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Nine lives

Antonio Banderas, who plays Puss-in-Boots in Shrek 2, has lived numerous lives as an actor.
LOUIS B. HOBSON, Special to The Free Press   2004-05-25 02:55:20  

HOLLYWOOD -- In Shrek 2, Antonio Banderas provides the voice of the self-styled feline assassin Puss-in-Boots. If he really were a cat, Banderas, 43, would be entering his fifth life and it has him purring loudly.

As a teenager, Banderas was a stage and television actor in Madrid.

In 1982, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar turned the hunky 22-year-old into a movie star when he cast Banderas as a gay Islamic terrorist in the outrageous comedy Labyrinth of Passion.

It was Almodovar's 1986 scorcher Matador that first introduced Banderas to American audiences, but it took six more years before he would make his first American film, The Mambo Kings.

He had already made 32 films in Spain and Europe.

Because he spoke no English, Banderas had to learn all his dialogue for The Mambo Kings phonetically, but by the time he played Tom Hanks's lover in Philadelphia in 1993, Banderas had learned enough English to be on most studios' and directors' radar.

He quickly relocated to America where, in 10 years, he made 22 films, including Interview With the Vampire, Desperado, Evita, The Mask of Zorro, Once Upon a Time in Mexico and three Spy Kids films.

Last year, Banderas starred in the Broadway revival of the musical Nine, winning a Tony nomination for best musical theatre performance.

"The last five years before I did Nine, I worked a great deal in order to buy my financial freedom. I was frantic and there's no question I made some mistakes in my choices of movies," says Banderas.

"I'm not all that sorry because I am now in the position to do only projects for myself."

The first of those projects was Nine.

"It is one of the most personally rewarding things I have done in my entire career. It was going back to my roots. I am an actor because of the theatre, not because of movies.

"Nine ran for 228 performances and I never missed a single one, even though it was physically and vocally a very demanding role.

"They wanted me to take the show to London, but I was exhausted. I lost 12 kilograms doing the show. By the end of the run, none of my costumes fit properly. My pants were falling off. So I knew it was time to call it quits."

Banderas says, "There is talk of a film version of Nine, which would be wonderful. I would do that one in a heartbeat."

He has already agreed to return to Broadway in the musical version of Death Takes a Holiday -- a show being scripted, directed and produced by the team behind Nine.

It was while he was starring in Nine that Banderas got the offer for Shrek 2.

"The part was written as a French swordsman, a la The Three Musketeers, but my voice is too distinct, so they immediately agreed to rewrite him, playing off my Zorro character.

"I love spoofing myself, as I've shown when I did the Spy Kids movies, so Puss-in-Boots was a delight to do."

It was also far more demanding and frightening than Banderas could have imagined.

"It's like flying blind.

"I never met any of the other actors on the film and I didn't even get tapes of what Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers were doing in our scenes."

Banderas says the cast of Nine knew which days he'd been in a studio working on Shrek 2.

"Puss-in-Boots does a lot of screaming and screeching, so it would take a bit of a toll on my voice."

Banderas says since last October, he has turned down several film offers, but one offer he couldn't refuse was to get back into the mask for Zorro 2.

"We are going to start filming on July 26 in Mexico and will shoot right until Christmas.

"It's been seven years since the first Zorro and we've had several false starts because the scripts were never that good.

"This new one is excellent. It's a little more mature than the first one because it plays with the themes of jealousy."

He says that doesn't mean it won't also be funny and slapstick.

"The humour is necessary to make my character likable and more sympathetic.

"I had hoped there would be a cameo by Anthony Hopkins in a flashback sequence, but we just learned that's not going to happen. But Catherine (Zeta-Jones) is definitely back.

"Now we have to cast all the new villains, because we killed off all the originals."

Banderas says he hopes Anthony Colangelo will be available to play Zorro's son in the sequel. The child actor starred as the young version of Banderas's character in Nine.

Though Banderas' wife, Melanie Griffith, was starring on Broadway in Chicago at the same time he was in Nine, he says they have no plans to star together in film or on stage.

"I've never liked watching real-life couples play couples on screen or on stage. It takes me out of the story.

"I would like to direct Melanie again. That's something we are talking about."

Banderas directed Griffith in the 1999 comedy Crazy in Alabama.

"Directing is another priority of mine.

"I have optioned a book called The Way of the British Ones that is set in my hometown of Malaga in the 1970s. I want to direct it in Spanish on a small budget."

He says another priority is to work again with his old friend Almodovar.

"The fact we haven't worked together for so long is entirely my fault. I turned down the role in Kika in 1992 and passed on his newest film, Bad Education, but he knows I want to work with him again and I know he will write another great role for me."

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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