Follow Us on Twitter

Puss in Boots – Antonio Banderas interview

Puss in Boots

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ANTONIO Banderas talks about his love for the character of Puss in the Shrek franchise and its new spin-off Puss in Boots as well as his career and how starring in both this and The Skin I Live In during the same year is a bit of a metaphor for how it has panned out.

He also discusses working with co-star Salma Hayek and how their friendship helped in the recording booth.

Q. Are there any similarities between you and your character?
Antonio Banderas: Well, I adore this character. It would be very bad for me just to say that I have similarities with him because I really think that he has values that I don’t. He’s just too courageous and I am not that courageous in my personal life. I try to be, but it’s hard. What I would say is that I think that creative people, scriptwriters, our director and everybody who is involved in the movie, they try to get from you a lot of your own personal features. So I may have something of my character, and also they made references to characters that I have played in the past like Zorro, Desperado, The 13th Warrior, epic characters that I have played. So, I suppose that there is something there, because I have been doing this for 10 years, not only just when we are recording the voice, but also when we are travelling all around the world we learn about each other, about our sense of humour. So, more and more I can see a little bit more of me every three years in this character.

Q. Did you have a strategy for developing the Puss role over the years?
Antonio Banderas: Yes, definitely. But for me that came almost 10 years ago, when the character was given to me. It’s when you had to make choices that were going to determine the personality of this character. My choice and the choice of the people that I had around me at the time… I was actually in New York doing a play on Broadway and I remember having a meeting and being told: “Well, here we have a cat that is very little, what type of voice would I use for him?” I could have done it like this [mimics high pitched voice] and done it in that kind of voice, but I think the choice that we made to go completely in the opposite direction… not even using my normal speaking voice, but [slipping into character] using something deeper and more breathy.

It was a very interesting choice at that particular time and it helped to establish the limits and the parameters of the character in terms of personality. It’s almost like a lion trapped in the body of a little cat and that gave him something completely different. I remember after that decision the scriptwriters and everyone who was attached to the movie started delivering the character in a totally different way. I remember, originally, it was quite a little character but they saw different possibilities and started growing him in that direction. And so what we have been trying to do is just to expand that kind of personality but also to open doors for him to go to places that we don’t expect.

Q. At what point during the portrayal of Puss that first time did you realise you’d hit upon an iconic figure?
Antonio Banderas: I don’t know if I’ve got to that point yet. I’ve played the character four times and spent almost 10 years working on the character. But what I know is that it was really rewarding to see when we opened Shrek 2 and we were at the Cannes Film Festival in competition and the movie just got a round of applause in the middle of this festival. We were there with some very serious and strong movies and suddenly everybody was talking about a cat. That was cool. And then at that time Jeffrey [Katzenberg] started thinking about a movie. I was invited to participate in [Shrek] 3 and 4. I don’t know… I suppose at this particular time we are at that point where audiences all around the world will decide if the character is going to have a longer life or not. It seems as if they will respond. In the United States, the response has been great and it has been unbelievably surprising in Russia! Our movie is the third biggest box office in the history of Russia. So, we are very happy with the character.

Q. What films inspired you when you were younger?
Antonio Banderas: I loved Peter Pan, I didn’t know about the fairytale actually, I saw the movie when I was very young and it made a huge impact on me. It doesn’t mean that I have a Peter Pan complex because I grew up and I am responsible and I have a family [laughs]! But I just loved the adventure of that, and the possibility of not growing up at that particular time when I was about seven, eight years old was good really.

Q. At the beginning of the movie, Puss recalls his aliases and nicknames. So, what were your nicknames when you were growing up?
Antonio Banderas: I was talking about the fairytale that I loved when I was a teenager… Peter Pan. But there was another one that had a relationship with me! When I was a little kid, when I was six or seven-years-old, thank God nature corrected it, but my ears were kind of like this [pushes them forward]. And so, at school everybody called me ‘Dumbo’. But don’t please use it here in the future! But they are corrected now without any work.

Q. You’ve worked together with Salma Hayek on-screen as actors, and now you’re in a recording studio, so how much more challenging is it to build a relationship in a recording studio?
Antonio Banderas: Well, we know each other very well. When I knew what lines were coming and I knew Salma would be saying them, I knew more or less what she was going to do with those lines, so I just tried to bounce off her. We fight very well on-screen I think. We can produce a lot of comedy in the soft fights between a man and a woman and by sticking to the rules of what we do. I know Salma is a very independent, free-spirited, fiery and sexy [woman], of course, so I knew how she was going to play those lines! So, I just tried to bounce that back knowing that I was working within the parameters and limits of my character. I didn’t want to push her down, either… he’s not a macho character. He likes to have a woman in front of him that can fight as hard as him, or dance.

Q. How was working with Robert Rodriguez and Salma on those Desperado movies?
Antonio Banderas: I remember at the end of the second Desperado, we were hanging from a crane in Mexico 30 meters from the ground with a very thin cable attached to some harness… We were bouncing from one side to the other and the crane was creaking. We were like: “Oh my God, we’re going to die here!” And she [Salma] was screaming to Robert: “I am not a piñata!”

Q. I wonder if any year where you can star in The Skin I Live In and Puss in Boots must be good. How does it feel when you struggled to break Hollywood to be able to mix and match those kinds of roles now?
Antonio Banderas: I think movies serve many different purposes, from light comedies to movies that reflect the complexities of the human soul. This particular year is almost like a metaphor of my career in a way. Having these two movies come practically one behind the other… I mean Puss is so white and so shiny and fun, and the other one is pitch black… it’s literally a dark, disturbing movie.

But that is what I think all actors should accomplish, in my point of view… just to have the possibility of inhabiting those very different universes and everything in the middle. I mean, I just did a Steven Soderbergh movie Haywire where I play a very different character again. You may not even recognise me because I’ve got a beard… it’s this thick [gestures] and I look like an evangelist or something. And also I did a movie with Jean-Jacques Annaud, called Black Gold… and so that is for me what movies are about. I think every movie has a legitimate purpose if they are done with honesty and dignity. I mean, there are people building bricks and houses, or doing whatever, and they don’t want to just go and see by Federico Fellini at the end of the week. They want to have a big bucket of popcorn and go and see the new Spider-Man and have fun with a girlfriend… and that’s fine. But it’s also fine that people go and see movies that are different, that offer something more deep.

Q. What advice would you give to someone to get to where you are today?
Antonio Banderas: It’s a long story. I don’t know, if you’re really at that age… and I suppose that actually at that age I started thinking about the possibility of acting. For me it was the theatre. My father and my mother were very theatre aficionados and they used to take me when I was very young. I just loved the ritual that was taking place there, with some people telling the story to other people who are there to be told a story. I just loved that. There was a moment in my life when I just wanted to jump on the other side of that mirror, and do it myself and be somebody else. At the end of all these years as a professional there’s only one thing that actually moves you and that’s love for what you do. You have to forget the result of that and what it’s going to bring you in your life. You have to make sure that your passion, if you’re making movies, is between ‘action’ and ‘cut’. And in the theatre, it’s between the moment that the curtain goes up and it goes down at the end. Everything else, all the parallel lives attached to that, they may be very distracting at some point. Just love what you do in telling stories to other people.

Read our review of Puss in Boots