It has been some time since we’ve seen actor Antonio Banderas on the big screen, but sadly, it may still be a little longer, because his latest movie, The Code (formerly called “Thick as Thieves”) will be released on DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday without getting a theatrical release here in the United States. It’s a shame, because the actordriven heist movie in the vein of Ocean’s 11, The Italian Job and The Score teams Banderas with Morgan Freeman, and it’s better than a good amount of the movies we’ve seen get theatrical releases, plus it’s also the first movie in many years from director Mimi Leder (Deep Impact).
In the movie, Banderas plays Gabriel, a jewel thief who meets Freeman’s Ripley while pulling a complicated subway train heist that goes wrong, and the older veteran convinces the down-and-out burglar to join him in an intricate plot to steal two priceless Faberge Imperial Eggs from a high-security vault in New York’s diamond district. Together, the men must evade the NYPD and the FBI in a game that gets more dangerous when Ripley’s granddaughter (Radha Mitchell) is kidnapped by the head of the Russian KGB who wants the Eggs for himself.
Watch an exclusive clip from the movie below…
ComingSoon.net had a rare chance to get on the phone with Banderas to talk about the movie, which should appeal to those who enjoy his quirky characters and the heist genre. We also talked briefly about other things like the Salvador Dali biopic Banderas has been trying to get off the ground.
ComingSoon.net: I was surprised because I hadn’t heard about this movie while it was being made, and only heard about it when I learned it was being released on DVD, and then I was even more surprised that it was a really good movie and you and Morgan just work really well together. How did this project come to you?
Antonio Banderas: It was very fast. I suppose someone dropped out at the last moment, but they didn’t want to tell me who that was. (chuckles) So I was in Spain at the time, and somebody called me from the production office. I got an interview with Mimi and then with Morgan, and they flew me to New York, I think it was like 15 days before we started principal photography actually, so I got in the movie from the backdoor, as they say. There were attractive names in the movie, the name of Morgan Freeman to me was very important. Also Mimi in a way, because I saw a couple of her movies that I liked very much, so I said “Yes” immediately and we started working in New York and then we moved to Sofia in Bulgaria and we did the rest of the movie there.
CS: Oh, really? The New York locations are pretty obvious, and those I could spot, but I wondered where the rest of the movie was shot.
Banderas: Right, it was a pleasure actually to work in New York, which is not that easy to do. Normally the movies that are set up in New York nowadays are shot in Toronto or in Vancouver or other places, but just to be on the streets of New York shooting, it was quite interesting for me, I love it. But then we had to fake the whole entire thing in the studios over inside of the place that we rob and our houses, everything else like bars, everything was done in Sofia, Bulgaria and some little exteriors we also did there.
CS: You’ve done a few of these types of crime-thrillers in the past, but never really a flat-out heist movie, at least not that I can remember. Would you say this is the first real heist movie you’ve done?
Banderas: I think so, yeah. I’ve done 77 movies, and I have difficulty (remembering) all of them, but I think yes, that’s the first typical heist genre movie, which is probably the problem that the movie confronted. Those movies are normally made by the studios, but going through an independent company, normally the independent companies they go through another path. They are a little more risky and they go with more personal stories or relationships, stuff like that; those movies are reserved for the studios and I think probably that is to compete with a genre movie coming from the studios in that way is quite difficult. I know we have possibilities of having a theatrical release here, but the commitment of the studios in terms of putting a lot of money for the publicity to just compete at the same level was low at the time. The movie was released theatrically in Spain and it did very well if you keep in mind the fact that we didn’t have money for promotion, but competing against movies that were (opening) with a lot of promotion, the movie did very well. I understand also that it’s going to open in 20 to 25 countries in the same way, but here in America, we couldn’t make it (happen).
CS: I thought the production values were great. For an independent movie to have that kind of cast and look that good isn’t very common, but also to be able to shoot in the New York subway system for very little money.
Banderas: All the subway scenes in the movie are shot in Sofia, Bulgaria.
CS: Really? Because the station looked just like the one on 42nd Street!
Banderas: Yeah. We could only work from two o’clock in the morning to five, so the team got in there around (midnight) and totally reconstructed the train station to make it look like New York, we’d shoot and at five o’clock in the morning, they had to deconstruct everything and put it back in the way that people had to use it in the morning. It was quite difficult, because we had actually very little time to do the scenes. We had in real time a couple hours, no more than that.
CS: That’s really impressive because having lived in New York 20 years, I think I would know the New York subway system, and I was fooled.
Banderas: It looks actually like New York! (laughs)
CS: Had you ever had a chance to work with Morgan Freeman before?
Banderas: No, it was the first time I worked with him, and as I told you before, it was one of the big reasons why this idea immediately… I wanted to work with the man. I admire him very much, maybe because of his personality. He’s one of those people that radiates something that is very unique. It doesn’t matter what he does in front of the camera. There’s something inside him, which I don’t know if it has to do with acting, but it has to do with personality. He’s very warm and very special and I loved the possibility of working with him. Actually, for me, when we were working, it was an authentication of what I already thought about him. Sometimes, you meet an actor that you’ve seen on the screen for many years and you suffer a… It’s not the way you thought it was going to be, but in this case, he is. I found him to be a man that was not difficult to love him immediately.
