Born August 10, 1960 in Malaga, Spain, the son of a Civil Guard police officer and a schoolteacher, José Antonio Dominguez Bandera, known professionally as Antonio Banderas, wanted to be a professional football (soccer) player until a broken foot at 14 drove him in a different direction.
The aspiring actor began his studies at the School of Dramatic Arts in Malaga and made his acting debut in a small theatre in that city. He moved to Madrid in 1979, and the age of 19, became the youngest member of the company of Spain’s National Theatre. His stage performances drew the attention of Pedro Almodovar who cast him in his first film, 1982’s Labyrinth of Passion. Ten films later, Almodovar cast him once again in 1985’s Matador for which he was nominated for a Goya Award, Spain’s equivalent of the Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor.
Banderas made headlines with Almodovar’s 1986 film, Law of Desire in which he played a gay man and had his first on-screen male-to-male kiss. The following year he married first wife Ana Leza. He gained world-wide recognition with his performance in Almodovar’s Oscar-nominated 1988 film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and increased his fame with the director’s 1990 film, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down.
The actor was introduced to America as the object of Madonna’s affections in the 1991 documentary, Madonna: Truth or Dare. He made his Hollywood film debut in 1992 with The Mambo Kings in which he and Armand Assante played the title roles.
Banderas’ U.S. breakthrough came with his supporting turns in 1993’s Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington and 1994’s Interview with the Vampire starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. In 1995, he starred in Miami Rhapsody, Desperado, Assassins, Never Talk to Strangers and Two Much opposite Melanie Griffith who became his second wife after a hasty divorce from his first wife in 1996.
Banderas was reunited with Madonna, this time as her co-star, in the long-awaited film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita. It earned him his first Golden Globe nomination, followed by his second for his next film, 1998’s The Mask of Zorro. His films over the next five years included Play It to the Bone, Spy Kids, Femme Fatale, Frida and Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
In 2004, Banderas received a Tony nomination for the Broadway revival of Nine and an Annie nomination for his voice work in Shrek 2. In 2011, he was reunited with Almodovar for the first time in 22 years for the director’s horror film, The Skin I Live In, for which he received numerous awards. His marriage to Griffith ended in 2015.
In 2019, Banderas was once again reunited with Almodovar for the director’s semiautobiographical film, Pain and Glory, winning numerous acting awards and nominations including his first Oscar nomination.
Antonio Banderas remains busy as ever at 59. He is featured in several 2020 films including Dolittle.
PHILADELPHIA (1993), directed by Jonathan Demme
Banderas was still struggling with English, having spoken his dialogue phonetically in his first Hollywood film, 1992’s The Mambo Kings. Having become famous playing a gay man in Pedro Almodovar’s 1985, film, Law of Desire, Banderas was a popular choice to play the lover of Tom Hanks, a gay man dying of AIDS in the first major Hollywood film about the devastating disease. His English was fine, enabling him to more than hold his own with the film’s starry cast which also included Oscar winners Denzel Washington, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen and Joanne Woodward as Hanks’ mother.
EVITA (1996), directed by Alan Parker
Madonna won a Golden Globe as Eva Peron in this long-awaited film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s London and Broadway smash for which Banderas as Ché Guevara was nominated for a Golden Globe. Jonathan Pryce as Juan Peron also starred. None of the film’s three stars received BAFTA, SAG or Oscar nominations and Madonna never has, but both Banderas and Pryce have received Best Actor nominations this year, Banderas for Pain and Glory and Pryce for The Two Popes. The film did five Oscars nominations, winning for Webber and Rice’s new song, “You Must Love Me”.
THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998), directed by Martin Campbell
Banderas received the first his five Golden Globe nominations to date for his portrayal of Zorro, the masked vigilante in the pueblo of Los Angeles during the era of Spanish California (1969-1821), a character previously played on screen by such legends as Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 1940’s The Mark of Zorro and Tyrone Power in its 1940 remake. Co-starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins, the film was a worldwide success spurring a less successful 2005 sequel, The Legend of Zorro, also directed by Martin Campbell and co-starring Zeta-Jones.
THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011), directed by Pedro Almodovar
Directed by his mentor, Pedro Almodovar, for the first time since 1989, Banderas received numerous awards and nominations for his portrayal of a brilliant plastic surgeon who creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. Although many of Almodovar’s past films dealt with dark subject matter, this was his first, and to date, only, horror film. Banderas, devoid of the numerous actorly ticks he usually employed, is mesmerizing as he descends deeper and deeper into madness. Also featured are Marisa Paredes as Banderas’ housekeeper and Elena Anaya as his guinea pig.
PAIN AND GLORY (2019), directed by Pedro Almodovar
Oscar winner Almodovar (Talk to Her) brilliantly directed Banderas to his own first Oscar nomination in the writer-director’s semiautobiographical film in which an aging writer-director has lost the will to make another film. The film slowly builds in its first hour, coming fully alive in its second hour as we feel Banderas’ physical pain as well as his mental anguish. Long-held secrets come alive as we witness a happy reunion that spurs him to undergo a long- needed surgery and career comeback. The supporting cast is equally fine with Penelope Cruz giving her best performance in years as his character’s mother in flashbacks.
ANTONIO BANDERS AND OSCAR
- Pain and Glory (2019) – nominated – Best Actor