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'Shrek 2' adds voice work to Banderas' eclectic mix

May 28, 2004


HOLLYWOOD -- When Antonio Banderas arrived here from Spain, he thought his limited English and thick accent might be a hindrance. But talent is talent in any language. During the last 14 years, he has managed not only to conquer Hollywood but Broadway as well, earning a Tony nomination for his 2003 turn in the musical "Nine."

"I recognize myself as a very eclectic actor," he says. "I've done horror movies, like 'Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles'; musicals, like 'Evita'; adventure movies, like 'The Mask of Zorro'; action movies, like 'Assassins,' and social movies, like 'Philadelphia.' I have been on many turfs."

Another turf on which the hunky Spaniard has proven himself is the family film. He starred, for example, as the secret-agent dad in Robert Rodriguez's successful "Spy Kids" franchise. Banderas says making family movies is not only something he can do for his kids -- he has a 7-year-old daughter and two stepchildren -- but also something he finds personally satisfying. Proving he's more than just a pretty face, the actor isn't even seen in his newest family film, "Shrek 2," the sequel to the 2001 Academy Award-winning animated feature.

In "Shrek 2" he provides the voice of Puss-in-Boots, a swashbuckling cat with an uncanny resemblance to Zorro. Puss starts out as a hit man hired to kill Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers), but winds up befriending the ogre and his sidekick, Donkey (Eddie Murphy).

Banderas says he enjoys comedies and sees films like "Shrek 2" as a welcome antidote to grim reality. "We have to provide people with good entertainment that has a soothing effect on everything that we're watching on the news these days," he says. "I consider comedy a very serious thing."

The 43-year-old actor was initially apprehensive about doing animation voiceover because his wife, actress Melanie Griffith, had an unhappy experience voicing a character for "Stuart Little 2." "That was the only reference point I had," he says with a shrug.

To his delight, working on "Shrek 2" turned out to be a good experience. The only complication was that some of Banderas' recording sessions took place while he was still performing in "Nine." "I was singing every night, then for, like, a half hour the next day, I'd be working on a recording where I'm trying to get a hairball out of my throat," he recalls with a laugh.

He enjoyed the opportunity to improvise and build on the character over nine or 10 recording sessions. "It's almost like jazz," says the musically inclined actor. "They saw potential in the character, so they started pushing and changing it. The script we read at the beginning became something else by the end of the process."

Co-director Andrew Adamson, who helmed the first "Shrek," says Puss-in-Boots, the famed ogre-killer in the fairy tale, initially was going to be British, then French. Once Banderas was on board, the character took on a Latin flavor. "Something clicked with Zorro as a cat," he says. "Puss is a combination of confidence and arrogance."

Banderas' one regret is that he never got the chance to work directly with Myers, Murphy and Cameron Diaz, who provides the voice of Shrek's bride, Princess Fiona. Indeed, as of this interview, he had not met Murphy, though their characters share a great deal of screen time and even sing together.

"I started throwing him stuff," Banderas says, referring to his solo recording sessions. "For example, at the end of our song, I start singing falsetto and he starts saying, 'You stupid cat.' And I say, 'You speak Spanish?' He just makes jokes on that. You know he's going to give that back to you."

Banderas says joining the all-star cast for the sequel made it easier to get into character because there was a precedent for the film's tone and humor. "There's a word for it: wit," he says.

Julie Andrews and John Cleese (as Fiona's royal parents), Jennifer Saunders (as the Fairy Godmother), Rupert Everett (as Prince Charming) and Larry King (as an ugly barkeep) are some of the celebrities in the sequel.

Banderas says he was impressed that the animators managed to incorporate several ticks and mannerisms from his other movie roles into Puss. "Even my daughter said to me, 'It's not the voice, Papa. He looks like you,'" says Banderas.

To prepare for the role, he watched "Shrek" about six times and observed his own two cats. "They're very independent animals, very sexy," he says.

Banderas praises "Shrek" for its messages to children about the value of friendship and inner beauty. "Instead of making [Shrek and Fiona] beautiful, they make them both ugly as ogres and they love each other," he says. "The movie is telling you that love isn't only for beautiful people."

Next up, Banderas will reprise his swashbuckling title role in "Zorro 2," which reunites the cast (including Catherine Zeta-Jones) and director Martin Campbell. Production gets under way in Mexico in July.

Entertainment News Wire


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