To have the honour to share some thoughts with an artist of the quality of Spanish actor Juan Echanove is like a salutary opportunity to feel the essence of acting. This man of stage, cinema and television, who has worked with Pedro Almodóvar and who is also familiar to a younger public for his role of Mariano Cuellar in the Un Paso Adelante tv series kindly answers to our questions in spite of a busy schedule. Encounter with one of the most interesting artists from Spain.
Juan Echanove, thank you very much for accepting this interview. First could you please tell us some words about where you were born, about your family and your childhood before the college years?
Juan Echanove: I was born in Madrid in April 1961. My Father was an engineer and my childhood took place in an atmosphere of family tranquillity and good harmony. At the age of 18 I entered simultaneously in the school of Dramatic Art of Madrid, and in the Madrid Faculty of Law. I completed neither acting nor Law studies because in that same year I began to work professionally on stage.
Your first contact with acting took place in college. In which circumstances and what kind of institution was this establishment?
Juan Echanove: I studied until the university years in the school of the Menesian Brothers of the Park of the Avenues. This school was founded and is still governed nowadays by the disciples of Jean Marie de la Mennais, eternal aspiring to Holyness, without he has obtained it to date (among other things, say the Brothers, because of the presence in his family of Féli de la Mennais, one of the most radical philosophers and ideologists of the French Revolution - « Miscreants », like they call them).
Through these years of formation with the Menesians I began to play some theatre with other schoolmates. Different titles according to the taste of the public, such as Una tal Dulcinea, by Alfonso Paso; Los ladrones somos gente honrada, by Enrique Jardiel Poncela; The Prince and the Showgirl, by Sir Terence Rattigan; The Chinese wall by Max Frisch; Tiempo del 98, Juan Antonio Castro; La venganza de la Petra, Carlos Arniches...
Although I have to confess that my first scenic experiences have more to do with music than with theatre since the first work in which I took part was La rosa del azafrán (a zarzuela - typical spanish comic opera - by Jacinto Guerrero). There's also one solo interpretation in front of all my companions, for the occasion of I don't remember what celebration, of the song Gwendoline of Julio Iglesias. The trace leaved in the school during generations cured me of fright for the rest.
Could you talk to us about your formation at the prestigious RESAD (Real Escuela Superior de Arte Dramático). What were your matters of studies? Who were your professors?
Juan Echanove: During my brief artistic studies my majors were Corporal Expression and Dance, in which I obtained honour degrees, thing that was far from easy, since they were nothing else than distributed by Marta Schinca and Elvira Sanz respectively.
Anyway I have to say that the best thing I retain from my passage at the RESAD was the classes of Art of Lourdes Ortiz.
You were among the founders of the Compañía Vocacional del Coliseo Carlos III de San Lorenzo de El Escorial...
Juan Echanove: The company was directed wisely by Álvaro Custodio (a most interesting Spanish director, brother of the legendary actress Ana Maria Custodio, friend of Federico Garci'a Lorca, husband of the not less interesting Isabel Richart and, above all, a great man of Theatre). The two other directors unfortunately not went on in this profession: Jose Maria Escribano and Oscar Penas.
El Caso Almería (1983) marked your debut on the big screen next to a respected and consequent list of roles on stage...
Juan Echanove: The main reason I accepted to play this character is that I physically looked alike one of the three boys who were assassinated by the Civil Guard in Almeria. It was a very interesting experience and my first contact with the cinema. And also the first movie of Antonio Banderas...
Television has made you one of the most familiar and appreciated faces of the spanish public (and now of the french one, we'll talk about that later in the interview). Turno de oficio (1985) gave you the opportunity to be behind the camera as the director of some episodes of the sequel of the original TVE series (Turno de oficio: Diez años después, 1995).
Juan Echanove: I can only say that it was a beautiful experience. The privilege to have in front of the camera, with the power to direct them, my « masters » Juan Diego, Juan Luis Galiardo, Pastora Vega... Everything was a great pleasure. In fact, I prefer to direct TV than to perform for TV.
In 1992 you were Sancho on stage for the successful Don Quijote.Fragmentos de un discurso teatral, with the great Josep María Flotats as Quijote.
Juan Echanove: To work with Flotats... to be directed by Scaparro, and a libreto written by the greatest scriptwriter of the spanish cinema Rafael Azcona, was a delight of life and a source of joy for me.
What is the place of the work of Cervantes in your life as an actor, a director and as a Man?
Juan Echanove: Cervantes is the great source of inspiration of my sense of black humor... and the deep root of the spanish Neorealism.
