Antonio Banderas Reflects on ‘Genius’ and What Salma Hayek Told Him About Harvey Weinstein (Exclusive)

Antonio Banderas
Erik Tanner/Contour by Getty Images

The actor opens up to ET about portraying his boyhood idol, Pablo Picasso, and his new moment of introspection.

Antonio Banderas was in New York City when his TV addiction started. He was performing in the 2003 Broadway revival of Nine and his demanding lead role made him "totally paranoid about preserving my vocal cords."

So, Banderas quietly slipped back into his hotel room at Trump Tower after each performance and watched HBO's lauded drama about a family of caretakers, Six Feet Under, on DVD. That show, and the dawn of Netflix original programming, enhanced Banderas' TV experience, which transformed from "B-movie" fare, he says, to "reflecting real problems in the world and the complexity of the human spirit."

Even now, he agrees binge-watching is a "drug," and he's embarrassed to confess to ET that he and his girlfriend, Nicole Kimpel, will spend their off-time watching "25 episodes in three days" of whatever show they happen to stumble upon. "We are just attached to the television, like pathologically." Which is why Banderas says, laughing, "I just wanted to see that drug from the other side of the mirror."

The actor has finally made it to that side as Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, his boyhood idol. It was fear that stopped him from playing the role twice before: fear of the story not being done right; fear of it being too soon in his career. Though "time, age, experience" quieted most of the 57-year-old actor's worries when he decided to portray the Guernica painter for National Geographic Channel's anthology series, Genius: Picasso, premiering tonight, he says it still felt like he was jumping off a cliff. "I hoped there was water down there," he says.

Throughout his four-decade career in America and Spain, Banderas has scaled the pantheon of film genre, proving nothing is out of reach. Not Spanish art films (he's been in seven of famed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar's features), not family fare (the four Shrek films, and its spinoff, Puss in Boots), not swashbuckling action flicks (Zorro), not movie musicals with Madonna (Evita) or spaghetti Westerns (Desperado) or groundbreaking AIDS dramas (1993's Philadelphia, his first American film). His goal, always: “I try just to be very factual,” and in Picasso's case, "as a human being, he's not thinking, 'I am good or I am bad.’”

Genius lets you know the kind of complicated genius Picasso was, mining the complexities and controversies of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, and the convergence of global and personal affairs -- his relationships with many, many women, whom he once referred to as “goddesses or doormats” -- that influenced his radical works of art. “Solitude is the only thing he gets at the end -- not his kids, not his women, not his friend. Just a man, alone,” Banderas says.

Malaga, Spain - Antonio Banderas (Pablo Picasso) with Samantha Colley (Dora Maar) in a scene from "Genius." - National Geographic Channel

Nearly a century later, as the Me Too movement and subsequent Time's Up initiative have revealed the abuses and harassment of women in Hollywood, these consequences are resurfacing. In December 2017, Banderas was one of the first people to call Salma Hayek, his co-star in Desperado, Frida and Puss in Boots, after the actress published her essay, "Harvey Weinstein Is My Monster Too," in The New York Times.

“It was important to reach out to her because she’s my dear friend,” Banderas says. “We are very good friends, and” -- his voice drops, signaling disbelief -- ”I didn’t know. I wanted to know. That’s why I immediately called her and said, ‘Salma, why didn’t you tell me?’ And she almost got into tears and she said, ‘Because I wanted to protect you guys. I didn’t want to put you in that position of having to confront a guy who was so powerful. That’s the reason: I didn’t want to damage my friends.’”

Banderas recognizes the wave of necessary change currently sweeping through Hollywood, causing men to rethink their behavior, and causing Banderas to reflect on his own. “It's on everybody's mind,” he says. “I think I’ve always been proper with my fellow actors and with people on sets. I think men in this profession became very reflective about their behavior, and that is a good thing.”

When asked if he, like Picasso, ever faced pressure to create films based on what others thought he should be creating, Banderas demurs. “No, my Spanish story in America is almost like a human personal adventure, not only the movies.” Referring to his marriage of 19 years to Melanie Griffith (the couple divorced in 2005 and have one daughter, Stella Banderas), the actor continues: “It is visiting here [in New York City], being married to an American woman, being on Broadway, visiting Hollywood. You know, it’s not so much about the movies that I did, but about the personal endeavor.”

As he approaches 60, Banderas calls this life juncture a "new adventure." He's played Picasso, at last. He's recovered from last year's heart attack, thankfully. And soon, he'll go full-circle with the auteur who discovered him, Pedro Almodóvar, who cast him in 1982’s Labyrinth of Passion. In July, Banderas teams with co-star Penélope Cruz to begin shooting his eighth Almodóvar film, Dolor y Gloria, which the actor describes as "easy, calm" and "very minimalist," the antithesis of Almodóvar's baroque style.

"I think it’s going to be a moment of introspection," Banderas says, "and that we are going to reflect about our own lives together and about our own lives in relationship with art and movies and life, and with everything that happened that was painful and glorious."