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Mad doctors have been a staple of horror cinema since its
earliest days, and even with all the variations who have stitched and sutured
their way across the screen, there’s never been one quite like Dr. Robert
Ledgard, played by Antonio Banderas in Pedro Almodóvar’s THE SKIN I LIVE IN. As
the film nears its U.S. release this Friday from Sony Pictures Classics, Fango spoke to Banderas about
slipping into SKIN.
In the movie, which begins its run in New York and LA and
expands from there, Dr. Ledgard lives in a lavish mansion with two female
companions: his housekeeper Marilia (played by Almodóvar film veteran Marisa
Paredes) and a mysterious young woman named Vera (Elena Anaya), who seems
alternately to be Dr. Ledgard’s prisoner and his lover. Their relationship is
in fact deeper—and far more perverse—than that, and is gradually revealed as
the scenario explores ever-darker depths of surgical madness. It’s a return to
thriller territory for Almodóvar and Banderas, another frequent collaborator
with the director, who first teamed up on 1986’s twisted psychodrama MATADOR.
FANGORIA: THE SKIN I LIVE IN brings you full circle with
Almodóvar. You starred in his first thriller, MATADOR, and this is his first
film in that genre since then.
ANTONIO BANDERAS: Yeah, it’s been quite a trip, all these
years. We did continue seeing each other as friends for the 22 years since TIE
ME UP! TIE ME DOWN!, which is the last one we did, and it was almost like
nothing happened in between. It was like yesterday we finished the other movie.
The whole thing has been very interesting.
FANG: Was there a reason you didn’t collaborate for so long?
BANDERAS: Well, a couple of times he contacted me with the
possibility of working together again, but it was just timing. I was signed for
Hollywood pictures two, sometimes three years in advance, and it was
practically impossible to get out of those contracts, so that was one of the
reasons. In fact, he first talked to me about THE SKIN I LIVE IN in 2002, I
believe it was, at the Cannes Film Festival. But for whatever reason, he
decided to go first with other movies like VOLVER or BROKEN EMBRACES, but
meanwhile, he was putting together this story. I was in New York, actually,
doing a workshop for [the Broadway revival of] ZORBA, and suddenly he called me
and said, “It’s about time.” And I said, “Yeah, it is!” So we got together and
started working again.
FANG: When you first discussed it all those years back, how
much of the plot did he tell you?
BANDERAS: What he did was just tell me the story of MYGALE
[TARANTULA], the book which inspired him to do the movie. But when he called me
again after all those years, he said, “Forget about MYGALE; I don’t know if you
have read the novel or not. That was a source of inspiration for me, but the script
really doesn’t have anything to do with it now, except the fundamental premise.
I’ve reinvented the entire story in a totally different way; in fact, I’m not
going to do it linear, but I’m going to use time in a way that is absolutely
different from what is done in the novel.” And when I read the script, it was
quite stunning. I thought the cinematic exercise he was trying was just
FANG: Did you ever wind up reading the book?
BANDERAS: No, because Pedro said to me, “I prefer that you
don’t get distracted by what the novel is all about. We’re going to work your
character exactly the way I created him, and if you read the book, it’s
probably going to give you information we’re not going to use. Just concentrate
on what we have in front of us.”
FANG: Dr. Ledgard has been compared by some people to Dr.
Frankenstein. Was that something you thought about when you approached the
BANDERAS: Yeah, of course, there’s something of that in him,
because the movie has a little touch of science fiction. Obviously you cannot
do what he does today; it might happen sometime 30 or 40 years from now, but it
is not possible in our era. So there’s that element, but then the story goes in
different directions, where he has a kind of love for his creation. By the end
of the movie, it seems Dr. Ledgard is actually falling for Vera somehow, though
I never felt that way when we were performing it; I thought it was more like
he’s falling for himself, he’s falling for his masterpiece. And he eventually
receives the punishment he should receive.
FANG: Indeed, one of the interesting things about THE SKIN I
LIVE IN is that as perverse as it gets, it’s also ultimately a very moral film.
Everybody kind of gets what they deserve, in one way or another.
BANDERAS: It is, and it’s also a reflection of what Pedro
always has been interested in, which is passion in a relationship between two
people—and when that passion crosses the line to psychopathy or beyond normal
morality, which is a very thin line. It happens also in TIE ME UP! TIE ME
DOWN!, which is very similar because the character in that film is a victim at
the beginning, and then they both kind of recognize themselves as kindred
spirits, outcasts, and in the end they adapt together. But in this movie that’s
impossible, because my character is ultimately a monster.
FANG: How did you develop that complex onscreen relationship
with Elena Anaya?
BANDERAS: We worked hard. Pedro called us about two months
prior to when we started shooting the movie—which is very unusual—and we spent
a lot of time together rehearsing at his house in Madrid. We started with this
group of three, and eventually some of the other actors came too, and we worked
together from the point of view of, “Let’s see how the scenes play.” And as we
got into it, the script went through some transformations, because Pedro was
actually rehearsing himself, too. His whole tendency is to clean the script of
words as much as possible; he wants to tell a story visually, and feels it
should be done using the minimum of verbal expressions, and go for images. With
Elena, we basically talked a lot, rehearsed a lot and started getting a feel
for our bodies and for the story itself.
At the same time, I tried not to judge my character from a
moral point of view. Pedro at some point said to me, “You should behave almost
like a family doctor. Because for him, it’s so normal that you should never
wink to the audience, in terms of saying, “I know that I am playing a monster.”
So I just detached from that, and went for things that were very precise in the
moment we were doing it. Minimal details, whether it was a little movement of
the hands or a facial expression.
I used to joke to Pedro and say to him, “You’re becoming
Japanese, man.” Many people have said that this movie is a leap in his career,
that he’s going to different territory, and I actually think the opposite way.
I think this is more Almodóvar than Almodóvar. Pedro of course knows what the
crowds love about him, and he could easily just put together movies that are
going to please that. But he hasn’t become a crowdpleaser. He is still on a
search, exploring, investigating, turning the wheel a little bit more in his
style, which is nothing more than eclecticism. He just draws from everything.
That’s what I remember about him from the ’80s, and he hasn’t changed. What he
has done is just perfect his own style, to something more austere, more
minimalist and cleaner.
FANG: THE SKIN I LIVE IN has gotten very diverse reactions
so far, with strong opinions on both sides. How have you dealt with those
BANDERAS: We are very happy with the reception by the people
so far and by the audience at the Cannes Film Festival, for example. We got 10
minutes of applause there, an ovation from the entire theater. Basically, 85
percent of the reviews have been pretty good. I don’t know how all audiences
are going to react, but I think the Spanish audience knows Pedro very well, and
that people in general are going to have a lot of interest.
FANG: Outside of SKIN I LIVE IN and MATADOR, you’ve done
very few films that can be classified as horror; INTERVEW WITH THE VAMPIRE is
pretty much the only one. Is the genre something you’d like to explore further
in future films?
BANDERAS: Yeah, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen.
It’s not something that I’m actually searching for—horror movies in the
traditional sense. I do like to see them; I’m a good spectator for those types
of movies. But then, I don’t actually see THE SKIN I LIVE IN that way. What
Pedro is trying to say in this film is something different. Yes, you can say
it’s horror, but there are no “boo”s in it.
Read more comments from Banderas, as well as Almodóvar and
Anaya, on THE SKIN I LIVE IN in Fango #307, on sale now.
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