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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Antonio Banderas in the Spotlight
by Diana Saenger

Next to babies, there’s probably nothing more loveable than a cat with enormous soft eyes and an enticing smile. Such is Puss In Boots, the mischievous feline in Shrek 2. As voiced by a fun and energetic Antonio Banderas, this new character gives Donkey a run for his hay in the spotlight.

Andrew Adamson, a director and writer on Shrek 2, said Puss in Boots was one of his favorite fairy tales, so he decided to enlarge that role and make it the film’s first Latin character. Adamson immediately thought of Antonio Banderas. “We pictured him as Zorro embodied in a cat, so from that moment on, Puss In Boots was Antonio Banderas,” Adamson said.

In his sexy accented voice, Banderas calls the animal El Gato con Botas. “He is a character I have known since I was maybe three,” he said. “But I never thought I would have the chance to play him.”

The small-framed Banderas has a wiry energy that comes through in his voice for the animated feline. Commenting on how actors record the voices for their characters, Banderas explained, “The animators do look at us. They are manipulators, just like my character, actually. The only way I can find Oliver, my own beautiful black and white cat, is to open the refrigerator, and then he’s there in a second. He’s a manipulator,” the actor added with a warm smile.

Animators videotape the actors as they record their lines and then morph some of their mannerisms and actions into the actual character. “The first two sessions were all in the script without improvising anything,” said Banderas. “After the first two scenes were in the movie, they allowed me to go just a little bit further with the character.”

 “Antonio gave Puss In Boots a Zorro personality times ten,” declared Conrad Vernon, another director on the film. “He was practically climbing the walls in the recording studio. He was whipping around, hissing, spitting and marking his territory. We thought we made that character over the top, but Antonio took it to the next level and made it his own, which was fantastic.”

When asked about the acting involved in bringing Puss In Boots to life, Banderas stated that the process was freer than he expected. “The only problem I had was that I was doing theater at the same time in New York, and I sang every night on stage. This cat screams a lot, and every time I got to the theater and tried to sing, the girls on stage would ask, ‘What happened to your voice? Did you have a rough night?’ I told them it’s the cat; I had a hairball for about a half hour.”

Both Shrek movies end with a party, and this time it’s a fiesta where Puss In Boots belts out a rendition of Livin’ La Vita Loca. Was this Banderas’s suggestion? “No, they decided that song is a party song, and I definitely agree with that. And so we sang it, but each of us did the whole entire number separated. I never met with any of the other actors.”

Married to Melanie Griffith, Banderas is stepfather to two of her children. He and  Melanie also have a daughter named Stella. How did Stella like the film? “She loved it. But she’s not a reviewer at the New York Times, although she should be,” Banderas said with a laugh. “She knew it was me. She not only recognized the voice, but the gestures.”

Regarding plans for Zorro II, Banderas said, “It’s very, very close. I just had dinner with Martin Campbell, and we start filming in Mexico, July 26, and will probably be there until Christmas. It’s long shoot because it has a lot of second units, horses, a lot of people, masses and stuff like that.”

Who else stars in that sequel? “Catherine (Zeta Jones) is going to be in the movie. I thought that Anthony Hopkins was going to do a cameo, but apparently that is not going to happen. So I don’t know the rest of the actors. They have to cast a new bunch of bad guys because we killed all of them in the first movie.”

What’s the general story line? “It’s more mature than the first film. It doesn’t need the explanation at the beginning of who the characters are. So it goes straight into the story, and it’s more mature in terms of jealousy, which is a big part of the movie, but obviously they are not leaving comedy behind. I think it is a necessary component to a movie like Zorro. I thought we made the character immediately likeable in the first version. The character or Zorro is eloquent but has a touch of arrogance that you have to break with humor otherwise he becomes a little bit distant and he’s not sympathetic. The movie has a lot of turns. The audience will be misled in a lot of surprising ways.”

Banderas has no misgivings going back to Zorro. “They are two different movies. I think people will go see Zorro II even though it’s something that every one knows. I never have a problem in doing a character that people already know. I did that with Robert Rodriquez in Spy Kids."

Having a family sometimes complicates things. Is your life more important than your  job? “My life is important, and my profession is too. In the last five years I have not worked at the frantic pace that I did many years ago. I just want to do the things that my heart goes with. I did Pancho Villa, Nine on Broadway, and since I finished Nine in October, I haven’t done anything. I rejected a bunch of movies because I don’t want that frantic pace anymore. So this year I’ll do Zorro only and then do another show on Broadway, Death Takes A Holiday, a musical written by Maury Yeston, and directed by Nine director David Leveaux. I like to have constants in my life that build the type of relationship like I had with Robert Rodriquez. We made six movies together, and we found we understood each other, were confident and wanted to work together again.”

Do you prefer the stage to film? “I made mistakes in my past. I started to rethink my career, and the reflection point for that was Nine. Going back to the theater has been very important from a personal point of view. And spending seven months in front of an audience, something I did many years ago in my beginning, was fantastic. In movies you are in the middle of the process. You give the work that someone else is going to cut, edit and put in the music. In theater you are the end of the process, more of an owner of your own work. You do your own close up, and because the audience commands you, you know the reactions that you are producing, and that is what makes the entire thing click. It’s also more rewarding because you can see the effect of what you' re doing immediately. It’s very disciplined, and I love that, especially in musicals. I’m an actor because of theater, not because of movies. Very few people in America knew about this, and it was time for me to jump to the other side again.”

Are you planning to direct again? “Yes, I’m buying a novel, The Way of the British Ones.  It’s an epic based in the 70s in Málaga, my hometown. It will be a Spanish production, not expensive, $3 million, and for the Spanish market.”

Will you and Melanie work together again? “I don’t think a husband and wife should work together. It’s too predictable, even on the big screen. It becomes a tabloid in movement, and there is something about it I never liked. The only exception in movies I liked was Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. When I see a husband and wife on the screen together it takes a moment for me to believe what they are trying to do, because you see them in real life and then on the screen, so it’s hard to believe. But I would like to direct her (Melanie) again.”

Many people who’ve seen Shrek 2 believe Puss In Boots should have his own movie. What do you think about that? “I think so too. It was definitely fun.”

(Photo: © 2004 DreamWorks. All Rights Reserved.)

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