Q: You met when you costarred in the 1995 comedy Two Much. How did you go from a professional to a personal, romantic relationship?
A: I think we were both unhappy with our different relationships at the time. I wouldn't put anything on the shoulders of the other persons. Things just don't work sometimes, and that's the way it goes. But we recognized that we were unhappy. And I saw this sweet, vulnerable soul, funny, also very smart and generous. I saw her with her kids, and she was so beautiful as a mom. It happens sometimes that you connect with your costar. It's normal. But at the end of the movie, it's just "delete" — you go home and it's good-bye. But it didn't happen. We kept calling each other on the phone all day long. And then one day we had to actually confront it. And we did. It was not easy.
Q: How was it becoming a stepfather?
A: It was hard because the kids had to accept me, and I was totally inexperienced. Suddenly I had a 6-year-old girl, a 10-year-old boy, and Stella came along almost immediately. I was, "Oh, my God!" But as soon as the kids knew that I was there to stay, they were fine. They needed solid ground in which they could grow. As soon as I realized that, I started establishing my relationship, giving them security, little by little doing the father thing.
Q: How long did that process take?
A: It took less than a year for them to realize that I was not temporary.
Q: Are you all close now?
A: Yes. They call me Paponio — Papa and Antonio. But Dakota is 22 already, and she's making movies. And Alexander is 26 and living in New York. And Mama and I have been together for 17 years now.
Q: That's a long time for a Hollywood marriage. What's your secret?
A: The secret is that we had failures before. And love at the beginning is a rush. It's big, full of energy, beautiful. But it doesn't last like that. Melanie and I talked about that a lot. Are we going to make the mistake of looking back for that thing all the time? Or are we going to look ahead and create universes that are different? We made the second choice. That thing at the beginning disappeared, but it became something better. We discovered the value and warmth of family, and what is home — that we can be stronger together. That thing that you thought was gone comes back again, and you fall in love again. Even in crisis, we have been patient enough to detect that at the end of the tunnel was a light. We have had as many problems as anybody. We've never hidden it. We've been open about addictions, in the case of Melanie. She has overcome her problems beautifully. I didn't know she was so strong. It makes me love her even more, because she has been an unbelievable lion fighting, and she got it. The last [relapse] was three years ago, and it just welded us.
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