En español | If you define a man by his dogs, Antonio Banderas is happy, welcoming, and eager to please. His three pooches — a boxer, a pit bull-Labrador mix, and a mutt — trot toward my car as I pull into the driveway of his 1925 Spanish-Colonial home in the heart of Los Angeles. Banderas — rugged and relaxed in a T-shirt, parachute pants, and tennis shoes — greets me with a grin at the front door and introduces the pups as Velvet, Jack, and Elliott. As I shake hands with their handsome owner I think, "Lucky dogs."
Banderas leads me inside to a book-lined study. Now 51, he grew up in Málaga, Spain, when dictator Francisco Franco was still in power. Twenty years ago he moved to the United States, becoming one of the most successful Europe-to-Hollywood crossover actors of our time. He has played wildly different roles in films including Evita, The Mask of Zorro, Spy Kids, and the Shrek series, metamorphosing from sizzling sex symbol to action hero to comedic adventurer to…a cat? This month he will reprise his turn as Puss in Boots in the movie of the same name. "Puss has got a huge heart, he's very bold, very devilish, very romantic," says Puss in Boots director Chris Miller. "I would say he's a lot like Antonio."
As we chat, Maxwell, one of his family's two kitties, slinks up behind me on the back of the couch. More than once Banderas rises and gently moves Maxwell to the floor. ("Lucky cat," I think.) The actor's warmth and affability — his casual, sensual charm — are well-known to his colleagues and friends. "He makes everyone around him relaxed," says Robert Rodriguez, who cast Banderas in Desperado in 1994. "He's very generous and one of the sweetest guys."
Those good-guy qualities are especially evident when Banderas talks about his off-screen role as family man, which began in 1996 with his marriage to Melanie Griffith. (His first marriage, to Spanish actress Ana Leza, ended in divorce.) At the time, Griffith, now 54, had two children — Alexander, from her marriage to Steven Bauer, and Dakota, from her marriage to Don Johnson — and Banderas enthusiastically embraced the role of stepfather. Soon he and Griffith had a child of their own, Stella, now 15, and the family has successfully blended together.
Banderas admits that he and his wife have struggled at times, notably with Griffith's substance abuse. But the challenges, he says, have only strengthened their relationship. As we talk about the peccadilloes of famous men, Banderas reveals his thoughts on how couples — he and Griffith included — can keep passion alive.
And I think: "Lucky Melanie."