them over with unwavering commitment and dedication, inspiring the class to fuse classic ballroom dancing with hip-hop and participate in a prestigious city dance competition. Meanwhile, Banderas revived Puss-in-Boots for the continuing adventures of the massive green ogre (Mike Myers) and his motley band of friends in "Shrek the Third" (2007). Following barely noticed appearances in "My Mom's New Boyfriend" (2008) and "Thick as Thieves" (2009), Banderas reprised Puss for the (allegedly) last installment "Shrek Forever After" (2010), before rejoining forces with Pedro Almodóvar for the psychological thriller, "The Skin I Live In" (2011), their first collaboration in 21 years. He again reprised his "Shrek" character, this time as the star of his own spin-off feature, "Puss in Boots" (2011), which was a hit with critics and audiences. Back in live action, Banderas was a Spanish spy in Steven Soderbergh's taut thriller "Haywire" (2012) and had a small supporting turn in the indie critical darling "Ruby Sparks" (2012). He then reteamed with his old creative partner Almodóvar for the fantastical comedy "I'm So Excited!" (2013), set aboard an apparently doomed airliner. This was followed by an appearance in Robert Rodriguez's mock-exploitation thriller "Machete Kills" (2013). After appearing in the action sequel "The Expendables 3" (2014) and animated hit "The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" (2015), Banderas teamed with reclusive director Terrence malick for "Knight of Cups" (2015) and co-starred in the real-life thriller "The 33" (2015), the story of a group of Chilean miners trapped underground.
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Made professional stage debut in "Los Tarantos"
Worked for five years as an ensemble member of Spain's National Theater
Made feature film debut in "Labyrinth of Passion" (released in the U.S. in 1990), first collaboration with director Pedro Almodóvar
Acted in Carlos Saura's "Los Zancos/The Stilts"
Reteamed with Almodóvar for "Matador"; first film with Carmen Maura
Made third film with Almodóvar, "Law of Desire"; director cast him as a heterosexual discovering homosexual love
Co-starred in Almodóvar's "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," starring Maura; then-wife Ana Leza also in cast
Played gigolo opposite Maura's wealthy, sexually dysfunctional woman in Rafael Moleon's (former assistant to Almodóvar) feature directing debut "Baton Rouge"; fourth film with Maura; Victoria Abril also starred
Starred opposite Abril in Almodóvar's "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!"; last collaboration with the director (left cast of 1991's "High Heels" to do "Mambo Kings") until years later; fourth film with Abril
Appeared as himself in Madonna's tour documentary "Truth or Dare"; the 'Material Girl' gave his career a big boost by publicly (and unrequitedly) lusting after him
Acted in first Hollywood film, Arne Glimcher's "The Mambo Kings"; learned the entire script phonetically
Played the hunky lover in two high profile films: opposite Glenn Close and Winona Ryder in "The House of the Spirits" (based on the Isabel Allende novel), and as Tom Hanks' partner in "Philadelphia"
Reteamed with Saura for "Outrage"
Portrayed sinister gay bloodsucker Armand in Neil Jordan's film adaptation of the Anne Rice novel "Interview with the Vampire:The Vampire Chronicles"
Acted in "Of Love and Shadows," another picture adapted from a work by Allende
Landed first leading role in a Hollywood film, Robert Rodriguez's "Desperado"
Co-starred with future wife Melanie Griffith in "Two Much"
Played the narrator Che in the film musical "Evita" opposite Madonna
Starred alongside Anthony Hopkins in "The Mask of Zorro"; Martin Campbell replaced Rodriguez as director
Made feature directorial debut, "Crazy in Alabama," starring Griffith; also produced film
Reteamed with Glimcher for "The White River Kid" (filmed in 1998), aired on Starz! in lieu of a theatrical release
Starred opposite Woody Harrelson as professional boxing rivals in Ron Shelton's "Play It to the Bone"
Reteamed with Robert Rodriguez to play a retired espionage agent who comes out of retirement in "Spy Kids"
Cast opposite Angelina Jolie in "Original Sin"
Reprised role of espionage agent and parent in "Spy Kids 2"
Co-starred opposite Rebecca Romijn-Stamos in "Femme Fatale"
Co-starred in the bio pic feature "Frida"
Portrayed Pancho Villa in the HBO movie "And Starring Poncho Villa as Himself"
Reteamed with director Robert Rodriguez for "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," the third film in an unofficial trilogy that begun with "El Mariachi" (1992)
Returned to his role as Gregorio Cortez in "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over"
Made Broadway debut in a revival of the award-winning musical "Nine"
Voiced the character Puss in Boots opposite Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz for "Shrek 2"
Reteamed with Catherine Zeta-Jones and director Martin Campbell for "The Legend of Zorro"
Directed second feature, the Spanish-language production "El Camino de los Ingleses/The English Path"
Played a former professional dancer in the musical-drama "Take the Lead"
Cast opposite Jennifer Lopez in "Bordertown"
Reprised role of Puss in Boots for feature film "Shrek the Third," and the ABC animated special "Shrek the Halls"
Once again voiced Puss in Boots in "Shrek Forever After"
Acted in the romantic comedy "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"
Voiced the title character in the "Shrek" spin-off "Puss in Boots"
Reteamed with Almodóvar, starring in the psychological drama thriller "The Skin I Live In" ("La piel que habito")
Co-starred in the action thriller "Haywire," directed by Steven Soderbergh
Co-starred in romantic comedy "Ruby Sparks"
Co-starred in Robert Rodriguez's "Machete Kills"
Co-starred in action sequel "The Expendables 3"
Co-starred in true-life drama "The 33"
Co-starred in Terrence Malick's "Knight of Cups"
Acted in multiple voice roles in animated film "The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water"
Starred in historical drama "Finding Altamira"
Starred as Pablo Picasso on the series "Genius"
Cast in writer/director Dan Fogelman's romantic drama "Life Itself"