Emmys: Antonio Banderas on spending five hours in makeup to transform into Pablo Picasso for 'Genius'

Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Picasso (or, as he is better known, Pablo Picasso) is one of history’s most complicated figures. His technical wizardry, groundbreaking creativity, and prolific output made him one of the most famous artists of all time.

Picasso the man, however, was hardly a masterpiece. As the Paris Review noted:

Picasso was a womanizer who left most of his lovers in emotional shambles. He was not, by most stretches of the imagination, a moral or “good” person. …What we are willing to look past—Picasso’s indiscretions, cruelties, and emotional bloodletting—is just as telling of the viewer as of the artist.

So it was no easy feat for Antonio Banderas to channel the complexity of Picasso for the second season of National Geographic’s anthology series Genius. If the most famous son of Malaga, Spain, is Picasso, Banderas is a runner-up. Banderas grew up on the same city streets as Picasso and in his youth idolized the local boy who became an icon.

Banderas, 57, had been approached earlier in his career to play Picasso, but passed. But the combination of National Geographic’s reputation and the prodigious producing talents of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer made it impossible for him to miss another chance. Banderas delivered a nuanced and fearless performance, which has landed him in the Emmy conversation. Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment, the actor revealed his most intense moment for the latest in our series “My Scene to Remember.”

On the left, Pablo Picasso. On the right, Antonio Banderas as Picasso. (Photo: Getty Images/National Geographic)
On the left, Pablo Picasso. On the right, Antonio Banderas as Picasso. (Photo: Getty Images/National Geographic)

The last of Genius: Picasso‘s 10 episodes culminated with a dream sequence. At first, you see Banderas as an elderly Picasso in 1973 on a yard on his lavish estate, greeting his children Claude and Paloma, his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter and their daughter, Maya. “He doesn’t really know what’s happening at this particular moment,” said Banderas.

The audience, along with Picasso, starts to put together the pieces when another lover, the esteemed photographer Dora Maar, arrives, but looking as she did in the 1930s when we first met her. “Dora Maar is not supposed to be that young and beautiful,” Banderas noted. “At this point, he starts to realize he is dying.”

Soon after, other blasts from the past start arriving, as young as the day they met Picasso. His first wife, Olga Khokhlova, his lover Fernande Olivier, and friend Carlos Casagemas are “confirmation everything is a dream,” Banderas said as the shot cuts to Picasso on his deathbed. “Now we know he is dreaming all of this, and he’s in bed when he’s confronting the transit from life to death.”

Banderas played a variety of different ages of Picasso, but this 91-year-old version required extra effort. “I got in the makeup chair and I think I stayed in there for five and a half hours … for all the prosthetics to get in place. The scenes themselves were shot relatively fast.”

Antonio Banderas chatting with Yahoo Entertainment about his work as Pablo Picasso on <i>Genius: Picasso</i>. (Photo: Yahoo Entertainment)
Antonio Banderas chatting with Yahoo Entertainment about his work as Pablo Picasso on Genius: Picasso. (Photo: Yahoo Entertainment)

Banderas is a grayer version of the handsome Spanish heartthrob who first gained recognition with mainstream American audiences in The Mambo Kings in 1992, but he’s still brimming with energy. As the elderly Picasso, however, Banderas is nearly unrecognizable under the layers of makeup, save for his large brown eyes. Still, he didn’t want to rely solely on the prosthetics for the big moment. “I was thinking, ‘We’re not trying to do a wax museum here.’ That’s relatively easy with everything they put on top of you. Anybody can get closer to Picasso physically. It was more about trying to create a character from the inside out.”

Although he didn’t forgive Picasso’s problematic behavior, Banderas urged caution when considering the artist’s actions. “I heard things about his personal life, especially his relationship with women,” Banderas told us. “With the books that I read I never got the idea that he abused women. He used them. It’s a different deal. As muses, to relief paint. He used his friends, he used his family — everybody that surrounded him, not just women.”

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