Genius: Interview with Star Antonio Banderas as Picasso

Playing Picasso

Antonio Banders: Many people says, you know, this is a character that I have been always searching to play, but it is exactly the opposite.  I have been escaping.  I have been just running from playing Picasso for many years.  It has been offered to me in different periods of my life. When I was young in my 20’s there was the first offer that I rejected and then my 30’s and 40’s.  It was not until Carlos Saura, Spanish director, called me to do a movie called “33 Days” which is the time that they spent to paint the Guernica and then that script got caught in a bankruptcy process and so they brought another script in which is impossible to make and it was the older script I didn’t like so in all of this mess. I received a call from Ron Howard and Ken Biller in London and they put on the table the possibility of doing a TV show, 10 episodes, and recently I finished like a couple of weeks before to watch “Einstein,” the first season of “Genius” and I loved it and I felt it was quality TV and so it was very difficult at that time to reject it.  Also, the presence of National Geographic behind gave us the guarantee and the credibility that we needed for all the data and the information that was going to give the scriptwriters coming from the source was magnificent. So at that time there was no excuse for me to just jump into the skin of Don Pablo Ruiz Picasso.

Every Person is Genius in Some Ways

AB: I don’t think everybody has a genius.  You can actually be very creative but genius is some other thing.  Does anybody here knows what is a genius or there is a definition of genius.  I think it is somebody who actually breaks the rules of what was known to give us something new that was better than what we had and can affect a very large number of people.  But genius also produces some collateral damages.  Geniuses are not perfect people.  It’s just human beings like us makes a lot of mistakes too and you can see that in the portrait that we did of Picasso in the 10 episodes. He’s a human being with a big magnifying glass and at the same time there is with geniuses comes almost, necessarily a big deal of egotistical moods, arrogance, there is a number of things that are a little bit more negative than we think so, you know, we were trying just to deal with all of those elements just to create a character that was complex that makes us reflect about what a genius is, about what we can be, you know, also in terms of relationship with others because at the end it comes that, you know.  We talk about painting, of course, when we are doing this movie and art but we talk about relationship and event and how he behaved in front of politics, how he behaves in front of social issues, how he behaved with women, how he behaved with his friends, what is the conception that he got about, you know, friendship so all of those themes are the spectrum that we try to present when we do Picasso, trying to understand what genius is. I don’t know what my genius is–maybe surviving.



AB: Yes, I did actually and I think I expressed a little bit of that with Picasso.  I had this kind of reticence to play him because he was big but at the same time because he was born in my hometown which means a lot to me and I had a certain fear of putting that backpack over my shoulders and take that burden because I knew that I was going to be judged very special because there is a certain love, you know, that is very specific for one person who is a son of Malaga like I am too and so that, yeah, I was afraid of failing.  I was afraid of not hitting the right notes in somebody that actually I idolized, you know.  He is a hero that I have since the time that I was 5 years old.  My mother holding my hand and taking me to school, we used to cross in front of the corner of La Plaza de la Merced in Malaga where he was born and every day as I didn’t listen the day said always Picasso was born here.  Picasso was the only hero that we had in Malaga in the national hero in a time in which Spain had very little heroes.  We got a dictator on top and very specific cases at the time.  I’m talking about that particular time in history and Picasso was from Malaga and that was always very interesting to me, you know.  Oh, there is a guy from Malaga who made it outside.  He made it big.  He made a big splash, you know.


Picasso’s Personality

AB: I was trying to understand his personality.  We know what he did.  We know what he said but we don’t know why and that is very complicated because the sources that we have to study the life of Picasso are coming from different people who got different type of relationship with him so if somebody had a bad relationship with Picasso at the end of that relationship and he wrote something about him, he was going to criticize him very specifically for that and he’s going to talk in a very specific way.  It’s very interesting when I was doing the research you find events, situations that are described completely different from different people depending on the relationship that they had with Don Pablo so it’s very – you have to start reading in between lines to really understand why he did very specific actions.  For example, he was very famous when he didn’t sign a letter for the liberation of Max Jacob, the poet, when he was, you know, put in a concentration camp by the Nazis and Pablo Picasso denied to sign that letter but, at the same time, the reason that he gave in that particular case to Jean Cocteau was I cannot sign a letter because they hate me so if I sign a letter to liberate Max Jacob it’s going to go against him because they want me to, you know, and so it depends how you read certain things and how you approach to certain events that you can have an opinion about Pablo Picasso or another one especially for one very specific reason.  He talked very little.  There are very little interviews with him on television that I know one in a Belgian television that I saw like 150 times and then yes, some radio interviews but he was a very mysterious guy.  He loved to be laid back.  He was not Dali, who was working all the time, in front of the press and he loved that kind of second persona created.  Picasso was a more mysterious personality so he was not justifying any of the things that were said about him constantly.


