Why 'Official Competition' reunited Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz

Sergio Burstein, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Contemplating his character, and that of Martínez, Banderas sees Félix and Iván as "equally ridiculous," the former as a frivolous lover of "prizes, money and women" and the latter as a "purist in life" who "is also deeply narcissistic."

"But I think the movie is really talking about the ridiculousness of being human and the ability we have to easily become what we criticize," he said.

Cruz underscored that sentiment.

"The great thing about this script is that it hasn't built cliches, because when you think you have each character in a box, you realize it's not that easy," she said. "Lola says a lot of bull— and she has a lot of delusions of grandeur, but she suddenly blurts out something very interesting. Everyone in the movie is many things, just as we are all many things in real life."

Banderas' route to Hollywood blockbusters like "Shrek" passed through the School of Dramatic Art in Málaga, Spain, in his hometown, where he spent four years before moving to Madrid and joining the ranks of professional theater.

Almodóvar gave him minor but juicy roles in early films including "Labyrinth of Passion" (1982) and "Matador" (1986) before gifting him with a lead in "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" (1989), in which Banderas' mentally unstable character has the tables turned on him by a porn star he attempted to take prisoner and force to marry him. The actor seems always right at home in Almodóvar's off-kilter universe, where the gravitational pull of philosophical pathos and nakedly honest emotion balances out the centripetal forces of absurdist humor and erotic camp.


Unlike some of his U.S. peers, Banderas hasn't been yoked to an exclusively Method approach in trying to tap into profound emotional truths. That theme bubbles up in "Official Competition," as Félix's and Iván's completely opposite performance styles generate many a comic collision.

"In all these years, I have met many people that, in the end, find the truth of what they do using all kinds of methods," Banderas said. "There are people who are very conscientious with the preparation they do but who do not end up convincing anyone, and others who are listening to a soccer game before going onstage and then make the entire theater cry. It is very difficult to determine what is the exact preparation to achieve excellence.

"The empirical world is the one that has really made me, that is, the world of experience," he continued. "At a certain point, there were people who thought that I was only Zorro, that I only made adventure films and that I simply had the necessary charisma to do so. But later on, they were very surprised to see me in 'Pain and Glory,'" the 2019 film that landed him an Oscar nomination.

Banderas still considers himself to be essentially a theater actor, but he's willing to provide whatever the performance demands, whether in an obscure stage role or for a global megaplex audience.


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