Antonio Banderas’ performance as an ailing filmmaker in Pedro Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical Pain and Glory is as intimate as any you’ll see this year.
Since its premiere and hailing appraisal out of the Venice Film Festival earlier this summer, the international star’s name has been tossed about as an early candidate in the Oscar race – though the lasting effects of his involvement stem far beyond material accolades. Here was a chance for Banderas, 59, to explore and enact the inner workings of one of his oldest comrades and collaborators.
“To find somebody who’s developed a very strong personality…and has been absolutely loyal to that personality is very rare,” the Zorro lead said of Almodóvar. “I am actually a very, very lucky person [to have] shared in that universe with him.”
Banderas’ working and friendly relationship with the Spanish auteur stretches across 40 years and eight films, their first being 1982’s sex-crazed melodrama Labyrinth of Passion. However, their off-and-on partnership has never been more effective than in Pain and Glory, which saw Banderas walk out of Italy with its festival’s Best Actor award in hand.
One of the many reasons for this performance’s success may be the wealth of valid insight at Banderas’ disposal. His character, Salvador Mallo, is the spawn of Almodóvar’s actual life. Showcasing a filmmaker on the brink of physical and mental collapse, the picture bounces between Salvador’s hazy, heroin-laced semi-retirement and flashbacks of his humble childhood alongside his mother, played by Penelope Cruz.
Another may be the distinct departure from the suave, sexy Spaniard persona Banderas’ career has, in so many instances, relied on. He and his director agreed early in the process that a “clean slate” was required for Salvador, who, with a salt-and-pepper mane and a horrendous surgical scar along his spine, never comes close to wielding a gun or saber.
With that said, pain, as the title suggests, was not entirely absent from the production.
“The amount of emotion that surrounded this particular movie…was unexpected for me,” the actor explained, detailing Almodóvar’s cathartic confrontations with the onscreen version of his mother. In one instance, Banderas was even fueled by the Volver creator’s inability to repeat a potent line from his own screenplay.
“That emotional information was not planned,” he admitted. “Those are things that happen in the moment, and if you are fresh…you can work with them.”
In terms of motivation, Banderas had some experiences of his own, beyond Almodóvar’s, to mine inspiration. Two and a half years ago, he suffered from a heart attack that quickly put into perspective the most important things in his life, a transformation that didn’t go unnoticed by his longtime collaborator.
“It opened my eyes to understand myself better…and Pedro saw that. He said, ‘I don’t know how to describe it, but after you had this heart attack, there is something in you. Don’t hide it. I want you to use that for the character.’”
“Don’t worry,” Banderas responded, “I know exactly what you’re talking about.”
Pain and Glory will be released theatrically by Sony Pictures Classics on October 4th.