The question to actor Antonio Banderas, "How crazy is this guy?", referred to his character, Dr. Robert Ledgard, in his new film, The Skin I Live In.
But Banderas assumed it referred to his longtime friend and the director of the film, Pedro Almodovar, and happily launched into an answer.
"He's enough crazy to break all Spanish strictures of movies in the 1980s," Banderas, 51, says, sitting in a Manhattan hotel room. "My memory goes back to the decade of craziness in a country that was growing from a dictatorship to democracy. It was not as crazy as people think. But let's just say his mental health is perfect in its craziness."
When corrected and told the question referred to his character in his new film, Banderas quickly says, "Oh, he's a monster, a psychopath. But he's deceptive because he has such wonderful behavior in society. He's like one of those serial killers who, after they're caught, people say, 'Oh, he was so charming, so nice.' He leads a double life."
In the film, Ledgard is a plastic surgeon still recovering from the death of his wife. When his daughter is raped and loses her mind, he begins a very calculated plan to take revenge. At the same time, he is developing a new synthetic skin that blends human and porcine DNA, to create a skin that is impervious to flame (because his wife committed suicide after being badly burned and seeing herself in a mirror).
"But the character is also a metaphor," Banderas says. "He is a monster but he is also an artist. Life gives him the ability to create identities, to change identities. I'd say he's a little bit like Pedro."
When he first read the script, "I had the same relationship to it as the audience does when it sees the film," Banderas says. "I laughed, I was scared -- the whole thing is like traveling on the edge of a cliff."
Banderas worked several times for Almodovar in the 1980s, when the director was exploding on to both the Spanish and the international scene, in films such as Labyrinth of Passion, Matador and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The last time was the censor-baiting Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! in 1990 -- but when Banderas reunited with his old mentor, he found that much of what he remembered about the director had not changed.
"He's very difficult to work with because he's unbelievably precise in what he wants," Banderas says. "He's not the type of director who lets you put in your ideas. He'll listen and say, 'I understand but my idea is to do it this way and I am the director, so you should do exactly what I want.'"
This interview continues on my website.