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May 2004
Shrek 2: An Interview with Antonio Banderas

By Todd Gilchrist

Shrek 2: An Interview with Antonio Banderas

Antonio Banderas is best known for his action-hero turns in such blockbusters as "The Mask of Zorro" and "Desperado", but with the exception of some sporadic hits in recent years ("Once Upon a Time in Mexico"), his filmography has fallen into less than stellar repute ("Original Sin" or "Ecks Vs. Seve", anyone?). With "Shrek 2", however, the actor finds himself in turnaround, stealing the CGI sequel right from under the noses of his co-stars Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz. Banderas recently sat down with Blackfilm to discuss his involvement in the project, and the future prospects of a mariachi gunslinger both stateside and in his native Spain.

Are you surprised to hear you steal the show?

AB: Really? Do you think so? When I saw the movie, the character that made me laugh the most was donkey.

Now you don't need to do a sequel to "Zorro".

AB: Yeah, we already did it.

Did you discover your inner cat?

AB: It's interesting. No, because I saw the character- - I mean, at the beginning, when I first got on this two years ago, they said to me the guy was thought to be French, kind of a D'artagnan, from Three Musketeers but obviously, once I jumped in there with my accent, he became Zorro.

Was there any talk of giving him your Mariachi moves?

AB: No, but sometimes they put cameras in the recording or they were recording the way you were just performing the lines, just to copy that, but I suppose that they went to some of my epic movies like "Zorro", "Desperado", "The 13th Warrior", movies like that. Because sometimes I recognize some moves. I say, "Oh my God, that's mine." Or a way of looking, things like that. It's kind of fun. I actually never thought, really, because this is the first time I did an animation movie. Melanie did another one and it was quite- - I suppose that is also the director you have. But I didn't know that we were going to have so much input, that the movie is so related to the actors. I thought it was going to be more a process like just repeat this line until the line got totally perfect. I don't know why I thought that. I probably did because it's so technologically based that I thought it was going to be almost like being in a tube without any kind of creativity. But it was not like that. They give you two sessions that worked very much in the way that I thought it was going to be, but two months after, when they came back, they already did some animation with the material. And then they start proposing ways even to me, "What do you think about this?" Changing lines; sometimes improvising a little bit. They ask me to do that, to recite a line in Spanish. Things here and there. It was more creative from the acting point of view than I thought it was going to be.

Do you do a movie like this for your children?

AB: No, I do it- - actually, I have to say that I am a fanatic of Shrek 1. My daughter may have seen the movie two times. I saw it like six. I just love it. I thought it was beautiful. But no, I wouldn't base my whole entire career in my daughter. You know, I mean, three Spy Kids, now this cat, it would be kind of weird. It's a coincidence that I am in Spy Kids and now this movie, movies that are oriented in some ways for kids. Not so much actually Shrek. I think Shrek makes an effect in older people. And there are many things in the movie that you saw that are not for kids. Kids would not understand certain things. They are not dangerous for them because they're not going to understand that when they take the bag out of my boot, kids may be saying, "What's that?" That's just for us.

Melanie said she had a hard time with animation. Did she give you any tips?

AB: That's what I said before that it may depend on who is directing the movie, what are the purposes, how he will drive the artist. But it's true that I remember her coming home saying, "Well, it's very heavy. It's something that you have to repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat it again, and there is nothing creative about it" she said to me at some point. And after she went back and she was having more fun with the little bird that she did in Stuart Little. But for her, it was a different experience and I suppose that it has to do tremendously with the team that you are working with. Not only just the director of the movie, the team. I remember when I was taken to the studio for the first time, they had a room quite like this with all pictures, still pictures or drawings, sorry, of what the movie was going to be. Practically the whole entire movie was there and in that room, there were at least 10 people. Drawers, people who were going to be in different departments, and they all were explaining the movie to me. And there was a guy actually who did all the voices. They should have recorded that guy, it was unbelievable. He was doing the whole entire movie with a pointer like this. So they want you to be integrated in the story as soon as possible, and to be part of it. And I think that's a procedure, it's a method. Some people may follow that and some people may not.

Did you do your own hairball noises?

AB: Yes, absolutely. It cost me one note, a C note that I had to do in Nine, the play that I was doing that day. The cat was the reason that I couldn't hit that note.

How surprised were you when you saw the final film?

AB: Quite. What surprised me the most is that we were working in solitude. We didn't have other actors working with us. Even when I sung La Vida Loca, I sung my part totally independently of Eddie. So it is nice just to see it all together. Not only just the animation which is I think fabulous, but just the interaction among all the actors, sometimes even stepping on the lines of each other is something that we didn't do when we were recording it. How they edit it, it was masterful.

Are you and Eddie taking your musical act on the road?

AB: I don't know Eddie. I never met him. I just met Julie Andrews this morning, but I never met Eddie.

Do you prefer cats or dogs?

AB: Both, but for different reasons. They are totally different animals, you know. Dogs may be more familiar, obedient and cats are more independent. I tried to do some research with my cat but the only thing that they said back to me was meow. No, Oliver, my cat, the only way that I can just get a grip on him is just opening my refrigerator. He's there in a second. But if you call a cat, he may not come. Which doesn't happen with dogs. They're different types of animals. Cats are very sexy I think too in the way they move.

That's why they cast you.

AB: Absolutely, sir. No doubt about it.

What scene was the most difficult?

AB: The one of the hairball because of the hair actually. I didn't find it difficult actually. I thought it was going to be more difficult. I had a lot of fun with them. I didn't find particularly difficult any scene. And because they want to respect my accent totally, they thought it was quite- - one of the features of the character, that I didn't have to really do any kind of prep for it in that aspect.

Did you grow up with any of these fairy tales?

AB: Yeah. In Spain, Puss in Boots is called El Gato Con Botas and he's a very, very famous character too for kids. As many of the characters that appear in the movie, I think are international fairy tales that goes all around the world. So I recognized the three pigs. You know, many of the characters that are in the movie are very well known fairy tales in Spain which helps the movie because everybody recognizes those characters. And whatever spoof they are doing with them, if there is a word that defines this type of movie, and not just the second one, even the first one is I think is wit. I think that's the type of humor that they are trying to create.

How old is your daughter now?

AB: She's seven and a half. She'll be eight in September.

How are you handling that stage of fatherhood?

AB: Pretty well actually. No problem, especially this year ever since I finished the theater in October. I decided just to work in a totally different way. Then I have more time this year. Since October, I rejected a bunch of movies. I've been basically writing and preparing things that I would like to do in the future. As a director or writer?

AB: Director.

In America or Spain?

AB: In Spain. I bought the rights of a novel in Spain and I am right now in the process of putting it together.

How important is it to go back to Spain and return to your roots?

AB: It's starting to be important now.

Why now?

AB: Because it's just enough time for me to be out of the country and there is the possibilities of going back as a director and also Pedro Almadovar and I have been in discussions for a year and a half now, the possibility of doing a movie, a French novel. I'm very certain that it's going to happen. He's now in motion with the department of immigration to come to America to do that. He's in Cannes actually now. And so he has to write. He's probably not going to have a script until a year, year and a half from now, but that is something for me I would like to do.

How long since you've worked together?

AB: 15 years. Since Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down.

How funny it will be to go back to working in Spanish?

AB: I'm pretty, pretty scared actually to go back to Pedro. Not to Spain, to Pedro. First, he's a tough director. Pedro is not an easy guy. Very creative, but because he's the leader of the whole bunch and he controls practically everything from cinematography to costumes, makeup, everything. And Pedro is one of the directors that actually doesn't allow you to create very much. In fact, I remember the times that I was working with him, I used to say, "I have an idea." He'd say, "No, no, you don't have ideas. I have the ideas. You just come here very fresh in the morning, very happy and I will direct you." So that's the way that Pedro does things. When you have a director that has the talent that he has, you immediately jump into that pot and you don't care. You just cut a little bit and you say, "Well, I want to do exactly what you want to do. Write it, use me as I was a pen." You do that with directors that you have great confidence in them, that they're kind of geniuses and they have very strong proposals to do. If a director that I don't trust comes without a story, I will say no way. If you want to do it like that, I'll go home. Then I want to have my input. But if it's Pedro Almadovar, I allow him to do it.

Another Zorro?

AB: It is. We start the 26th of July.


AB: Catherine is in the movie. Hopkins, no, because he got killed. We have a bunch of new bad guys, but we don't know names yet. Last night I had actually a dinner with Martin Campbell and they're putting together the whole thing now. But it's green lit, we are going, and on the 26th of July, principal photography starts.

Who did the script?

AB: The same guys who did the first one and did Pirates of the Caribbean and Godzilla. Campbell's directing?

AB: Martin Campbell is directing the movie, Steven Spielberg producing.

Have to get back into Zorro shape?

AB: Actually, I'm in pretty good shape now, but what I have to do obviously is just to go back to the sword and to the horse.

How different will this one be?

AB: It's a little bit more mature. It still keeps the adventure feeling and it keeps us with a hero, which is I think fundamental for Zorro. But it's a little bit more mature. It's more based in jealousy and concepts that are more for us than for kids.

When we first met, your English was not great.

AB: It's not great.

How much more confident are you with English?

AB: No, obviously, the time goes by, the English gets better. Ever since I met Melanie, that was almost nine years ago now, you have to just speak the language continuously, hone every word. So and the proof for me of that was actually in theater. It has to be two hours and 45 minutes on the stage speaking a language that is not your language, and singing. That was quite a challenge for me but it gave me tremendous security.

How is your Spanish?

AB: My Spanish is getting a little bit loose. Sometimes I go to Spain and after I've been talking with my folks for a while, my mother said to me, "What happened to your mouth?" You start changing the verb for the adjective, for example, which is a common thing between Spanish and English. I change that sometimes but after a couple days there, boom, I'm back. Do you speak both languages at home?

AB: With Stella, I do, with my little one because I don't want her to miss the Spanish literature. It's not the same to read Gabrielle Garcia Marcus in Spanish than to read it in English in a translation. You lose a tremendous amount of subtleness, little things that are very, very intrinsic of Marcus. For example, I say Marcus as an example. So I want for her to have that open gate to culture.

Does Melanie help with Spanish?

AB: Melanie's Spanish is very good actually, but it was very good by the time we did Crazy in Alabama for example. At that time, she went to Spain and she did the press conferences in Spanish. She received quite good ovations from the journalists there because she did a great job. So she speaks- - obviously, when we spend five months in America without speaking a word of Spanish for a while, and she goes to Spain, it takes a week for her just to get used and to change her brain, but she does. She does a good job.

Did your character ever change through the process?

AB: No. The process that they explained to me at the beginning was exactly what we did. They said to me, "We are going to take material from you. We are going to put it together and animate it. And then we're going to come back. That's going to happen seven, eight times, ten. We don't know the sessions." After we did it the first time, apparently they were very happy with the results and they made the character grown in that different direction, they add some things here and there. So the character started getting more sessions, working, but no. I didn't have the thing of one year later, "Tell me what we have to do with this thing?" Would you do another animated film?

AB: Yes, absolutely. With this team.

How about a Puss spinoff?

AB: That would be very successful, but I don't think it's necessary but what we have in the movie, there is a sequel, that's enough.

Are you signed for Shrek 3?

AB: I'm not signed, no, I haven't signed. I heard that they are thinking about that possibility. I think the interesting thing about actually Jeffrey, Jeffrey Katzenberg has been responsible for the whole thing. Sometimes in sequels, what you have is just a producer, very smart, that tries to do the movie for four times the price that he did the first one. And use the hit of the first one just to make big easy money. But that's not the case of Jeffrey. Jeffrey actually was kind of in competition mode with himself. He wanted just to overcome the first one and go further with the technology aspect of it and with the content of the movie and the insertion of different characters. I mean, he's an ambitious man and an ambitious team and we were really make Shrek become one of those characters that is going to be forever into the American pop culture. That is interesting. This is a guy who can be common like Mickey Mouse. Those characters that are forever part of your brain, of your being, you know. I'm telling you, not just because I'm here to talk. If I weren't in the second part, I would still be talking beautifully about Shrek because I am a fan of the first one.

What influence did you put in this character?

AB: I don't know. Just trying to spoof myself a little bit, which I did actually in Spy Kids in a different way. But the possibility of laughing at yourself is something that not every day you have that in your hands. So I like that. I like to have a sense of humor with a character. That is not very difficult because the wit that is implicit- - I mean, one of my favorite scenes in the movie is the scene with actually one line probably. I'm not implicated in that scene. It's when Donkey says, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Pop" all that stuff. I think it's hilarious. I got like 10 minutes in the movie theater cracking up. I never saw it together. I think that is implicit. Obviously Eddie is putting in a tremendous input of he's funny. I mean, he's a funny guy. He really is. He knows very much about rhythms and about what the character is about. I think it's there. You have to just jump into a tone.

You've been married nine years?

AB: We've been together for 10 years, married nine years.

Does marriage get easier?

AB: To be married in our profession is not an easy thing. There's too many beautiful people around, very interesting people. It's just a matter of really having- - being patient and probably having the capacity and the faith of falling in love with your own wife again. That happens to me. It's almost like a fire that you just feed with little pieces of wood, little by little. And then if you cross a certain line around the sixth, seventh, eighth year, everything becomes easier. We are now actually living like a beautiful time together rediscovering amount of things that are not probably related to passion or to things like that, but that are related to some things that are more mature, that start driving us to matureness in a nice way. I don't know how to explain it actually. It's a feeling. But it's more a sense that goes to family and it's cool.

Any chance of a cameo in Robert Rodriguez's Sin City?

AB: No, they didn't do that yet but it's interesting. The other day I was in New York? and Harvey Weinstein called me and I couldn't get a hold of him, so probably that's what he wants to talk to me about. I don't know. I like the concept though. Robert Rodriguez showed me the concept. It's beautiful. It's going to be kind of a real comic book.

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