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Shrek 2 - I'm going to have to work very hard to overcome this cat!

Feature by: Jack Foley

ANTONIO Banderas has become one of the coolest cats in Hollywood this Summer, thanks to his scene-stealing vocal turn as Puss in Boots, in Shrek 2.

The Spanish star is clearly having a wail of a time in the animated sequel, appearing as an assassin-turned-ally to the green ogre and his talking donkey, in what looks set to become one of the biggest movies of the year.

And, according to executive producer, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was speaking at the London press conference for the film, the actor needed no persuading, when it came to being cast in the role.

"Literally, I called him up, and said, 'Antonio, we're making Shrek', and he said 'yes!'," he explained, with a laugh, after which Banderas immediately pounces on the opportunity to expand further.

"People have asked whether I did it for my children, but that's not the reason I did it, actually. It's a nice thing to do, and it's great to go with your kids and for them to see that you are a part of it - I suppose my daughter will remember one day that she went to the opening of Shrek with pappy, and that's nice.

"But I did it because I was in love with the first one. So all I had to hear on the phone was the magic word, ‘Shrek’.

"And it was a joy from the beginning, just to be a part of this family. I actually have the first Shrek at home. And while my daughter has probably seen it twice, I've seen it ten times!

"I think it was totally different to any animation movie I have seen before; it was another type of take.
When we did the second part, I understood why the first one shined so much and was so fresh."

The subsequent process of filming the role also took the star by surprise, for he candidly admits that his wife, Melanie Griffith, came home weary each night, after providing a vocal part for the Stuart Little movie, because she had to say the same line 80 times.

"But that was not the feeling that I had. We did a lot of improvisation, or if the scene was already set up and had storyboards, for example, we tried to repeat the scene in many different ways, to give them as much material as we could.

"Having that level of input was very important to me, because I was able to understand how it all works. The creative team used me a lot; not just my voice, but also my creative skills, and it was actually terrific fun."

Asked whether he did any specific research for the role, and how he attempted to build the character, Banderas merely laughs and retorts, ‘no, there was no special research, like looking at cats all day long’.

"Actually, to be fair, I had an advantage over the people who did the first one, because I had a reference point; I knew what type of movie it was already," he confessed.

"So I knew I had to just compliment, in a way, the first cast, because those were the ones who actually set up the tone of the movie. All I had to do was jump into the character."

That said, there were difficulties, not least when putting together ‘the fur ball scene’, as he reveals:

"At the time when I started recording the commentary, I was on Broadway, singing every night, and I encountered a couple of problems, especially on the day of the hairball.

"It was 45 minutes of coughing up a fur ball, you know, so when I got to the theatre, I was working with 16 ladies, and they said to me, 'rough night, huh?' 'No, the guilty is a cat!'"

For the producers of the movie, the casting of Banderas was a dream come true, particularly as it allowed them to parody the actor’s own swashbuckling performance, in The Mask of Zorro.

But it was one of many successes in the story of Shrek, which shows no sign of easing up. The sequel has broken records in just about every country it plays, and has allowed Katzenberg and co to realise their ambition of telling the story in full.

He revealed: "The first film was such a risk, because it was such a departure from anything anyone had ever done before in animation, and it’s one of our secrets that we were all way too scared to ever admit to anyone, that there is actually a larger story to Shrek.

"But now you have now seen two of four chapters. If you actually look at it, you sort of see that Shrek 1 left open a very large question. Who was Fiona and why was she locked away in this castle guarded by a fire-breathing dragon? And who had put this spell on her? And what are the consequences of this spell having been broken by an ogre, as opposed to her promised Prince Charming?

"Two literally starts where one ended, and proceeds to answer a lot of questions about one.

"The other two chapters - three and four - we are working on now, and each of them go to complete what is ultimately the full story, when the circle will be completed.

"We will ultimately come back to where we started, with Shrek, which is in the swamp, and how he got there. But I can't tell you any more than that."

In the meantime, the challenge for Banderas and co is to continue to meet the high standards set by the first two films in the franchise, as well as breaking away from the personas they are rapidly becoming known for.

Banderas, himself, begins filming the sequel to Zorro this Summer, but freely admits that ‘I'm going to have to work very hard to overcome this cat!’

It all seems to be working out purr-fectly for him!

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