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Vet Actor Banderas Drapes On The Skin I Live In

11/23/2011 09:42 am 09:42:46 | Updated Jan 23, 2012

While his furry animated version in Puss in Boots holds out broader appeal, the more perverse skin that veteran actor Antonio Banderas wears in The Skin I Live In is drawing a very different kind of audience. Both, however, are equally passionate about leather, knives and fur. 

Traversing the bounds of horror and sci-fi, Oscar-winning auteurist and one of Spain's favorite sons, Pedro Almodovar, mounts a twisted exploration that goes further out than his earlier absurdist exercises.

Here he targets the Nip/Tuck set in this tale about a master plastic surgeon who loses his daughter to depression after an inadvertent rape. As the perverse doctor exacts his revenge, we see the film through several sets of eyes including those of a woman who is his captive and hapless experimental subject for his innovative skin replacement technique. In this Q&A culled from a roundtable held when the film debuted at the 2011 New York Film Festival, Banderas reveals how they worked together again.

Q: This has been called your best movie role in years.

AB: Maybe when I am 75 and I look back, and I'll say yes. But at this particular time in my life, I don't know.

I know the satisfaction I find, basically, in the eyes of Pedro when we talk about the movie. He's satisfied with Elena [Anaya -- who plays the subject of the experiments], me, and the movie that he wanted to do.

In our days when we are trying all the time to conquer the box office and make movies that cut the peaks and lows and to make something that is very much in a box, to find somebody [who does something different] is so [is] beautiful.

You may like the movie or not. That's a different deal. I'm not talking about the result. I'm talking about somebody who had the balls to actually jump into that territory and not bend -- to be pure and faithful to what he was 30 years ago, and didn't change. That, at this particular moment in my life, is priceless.

Basically it means a big reflection in front of the camera of me as an actor. What are these things I want to say? How? It pushed me back to a certain space of inner reality with myself. I know what The Skin I Live In means to me, but the results will be in the years to come.

Q: This movie marks your first collaboration with Pedro in 21 years.

AB: The first time I saw the movie, I had the impression that [Pedro] made me play notes of my own acting that I didn't even know I had [in me]. At this particular time in my life, 51 years old, he opened a door for me to understand another side of myself, in terms of acting. [It] has to do with my own maturity, but it also has to do with him.

When I read the script, I saw a character that was bigger than life, obviously, because of his psychopathology. As an actor, the tendency for me was to go big with it. But Pedro said, "No, we are not going to go in that direction. We are going to contain him, hold him back, make the character minimalist and economical in gesture.

"I don't want you to [connect] the character with the audience and tell them how bad you are or that, "I am the villain in the movie." I want the character to be very unexpected and mysterious, and we don't know, really, what is going to be the next step that he takes."

Though I resisted that idea during rehearsals, he totally convinced me. Actually, I did what any actor who works with Pedro should do -- take a leap of faith. With Almodovar, it's best, actually.

Especially [after] all those movies that we did in the '80s. After these 21 years at the end of the process, [I‛m| still far away from having a real opinion of what is the meaning of me in this movie and what it's meaning is about.

He made me play in a universe and territory where creation is. Creation is not in [when] you are very comfortable. I remember commenting on that to a beautiful actor I respect very much, Laura Linney.

She always said to me, "When you are comfortable acting, doing nothing, you suggest things that you are carry in a bag of experiences and accumulated work. You are putting [it] out there using something that you know is going to work for you in front of an audience.

"But that's not where creation is. Creation is painful. When you feel insecure, it's because you are actually stepping into different territories of your own personality as an actor or as an artist."

That's what Pedro did for me 21 years later. He made me wake up, and I am very happy that that has happened -- not only for this movie, but it made me reflect, again, back to what the source of my work should be in the years to come. So it has been from every point of view a celebration just to meet with him.

Q: Dr Robert Ledgard is not really a villain; he's also a victim. How did you play him knowing that about him?

AB: We determined what the character should be about. We studied certain psychopaths, real characters that existed. There was one specifically I talked [about] very much with Pedro and the other actors at the beginning of rehearsal.

It was this Austrian guy had his daughter in the basement in his house for 21 years; he made six kids with her. When journalists approached people who knew him, [they] described him as a wonderful guy -- a charming person, well-dressed, polite, well-mannered. [I think] he used to go to church on Sundays.

Almodovar defended [the idea] that this character meld[ed] in society perfectly. He's undetectable. But the guy developed this kind of second life because of this darkness hidden inside him. That's one reason we needed [a] character like that.

You write that in the script and nobody would believe it. Sometimes reality is way bigger than anything that can be told in fiction.

When we started principal photography, we already had the idea of what we wanted to do; it was very clear on both sides -- Pedro and myself -- that what I couldn't do was just establish a morality adjustment.

So I compartmentalized the character completely. I needed to create pieces of a puzzle that I was not going to put together. I was giving Pedro material for him to work [with]. In those pieces, I tried to run away from the character because of the natural way he asked me to perform.

[Ledgard] doesn't feel any kind of guilt, and has total disaffection towards others' pain. What I played in my mind continuously was the image of a family doctor -- somebody who is actually not involved in what the story is about.

To give you an example -- but it's [applicable] to any part of the movie for me -- there's the dildo scene which is funny and scary at the same time. I never played it as it is. In my mind, I played like a doctor prescribing pills. "Take two in the morning, two in the afternoon, three at night with a glass of milk, and in three months you're going to be perfect." That's it.

That's what my game was inside. I wasn't playing a bad guy executing a mean proposal to this person in order to keep [the thing open]. Forget that. In a nice way, he was just trying to be good to the patient in front of him. The rest of the movie was like that with few exceptions.

Q: Did you see Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, about the charming guy who kills the ladies?

AB: I saw it. That is the kind of acting Pedro wanted me to do. He talked very much about Cary Grant in certain areas of the movie. He showed me The Red Circle with Alain Delon and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

He made a lot of [suggestions] for me to watch film noir from the '40s and '50s because the acting was different. It wasn't acting. It was more laid back. It was not so active in terms of describing reality in every single detail.

The story may be about revenge, and it plays a part in the narrative. But I don't think it's his main purpose. It's what triggers him, is the excuse he uses to start on a darker path. But that's something he's carries in himself.

For me, the whole movie is about creation, art, and the possibility that a movie director has -- to create identities and change them, to create a universe or the world. Pedro Almodovar always creates that in his movies which is very similar to the world we live in. But it's not, totally. It's slightly off.

There is something [in Pedro's films] that is not exactly as the world is. Of course, Ledgard is ultimately a monster, but he is also an artist in a very strange way. He created a masterpiece. And so has Pedro.

For more by Brad Balfour and an extended version of this story go to: filmfestivaltraveler.com