Antonio Banderas's first question to Melanie Griffith was 'the rudest she'd ever heard'. They were married 18 years.

When actress Dakota Johnson was presenting Antonio Banderas with a Hollywood Actor Award in 2019, she got tearful. Banderas was, she told the audience, her "bonus dad". When she was six, her mother Melanie Griffith had married him, bringing an "unbelievably bright light" into the family.

"He loved my mother and my siblings and I so big, and so fiercely and so loud, that it would change all of our lives together," she said.

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Growing up in Spain, Banderas was a promising footballer until he broke his foot badly in his early teens. He turned to theatre, performing in plays that attracted the attention of authorities when the country was still under Franco's dictatorship.

"I was acting in a play in Malaga and I remember seeing the cops waiting for us backstage, and all the actors, when they were finished, would go with them," he told EW.

Banderas moved to Madrid, without enough money to even afford bus fare – "I had to walk six miles to get to an audition" – but was soon spotted by Pedro Almodóvar. The director cast him in a string of his controversial movies, including Law of Desire.


Antonio Banderas in Law of Desire. Image: IMDb/El Deseo/Laurenfilm. 

"Everybody was so scandalised about the fact that my character is homosexual and he has explicit kisses and makes love on the screen with another man," Banderas told Vulture. "But nobody paid attention to the fact that I killed somebody in the movie."


In 1989, Banderas was invited to the Oscars when Women on The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. He remembers being awed by one star in particular.

Antonio Banderas in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Image: IMDb/El Deseo/Laurenfilm. 


"I saw this beautiful woman with a cream dress, with pearls," Banderas told Primetime.

It was Melanie Griffith. At that point, Banderas was married to actress Ana Leza, who had appeared with him in Women on The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Their first conversation didn't go too well.

"The first thing he asked me was my age," Griffith told AARP. "I said, 'That's the rudest thing anyone has asked me first'. But there was something about him."

Banderas had the looks and talent to become a huge star in the US, but there was one major problem: he didn't speak a word of English. Despite that, he won a role in the movie The Mambo Kings ("I apologised to the producer for originally misleading him about Antonio's English," his agent Emanuel Nunez told EW) and prepared for it by learning all his lines phonetically. Leza, who could speak English, helped him.

Antonio Banderas with Armand Assante in The Mambo Kings. Image: IMDb/Regency Enterprises/StudioCanal. 


He needed an interpreter on set so he could understand what the director was saying, but he was living his dream.

Before the movie was released, Banderas was introduced to Americans though the documentary In Bed with Madonna. In it, the singer explained that she'd had a crush on the Spanish actor for the past two years.

"I've got it all worked out in my head," she said. "I'm going to make Antonio fall madly in love with me. Only there was this one rather major obstacle that I didn't really count on: his wife."

Through the 1990s, Banderas was in demand, starring in hits Philadelphia and Interview with The Vampire, as well as other films that were more forgettable.

Antonio Banderas with Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (Left) Antonio Banderas in Interview with the Vampire (Right). Images: IMDb/TriStar Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures. 


One of those was Two Much, where he played a man who fell in love with two sisters and pretended to be twins to date them both. One of the women was played by Melanie Griffith. They fell for each other.

"It was very, very fast and very compulsive, but at the same time, we were tied at the time," Banderas told Primetime.


Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith in Two Much. Image: IMDb/Interscope Communications/Touchstone Pictures. 

Griffith was married to Miami Vice star Don Johnson and Banderas was still with Leza, but both say their marriages were "foundering".

"We tried as much as we could to be respectful," Banderas said. "We just thought this may be one of those, you know, infatuation moments that we have when we shoot movies because we got to play together a couple, so let's just go home."


But the feelings remained, and after they both divorced, they married each other in 1996. Griffith brought two children with her: Alexander, from her marriage to actor Steven Bauer, and Dakota, from her marriage to Johnson. The couple welcomed a daughter of their own, Stella, just months after their wedding.

Banderas was happy to be at home with Griffith and the kids, saying it had been "exhausting" for him to have a social life in Hollywood when he was still learning to speak English. 

"Once I met Melanie, and I got married, we were home most of the time – because I could understand her and when we went out, for me, it was a lot of work," he told Vulture. "A lot of work to have to talk, to talk, to talk."

Dakota instantly loved Banderas, calling him "Paponio", a mix of Papa and Antonio.

Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith with daughters Dakota and Stella at the Shrek 2 premiere. Image: Getty. 


"He was so vibrant and so fun and so funny and his English was abstract and we found it absolutely amazing," she reminisced at the Hollywood Film Awards. "Antonio taught me about true passion and discipline."

Banderas directed Griffith in the 1999 movie Crazy in Alabama, with Dakota and Stella playing Griffith's children.

"And I still remember all my lines 'cause I only had, like, two or three of them," Dakota told Vanity Fair earlier this year. "But I took it very seriously and, like, demanded that I have time with the vocal coach. That was really fun."

In the years that followed, Banderas made a lot of kids' movies, voicing Puss In Boots in the Shrek franchise, and also starring in the Spy Kids trilogy, directed by Robert Rodriguez.


"I had a lot of fun making the movies, the kinds of movies that my daughter can see and enjoy, and I like Robert's creativity," he told Cigar Aficianado.

But he also kept making erotic movies, like Original Sin with Angelina Jolie and Femme Fatale with Rebecca Romijn. He said he starred opposite some "wonderful people", but learnt the lesson that there is "pleasure in fidelity".

Antonio Banderas with Angelia Jolie in Original Sin (Left) Antonio Banderas in Femme Fatale (Right). Images: IMDb/MGM Productions/Epsilon Motion Pictures. 


"I've had tremendous, incredible opportunities, just to go to bed with a woman, and maybe I thought, 'My wife wouldn't know at all.' But I'd know it, and I didn't do it."

In 2002, Griffith spoke about her addiction to painkillers and how it rocked their marriage. But Banderas held on. 

"He's always been extremely supportive of me in situations where other people might have run away," she told Primetime.

In 2014, Banderas and Griffith announced they were divorcing "in a loving and friendly manner". Later that year, Banderas started dating investment banker Nicole Kempel, who is two decades his junior, and they based themselves near the village of Cobham in Surrey, England.

"8 years together... enjoying every second of it!" Banderas captioned a photo of them together on Instagram earlier this year.


Kempel has started referring to herself on Instagram as "Nicole Banderas".

For Banderas, Griffith and her children will always be a part of his life. Five years after they split, he told Vulture that Griffith was "my family".

"She is probably one of my best friends, if not the best friend that I have. My family is there, Dakota, little Estella and Alexander."

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Feature Image: Getty/IMDb/Mamamia.

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