Cool cat with a silky- smooth voice.
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.