Antonio Banderas talks to Awards Daily about his Emmy-nominated performance on National Geographic’s Genius: Picasso series, including why geniuses are sexual and what he learned about his own art through this project.
We’ve seen him as Zorro and in movie musicals like Evita (we’ve even seen him as Puss in Boots in Shrek) but Antonio Banderas’ role as Pablo Picasso in the second season of National Geographic’s Genius might be the most personal and challenging project of his career.
The 10-episode series follows Picasso from his youth to his death at the age of 91 and reflects on his muses, political conflict, and the lasting impression he left on the world. Banderas has been nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series/TV Movie at the 2018 Emmys, and I had a chance to ask him a few questions via email about playing “Old Picasso,” why NatGeo geniuses are highly sexual, and what he gained about his own art through this project.
Awards Daily: Were you a fan of the first Genius series? What drew you to this project?
Antonio Banderas: I was! I had just watched the first season when Ron Howard and Ken Biller came to London to ask me to be a part of the new season. I have been asked many times to play Pablo Picasso, who is from the same hometown as me. I had never felt right about doing it before, but seeing how they treated Albert Einstein’s story in Season 1, and knowing that National Geographic was committed to telling the story very authentically and honestly, helped to convince me.
AD: Alex Rich plays a younger version of Picasso. Did you work at all with him to coordinate on this real-life character?
AB: We had a lot of conversations before the start of the show. I was in London, and he was in Los Angeles. In truth, I think Alex has worked more with me than I worked with him! Picasso was Spanish, and I am Spanish. We are both from Malaga. I speak similar to the way Picasso spoke. Talking and accents are one of the most important features that an actor may use in creating authenticity, so I think that helped Alex a lot. We were also both on set at the same time, so we were able to watch each other and pick up different mannerisms and such that helped us to create one cohesive Picasso.
AD: Like the first season of the series with Einstein, this Genius is highly sexual, with multiple mistresses. Do you think there is a link between genius and sex or does it have to do with power?
AB: I think it has some to do with power, but I think it has more to do with passion. Geniuses are very passionate about their work—to the point of obsession. And that passion spills over to other parts of their life as well. I also think geniuses need to be inspired. For Einstein, his relationship with Mileva, a genius in her own right, inspired him and propelled him forward. I think Picasso found a lot of inspiration from the women and men in his life.
AD: The Nazis ban Picasso from showing his art, which prompts Picasso to say, “They can’t stop me from making it.” Then he’s nearly hit by a stray bullet. Do you have any fears about making art in this current political climate? What, if anything, do you think this miniseries says about what the United States is currently going through?
AB: I think art is more important now than ever. Art is a form of expression, whether it’s personal or political. It can help to bridge divides and bring people together.
AD: Picasso’s relationships with women, including Francoise Gilot and even his daughter, are predatory, in the same vein of what many women in the #MeToo movement revealed. What do you think Picasso’s intentions are? Where do you think he’d fit in with the #MeToo movement and does that take away from his “genius”?
AB: I actually think it’s a great time to be telling such a story. The series doesn’t separate the art from the artist, and it doesn’t sidestep his faults. I hope the series provides some illumination as to how and why powerful men often use that power to exploit women in their orbit, and the effect it has on these women. We wanted to take viewers inside that power dynamic. As you may recall from Season 1, Einstein also had many complicated relationships, which were also explored in great detail.
AD: Did working on this series about art make you think differently about your own acting craft or directing craft? If so, how?
AB: Two things that have never been more fundamental in my career than they have been on this show were makeup and costumes. I have never used prosthetics in the way that I used them on Genius. Prosthetics are a mask that you have to learn how to use. If you put them on and you just go and don’t look at yourself in the mirror and try to understand what is happening in your face and your expression, you are making a mistake. I had to try to understand me, this new me, with this new mask and try to move it, so it has that specific weight that I need for Picasso to have. It can be inconvenient. I had to get up very early and spend two to five hours in makeup, but I think it paid off.
The other part that helped me enormously is costumes. I am taller and leaner than him, so the costumes were designed to make me shorter and wider. As soon as I would put on his pants, shirts, everything—it actually makes me Picasso. It’s very difficult to explain, but when I would get in makeup and put on my costume, I would feel Picasso. These big, big parts of my role as Picasso were given to me by these magnificent professionals.
Genius: Picasso is available to view here and also available On Demand.