Monday October 24, 2005
THE highly anticipated sequel to the 1998 hit The Mask of Zorro (MOZ), which made Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones household names, is finally riding into cinemas.
Moviegoers can expect another healthy dose of good old-fashioned derring-do, swashbuckling action and romance in Zorro 2 as Banderas and Zeta-Jones, along with director Martin Campbell, reunite for a new adventure.
Set in 1850, Zorro 2 sees the masked hero (Banderas) thwarting the plans of unscrupulous individuals out to prevent California from becoming the 31st state of the union.
At the same time, things aren’t so peachy on the home front for Zorro aka Don Alejandro De La Vega. Don Alejandro is now married to Elena (Zeta-Jones) and they have a 10-year-old son, Joaquin.
The boy misses his father who is rarely at home and wishes that Dad would behave more like his idol, Zorro. Obviously, the lad has no idea that the two are one and the same.
Meanwhile, Elena gives her husband an ultimatum: choose between his family and his crusading alter ego. When an unexpected crisis forces Alejandro to don the mask again, Elena serves him with divorce papers. Taking advantage of the situation is French aristocrat Armand (Rufus Sewell), who immediately begins to woo Elena.
Alejandro De La Vega aka Zorro (Antonio Banderas) and his wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) doing the tango in Zorro 2.
Trouble at home and at work; what’s a hero to do? Trust the fox to find a solution to all his problems as only he can ? Must be all those years of experience; after all, he has been at this a long time now. In fact, almost as much time has passed out here in the real world as it has in the story.
One of the reasons for the sequel’s delay in getting to the big screen is the delicate matter of finding a good script, a search that took about two and a half years.
According to producer Lloyd Phillips, the script went through many different writers and treatments before the filmmakers hit upon this particular story.
“It’s always difficult,” says Phillips during an international press junket held at the Four Seasons Hotel, Los Angeles, last week.
“In the first Zorro, you bring the two of them (Zorro/Alejandro and Elena) together and that creates a dynamic you can’t repeat for a sequel. So we had to find another type of dynamic, which is what this story’s all about.
“It took a while to get the script right, and then we had to make sure both actors got very excited. The moment both of them said ‘We’ll do it’, we had a sequel,” he adds.
Zeta-Jones, who reprises her role as the fiery Elena, likes the fact that her character has grown and changed, a detail that reflects her life.
The Welsh beauty was an unknown before the first Zorro and playing Elena not only catapulted her to international stardom, it also brought romance into her life.
Zeta-Jones met her husband Michael Douglas while promoting the first film in France.
“My husband saw me in Zorro,” she fondly recalls, “and here I am now with two kids. It was also my first movie in which people saw me and (could) put a name to my face.”
Thus, when she returned to Mexico to film Zorro 2, things were very different. While working on the first movie, she could move around the country on her own but when she was there for the sequel, the actress had to be a part of a three-car convoy when travelling.
Nonetheless, Zeta-Jones is unfazed by all the attention. “It’s one of those cons when there are so many pros, you know? What are you going to do? Go back to Wales? No thanks.”
So how did it feel to slip back into Elena’s shoes after so many years? “It was wild, it was like déjà vu. It was just – my sword, Antonio, his costume ... it was ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe we were doing this seven years ago.’”
Getting back into character was easy enough for the 36-year-old. For one thing, the chemistry with Banderas had always come naturally, so all she had to do was brush up on her skills with the sword.
“It took me a while on the sequel because I had just wrapped Ocean’s 12 and had only a week (to train),” she reveals. “I was a bit rusty but I had three weeks of swordfight training from the first movie, (so) it came back to me.”
For Banderas, returning for the sequel was a delight because he loves the concept and authenticity of the film, which is a throwback to simpler times where minimal special effects are used.
“It’s an added value that the movies have that 1940s and 1950s feel. It is not a movie that’s heavily supported by technology or CGI,” he said in his distinct Spanish accent.
“That was deliberately done by Steven Spielberg (who is executive producer) and Martin Campbell. They didn’t want to make a perfecto movie in terms of effects.”
As in the first flick, Zorro 2 relies heavily on stunt work, which inadvertently became something of an issue with insurance companies when Banderas insisted on doing as many of his own stunts as possible.
“Obviously, there are certain things that I can’t do, acrobatic moves that I could have tried and ended up with a broken head instead. I wanted to try them, but they wouldn’t allow me. But I did as much as I could.”
As gung-ho as Banderas is for the role, the 45-year-old admits that playing the hero can be exhausting.
“It was very tiring because the movie was put together in a way that didn’t allow me to have much rest. When I was not doing dialogue scenes, I was either jumping around or hanging from a crane or harness.
“Work starts at six in the evening and ends at six the next morning. By then, you see people sleeping in the corners, yet you have to be Zorro at six in the morning!”
But moviegoers have nothing to fear as Zorro shows no signs of weariness onscreen. The legendary hero still valiantly rides out to battle injustice with skill, humour and daredevil antics.
In fact, it seems like the seven-year gap between movies and the 10-year span between stories is all in the mind – the masked avenger is every bit the swashbuckler whom we fondly remember.
Zorro 2 opens in Malaysian cinemas on Oct 27.
Catherine gets candid