History

“Picasso is a planet with enormous gravity and those who enter his orbit get trapped”

Antonio Banderas, who plays the famous painter in the second season of National Geogrpahic’s 'Genius', dives into his close relationship with the artist, also born in the Spanish town of Málaga.Monday, 7 May 2018

By Manuel Moncada

Antonio Banderas plays the lead role in the second season of Genius: Picasso. The show focuses on the life and work of the Spanish painter, one of the most recognised and influential artists of the 20th century. The actor talked to National Geographic about what it is like to play the famous artist and what drew him to the role.

What was your first contact with Pablo Picasso? What relationship have you had with him throughout your life?

The first contact with Picasso occurred many years ago in my youth. Malaga was then a city still under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, in the early 60s. We did not have many heroes back then – not just national, but international. The figure of Pablo Picasso was very prominent, even though the regime did not hold a relationship with the painter since, obviously, he could not live in Spain, especially since he joined the Communist Party.

Even so, Picasso was a very difficult sun to cover: they needed an umbrella too big for that. Picasso had a lot of power at the media level, so there was a time when it was no longer about covering up, but about controlling that sun that Picasso had been symbolising since he was very young.

We must bear in mind that we were both born in the same place. I remember when my mother said to me: "Look, son, Pablo Picasso was born there". He was a constant, an invisible hero who lived in France.

Antonio Banderas was born in the same city as Pablo Picasso, Málaga, Spain.

Knowing your admiration for Picasso, how did you react when you received the call from National Geographic?

A few approaches had already taken place throughout my career for me to play Picasso. Generally, in the first ones there was a sense of responsibility when playing a personality that I admired a lot. At the beginning I was falling back, I was very afraid.

I did not take a step forward until Carlos Saura’s proposal, which was actually very unfortunate because the script was caught in a creditors' contest. A second one was written, with which I was not satisfied, and we tried to recover the first one. Meanwhile, many years went by in which many other different attempts were made.

And, during that impasse, Ron Howard and Ken Biller appeared, called me in London and offered the possibility of playing Picasso and assuming part of the character, approximately from 1926-27 until his death. That is, from his forties until he died at the age of 92.

The proposal was very interesting because it also came hand-in-hand with National Geographic, an institution that guaranteed that what we were going to do was based on facts. After that, what followed is what always happens when biopics are made. We know what the character said or what he did, but what we do not know is why, and trying to break down many of the things that happened in the life of Picasso is tricky. He had a very rich life, very full of drama, of many colours and very close to his artistic facet. Picasso's artistic life can’t be understood without analysing his personal life and his relationship with women.

Antonio Banderas found the role offered by Ron Howard and Ken Biller interesting because "it also came hand-in-hand with National Geographic, an institution that guaranteed that what we were going to do was based on facts."

Tell us about Picasso's relationship with women

Virtually all the women who were part of Picasso's life were his muses. They opened almost new periods in his painting. There is something Draculian in Picasso. In some way, he needs the excitement of the new love to continue creating.

He was anxiously looking for that emotional spill that takes place at the beginning of a relationship. But at the same time, there is a very funny fact: he does not want to stop seeing his women. He wants to keep them in some way in a "glass cabinet"; that is very unfair. I do not think he did it out of malice, much less; I think he loved and cared for them until the end of his days.

That was the case of Marie-Thérèse Walter, or Dora Maar’s, who ended up in a convent at the age of almost 90. Or Olga Khokhlova’s and a divorce that did not actually occur because Franco had banned divorce in Spain and, because she was Russian, they could not divorce in France either.

At the same time, he resisted letting half of his artistic work go due to a divorce. It's all very bizarre, but that's the way it was. In the end, there is something of a child in the Picasso that we have played and how we have read and researched about him. Picasso had very early success, he got rich and became famous early in his career and in some ways this gave him a certain permission to do what he wanted. And he did it.

Picasso is a planet with enormous gravity and those who enter its orbit get trapped. It was very difficult to leave him, even for Françoise Gilot, the only woman who left Picasso.

But if you go to Wikipedia today and read about Françoise Gilot, you will see that she was a French painter and such and such... "known as Picasso's wife". Even she, who tried so hard to separate from him, and who even wrote a book with a certain criticism towards the genius of Málaga, was caught in his gravity.

Banderas believes that Picasso "had a very rich life, very full of drama, of many colours and very close to his artistic facet."

What do Antonio Banderas and Pablo Picasso have in common, apart from being both from Málaga?

Very few things. Pablo Picasso has very few things to do with many artists, he was a special being. He was a man with a tremendous capacity to express things through painting that also visited a huge amount of styles. That is one of the things that characterised it.

From having painted as Velázquez at the age of 19 to the worlds of Toulouse Lautrec, to his time in Paris... The death of [Spanish painter and poet, and a key friend of Picasso's] Carlos Casagemas meant the start of the Blue Period. After that, he moved towards the Pink Period, then the whole cubist period he shared with Georges Braque and Juan Gris, then he went further into his relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter in the context of neoclassicism.

He touched everything. There was an anecdote that was referred to in one of the books I read: when Picasso came to the studios of many of the great artists of the time (most of them, friends of his), like Marc Chagall, they hid their new works because if Picasso took a look at them he could make better copies than the originals. Therefore, Picasso’s visits were a "continuous threat".

 

The second season of Genius, focused on the life of Pablo Picasso, continues at 8pm on Mondays on National Geographic Channel.

Antonio Banderas may have been born in the same city as Pablo Picasso but he believes they have very few things in common. "He was a man with a tremendous capacity to express things through painting," says Banderas, "that also visited a huge amount of styles."
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