His sultry eyes behind his Zorro mask made Catherine Zeta-Jones (and most every other woman) swoon; he matched notes with Madonna in Evita and danced compellingly with an ailing Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. But all those memorable images aside, the role that Antonio Banderas’ mother most treasures is that of Dickinson College honorary degree recipient.
Back in Carlisle in early December for the first time since receiving an honorary doctor of arts in 2000, the actor/director talked of how much that distinction means to Ana Banderas, who came with her late husband Jos´e from their native Málaga to witness the event. Banderas confided that he also treasures the honor, so much so that he keeps his Dickinson diploma hanging above his Los Angeles fireplace.
Banderas—whose affiliation with the college was initiated and is maintained by Grace “Mickey” Jarvis, senior lecturer, chair of Spanish and Portuguese and long-time director of Dickinson’s study-abroad program in Málaga—was in town to showcase the second film he has directed. Accompanying him was another Málaga-born and Dickinson-connected Antonio. A scholar-in-residence at Dickinson in 1995 and 2000, Antonio Soler adapted the screenplay for Banderas’ film El Camino de los Ingleses from his novel of the same name.
The collaborators explained the underpinnings of the impressionistic coming-of-age film to an eager audience in a packed Carlisle Theatre after its showing. Though the Antonios knew each other tangentially as adolescents in Málaga (Soler is a few years older), they didn’t meet as mature artists until both were on campus for Commencement in 2000. Their Dickinson encounter led to their work on El Camino, which won an award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2007. The two have found their working relationship so rewarding that they have another movie in the works—a much larger production with a major-league budget.
After leaving the theatre, in the cozy confines of Jarvis’ living room near campus, Banderas, with his good looks radiating even off stage and up close, was unwaveringly courteous and eager to talk—about Dickinson (he’d love to form a stronger connection, perhaps through the Cervantes Institute, the organization that promotes the study and the teaching of Spanish language and culture and of which he is a board member), El Camino (he could take artistic risks because Spain funded the production), films he liked in ’08 (The Visitor, a small indie film with a big heart, in particular), and his next collaboration with Soler, which will reunite the two Antonios with a third, the composer Antonio Meliveo, who also is connected with Dickinson through Jarvis.
That “Mickenson connection,” as some people call it, results from “having a program abroad and resident directors who can establish long-term relationships that facilitate these kind of encounters,” said Jarvis. But she’s also been part of the artistic mix, having written the English subtitles at breakneck speed for El Camino.
Banderas spent time in 2008 traveling around Europe and the Middle East soliciting support for the film that the trio of Antonios hopes to release in February 2010. Among the potential backers with whom Banderas has met are Queen Noor of Jordan and British entrepreneur Richard Branson.
The film, with dialogue in Spanish and Arabic, depicts the life of Boabdil, the last Muslim king of Granada, Spain. Though the timeframe is the 15th century, said Banderas, “the situation was very similar to today—with confrontation between two strong cultures.” In the tradition of another box-office favorite, Clint Eastwood, Banderas will act as well as direct. He’s cast himself as a general for the Christian side and would like Hiam Abbass, who played the mother in The Visitor, as the Arab queen.
Banderas, who has acted in 75 films since debuting as a stage actor in Spain 30 years ago, speaks articulately in English—a language he only began to learn in 1992 when he made the crossover from Spanish to American movies in The Mambo Kings. His intelligence, artistic sensibility and border-crossing career and interests make him a model Dickinsonian. Said Jarvis, “He’s doing what we tell our students we want them to do—crossing cultural frontiers.”