Antonio Banderas

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Already a star in his own country, Spanish actor Antonio Banderas was barely able to speak English when his agent told him to "string four sentences together" and meet up with an American film producer in London.

The actor did just that, and scored his breakthrough role in 1992's The Mambo Kings for which he famously learned the script phonetically. He recalls: "I returned to Spain thinking, 'That's something to tell the grandchildren'."

Jose Antonio Dominguez Banderas was born on August 10, 1960, in Malaga, Spain, the son of a police officer father and school teacher mum, and was, he says, the product of a "stable, happy... typical middle class family".

Antonio\'s path to fame wasn\'t a particularly direct one. His mother wanted him follow family tradition and become a teacher, and, though he denies talk that he once considered a future as a priest, he also studied at a Malaga seminary. His true dream was to be a professional footballer, but a broken foot in his teens put an end to any hopes in that direction.

Deciding to focus on acting, the youngster eventually enrolled in a local drama school. Then, one week before his 20th birthday and with only £60 in his pocket, Antonio decided to head for Madrid. "The idea came in a flash, and the decision, like everything I\'ve done in my life, was made in a matter of seconds," he explained to HELLO! magazine.

For a while, he lived the life of a starving artist, sleeping on friends\' sofas while trying to make a living. But eventually he joined the National Drama Centre, a move which, he says, marked the start of his career. He was earning £5 a night when budding film director and future Oscar-winner Pedro Almodovar offered him a role in his 1982 low-budget comedy Labyrinth Of Passion. Over the next decade, Antonio became a star in his country through Almodovar films such as Law Of Desire and Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown. It was on the set of the latter that he met his first wife, Ana Leza, whom he wed in 1987, nine months after they fell in love.

Though Antonio made an international name for himself in The Mambo Kings, he had made headlines the year before with his appearance in 1991's In Bed With Madonna. In one of the most famous scenes of the movie, the actor caught the attention of English speakers as the sexy Spaniard who deftly deflects the advances of the world\'s hottest pop stars. It was only a matter of time before his name was on the Hollywood A-list, a postion earned through films such as Philadelphia, Desperado and The Mask Of Zorro. He even played opposite his previous "co-star", Madonna, in Evita.

Though he'd gained fame by catching Madonna's eye, it was actress Melanie Griffith who would eventually capture his heart. He says he had always admired the Working Girl star, and will never forget the moment her first saw her in person at the 1989 Oscars. "I remember she was dressed in white with pearls I'll always remember that and I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen in my life." Six years later, after starring together in Two Much, the pair then both still married, he to Ana, she to Don Johnson split from their spouses and tied the knot.

"Of course, I never would have imagined that, back then, that night (at the Oscars)," he says. "If anyone had told me then what was going to happen between us, I would have said they were crazy." The couple have a daughter, Estela Carmen, born in 1996.
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