Genius People Treated Differently?

AB: Definitely not.  They shouldn’t.  We are all the same and the law and then the…  No, it’s funny you said there was an image.  It was not Picasso.  It was Salvador Dali, Salvador Dali he was very old he almost burned in a fire that took place in Figueres, in his house, and he was taken to a hospital and there was an image I saw in 1982 I think it was, ’83.  I don’t remember exactly the year but I remember watching television, the news and he was coming out of the hospital in a wheelchair with an IV and the whole deal, his mustaches were down already and he said he only lies to the King of Spain and this Catalunya, this Espana and suddenly he looked at the camera and he approached the camera and says geniuses shouldn’t die so geniuses shouldn’t die.  Of course, your question if it’s answered by a genius and actually that genius think that he is a genius, you know, you have to have a lot of nerve to recognize that publicly, yeah.  He was asking to don’t die, you know.  I don’t think anybody should have the privilege over anybody else.  I don’t like artists who believe that they are special and they should have a special treatment.


Picasso as Womanizer

AB: That role that has been always known in the world of art as the muse, you know, is determinant for Picasso.  Picasso cannot create with that vertigo that is produced by a relationship and especially with women.  That’s what I discovered.  He is almost like a vampire and it produced a lot of collateral damage because when he drived them off.  He goes away and he search for somebody else who can fulfill, who can give him the vertigo again and he can feel on the verge of that gift because that’s what makes him paint.  There is a scene that comes later on in Chapter 6 or 7.  I don’t remember.  He is with Marie-Therese and everything is perfect.  She’s the perfect woman.  She’s sweet and he knows and he recognizes that with Paul Eluard, with some of his friends.  He talks about Marie is not adorable little baby and he is in the house that he’s going to eat the curtains because that pleasant life is killing the painter, it’s killing that revolutionary that needs fresh meat to create and that is actually his tragedy in a way because it doesn’t mean that he feels guilty obviously because he continues, you know, in the case of Olga Khokhlova it’s clear because it was his wife and it was until the day she died but in the case of Marie-Therese Walter keeps sending her paintings, money, letters, phone calls.  He did it also with Dora.  He tried to keep all of them there.  It’s almost like that guy in the circus that is trying to keep all the dishes going and if he stops they all fall down and break.  He’s living in that situation of vertigo.  Is that particularly with women.  No.  It’s with everybody.  It’s with friends too.  He got big fights with Chagall, he got big fights with Braque, with Juan Gris, with all of them, even with Matisse who was like his dear friend.  Sometimes they crashed enormously.  The personality of Picasso is very strong and is getting harder as he is growing up because he doesn’t accept getting old too well so he’s angry with life for that, you know.  He continues, you know, trying to keep the flame alive continuously but that doesn’t happen because life is a dictatorship that kills you.  It’s nothing democratic about dying, there’s nothing democratic about being born a man or a woman.  It’s just what it is and so he rebelled, you know.  He rebels against that so it is not for me, it’s not a womanizer.  He’s not a guy who is looking for women to just take them to bed.  No, there is something more complex in the relationship of Picasso with women and with people in general, even with his family, you know that he misses at the end.  You will see it.  The only friend is his hairdresser, a guy from Spain that he met and he goes to bullfighting, to the bullfights with him in the South of France.  He had nobody.  Not his kids.  It’s funny because some people said that he behaved with his kids too and we go back again to the interpretations and many people about Picasso’s life.  I had an opportunity that was essential for me to know the guy more and as I became friends with Olivier, with Maya Picasso, the grandson of Picasso, son of Maya, daughter of Marie-Therese and one day I was shooting a scene with Paul Eluard and in the scene I am saying no, no, no, no, I adore my baby.  I adore Maya and I adore Marie-Therese but and I finished the scene and Olivier was there because he came from Paris to visit and he gave me the phone, he says Maya is on the phone, my mum, so I was talking about this little baby in the scene and suddenly I had this 82 years old woman who speaks perfect Spanish, who was telling me I adore my father and my father adored me and I said but, you know, that’s not what it said, Maya, about the relationship of his sons with him and she says it’s a lie, they hate me in the family.  They hated me in the family because I always say the truth.  This is something that I – and then I understood that, you know, it depends who is speaking.  The story may change and so that we have to be very delicate because here there is a woman saying no, I adore my father and he adored me so I introduced a moment in the movie that you will see I think in Chapter 7 in which I dance the pasa doble with my daughter Maya.  I put her on my feet which is something that she told me that her father used to do with her just put her feet on their feet and dance the pasa doble that he loved that kind of popular music.  He didn’t like classical music but he loved popular music flamenco and pasa dobles and things like that so, you know, womanizer.  He misbehaved with women, yes.  He was very unfaithful, yes.  All of those things happened.  That’s for real but from there to say womanizer I don’t think that’s the definition exactly.


