Antonio Banderas is a very passionate fellow, who basically follows his heart when it comes to his career. He is reprising his vocal role as the suave Puss in Boots in Shrek the Third, but the Spanish actor tells Hollywood.com he is happy doing just about any kind of genre movie there is. To him, life is quite an adventure.
Hollywood.com: What is the creative process like on a Shrek movie?
Antonio Banderas: It’s definitely a space of freedom they create for us, very different from other animated movies. I didn’t know much about animation, only what I got from my wife. Melanie played the little bird in Stuart Little and the method they used from that project was totally different to what we do. She said it was very, very tiring. They had to repeat lines again and again to find exactly the sound. This is nothing like what we do [for Shrek]. We basically go free. We do the lines written in the original script and then they say, “OK, you are free.” They want to hear you improvising, changing things. They asked your opinions about things, what the character should do physically--hide behind that tree, go on top of the shoulder of Shrek, what kind of input will that have on Donkey. So a very creative environment. We also have the artists imitate our body language. It’s freaky. The first time you go to the movie theater and see a cat behaving like yourself, doing eyes like this [gives a very arched brow]. Or what I did with my hat or my sword. It’s a very strange experience when you see it on screen. But all that freedom is part of the freshness of Shrek.
HW: Does it surprise you the Puss in Boots character is so popular? I hear there might even be a spin-off...
AB: Yes, there’s going to be a movie between the fourth and the fifth Shrek. Shrek is going to have a trajectory of five movies and then that will be the end of it. In the fifth, I’m actually going to play two cats. Puss has a brother, who is a badass cat! I’m going to invent a voice for him and a totally different way. It’ll be awesome. But in between four and five, we are going to have the movie called Puss in Boots: The Story of Another Killer and you are going to see why he became what he became.[Laughs]. But yes, it is surprising to me. It’s surprising they even called me! I arrived to this country 17 years ago without speaking the language and the fact they called me just to use my voice, is unbelievable! And the fact the character is so successful is even more unbelievable.
HW: Where does the voice come from?
AB: It’s very interesting, when I was doing the first [Shrek], I was actually on Broadway [doing Nine], performing every night. I had to sing 14 songs, two hours and 45 minutes on stage and I was absolutely obsessed with the voice. To do work like that, I basically didn’t talk during the day. I even had a board to communicate with everyone. You don’t talk because doing eight performances a week, forget it. Well, HAIRBALLS! [Laughs]. You go in the studio for two hours doing this [coughing and gagging like a cat spitting up a hairball]. So you ask, how did I create that voice? I created it with a lot of care so at night I could sing.
HW: Well, the Puss persona fits you perfectly.
AB: In the beginning, they showed me pictures of him and I asked how big the character was going to be. They said he’d be just coming up to Shrek’s knee. The initial idea was to do a voice that would fit the body and would sound [using a little voice] just like this. But I was like, “No, no, let’s go in the opposite direction. Let’s provide him with a voice NOT coming out of the body.” Like Shrek, Puss never had an opportunity to look at himself in the mirror, so he thinks he’s six feet tall. They told me I didn’t have to fake my accent, that it was perfect. After that, it was just scene by scene, accommodating the voice to what you think it should be. He’s a womanizer, acts with a lot of arrogance, a Don Giovanni. Of course, I had the opportunity of laughing at myself, laughing at characters I have done like Zorro. And I think nowadays that is a very healthy thing to do. I guess some might think, “Oh my god, I cannot damage this character I did before. My career, my career...” But I don’t care so much about career. It’s just fun. That’s the point of it.
HW: You don’t care much about your career?
