LOS ANGELES -- Some sequels seem fated by unconscious acts. Antonio Banderas, for example, kept his sword from 1998's The Mask Of Zorro. Why, he's not sure.
"I didn't practise very much during seven years. We (he and wife Melanie Griffith) didn't have an intruder in the house or anything like that," he says, talking up his return to the mask and cape in the long-delayed followup The Legend Of Zorro.
"It is true that swordfighting is like riding a bicycle, once you do it, you never forget. But you do have to refresh. We have new choreographies. It is a dance. A dance with an edge -- and that edge is potentially very dangerous.
"It was much more painful this time because I'm 45. And when you crash, your bones start telling you you're 45. But also this movie is harder than the first in other aspects."
These days it's hard to tell what 45 is supposed to look like. But the fit, tanned guy in jeans and denim shirt sitting in front of me is hardly a case study in middle age, despite what his bones say.
He is correct, however, about The Legend Of Zorro
being a bigger fish. It was a sequel that seemed to not want to happen, despite the original's $200 million box office and obvious audience appreciation of Banderas as Don Alejandro de la Vega (a.k.a. Zorro, the swashbuckling hero of old California) and a then-unknown Catherine Zeta-Jones as his fiery leading lady Elena Montero. Money talked some more in the form of DVD sales, to the extent that the exec producers (among them a guy named Steven Spielberg) decided to make it happen.
With nearly double the budget of the original (some of it to pay the much higher salary commanded these days by the Oscar-winning Zeta-Jones), The Legend Of Zorro has more of everything, including sword fights, explosions, runaway trains and evil villains -- bent this time on bringing the U.S. to its knees.
"There is a moment you feel the movies don't belong to you anymore," Banderas says. "They belong to the audience. And a movie like this, the audience is the one that decided in the end if there is to be a sequel or not.
"There were many of the same people, not only the people in front of the camera, but the same cinematographer, the same art director, the same casting director. It was kind of a family thing."
A family thing indeed. In this movie, Alejandro and Elena are now married and have produced a 10-year-old mini-Zorro, a son Joaquin, played by Mexican child actor Adrian Alonso (the movie was shot in San Luis Potosi, Mexico). Unlike the original, in which villains -- notably Anthony Hopkins -- were dispatched by stabbing thrusts, there is no bloodshed in this movie, the better to snare that elusive PG rating.
It's in keeping with Banderas' family-man image these days. After all, the Spanish-born actor -- who has a young daughter, Stella, from his nine-year marriage to Melanie Griffith -- was a big hit as a thickly accented, swashbuckling Puss In Boots in Shrek 2. He's already at work reprising the character in Shrek 3, and depending on how that does at the box office, there are talks to give Puss his own movie.
"The fact that for me, who arrived in this country 16 years ago without speaking the language, that they want to use me just for my voice, kind of makes me proud somehow," Banderas says.
"My daughter definitely prefers Puss In Boots. But when we were watching Zorro, she was elbowing me all the time and saying, 'Is that you, Popi?' And every time it's a stunt (with a stuntman), so of course I say, 'Yes!' "
Which is not to say that his entire career will be PG. Banderas, whose wife starred in his directorial debut (1999's Crazy In Alabama), will be taking to the chair again to direct El Camino de los Ingleses. The movie will shoot next month in Spain with an all-Spanish cast.
"Spanish actors, Spanish production, everything's Spanish," says the actor, who was first noticed in raunchy Pedro Almodovar films like Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
"I need to do it. I have been so much out of the Spanish film for a while, they didn't feel good about my persona of just working in America all the time. It was like a duty. It is harder, darker, more sexual than the movies I have done here."
He's also wrapping up co-starring in the dark indie film Bordertown for director Gregory Nava, again filming in Mexico -- this time with Jennifer Lopez.
"I play a Mexican journalist investigating murders, and she's also a (Latina) journalist but she wants to be American and grows her hair blond, the kind I have seen in this country. At the end she has to recognize her origins and meld with that."
Also in the works, a Broadway musical version of the Johnny Depp movie Don Juan DeMarco. "The plan is to do it using music written (for the film) by Michael Kamen, he's dead now unfortunately, and Bryan Adams. I would go to hell for (director) David Leveaux," Banderas says of the man who directed him to a Tony Award nomination in 2003 in Nine: The Musical.
"What I have learned over the years, is so vast. So many things happened in my life, my personal life, from directing my first movie to going to Broadway. I have done practically every genre, horror movies like Interview With A Vampire, (movie) musicals like Evita, many things, it is true. It gives me some kind of vertigo to think all this happened from the first time I step in this country.
"I don't think it's over, I keep going, working, I feel better than ever."