AN­TO­NIO BAN­DERAS

Cool cat with a silky- smooth voice.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

MIL­LIONS of women around the world might dis­agree but An­to­nio Ban­deras still finds it as­ton­ish­ing a ma­jor Hol­ly­wood stu­dio would want him just for his voice.

It’s not that there is any­thing wrong with his voice. His still strong Span­ish ac­cent and in­flec­tion are silky smooth and tend to pro­duce a weak- in- theknees sen­sa­tion from his many ad­mir­ers.

Rather, he finds it ironic his vo­cal tal­ents as Puss in Boots in three of the four Shrek movies, and now its own spin- off are in such de­mand, given that he barely spoke a word of English when he ar­rived in Hol­ly­wood from his na­tive Spain more than 20 years ago.

‘‘ It’s so en­er­gis­ing to go and

play this char­ac­ter which is also a para­dox be­cause I ar­rived in the US with­out even speak­ing the lan­guage and now they call me for the use of my voice,’’ he muses.

‘‘ It’s just one of those strange things that hap­pened in my life.’’

Af­ter be­gin­ning to act at the age of 19, Ban­deras forged a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in his home­land, thanks largely to his on­go­ing as­so­ci­a­tion with out- there di­rec­tor Pe­dro Almod­ovar in ac­claimed films such as Tie Me

Up, Tie Me Down and Women on the Edge of a Ner­vous Break­down.

The pair fell out when Ban­deras bailed out of an Almod­ovar movie at the 11th hour in favour of his first Hol­ly­wood film, play­ing a smoul­der­ing, strug­gling mu­si­cian in The Mambo Kings.

The way Ban­deras tells it, his Amer­i­can ca­reer came about al­most by ac­ci­dent and de­spite the fact his English was al­most non- ex­is­tent.

‘‘ I learned it pho­net­i­cally and that was enough of a prob­lem, not just be­cause you have to ex­press your­self and use your voice as a tool. I couldn’t even un­der­stand the di­rec­tor,’’ he says. ‘‘ I had to have an in­ter­preter.

‘‘ I was so will­ing to play the role that I said ‘ OK, if you want to risk me then I will risk with you too’.’’

His fel­low His­panic ac­tors in Hol­ly­wood in the early ’ 90s warned him he mainly would be of­fered

parts as thieves and drug deal­ers, but thanks to some bold act­ing choices such as play­ing Tom Hanks’ gay lover in Philadel­phia and a will­ing­ness to trade on his Latino charm in The Mask of Zorro,

In­ter­view with the Vam­pire and Des­per­ado, he soon found him­self at the top of the tree.

It was on Robert Ro­driguez’s ac­tion thriller Des­per­ado ( 1995) that he first met his Puss in Boots co- star, Mex­i­can- born Salma Hayek ( both pic­tured). Ban­deras says the fact two Latino ac­tors can now head­line an Amer­i­can block­buster film means com­mu­nity at­ti­tudes have changed.

‘‘ I think we have to put the credit on the Span­ish com­mu­nity that has been work­ing very hard for decades and has an in­cred­i­ble ca­pac­ity for sac­ri­fice for their kids to go to univer­sity,’’ he says. ‘‘ That gen­er­a­tion is start­ing to come out and take po­si­tions of power in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.

‘‘ That also has a re­flec­tion in Hol­ly­wood and now we have a movie for kids, which I think is im­por­tant, in which the he­roes speak with a very thick ac­cent and the vil­lains speak per­fect English.’’

Hayek’s story mir­rors that of her fre­quent co- star. They have ap­peared in six films to­gether. She also left a ris­ing ca­reer in her home­land and ar­rived in the US with lim­ited English.

The cur­va­ceous beauty found her act­ing choices were pretty much lim­ited to play­ing ei­ther the hot tamale or the maid. She fol­lowed her role in

Des­per­ado with a jaw- drop­ping, snake- tot­ing turn as a vam­pire strip­per in From Dusk Til Dawn and the smok­ing- hot ob­ject of Matthew Perry’s de­sire in the limp rom- com

Fools Rush In.

But her de­sire for some­thing more sub­stan­tial led her to co­pro­duce and take the ti­tle role in a biopic of tor­tured Mex­i­can artist Frida Kahlo, which earned her a best ac­tress Os­car nom­i­na­tion.

