Banderas deserts Hollywood for Spanish history

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The Independent Culture

Antonio Banderas says he's tired of Hollywood, where he has lived since 1992, and wants to return to his Spanish homeland to develop his career as a director.

The 48-year-old, whose triumph in Hollywood as a Latin lover/villain figure paved the way for Spanish successors like Javier Bardem, says he now wants to create the sort of movies suffocated by Hollywood.

His latest project may be a case in point. Mr Banderas, with his film star wife Melanie Griffith by his side, is travelling the Arab world raising money for his forthcoming movie "Sultan", which he has written and hopes to direct and star in. It tells the story of Boabdil, the last Moorish king of Spain, who was forced to surrender his beloved Granada to the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, a historic turning point that marked the birth of modern Spain.

The ageing Malaga-born screen star wants to tell the story from a pro-Arab viewpoint, and has been busy in recent days gathering funds from several Arab countries, tapping into their nostalgia for the legacy of 800 years of Arab rule in Andalusia.

"I want to give a positive message about this beautiful Arab culture, which I've followed closely in Morocco during my work, and for which I have great respect," Mr Banderas told Gulf News.

The actor was speaking in Abu Dhabi at the weekend, where he and Melanie Griffith were attending the emirate's second International Middle-East Film Festival, along with Adrien Brody and Catherine Deneuve. Mr Banderas planned to visit Qatar and Saudi Arabia this week on a similar fund-raising mission, backed by recommendations from Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, who have apparently expressed support for his proposed film. It's very important for me to go hand in hand with the Arabs in this matter," Mr Banderas insisted.

According to legend, Boabdil paused on his road to exile to look back for one last time on his beloved kingdom of Granada. As he knelt in tears, his queen Aisha reproached him: "Don't weep like a woman for something you couldn't defend like a man". The spot is still known as El Suspiro del Moro - "The Moor's Last Sigh" - and inspired Salman Rushdie's 1995 epic novel of the same name.

Banderas started his career playing eccentric and provocative roles in the movies of Pedro Almodovar. After his US breakthrough with the hugely successful 1992 movie film The Mambo Kings, he came to be Hollywood's best known Spanish film actor, starring alongside Madonna in "Evita" in 1996, and as Zorro in two films about the masked swordsman.

But he says he's planned to go back home for a long time. "When I arrived in the US in 1992 I always thought of returning home and completing my career there, but new opportunities arose in Hollywood." Now he says he wants to distance himself from the Tinseltown film factory. "Returning home is like trying to find myself, but this time as a professional filmmaker to make the things that Hollywood won't let me make," he said.