AB: Not really. I see many actors, whom I respect very much, too worry about their career. They get offered things that they would love to do but they can’t because it would affect the perception that the people have of them. So they reject in order to preserve an image, a career. And I always saw that as an act of narcissism, professional narcissism. I HAVE to preserve this, I HAVE to do this, I HAVE to offer this image, talk in this way, cannot do this or that. I don’t see myself like that. I’m a chameleon. You know, in the old tradition of actors, traveling from one village to village, doing repertoire. I love the possibility of changing, I love the possibility regardless of what the people are going to think of me. If you see my career in America is based on that. It’s based on eclecticism, for ME, specifically. For other actors, it could be different. But for me the essence of being an actor is the possibility to change. For me, so much fun and at the same time, to liberate myself from that suit called “career” in which you HAVE to be that type of person audiences are demanding. It’s not work for me. And it’s an understanding that goes for me beyond the professional world. It’s goes to life. And taking life as an adventure. That took me here in an unbelievable way.
HW: What’s your favorite type of movie to do?
AB: I love musicals! But the traditions of Hollywood musicals was lost quite a long time ago. It’s very strange because still now they are still the most recognizable thing about Hollywood. When you think of Hollywood, you always think of Fred Astaire. Then we did Evita and then movies like Chicago, Moulin Rouge and Dreamgirls come along. And now they are thinking of doing Nine as a movie. [Note: Banderas is also considering starring in it]
HW: Is that one of the reasons you became an actor?
AB: Yes. In fact, I became an actor because of Hair. In 1975, I saw Hair in Spain and it was unbelievable! Franco was still alive and I don’t know how the heck these guys passed censorship. At that time, if a Spanish group had done that, they would have gone to jail. [Mouths drop open] Really! I visited jail one time because I was doing Bertolt Brecht. I remember, like it was happening now, playing Bertolt Brecht on the stage at the university and I could see the shine of the helmets of the cops in the wings. As soon as the curtain went down, we were all arrested. In makeup, EVERYTHING, to the police station. Because it was forbidden, so I don’t know how Hair made its way through but it did. And I saw that and I thought, “I want to do that.” I couldn’t just be a spectator, I had to do that.
HW: When Madonna called you “the most beautiful man on the face of the earth” in Truth or Dare, did you ever think you’d be such a big star?
AB: No way. I was in Madrid and [director] Pedro Almodovar called me one day and said Madonna was here and I told him I had read it in the papers. That she was coming here to do the Blonde Ambition tour. Then he said, “She wants to have dinner with us.” I was like, wow, going meet a superstar, that’s great! So we had dinner with her at the Palace and I saw the camera crews and I thought it was the news! Then I came here to do the Mambo Kings. One morning when I was in the hotel in Los Angeles, very early in the morning, I get a call from Madonna. In the beginning, I thought it was someone just joking or something, “Who the fuck are you?” [Laughs]. She’s like, “It’s Madonna, I’m serious! Listen, I’m doing Evita and I think there’s a character for you, can you come and have dinner?” Then she took me to an homage of Andrew Lloyd Webber in L.A. And I went with her and she was very crass at the table. I couldn’t speak English very well but because of the reactions at the table, especially the women, I figured she must have been saying something really bad [Laughs]. But then the project fell apart. Later, when it finally got picked up with director Alan Parker on board, he asked me, “You like Madonna doing this character or Michelle Pfeiffer?” And I said Madonna because I KNEW Madonna was Evita.
HW: Where are you passions leading you next?
AB: I’m planning to go back to Broadway next year. We are going to do a Don Giovanni on Broadway. I also just directed by second movie [El Camino de los Ingleses (Summer Rain)]. I tried to do the movie in the most free space I could provide myself with. The movie is totally back to box office, to critics. When I direct a movie, and I’ve only directed two movies in my life [this one and 1999’s Crazy in Alabama], I find it way more personal. Actors have another word to define what they do: Interpreter. And it’s true, you interpret ideas of someone else. But when you are a director, you are telling people, “This is the way I see the world. How I see relationships, events.” And I’m not totally all about realism. I love the poetic side of movies, something that we lost a long, long time ago. And if you want the truth, doing Puss in Boots provides me with financial freedom to go to Spain, put the money on top of the table and say, “This is the movie I want to do.” I could have spent the money playing golf but I chose this instead!