Antonio Banderas on his big budget Arabian epic Black Gold
Time Out Bahrain staff
The Emir Antonio Banderas plays an Emir in ’30s Arabia, who fights with a neighbouring ruler over the oil-rich land between their territories.
You play an Emir in the film. Was it difficult getting into the role? It’s not so much that it is hard or challenging. You have to try to be very honest with what you are doing. It is important to be very precise without betraying the community that you are representing. From the little details, such as showing the rituals that are used in prayer, to the bigger aspects of the character and the context that is surrounding the whole entire project – all of those details have to be right there, perfect. Tell us a bit about the Emir... My character Nessib, the Emir of Hobeika, is ‘new’ rich, and he does things that are sometimes funny. He wants to buy everything, to put his name everywhere. He is going to do what he couldn’t ever do before thanks to the oil money and his newfound power, so it does make you laugh sometimes. He tries to buy off the chiefs of tribes with Rolex watches. But what does the chief of a tribe in the middle of the desert want with a Rolex? So that’s the big metaphor of the movie: it is simple, it is beautiful. But that’s what happened, and not such a long time ago. It’s right there, around the corner.
What was it like playing an Arab character? Ever since the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, there has been a bipolarisation of the world, and certain aspects of Arab culture have been misrepresented. It’s important for me that, while the film is an epic with a romantic element, it also provides the opportunity to show a little bit more of this culture that I consider, in part, my own.
As an Andalucian, I’ve always felt a certain connection with the Arab world. It’s almost in my sub-conscious, an abstract mix of colours, sounds and music. You feel it when you walk in the lands of Andalucia, Malaga, Granada and Seville. All of that has been going through different filters through history, through the last five-and-a-half centuries, but there is something in there when I visit Arab countries that I know belongs to me.
Let’s back up a step – how did you start out in acting? It’s in my soul. I first started working as an actor as a teenager, when the Spanish dictator General Franco was still alive. I remember playing Bertolt Brecht. I was 14 years old, in a theatre and looking to the wings where I could see the shiny helmets of the cops. And when the curtain came down and we took the bow, we were arrested. We spent the whole night in the police station. That happened three or four times. We didn’t have anything. Nothing. Just the money in our pockets in order to put together our play.
What drew you to Black Gold? America has given me a lot, but they tend to do movies in patterns. You do things that are edible for the masses and if you say the words ‘experimental’ in any studio in Hollywood you’re going to get kicked out of the window. I felt I needed to go back to my roots, to refresh myself and take a breath of fresh air. With Jean-Jacques Annaud working on Black Gold, it could only ever be a great adventure. As an actor that’s my turf.
It must be a change from playing an animated cat... Puss In Boots is a paradox. When I first came to America I couldn’t even speak the language. So the fact that I’ve been called upon 20 years later just to use my voice is unbelievable. It’s almost like the wink of an eye, saying: ‘Look, everything I have done in the past is here, presented in a totally different shape with a totally different image.’
I am just making fun of my own career, and that’s cool. As for Puss, I think I’m going to start travelling with that cat. Because women love him, even more than me, so at the end of the night if I am not successful with them I can just tell them to play with my cat. Black Gold premiered at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival and is released in November.
The Princess Freida Pinto co-stars as Banderas's daughter, Princess Leila. She shared her views on filming in the Gulf, Arab women and working with Antonio
On Banderas In terms of mannerisms I could feed off Antonio’s character. He’s very royal in the way he expresses himself and the way he’s seated. There’s a demeanor about him that is very lion-like. It helped a lot.
On playing an Arab WOMAN I feel very privileged to be playing an Arab woman, to be going out there, talking about their stories and to be representing them. Our director was my research on Black Gold, because to me he is a walking encyclopedia of the Arab world. He knows everything.
On Arab cinema I think it’s very much like the situation in India, in that the Arab world has not been explored fully on film yet. India has been explored within our native film industry, so I have been exposed to a lot of films where we examine Indian characters. But at the same time, I feel that internationally we’re not fully represented. I hope that can change, especially with films like Black Gold.