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Antonio Banderas on 'Pain and Glory'

How the actor's heart attack at 56 helped make his Pedro Almodóvar film an Oscar-buzzed masterpiece

spinner image Antonio Banderas as Salvador in 'Pain & Glory'
Sony Pictures Classics

Antonio Banderas tells AARP about his brush with death and his Oscar-buzzed role as director Pedro Almodóvar’s alter ego in Pain and Glory, a character inspired by Almodóvar’s own life story.

What’s the “pain” in Pain and Glory?

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Physical pain, isolation and solitude. That’s what Pedro experienced. Our friends said, “Oh, Pedro is not coming out of his house lately. He’s got a problem with his back, with migraines.” When we shot The Skin I Live In [2011], he was in crisis — somber, worried and more aggressive.

Who was at fault

Maybe I also contributed to that. After doing eight films with him and then 22 years without him, I went back — not cocky, but saying, “Hey, look what I’ve learned. I’m a different actor now.” After a week, he said, “Eh, all of those things you’re bringing that you’re so proud of, I cannot use any of them. Where are you?” I felt that as an aggression. This is a game of power. But when I saw The Skin I Live In, I realized he’d managed to get out of me a character I didn’t even know I had inside.

Playing it Pedro’s way

The process of humility started in me. So nine years later came Pain and Glory, which was an act of love. He thought, You’re going to play me. I went to him in a completely different way. I removed all my medals, my tricks, my tools. So I’m here as a plain soldier. And then we started from scratch. I don’t play the trumpet, I don’t play the piano. I am my instrument.

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What his heart attack felt like

I was in my London country house. I went to the gym. I was feeling good. I went to make breakfast and started feeling this faint pain in both arms. I said, “Ah, maybe I did too much weights today.” And then came this cold sweat on my forehead — I was a little short of breath — then a pain on my jaw. I knew I was having a heart attack. That night they put three stents in my coronary arteries. I thought: Can I do the same things I used to do? Can I drink? Wow, I’m gonna be depressed. My nurse said, “No. Depressed is a medical condition — you’re gonna be sad. And then you will come out of that and see the things that are important in your life.” It’s true, everything she said. I became sensitive to everything. Anything made me cry.

How this changed Pain and Glory

Pedro said, “There’s something in you that’s changed. Don’t hide it. Use that for this character. He has to deal with suffering, with realization of death close.” I said, “Absolutely, Pedro, we’re gonna just jump into the mud together. Let’s start from using pieces of truth of our lives — yours and mine.”

What the film revealed about Almodóvar

I never knew he wanted to say, “I’m sorry, Mom, that I am not the son that you wanted me to be.” Or how strong he was to come to terms with certain actors, his loved ones, boyfriends, to close the wounds.

Glory means growing up

Not everybody can do that confession on the screen, coming to terms and reconciling with his past. That’s the glory: the capacity to see, and recognize and continue working.

What it’s like to watch your 1980s Almodóvar films

I was so young! When I see those movies, I look as fresh as yogurt.

Forget retirement

Retire? No! I’m starting something new. I bought a theater in my hometown of Malaga. The most important word of the last decade is “selfie” ... which is a prolongation of the word “narcissism.” Whatever is not recorded doesn’t exist. I love theater that is ephemeral. We actors, we know that every day is a different performance. We’re starting with A Chorus Line because it’s the perfect play to open a theater.

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