If you define a man by his dogs, Antonio Banderas is happy, welcoming, and eager to please. His three pooches — a mutt, a boxer and a pit bull-Labrador mix — 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, greets me with a grin and leads me into a book-lined study.
Now 51, he grew up in Malaga, Spain, and moved to the United States 20 years ago, 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? He recently reprised his turn as Puss in Boots in the movie of the same name.
Banderas' off-screen role as family man began in 1996 with his marriage to Melanie Griffith. Griffith, now 54, had two children: Alexander, from her marriage to Steven Bauer, and Dakota, from her marriage to Don Johnson. She and Banderas have a child of their own, Stella, now 15.
Banderas reveals his thoughts on how couples, he and Griffith included, can keep passion alive.
When you came to the United States to do The Mambo Kings, you were an accomplished actor in Spain, but you didn't speak English. Was it hard for you?
It was difficult. I was living in New York, and I went to Berlitz two months prior to start shooting.
But making the movie was not the most difficult part. The problem was living in a place where I didn't understand anybody. I was staying in a hotel, and I was afraid even to call room service.
There was a deli on the same street as the hotel, and I spotted a tag on a guy there that said "Rodriguez."
I used to go down and talk to Rodriguez and buy sandwiches, then take them back to my room.
Soon after that you did Philadelphia, playing opposite Tom Hanks, then Desperado. At what point did you finally say, "Okay, I'm here for a while?"
When I met Melanie and had to make a decision about where we were going to live.
She had two kids. It would have been very difficult if we moved to Europe, because those kids needed to visit their parents. I didn't have kids. So it was clear: I am the one.
How was it becoming a stepfather?
It was hard. … Suddenly I had a 6-year-old girl, a 10-year-old boy, and Stella came along almost immediately. I was, "Oh, my God!" But as soon as the kids knew that I was there to stay, they were fine. They needed solid ground in which they could grow.
Are you all close now?
Yes. They call me Paponio, Papa and Antonio. But Dakota is 22 already, and she's making movies. And Alexander is 26 and living in New York. (Griffith) and I have been together for 17 years now.
That's a long time for a Hollywood marriage. What's your secret?
The secret is that we had failures before. And love at the beginning is a rush. It's big, full of energy, beautiful. But it doesn't last like that.
Melanie and I talked about that a lot. Are we going to make the mistake of looking back for that thing all the time? Or are we going to look ahead and create universes that are different? … We discovered the value and warmth of family, and what is home, that we can be stronger together. That thing that you thought was gone comes back again, and you fall in love again.
How do you deal with temptation?
(You have to ask yourself ) if you are willing to damage what you have with your kids, your family, your friends. How do you deal in your sexual life with your wife? How rich can you make it in order to not have to look for something outside your marriage? What other things can you do, in your home? What are the things that you may tell her, or are you going to be always lying?
There may be people who don't even allow themselves to watch a movie and say to their wife, "Ah, that actress is sexy," because their wife may get very upset.
I think that you should be able to be honest with your wife: "I should be able to tell you that, yeah, sometimes I walk into a party and I feel there are women there that are very beautiful. And you shouldn't be upset. In the same way, you may see a guy who's very attractive." The question is, how much will you stretch that?
How was turning the Big Five-Oh for you?
Perfect. Being in my 50s isn't hard for me at all, because I feel good. I think the problems with being older come when your body cannot do what your mind wants. Then, Houston, we have a problem. (Laughs.)
How do you stay fit?
I do yoga every morning, then I run for half an hour and take a sauna. And I eat properly. I drink a lot of white tea. It's a very powerful antioxidant.
Is there anything that you would like to do that you haven't done?
Oh, yeah, but I will die with that feeling. Jumping in parachutes. I would like to be a great piano player. There are so many things, but there's no time in one lifetime.
Adapted from AARP the Magazine.