‘‘ In the be­gin­ning I didn’t even have the sex sym­bol thing – it was re­ally hard to even break into that,’’ she says. ‘‘ But I used it be­cause if you have to choose be­tween be­ing the maid and be­ing the sex sym­bol, then sex sym­bol is a good choice.

‘‘ But then I had to find a for­mula for rein­vent­ing my­self be­cause I could see it wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen on its own and that’s why I pro­duced Frida.’’

The firm friend­ship and the chem­istry be­tween the two leads was part of the rea­son Puss in

Boots di­rec­tor Chris Miller cast the ac­tress in the new pre­quel to the

Shrek movies, which tells the story of Puss and how he teamed with Hayek’s char­ac­ter, thief ex­traor­di­naire Kitty Soft­paws, and child­hood friend Humpty Dumpty ( Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis) to save his town.

The feisty fe­male fe­line, who flirts, dances and fights with the ti­tle char­ac­ter, bears more than a lit­tle re­sem­blance to Hayek, ac­cord­ing to Ban­deras.

‘‘ I ad­mire the ca­pac­ity Salma has had over all these years to be a real fighter and de­fend not only her po­si­tion as a pro­fes­sional but also as a wo­man,’’ he says.

‘‘ In a way, when you see Kitty, that char­ac­ter has been tai­lored around her be­cause that’s what they do in the stu­dio. What you see on the screen – free- spir­ited, independent wo­man, a fighter – that is the Salma Hayek I know.’’

Hayek re­turns the com­pli­ment, say­ing Puss’s con­fi­dence, swag­ger and will­ing­ness to oc­ca­sion­ally look a lit­tle silly is Ban­deras to a T.

‘‘ He has this beau­ti­ful qual­ity of hav­ing a lot of con­fi­dence but that comes with a sense of fun and humour about him­self,’’ she says.

Hayek had al­ways ad­mired the Shrek films but says she has a new­found ap­pre­ci­a­tion af­ter watch­ing them with Valentina, her four- year- old daugh­ter with French bil­lion­aire hus­band Fran­cois- Henri Pin­ault. ‘‘ I was a fan but I never un­der­stood them as well as when I saw them 20 times,’’ she says with a laugh. ‘‘ She [ Valentina] is a huge fan of Puss in Boots, so can you imag­ine how much she brags that her mother got a movie with Puss in Boots. This is re­ally cool for her.’’

Ban­deras says Stella, his 15- yearold daugh­ter with ac­tor wife Melanie Grif­fith, grew up on Shrek movies but her ap­pre­ci­a­tion of them has changed over the years, re­flect­ing the many lev­els of the lauded Dream­works movies.

‘‘ She looks at the movies now in a to­tally dif­fer­ent way and that’s be­cause they are de­signed to ap­peal to dif­fer­ent au­di­ences of dif­fer­ent ages,’’ he says.

‘‘ Now she picks up all of this wink of an eye we have for adult au­di­ences.’’

Ban­deras re­cently rec­on­ciled with his early men­tor Almod­ovar and the two joined forces again for the first time in 22 years to make

The Skin I Live In, which opens in cine­mas on Box­ing Day.

His voice lifts a gear when talk­ing about the man he cred­its with kick­start­ing his act­ing ca­reer.

‘‘ Work­ing with Pe­dro Almod­ovar has been very, very im­por­tant in my ca­reer and life,’’ he says. ‘‘ He made me walk in ter­ri­tory where real cre­ation lives.

‘‘ It’s very ex­cit­ing ter­ri­tory and some­times painful. It’s dif­fi­cult work­ing with Pe­dro Almod­ovar, be­cause he doesn’t like to work with an ac­tor who is com­ing with a back­pack full of every­thing you have done in your life and your tricks.

‘‘ He looked into my eyes and said, ‘ If I am go­ing to rein­vent my­self, then you have to do the same thing An­to­nio . . . if you are coura­geous enough to get out of your­self and into the skin of this char­ac­ter then you are go­ing to be very wel­come here’.’’

PUSS IN BOOTS opens Thurs­day at Vil­lage Cine­mas.

THE SKIN I LIVE IN opens on Box­ing Day at State Cinema.

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