With the movie Madregilda (1993), Francisco Regueiro offered you the extraordinary challenge to play one of the most risky and controversial role a spanish actor could perform: Francisco Franco, bringing you a long string of awards.
Juan Echanove: When I received the Shell of Silver of the best actor in the Festival of cinema of San Sebastián I remember that I said that the cinema is more wonderful than we could imagine, as in my case, with the character of Franco, I have been able to experiment that something filling your life with pain can provocate someday one of the greatest joys.
What is your look over the evolution of the spanish film industry since the eighties?
Juan Echanove: Well, my vision of the cinema which we do at the moment in Spain is pretty pessimistic. I'm waiting a lot from the european agreements about the cultural exception. But in general I have to say to that 80% of the cinema that is made today, for me lacks of interest.
Pedro Almodóvar is probably the most known spanish directors outside the borders of Spain. How were you engaged by Almodóvar for La flor de mi secreto (The Flower of my secret, 1995)?
Juan Echanove: Almodóvar knew me well because he is one of the few directors who go to the Theatre, and like Theatre. Not to forget the fact that he's one of these directors who understands what is Theatre. To be directed by him, the most perfectionist of all the directors I have worked left me with the conviction that he is simply one of the bests I've worked to this day.
The distribution was... magnificent! What else could be said, for instance, of Marisa Paredes? She's the Margarita Xirgu of the 20th and 21th centuries.
Un Paso Adelante (2002-2005), the Antena 3 television series is a world-wide hit. Your character of Mariano Cuellar evolved from the traitorous nemesis of the Carmen Arranz school (« who looks like Charles Laughton », says Carmen) to the sensible man of culture and taste close to the person you are in reality.
Juan Echanove: Un Paso Adelante allowed me to connect with a public - Teen-agers - which certainly would have not expressed interest in plays like The Price of Arthur Miller without this show and the fact I've worked in it.
In one episode the fantastic comedy duo formed by you and actor Alfonso Lara (Juan Taberner) shared some scenes with Juan José Otegui, a talented actor you work regularly with on screen and on stage. Can you tell our readers about Mr Otegui and about your collaborations with him?
Juan Echanove: Otegui is one of the reasons I continue working on stage as an actor, a producer, and director. Otegui is the scene... the essence... the fidelity... the illusion... the vocation.... The knowledge to do. And he does all that at 70 years. Who could give more? Who needs more?
In 1993 you have created your own artistic production company, La Llave Maestra Producciones Artísticas, in order to produce for cinema, television and theatre. With this company you have co-produced El Precio (The Price), the play of Arthur Miller.
On stage you are an actor but often also a director. Why did you need a production company at this step of your career? What makes you the most proud of with the work for La Llave Maestra Producciones Artísticas?
Juan Echanove: Without La Llave Maestra I would be forced to work in this profession without no kind of criterion and no objective. I produce so that in the future we can be proud of a repertory raised with great efforts.
You're a man of all the arts: actor, director, producer, voice artist but also singer. How were you invited on the album of Víctor Manuel and Ana Belén entitled Mucho más que dos (1994)?
Juan Echanove: Thanks to this invitation made by Victor Manuel to share scene with them, I had the opportunity to verify by myself the extremely hard and difficult thing that is a profession embraced with dedication by a lot of my friends: Music. It was an unforgettable experience. One of the few things that justify all a living!
With your book Curso de cocina para novatos (Cookery for beginners), you have proven that you're familiar with the wonderful art of Gastronomy too. Was it important for you to share your pleasure and your knowledge with this book?
Juan Echanove: There are people who spend half of their lives striking a ball and running on the grass... I don't. I sincerely believe that my way to relax is to help the others to access the pleasure of the excitation of senses. Without any doubt If I didn't become an actor I would have been a cook...
ObjYou have recently completed the shooting of Bienvenido a casa, a movie written and directed by David Trueba. What is your role?
Juan Echanove: David Trueba is an excellent director, a worthy heir of his great teachers... Rafael Azcona... and of course Fernando Trueba. He is also an excellent person. His sense of humor is one of finest I've ever seen.
I play Felix, a blind cinema critic with a dog as blind as him!
On what are you working currently?
My next project is to direct the play Visitando al Sr.Green (Visiting Mr Green, written by Jeff Baron) for the Teatro Bellas Artes de Madrid (Theatre of Fine Arts of Madrid) with a distribution formed by Juan Jose Otegui and Père Ponce. The play will be shown in january.
(Interview done in 2005)