Front Row Features

Mallory (Gina Carano) keeps things civil with Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas) in "Haywire."

HOLLYWOOD—In Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire,” Antonio Banderas plays a corrupt government official with a critical link to the espionage thriller’s central character, a former black ops special agent, who happens to be a woman (played by mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano, making her big screen debut).

Besides figuring out how Banderas’ Rodrigo character fits into Soderbergh’s tangled tale of betrayal and revenge, audiences may be puzzling over what’s up with the handsome actor’s mysterious grey bushy beard, which he has for most of the movie.

Front Row Features recently sat down with the now cleanly-shaven Banderas to get to the bottom of the Spanish actor’s bold look in the film, working at long last with Soderbergh and what he thinks of his onscreen leading lady’s future in cinema.

Front Row Features: First things first, where did the beard come from?

Antonio Banderas: It was an accident. I did a workshop in New York for “Zorba,” a project I had in mind and still may happen. I wanted to do the workshop with a beard, because I just pictured the character of Zorba with a big beard. I was going to shave the next day, but I had an interview with Steven for the movie. He wanted to see me here in Los Angeles, and he said I like the beard. I said, “no. Please, I haven’t shaved in two months.” (Then Soderbergh said,) “no, the beard is fine. It’s a different you.” So I was trapped with my beard for another three or four months. My wife (Melanie Griffith) was not very happy about it. The interesting thing is I finished the movie in New Mexico, I went to Spain and was doing a movie with Pedro (Almodovar). I think it was the last week I was working with him and Steven called me and said, “I just put together the movie. Your character is very enigmatic and very shadowy. I kind of like him but we have to close him. I’m just going to write a couple of scenes for him that are going to explain the entire thing … and you’re going to have a scene with Gina.” And I said, “Steven, I am still working with Pedro. I will be free in a week and I don’t have the beard.” And he said, “I’ll (make one) for you.” So I came back a year after we finished the movie and we did those new scenes, which were actually the end of the movie.

Front Row Features: Did you feel different without the beard afterwards?

Banderas: Yes. It’s like a mask. When you have beard you act differently. It’s almost like working with different languages. I’ve done movies in Italy, for example, and you start doing things with the hands. All these kinds of things are different. You act differently with a beard. I don’t know how to explain it. I felt older. I can actually hide behind my beard, in a way. It’s interesting for my character in a way, because he’s the guy nobody knows what he’s really doing—not until the end. I think it was a smart decision on Steven Soderbergh’s part (to insist on the beard).

Front Row Features: What sold you on doing the movie?

Banderas: Steven Soderbergh. He’s one of those guys you say “yes” to, sometimes without reading the script. He’d called me twice before in my career, but I couldn’t actually work with him. One was for “Che,” and the other one was “Traffic.” I was signed at those particular times with other movies, but I knew we’d someday work together. I had talked to him very early on when I came to Los Angeles from Spain. He had just made “sex, lies, and videotape.” I loved that movie. We were talking about Almodovar, because he’s a fan of Pedro. So, at that time he said to me, I would like to have the opportunity to work with you someday. But many years, 20 years, happened in the middle. Then he sent me the script (for “Haywire”). It was very confusing to me, to tell you the truth, but it was an immediate positive answer from me to work with him. I don’t regret it for a second.

Front Row Features: As black ops agent Mallory, Gina Carano beats up a lot of the men in this film, yet you get through it unscathed? How?

Banderas: I was saved by the bell. (He laughs.) You can actually imagine what she is going to do with me. If there is a sequel, I may need a wheelchair.

Front Row Features: Did you contribute to the music because it sounds a bit Spanish-influenced?

Banderas: Really? Because I’m a fan of the music of the movie, but actually what I think Steven was looking for and what (composer David Holmes) provided for him was a kind of jazzy sound. I think the music is extraordinary. It brings me actually a feeling that is not so much Spanish, but it brings me the feeling of those types of movies made in the ‘70s.

Front Row Features: Were there any surprises in working with Steven?

Banderas: What really shocked me about Steven was when we were shooting in Barcelona, the first location where I shot in the movie, was how fast he shoots and the non-use of lighting. For example, we were shooting in a square plaza. It was unbelievable how fast we were moving, and at the same time he didn’t do any type of coverage (extra shots from different angles). We would just shoot the scene, and then move on. Being a director myself—still a rookie, but a director—I shoot everything—ashtrays, everything—as much material as I can, so I can look at it all later in the editing room. This guy doesn’t shoot anything (extra). The same day, in the afternoon, we shot at the airport. Boom, boom, boom. Only a confident and self-assured director can do that.

Front Row Features: How was it working with co-star Michael Douglas?

Banderas: I know Michael from a long time ago, because of my relationship with (Douglas’ wife) Catherine (Zeta-Jones) in “Zorro.” I love the guy. We’ve talked about movies many times. It’s pretty easy because I have no lines to say in the scenes I have with him and Ewan (McGregor). I would just sit down there listening and taking it all in. It was relatively easy. It’s great to be with an actor like him and the rest of the cast.

Are you glad you didn’t have to fight Gina?

Banderas: I have done a lot of movies I had to fight a number of guys—fast, big guys, little guys, everything. Let me tell you, I would have been very confident with her, really, because she’s very precise. What really shocked me about her was how wonderful she is as an actress. She’s beautiful. Her performance is easy. There is a sense of alertness and focus all the time that the role demanded. She does that beautifully. I think you follow the story through her as well. We knew that she could fight, but what we didn’t know was her ability as an actress. I think if she doesn’t want to fight professionally anymore, she doesn’t have to. She may have a career as an actress. I really mean it. My wife said to me when the movie finished, “she’s totally real,” and I totally agree with that.

What did Gina think about your beard?

Banderas: I didn’t want her to think I was that old so on the last day of shooting I shaved the beard in front her. (He laughs.)