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Antonio Banderas Finally Faces His Toughest Critics By Playing Pablo Picasso —Turn It On Podcast

"Genius: Picasso" stars Banderas and Alex Rich on figuring out how to play an artist who was respected and powerful — but also very cruel.

Budapest, Hungary - Alex Rich (Pablo Picasso) with Antonio Banderas (Pablo Picasso) in National Geographic’s Genius: Picasso (National Geographic/Dusan Martincek)

Alex Rich and Antonio Banderas, “Genius: Picasso”

National Geographic/Dusan Martincek

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Antonio Banderas is a natural to play Pablo Picasso: They both hail from the same hometown in Spain, Malaga, and the actor grew up learning all about the hometown hero painter. But that’s partly why he shied away from the role for so long: The sense of responsibility was overwhelming, Banderas told IndieWire’s TURN IT ON podcast.

“It’s related to the fact that I was born in the city where this guy was born,” he said. “I have a certain fear. It was not until I had someone like [‘Genius: Picasso’ executive producer] Ron Howard, who is a person I admire and respect very much as a producer for television… When you’re doing a biopic you need credibility.”

That’s especially true when you want to do your hometown proud.

“People in Malaga can be very critical,” he said. “And they were. In a good way. They were very surprised by the quality, by my image. The place where I’m most afraid to show the things I’ve done is Malaga. More than Malaga, my barrio. And more than my barrio, my family. Those are the most critical ones. If we pass this test, I figured, this is going to go fine. That was for me the most rocky side of showing the work.”

And they did fine. IndieWire’s TURN IT ON recently sat down with Banderas and Alex Rich (who plays young Picasso) to discuss the complicated life of the artist, and how it’s hard to separate the man from his art — because he never separated the two. We began by discussing how much time Banderas and Rich actually got to spend together, as they both played the same role but on different sets. Listen below!

Budapest, Hungary - Antonio Banderas stars as Pablo Picasso in Season 2 of National Geographic’s Genius (National Geographic/Dusan Martincek)

Antonio Banderas, “Genius: Picasso”

National Geographic/Dusan Martincek

National Geographic tackled the story of Albert Einstein in Season 1 of its anthology series “Genius.” For the second installment, the network and producers wanted to move from science to the arts. They wound up focusing on Pablo Picasso, the prolific 20th-century artist who ultimately produced an estimated 50,000 works.

Picasso was a complicated man, whose long life was also marked by tumultuous marriages, affairs, and shifting politics.

“He was a hero for many of us because we didn’t have too many internationally known people from Spain at the time,” Banderas said. “If Spain had participated in the Second World War, we would have been the beneficiary of the Marshall Plan later, and would have been like any other country. But Spain was forgotten, with this dictator (Franco) on top. Everybody started advancing, and Spain got left behind.

“Picasso couldn’t come back to Spain,” Banderas added. “Picasso was one of those heroes fighting from the outside.”

It was a life that needed more than just two hours to explore, which is why Imagine TV’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, along with executive producer and director Ken Biller, gravitated toward the icon.

And just like the first “Genius,” they hired two actors in order to capture Picasso both as a young man just starting out, and as an aging genius. Beyond the serendipity of landing Banderas to play Picasso in his prime, they found Alex Rich, whose credits include “GLOW” and “True Detective,” to play young Pablo.

“He had the more difficult job to do,” Banderas said of Rich. “His accent, for example.”

Added Rich: “We would visit each other on set and work together off-set to present a united picture of who Picasso was. Both of us were able to do a lot of transforming to step into his shoes.”

Barcelona, Spain - Alex Rich plays Pablo Picasso in Season 2 of National Geographic’s Genius (National Geographic/Dusan Martincek)

Alex Rich, “Genius: Picasso”

National Geographic/Dusan Martincek

Filmed in France, Spain, and Hungary, the 10-part series ends its run on June 19 with a look at the artist in the twilight years of his life.

“The novelty of it is it’s non-linear,” Banderas said. “It’s a beautifully embroidered and weaved script. You tie knots between times in the life of Picasso. You can see why this event provided this consequence 20 or 25 years later. It’s not a flashback for the sake of flashback. It’s for a reason.”

Ultimately, Rich and Banderas noted that Picasso the man and Picasso the artist couldn’t be separated. It’s what made him interesting and attractive — “and at the same time, very cruel,” Banderas added.

“Picasso was unbelievably honest,” he said. “Which is fantastic for an actor and fantastic for an artist of any kind. But honesty also played against him and his personal life because there was no filter. He thought he was so above everything that he never felt like he needed to justify anything that he did. That many people may say is disgusting and many people may say its valuable.”

The season finale of “Genius: Picasso” airs Tuesday, June 19, at 10 p.m. ET on National Geographic.

Budapest, Hungary - Antonio Banderas stars as Pablo Picasso in Season 2 of National Geographic’s Genius (National Geographic/Dusan Martincek)

Antonio Banderas, “Genius: Picasso”

National Geographic/Dusan Martincek

IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON with Michael Schneider” is a weekly dive into what’s new and what’s now on TV — no matter what you’re watching or where you’re watching it. With an enormous amount of choices overwhelming even the most sophisticated viewer, “TURN IT ON” is a must-listen for TV fans looking to make sense of what to watch and where to watch it.

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