Internationally known for his charisma and smoldering good looks, Antonio Banderas is the ultimate manifestation of the Latin heartthrob. Born in Málaga, Spain on August 10, 1960, Banderas wanted to become a professional soccer player until a broken foot sidelined his dreams at the age of fourteen. He went on to enroll in some drama classes, eventually joining a theatre troupe that toured all over Spain. His work in the theatre, and his performances on the streets, eventually landed him a spot with the National Theatre of Spain.
While performing with the theatre, Banderas caught the attention of director Pedro Almodóvar, who cast the young actor in his film debut, Laberinto de Pasione (Labyrinth of Passion) (1982). He went on to appear in the director's La Ley del Deseo (Law of Desire) (1984), making headlines with his performance as a gay man, which required him to engage in his first male-to-male onscreen kiss. After Banderas appeared in Almodóvar's Matador (1986), the director cast him in his internationally acclaimed Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) (1988). The recognition Banderas gained for his role increased two years later when he starred in Almodóvar's controversial Atame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) as a mental patient who kidnaps a porn star (Victoria Abril) and keeps her tied up until she returns his love.
Banderas made his first stateside appearance as an unwitting object of Madonna's affections in Truth or Dare (1991). The following year, still speaking next to no English, he starred in his first American film, The Mambo Kings. It was a testament to his acting abilities that, despite having to learn all of his lines phonetically, Banderas still managed to turn in a critically praised performance as a struggling musician. He broke through to mainstream American audiences as the gay lover of AIDS-afflicted lawyer Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) in Philadelphia (1993). The film's success earned Banderas wide recognition, and the following year he was given a substantial role in Neil Jordan's high-profile adaptation of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, which allowed him to share the screen with the likes of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.
Banderas subsequently appeared in a number of films of widely varying quality, doing particularly strong work in Desperado (1995), Evita (1998), and The Mask of Zorro (1998). In 1999, he made his first foray into directing with Crazy in Alabama, a black comedy starring Melanie Griffith, to whom he had been married since 1996. The following year he starred as an aspiring boxer opposite Woody Harrelson in Play It to the Bone, portrayed a Cuban tycoon with a bad seed bride (Angelina Jolie) in Original Sin, and starred alongside Bob Hoskins and Wes Bentley in The White River Kid. Well established as a hearthrob and a talented dramatic actor by the end of the 1990s, the fact that Desperato director Robert Rodriguez was the only director to have expolored Banderas' comic potential (Banderas provided one of the few memorable performances in Rodriguez's segment of the otherwise abysmal Four Rooms (1995)) hinted at a heretofore unexplored but potentially lucrative territory for the actor. Later approached by Rodriguez to portray the super-spy patriarch in the family oriented adventure comedy Spy Kids (2001), Banderas charmed children and adults alike with his role as a kidnapped agent whose children must discover their inner stregnth in order to rescue their mother and father. After reprising his role in the following year's Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams, Banderas would next return to more adult oriented roles in both Brian DePalma's Femme Fatale and the ill-fated Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (both 2002). After essaying a more historic role in the dramatic biopic Frida (also 2002), the remarkably diverse actor would one again team with Rodriguez for the sprawling Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003). ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi