Actor Antonio Banderas sat down with BOXOFFICE to discuss his role in the upcoming fourth (and final) chapter in the wildly successful Shrek series.
It's been six years since we met Puss in Boots in Shrek 2-do you remember how you came up with the voice?
In the beginning, the first time I jumped into the character was 2003. We were trying to decide what we wanted to do with him. They came to New York-I was doing Nine on Broadway-and they showed me the aspects of the character. We decided that it was important to provide him with a voice that doesn't match his body. That was the beginning of trying to create humor with him. The normal thing would have been just to put a voice of a little cat that matched the body, in comparison with Burrito-I mean, Donkey-or Shrek. But we decided to put a voice that goes totally against his image. That contrast created a lot of comedy because it made him very arrogant and self-assured; the way that he goes through life is very sarcastic, witty and sharp. That was the initial thing, and then we started trying to explore his territory. This is the number three movie for the cat because he wasn't in the first one. Here, we take him in a totally different direction. He's let himself go-he's fat now, and lazy, totally the opposite of the hero.
Does that affect the voice?
I was going in the same direction, but at the same time allowing myself to be a little more loose and trying to match the story that we have now where everything is totally new. Something has happened that's changed the story of all the characters-it's like something has gone wrong at a point in his life and then he couldn't match his dreams. He just became a lazy cat. So he's quite different; his personality has changed totally. I love him! You may notice that I love him very much. I just like the cat-I talk about him like he's a totally third person who has nothing to do with me.
And he's been picked as the character to lead the first Shrek spin-off movie.
Yes! Now we are just confronting the story of Puss in Boots, the story of another killer. And we are going to see him from the beginning, since he was a little kitty cat, an orphan in an institution. There's a number of things that happen in there that create his personality and you're going to see the whole entire story of the cat. We're trying to have that be a surprise, but what I can tell you is that the style of the movie is quite different from Shrek. Shrek is supported more by criticism of the pop culture and the world of fairy tale. We had the opportunity to be laughing at ourselves, laughing at a certain way in which these fairy tales play in our mind. Decomposing them, trying to just break them down. In the case of Puss in Boots, it is quite literally an epic. The style is completely different. Not the style of the drawings, that is what you have seen from him. But the narrative process is separate.
A heroic epic?
It's heroic, there is a certain romance. He's going to find a female character that is going to match him. She's a very strong lady, and there's going to be confrontation between them that creates a love story between them that is beautiful. It's about friendship, it's about betrayal. There's a number of elements in the movie that veer away from what Shrek was about.
Puss in Boots was the standout character the second he showed up in Shrek 2-what do people love about him?
I think it is that contrast-this little body and this big ego, this big hero. He was very well designed from all the creative team. All that I had to do was just match my voice to what they were doing. I have my own production company for animation movies in Spain-this year we were nominated for an Academy Award for best short animated movie [The Lady and Death] -and we're trying to take everything that I have learned from DreamWorks and apply it to my company. The system of work is fantastic because they confront you with creative people. They ask you questions about the character-questions that they would ask to an actor about what this character should do in this scene. You take the script and you talk to them, and then they just start applying to the character the ideas that you may have. And we are recording everything with cameras in front of us. Sometimes, we copy the elements that the character has, a little sword, something like that, so that actually the animators and cartoonists have the possibility of using some of the nuances and the little things that you may do when you are actually making the voice of the character. I think those things makes the movie very fresh. Sometimes, they even allow you to improvise-nothing is totally closed for the interpretation that you make. And that makes you feel very not in a box. It makes you feel free to create. We have times where you are actually looking at the control center of the recording room as you are doing your lines and you see people inside laughing. And when that happens, then you think, "We got it." So we take the work and then send it to the cartoonist to do that type of voice. The process is very well put together, and I think that's the secret of why Shrek has been always so fresh and so special. The drawing doesn't go first. The drawing is something that is going to match the voice.
It makes sense. Mike [Mitchell, director] was telling me that as you record, you get sweaty from fake swordfighting.
I become nuts when I'm recording this character. I have a lot of fun always. Always. There's no one session that stands out. I always go with a high spirit knowing that we're going to have a great time. If we don't have fun doing it, the audience will not have fun watching it.
And now that Puss in Boots is lazier and fatter-in one scene, he can hardly drag himself to his milk bowl-are you lounging around the studio?
It's more difficult because I am not fat, you see! And I'm not lazy. But the scene inspires you. There's a couple of drawings here and there that they show you at the beginning. We sit down in the control room and they show you on the computer the storyboards so you understand where they are heading, and what is the environment in which the cat is moving. Is it a room? Is a guy playing a piano in the corner? Do you have to lower your voice? There's a number of data that they give you. You have all these reference points to start working-just the appearance of the cat will take you in one direction, so I just try to match to that. But now he's lazy, which is fantastic because when you're doing a fourth movie of characters that everybody knows, the only thing that you can do to surprise them is change them completely. That's going to produce straight comedy. He's so fat, sometimes he can't even stand. He doesn't go after mice anymore-he's such a mess: "Forget it, I'll catch you later."
You could have made history by being the first actor to gain weight for an animated role.
[Laughs] Not necessary, though! If I had to do that someday because of my acting career as a normal actor, I may think about it. For the cat, I don't think so!
Later this year, you're in new films from Woody Allen [You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger] and Steven Soderbergh [Knockout]. How would you compare their directing styles?
In the case of Woody Allen, it's an ensemble movie. I have my part and practically everything that I have is with Naomi Watts. We shot ten sequences and I don't know how much or many of them will be in the final movie, but it was an incredible pleasure working with Woody Allen. You have to think, in the mid-'80s, I had a t-shirt with the face of Woody Allen. Seeing him on the set walking around with his hat and his glasses was unbelievable to me, unbelievable. He's a legend for me; he's a guy that I admire as a director, as a writer of books. I love him. For me, his professional work is beautiful. Especially in the last 15-20 years, Woody Allen has been more appreciated in Europe than in his own country-in Spain, he has been always huge. With Steven Soderbergh, my role is almost a cameo; I have three or four sequences. I just wanted to work with him to be close to him, just to see how he shoots. It's just a cameo; it's not a big deal. But it is a big deal for me because I wanted the opportunity to be very close. Then I did a movie with Tony Krantz in Spokane called The Big Bang in which I am the lead. It's just getting together-I think I'm going to have the opportunity to see it within days. We're going to try to take it to some festivals in Europe. And I can tell you, it was a fantastic experience. We got a fantastic scriptwriter, Erik Jendresen, he's the guy who wrote Band of Brothers. It was very well-dialogued. There's a number of beautiful, beautiful films coming and I don't want to jinx them because the papers aren't signed, but they're going to surprise you.
The Salvador Dali film?
It's a complex film-we have almost 35 million Euros or $50 million dollars and there's no action in it. It's the life of a painter. That scares many people with that amount of budget. But it seems that we are finding finally the possibility. For me, I have a very strong admiration for Salvador Dali. He's probably one of the best Spanish painters ever. And at the same time, quite an interesting character. He was very shy in a way. Very cultured. And he created out of his shyness this incredibly out there character-totally over the edge, almost histrionic. This is a possibility because the script they gave me, Simon West [Laura Craft: Tomb Raider] was supposed to direct it. It's very interesting because it actually plays with the surreal world that Salvador Dali created. We see him and certain characters of his life in a surreal world-in his paintings. It's going to be a fantastic work, very eye-popping and colorful. This is a proposal that I would love to get together.
And it could reunite you with Catherine Zeta-Jones, who has shown interested in playing his wife Gala.
Their relationship was extraordinary. Gala was a very, very strong woman. Salvador Dali said himself that without his wife, he would have been nothing. His wife taught him that he was not a mediocre painter. Their relationship was incredible. In 1960-something, Salvador Dali gave his wife a castle. But Salvador Dali couldn't go. Salvador Dali had to ask written permission from her, signed by her, to go and visit her in the castle. Their relationship is really out there. He died in the mid-'80s, but still now he's a very modern character, totally out of the normal pattern. Like going back to the Renaissance painters, he was looking at life in a totally different way.
And he was comfortable aligning himself with a very unpopular government.
Absolutely. But doing the research that I did, it isn't so much that he supported Franco, it's that he wanted to live in Figueres! He wanted to live in Spain. And absolutely, absolutely, if he had to embrace a dictatorship? Whatever. He didn't care. He was the most apolitical animal that you can find. But there was a moment when he wanted to return to Spain-he was living in America-and he knew that Franco was there, but it was impossible to contain his feelings for living in Spain. There was a number of people, writers and painters, that at the time were in exile because in Spain they opposed the regime. But he said, "Fuck that. I'm not going to do that. I want to live in Spain-and if I've got to support Franco, I don't care." He was like that. He was a very egotistical character in a way, but he never hid it!
Spain's chances look good for the World Cup this summer.
Well, we have to see. The expectations are big. But the greatness and the mystery of soccer is actually that: you never know what is going to happen. We hope so! But I prefer to be very cautious. Spain in the last 40 games lost only one-and it was against the United States last year. They were not supposed to defeat us, but it happened. And that is a possibility too: that we can lose to a team that is not supposed to defeat us. Yes, we have a good team. We have a good team. And it's solid. They are mature now. They are ready. But in a championship like this, after the first round it's one match and if you don't win it, you're out. The possibilities are always that they could get eliminated. The U.S. team is my second team, as you may imagine. I've been living here for almost 21 years now, and I push for them. If Spain falls, I'm going to go with the USA!