Antonio Banderas Draws Up 5 Things to Know About Genius' Picasso

Antonio Banderas interview Genius NatGeo Picasso

NatGeo is putting a lot of stock in one of Spain’s greatest artistic exports. Oh yeah, and it’s about to launch a TV show about painter Pablo Picasso, too.

Antonio Banderas will star as the famed artist/fellow Spanish native in Season 2 of the cabler channel’s Genius, a Ron Howard-produced anthology series which chronicles a different brilliant mind each go-around. Season 1 depicted the life of Albert Einstein, played in his youth by Johnny Flynn and in his advanced years by Geoffrey Rush. Similarly, Season 2 finds the artist as a young man portrayed by Alex Rich (GLOW), while Banderas takes on the provocative painter’s later years. The cast also includes T.R. Knight (Grey’s Anatomy), Poppy Delevingne (Kingsman: The Golden Circle), Sebastian Roché (The Originals) and Seth Gabel (Fringe).

Season 2’s two-hour premiere will air Tuesday, April 24, at 9/8c. While the biopic series was filming in Budapest earlier this year, TVLine chatted with the Desperado star about love, language and the labor that went into playing such a storied figure. Read on for his thoughts about:

Antonio Banderas Genius Season 2 Interview NatGeoSHARING A HOMETOWN WITH PICASSO | Both Banderas and Picasso hail from Málaga, a city on southern Spain’s Costa del Sol. But despite the latter’s presence as a hometown hero, “Picasso is a mysterious persona,” Banderas says. “He did things that seem to be very controversial for many people, especially now, and especially in his relationship with women.” (Read: Picasso had tumultuous relationships with multiple wives and mistresses throughout his life.) “But there are many different aspects of the life of Picasso that surprise me. His political commitment, why he did what he did, certain areas of his artistic side,” he continues. “We know what he did and what he said, but we don’t know exactly why.”

‘GUERNICA’ | The season focuses on Picasso in the 1930s, as he’s commissioned to create a huge mural for Paris’ Exposition Universelle. What he ultimately makes is a rendering of the German bombing of the Basque town of Guernica in 1937; the painting is called ‘Guernica‘ and now hangs in Spain’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. “It’s funny because they used to ask him, talking about the ‘Guernica’ painting, ‘What is the meaning of the bull? What is the meaning of the horse? What is the meaning of the soldier?,'” Banderas says. “And he used to say that, ‘The bull is a bull, and the horse is a horse, and the soldier laying down there? You know what? It is a soldier.'” The actor chuckles. “We have a tendency to reinterpret not only his art pieces, but his personality and what he was.”

ABOUT THAT PERSONALITY… | “For obvious reasons, he was a very curious person and very free, impulsive if you will, intelligent and persuasive,” Banderas says. “And then at the same time, you know, the negative side was he was very egotistical, like a typical genius: arrogant, over-confident if you will, and conceited.” But he points out that most of us are rather complicated individuals — we just don’t have the world scrutinizing our moves. “He sounds like a normal person,” Banderas adds, “with a magnifying glass on top of [him].”

Antonio Banderas Genius Season 2 Interview NatGeoTIME-TRAVELING | “We are jumping from period to period,” Banderas says of the season’s narrative structure, meaning that both he and Rich will be seen playing Picasso in most episodes. “We are jumping from the 30s to the 70s, from the 70s to the 40s, from the 40s to the 60s just all of the time. It’s like a big puzzle, so that means that we are together a lot of times in the studio, so we have the opportunity to talk.” That proximity allowed Rich to learn Banderas’ accent, and “we decided to have certain mannerisms, certain things that we copy each other — the way to touch your hair, the way to walk, things like that.”

COLORING THE CANVAS | Banderas says that Picasso’s passion and drive for his work, coupled with the turbulent times in which he lived, make for a captivating season. In short: You won’t be sitting around, literally watching paint dry. For instance, the actor points out, Picasso refused to leave Paris during the Nazi occupation of that city. “He saw the horror, face-to-face, and he tried to reproduce that in his art. At the same time, he was having a very tumultuous and complicated, very complex personal relationship with women — in the middle of all of this situation that was happening in Europe! — which was close to apocalyptic in the Second World War.” He laughs ruefully. “You definitely have all the tools and the potential to make a very strong, dramatic narrative, to tell a story that is actually reflective of ourselves: war, violence, love, disease, treason, the number of things that are going on there — and all of them expressed by the mind of an artist like Pablo Picasso.”