CS: Did you find that the two of you had very different working styles? You do have a lot of scenes together, practically the whole movie almost.
Banderas: Well, no, but the facility that you have when you’re working with a good actor. Some people say sometimes that if you put a bad actor with a good actor, the good actor is going to eat him. It’s not true. When you have a good actor in front of you, he makes you better, so it was kind of fun actually to find our way into the movie. Because the movie is also making U-turns all the time, and we start playing with each other. A lot of things start making sense actually, when you see who is who in the movie. Until that time–at least it happens to me–you may have certain doubts about why this character is reacting in this particular way and not in another. Then when everything comes true, you start understanding and putting the pieces together that you left behind. I think we play that in a very interesting way. It was fun working with him, definitely. Rhada, too. Rhada is a beautiful young lady from Australia, that I’d seen before in some movies that I liked very much, and it was a pleasure working with her, too.
CS: Mimi had worked with Morgan before in “Deep Impact” and while that was many years ago, did you find that they had a shorthand that made their work together easier?
Banderas: Yes, you can feel immediately when somebody like Morgan and Mimi met years before, working together and there is a complicity among them that is very fast. They know each other, especially that actor-director relationship, there are certain steps of that relationship that has already been taken. For them, it was very easy to communicate, so I just tried to jump into that (laughs) even though I hadn’t worked with either of them before. But yes, it definitely helps a lot when you know the people that you’re working with, and I could feel that between them.
CS: When you came onto “The Code” and you only had 15 days before shooting, were you still able to work on developing the character the way you wanted? I thought Gabriel worked really well.
Banderas: Yes, we did. We did table work for those couple weeks prior to starting the movie, finding the character and how we want to dress him up, the relationship with this and that, we just (worked on) the script, little things here and there that tried to manipulate the character and stick the character to my persona. So we did that work in New York prior to principal photography.
CS: I thought that would be the case but I wasn’t sure if you had the time you need to develop him.
Banderas: It’s very rare and it’s difficult to explain, but sometimes, you get characters that come to you like this. It happens like four or five times in my life. Sometimes even with Pedro Almodovar, I remember the old days, and the character comes to you in the last moment and suddenly, you have a connection with the character that is very interesting and you don’t need actually that amount of time to prepare. It happened to me also with “Pancho Villa.” That was even worse because Pancho Villa was a historical character, and suddenly, I found an immediate connection with him. As soon as I read the script, I knew how to move him and how to incorporate him into me, and sometimes, you just spend months preparing a character and you don’t get anything good out of it. (chuckles) So you never know. This world of acting moves in strange ways sometimes, and you don’t have all the answers all the time for why things happen in the way they do.
CS: You have two really exciting projects in the works in that you’ll be working with Woody Allen, but you also have the Salvador Dali that’s been in development for a while. You haven’t shot either of those yet, right?
Banderas: No, the Salvador Dali movie right now is stopped, because we have to fix some problems we have with the (Salvador Dali) Foundation with the movie. There is a certain side of our script. My point of view, because I knew and I know very much about the life of Salvador Dali, they were very tough, the last years of this man. He was literally kidnapped by a family that tried to make money with him. This is a guy who actually signed around 150,000 lithography papers, so he was manipulated for money, producing probably what has been one of the biggest scandals in modern art. So the Foundation was not very happy about that. They didn’t want to show in the way that we show in the movie that side of his life. So we’re still in negotiation with them, so if those negotiations come to good terms, I supposed that we’re going to just jump in and do the movie. For me, it’s a possibility of doing something that goes completely away from me, because of the mannerisms of the guy. From what I’ve been talking with some people who met him personally, he probably was not like that in his private life. He was a very shy person so he protected himself with that kind of shield to create a character that was beyond and bigger than life, but then he was a very introspective man, very cultural, great conversationalist and speaker and a man that actually had more inside than what we saw. Some people in Spain especially at the time, thought that he was a great painter, but a clown, and I don’t think so. I always thought he was a great intellectual so the possibility of telling his story in a movie that actually approaches the figure of Salvador Dali from a real formal way. The movie was going to be a surrealistic movie. We were going to see him stepping into his paintings and everything that surrounds him is part of his surreal mind. You could see that, and now with CGI, it’s very easy to do that on the screen. So for me, it represented a possibility of doing something that’s ultimately different to anything that I’ve done before.
CS: Sounds great. Hopefully, we’ll talk again when the Woody Allen movie comes out.
Banderas: Absolutely. I cannot tell you (more), because they forbid me to tell anything about the story. We don’t even know the title, so it’s very rare to just be out of context, but that’s the way he works, and he’s a legend. Whatever he wants.
CS: That’s why I didn’t ask more about it, because I’ve talked to so many actors who’ve worked with him and they say the same thing. Good luck with it.