Relationship to Picasso’s Art

AB: Well, contrary to other painters like Matisse who got a very specific style and he developed that style and he is growing into that, Picasso was kind of he can paint like Velasquez when he was 16 years old so where are you going to go from there.  He just coincide with the beginning of photography who actually creates a huge depression in him because he says this is it.  It’s over for us painters and so immediately he just realized that what he had to paint is the subconscious, that what I have to paint is dreams, what I have to paint is what we don’t see, the other dimensions of life and then Cubism appears and he practiced Cubism for a number of years and then Marie-Therese appears and he goes back to this neo-classicism, you know, in which every women in the world seems to be pregnant.  They are fat, they have these big fingers and big feet and they are running on the beach and everything is pure and they do jumps and die and the Blue Period comes.  Of those paintings nobody wanted to buy those paintings at the time because they said they were very sad.  Paint things that are more happy, they used to say to him, one of his agents and he was painting and painting for 2 years because of the suicide of his best friend from Barcelona and then that period finished with the Pink Period and he comes another Picasso but before he arrived to Paris we had that Picasso of Toulouse-Lautrec, those women with umbrellas, sit down, you know, flashy lipsticks and always in all of those styles you can recognize Picasso.  In all of them different styles so Picasso is almost as many as his styles.  He changes with women.  He changes as he goes as an artist.  He’s curious.  He never stop.  He’s always searching for something new.  There’s a scene in I think in Chapter 10 he came out of the blue because it was not written like that but inspiration at the time was probably Paloma and painted so he start painting like his kids and his paintings were very simple.  Just a head, 2 eyes, arm, just very simple so this is a moment that and I bring this canvas and he put it there and he look and he starts just laughing because at the end it’s all about that, you know, it’s about a laugh because he’s going to die and he’s painting like a kid.  He’s not painting like Velasquez anymore.  He’s not interested in that.  He’s going back, you know.  Maya used to say this story that his father used to take a nap when he was very old and he took a book with his glasses and she used to come and say papa, what in Malaga, right and he opened his eyes and yeah, in Malaga so he went back, you know, to be a little boy again and to be there in the Malaga the light, you know, that he was born and he never could go back.



AB: I would like to go to a place where there is a sofa (laughs) and a television so I can see how all this work.  I am very tired now.  I would like to go home because I live in hotel rooms all the time.  I would like to go home and write which I am doing lately a lot, read, watch some movies, take long walks, take my bike and go outside with my girlfriend and see movies, theatre, go to London to see theatre which is now my passions.  That’s what I would like to go now.  What place I would recommend anybody?  I always recommend Malaga.  I always say to the people go to Malaga.  It’s becoming a beautiful cultural city little by little.  Now I bought a theatre there.  I found finally the perfect way to ruin myself .


Favorite Picasso Paintings

I used to own 2 but in my divorce I lost one, But I still have one.  I may just trade.  I have to talk to Melanie and trade it, because I have a Diego Rivera that she likes very much and so I own one.  I like The Kiss, La Vie, of course, of Avignon which is a painting that changed the history of painting.  I would love to own some of those first period, you know, paintings when he arrived to Paris, the Toulouse-Lautrec period that I called Impressionism and I like everything but those.


Picasso’s Demons–Fear of Death

AB: I think it’s death.  When I see that painting I see a man that is just confronting his last moments and it’s just the panic of and the fear of the approaching reality.  I paint actually when I was doing that scene, I painted and I mean it wasn’t that bad.  It came out to be good but I painted looking at myself in a mirror, and what he sees is this decrepit image that is just saying goodbye.  That was the last thing that he did and he died days after.


Learning from and about Picasso

AB: I learn that to be a real artist is very painful, because you have to be very honest and that same honesty that makes you a great artist is also the one that becomes a misery to you, the same honesty that he had to take boos.  He was booed many times in his life as a painter because he didn’t want to follow what the people wanted to see for him.  He is broke, that kind of honesty is the same honesty that creates a lot of problems for him.  It’s the honesty of saying I don’t love you anymore.  So if you go into that thing what you don’t lie to anybody when the relationship between your brain and what you think is exactly what you do, it creates a lot of problems in a world in which we don’t behave like that.