TORONTO — Antonio Banderas is sipping on green tea in a downtown hotel room, discussing how his health and life are flourishing these days.
The acclaimed Spanish actor quit smoking cold turkey nearly three years ago — Jan. 25, 2017, he remembers vividly — and he now runs several kilometres in the mornings, has a few major projects on the go, won an acting award at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and feels a new sense of appreciation for his loved ones and career.
All this positivity from one of the worst moments of his life: A heart attack Banderas suffered the day after what would turn out to be his last cigarette.
It happened at his country house in London — after a workout, Banderas felt pain in his arms and jaw, and fainted while preparing a cup of tea. Doctors later told him that the Aspirin his girlfriend had put under his tongue while they waited for an ambulance helped save his life by thinning his blood and preventing further damage to his heart.
“I think it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me, believe it or not. I know it sounds really weird but it’s true,” says Banderas, 59, who had three stents implanted in to his coronary arteries through a catheter and recovered at a clinic in Switzerland.
“It showed me really the important things in my life, what they were: my family, my friends, and my vocation as an actor. Things started going better ever since, and I’m very thankful. I started saying ‘no,’ which is something that I never did before.”
The projects Banderas has said “yes” to since then include the Pedro Almodovar Spanish drama “Pain and Glory,” which won him a best-actor trophy at Cannes for playing a filmmaker in an existential crisis. It’s his first major award win after nominations throughout his career at the Golden Globes, the Emmys and the Tonys.
Then there’s Steven Soderbergh’s star-packed dark comedy “The Laundromat,” which has a limited theatrical release in Toronto on Friday and hits Netflix on Oct. 18.
Written by Scott Z. Burns, the film is based on the true story detailed in the Jake Bernstein book “Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite.”
Banderas and Gary Oldman play the charismatic founders of Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm at the centre of a complex offshore business operation that was leaked to a group of journalists by a whistleblower in April 2016.
Meryl Streep plays a widow who finds herself entangled in a web of shell companies after trying to obtain the insurance policy from her husband’s death in a boating accident.
Banderas says the film shows how a legal loophole allowed a wide spectrum of wealthy individuals — from criminals with money obtained illegally, to unsuspecting investors following the advice of financial advisers — to hide their earnings.
“Governments allow this to happen,” Banderas says in an interview at September’s Toronto International Film Festival, where “The Laundromat” made its world premiere.
“It’s called tax avoidance, and you can do it. You can just go and say, ‘All right, I’m going to put my money in Panama or in Santo Domingo or in the Seychelles islands or in the Cayman Islands,’ and it’s legal.”
Next month Banderas plans to open a theatre he bought in his Spanish hometown of Malaga. The first production at Teatro del Soho CaixaBank will be “A Chorus Line.” The theatre is attached to a school and Banderas plans to work with the students to help them train in singing, acting and dancing.
He also has several other films on the horizon but assures his pace isn’t nearly as frenetic as it was before his heart attack.
“I was coming out of my divorce, I had a year in which I didn’t stop working, because I would just do everything — I did like seven movies — and it was a lot of stress,” says Banderas, who split from actress Melanie Griffith in 2015.
“I said to my girlfriend … ‘OK, now it’s time to rest.’ I didn’t realize that everything I did that year, the two years prior to my heart attack, was just all adrenaline. I was just working on adrenaline. And when the adrenaline went down, it came like a train.”
Now, he’s finding “a lot of satisfaction” in the projects he takes on.
“Life is very surprising,” says Banderas. “You may think that something that is supposedly bad is going to put you down and suddenly it’s an alert … and I am a pathologically optimistic person, so I went for it and I am having a blast, actually.”
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press