Antonio Banderas’ work in “The Skin I Live In” isn’t just a welcome change from voicing the animated Puss in Boots from the “Shrek” films. It’s his fires collaboration with the director who made him a star, Pedro Almódovar, in almost 20 years. Based on the novel “Tarantula” by Thierry Jonquet, Banderas stars as Dr. Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon so obsessed with his new discovery — a rougher, more resistant form of human skin — that he goes mad in the pursuit, keeping an experimental subject in his home in the hills, a young woman (Elena Anaya) whose connection to Legard is both inevitable and unthinkable. A bloodless spin on “Vertigo,” “Pygmailion” and Cronenberg, it’s a beautiful and willfully perverse film, somehow both classic and strange, full of noir secrets and futuristic terrors. We spoke with Banderas in L.A.
You’ve had a long-standing collaboration with Mr. Almódovar that you had not been part of for a while. With “The Skin I Live In,” did he call you and say, ‘I have a book …’ or did he just send you the finished document as your eyes rolled up in your head while reading its twists?
Banderas: More the first. He came to me at Cannes Film Festival. I think it was 2002. He said to me that he just read this novel by Thierry Jonquet, that he bought the rights, that he was thinking about doing an adaptation or maybe just using it as a source of inspiration to put together a movie. Time went by — several years, actually — and I was coming out of a workshop that I did in New York for ‘Zorba the Greek,’ I stopped it because of this movie. I got in the car, and I got, ‘Pedro Almódovar is calling.’ I said, ‘Hello? What’s up?’ He says, ‘It’s about time. Where are you?’ ‘In New York.’ ‘I’m going to send you a script.’ So he sent me a script. It was perfect, because he knew the story already. What surprised me was the narrative process that he wrote in the script, this game with time that he plays in the movie that I thought was unbelievably interesting, because he actually played with morality. This form became content, because the first part of the movie’s nothing but questions for an hour. It gives a lot of information about my character, but nothing about the girl. Suddenly you’ve positioned yourself in terms of morality, watching the movie. Then, the second half is giving you all these disturbing answers, so it repositions the whole entire audience again. I thought it was interesting the way that he put it on paper.