Action role doesn't dim Banderas' reputation as lover

"He's got that Latin male thing going on heavily," his "Desperado" co-star Salma Hayek was saying. "Yes, Antonio is so intense. When he raises an eyebrow, I know what he means."

A good percentage of the movie-going women around the world are also beginning to notice Antonio Banderas. He's making his action-movie debut in "Desperado," which opened Friday. He plays an ex-guitarist who now carries high-powered weapons in his guitar case. In the first 10 minutes, he guns down, maybe, 40 people. It is not a love story.


Still, Mr. Banderas is constantly hit with the "Latin Lover" tag.

He shakes his mane of black hair and moans, "I don't think Hollywood has just been sitting around for 60 years waiting for me to fill the vacancy left by Rudolph Valentino."


But Mr. Banderas seems to be stuck with the label currently. The comedies "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" were in Spanish with subtitles but were still big hits on the art-movie circuit. With his first English-language film, "The Mambo Kings," he was typecast as a smooth character with hot rhythms.

"I didn't realize I was so passionate at all," he chuckled, "until I came here [to America]. In my country, we are all like that -- very open to everything in life."

For anyone less handsome, his varied roles would have certainly prevented typecasting. He played Tom Hanks' companion in "Philadelphia." He played a seductive vampire with homoerotic undertones in "Interview With the Vampire." He will next play the villain opposite Sylvester Stallone in "Assassins." He'll be seen opposite Rebecca DeMornay in "Never Talk to Strangers" as well as in one segment of "Four Rooms," again with "Desperado" director Roberto Rodriguez. Then he'll star with Madonna in the long-awaited movie version of "Evita."

It is his romance with blond Melanie Griffith, the former two-time wife of Don Johnson, that has fueled the mystique. They met on the set of the comedy "Two Much" in Florida. The romance has ended his eight-year marriage to Ana Leza.

"It has been rough this past month," he said. "There have been many fantasies printed. I don't quite understand. The fantasy is unbelievable, but at the same time, I know I am a public person. I try to pay the price -- and pay it with a sense of humor. I'm trying to relax and let the storm pass."

Changing the subject, Mr. Banderas said he did all his stunts himself in "Desperado." "I'm very proud of that," he said. The movie is a sequel to director Roberto Rodriguez's legendary $7,000 Mexican cheapie "El Mariachi," which become a hit.

Mr. Banderas laughed when reminded of the scene in Madonna's controversial documentary "Truth or Dare" in which she publicly stated that Mr. Banderas was the only movie star she wanted to meet. Now, Madonna and Mr. Banderas will sing together in "Evita."