Oscar’s Most Talented Newcomer Is 59-Year-Old Antonio Banderas

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A first-time nominee for “Pain and Glory,” the actor talks frankly about how his recent heart attack rescued him from a career that was going in circles.

Your Carpetbagger rarely plays favorites while covering the Oscar race, but when it comes to this year’s best-actor contender Antonio Banderas … well, who wouldn’t love to see his well-deserved comeback come to a glittery conclusion?

At 59, Banderas is a first-time Oscar nominee, the latest twist in a career that’s been full of reinventions: After rising to fame in the 1980s as Pedro Almodóvar’s muse in sexy Spanish films like “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” and “Law of Desire,” Banderas moved to Hollywood to try his luck as an action hero (“The Mask of Zorro”), a big-screen singer (“Evita”) and a fairy-tale cat (“Puss in Boots”).

Still, it wasn’t until he moved back to Spain and teamed up again with Almodóvar that Banderas found himself nominated for Hollywood’s highest honor. In “Pain and Glory,” he plays Salvador Mallo, an aging director tormented by physical and psychological maladies. Though Almodóvar based the character on himself and even dressed Banderas in his own clothes, the performance is not a caricature: Instead, the usually ebullient Banderas digs deeply within himself to deliver the most intimate and moving work of his career.

Last week, Banderas called me from his hometown, Málaga, where he has spent months directing and starring in a Spanish-language production of “A Chorus Line” that he hopes to bring to New York next summer. In that passionate phone call, Banderas discussed the heart attack that changed his life and, in its own way, set him on the path to Oscar. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

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