NEW YORK — For Antonio Banderas, playing Mario Sepulveda, one of the 33 miners trapped for 69 days in the 2010 Chilean mine disaster that captured worldwide attention, “was perhaps one of the most profound responsibilities I have ever had to portray in film.” The actor explained that beyond the obvious undertaking — playing a real person who is still alive — “I felt it was so important to capture the essence of what all of those men experienced, a challenge that was so overwhelming.”
Since, like virtually all of the key players in “The 33” (opening Friday), Banderas was able to meet and get to know the miner himself, the actor shared some of the key things he took from making that connection — in order to infuse Sepulveda’s personal thoughts and mannerisms into his performance.
“In meeting Mario, I came to realize he became a survivor long before the mine disaster and being trapped below the earth for 69 days. He had a very tough life growing up and that hard life gave him a lot of internal strength. So, when this happened and he was thrust into a leadership position — and he already was a leader among his fellow miners — he suddenly and magically was the right man, at the right moment, in the right place.
“I also came to realize that he was a little bit crazy too! You have to be a little crazy to have faith in that situation — so firmly believing they would be rescued when it seemed so unlikely they could be saved. The odds were so against them.”
For Banderas, making “The 33” again proved to him that life experiences tend to make you focus on what is truly worthwhile.
“You learn that it’s the simple things that establish the limits of life, as we understand it. So often, so many people are destroyed by such silly, stupid, really unimportant things that happen to them in their daily lives. In the end, you have to zero in on what’s of worth.”
The actor pointed to a dream sequence in “The 33,” after the nearly three dozen trapped miners share the final, single small tin of tuna — what they believe may, in fact, be their final meal.
“Think about what those men dreamed about,” said Banderas. “They dreamt they had experienced a fantastic feast, but they mainly dreamt about love, and hugs and the people they cared about above the ground. Love is such an overwhelming emotion.”
Banderas’ co-star, Juliette Binoche, also deeply valued the chance to meet and spend time with Maria Segovia, the woman she portrays in “The 33.” The actress said she immediately was drawn to Segovia “because she’s a fighter and I love fighters, because it shows the humanity we have inside ourselves.”
Like Banderas’ Mario Sepulveda, Maria Segovia also learned to be a survivor at an early age. Binoche is convinced that gave her the kind of strong personality that led her to be a key leader of the women in the Chilean mining community who brought pressure on their government to continue to find a way to save their husbands and other family members.
“She was a resilient person,” said Binoche, speaking of Segovia. “As a little girl she was orphaned at 6 years of age. She sold empanadas in the streets for years. She got pregnant at 14. She had no formal education. She didn’t know how to read or write.
“Yet, in front of the gates to the mine, she showed she had the kind of knowledge about humanity and the human condition to get things done — to make something happen in order for those men to be saved. She made the impossible possible. She was a force that led to a change in the situation.
“Listen, without those women at the gates to the mine, constantly making noise and protesting, and refusing to leave, those men would never have been saved.”
One of the film’s other key stars is Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays Luis Urzua, a miner known as “Don Lucho.”
“It was an honor to be part of this story that effected the entire world, and touched so many hearts,” he said. “For that reason, I thought it also was great that our cast represented so many different countries — many South American countries, of course, but also France, Ireland, Spain and the United States. It was only fitting to have so many different artists making this movie.”
As for his own experience meeting the real Don Lucho, Phillips explained that while he had faith in the script and his director, Patricia Riggen, he was excited to sit down with the man whose life he would portray.
“He’s a very complex, complicated man. Interestingly, we didn’t do a lot of talking, but that also helped me capture him. He’s a reticent guy. While Don Lucho is an alpha male, he’s one without the aggression you’d expect. He’s a boss, but without being confrontational or overbearing. He’s really a very peaceful, dignified and reserved guy.”
Of course, like all 33 miners, Phillips explained that Don Lucho’s life “has been changed forever by this experience. How could it not be?
“Along with it being so traumatic — and many men still suffer from the psychological effects of that — they also had to deal with instant celebrity. Suddenly they were world famous, placed in a spotlight they never asked for. It was a surreal experience for them and even now, five years later, many of them are still just starting to come to terms with it.”