Hollywood hunk Antonio Banderas on the Zorro sequel, his chemistry with Catherine Zeta-Jones and more

How important was this role for you?

It was important because I loved Zorro, the persona, ever since I was a kid - long before I had the possibility of doing it. So when Steven Spielberg came up to me at the Oscars - I think it was in 1994 - and said, ĎDo you know Zorro?í I was like, ĎYeah, I know the character of Zorro.í And then he said, ĎWell, would you like to do it?í And I said, ĎWell of course!í And the way we approached the character was important to me. I didnít want him to be completely perfect all of the time, that wasnít interesting to me. But the great thing about the first film was that he isnít Zorro to begin with - Anthony (Hopkins) is and he has to earn it. And we made him clumsy and awkward, a man who failed in front of the audience all of the time, and in that way we humanised him and I think that brought him closer to the audience; he was like an underdog. It was like one of them becoming Zorro and I loved all of those mishaps he went through, it was a source of comedy and I like that.

So how did you approach playing Zorro for a second time?

Well, we said to ourselves Ďwhat are we going to do?í And we had to make sure that we had a strong story.

There must have been talk over the years of making a second film?

Oh yes. But it wasnít an easy thing to put Cathy (Zeta Jones) and myself and Martin (Campbell) together and not only us, some of the key people behind the camera. But when we got it and we got a great script, we were ready.

When did you know?

(Laughs) When I got the script and read to page ten and saw that Zorro is getting divorced from his wife. I was saying to myself, ĎThis is good. This is going to take him to the TequilaÖí You know, he could get drunk because he is devastated to lose his wife and that way he is not Zorro all the time. So we went back to that kind of thing that we had in the first film that I was afraid of losing in the second one. And to be honest, thatís the part I enjoy way more. If Iím truthful, I enjoy playing Zorro more when he is not wearing the mask. Thatís the reality of it. The other part is just too tiring man.

Itís obviously a very physical roleÖ

Oh my God! I suppose itís because Iím seven years older but it took a lot of effort to do all that stuff (laughs). And because Iím a crazy Spaniard and very hot-headed, I wanted to do all my own stunts and we had to get around the insurance company. It was a mess every time I had to jump off a bridge or be on a cable hanging from a crane a hundred metres high or doing this or that, jumping out of a window and things. But if I donít do it, I watch the movie and I feel like a fraud - and I donít like that.

People talk about the onscreen chemistry between yourself and Catherine Zeta-Jones. How do you approach that?

You cannot manufacture that and you cannot intellectualise that because if you do, you become self-conscious and then it doesnít work. Itís something that happened naturally and happened at the first screen test we did together for the first Zorro. We donít talk much about it, we just jump in front of the camera and we go and it happens

Are you appearing in the film ĎEl Camino de los Inglesesí (The Road of the English People) that you are going to direct?

No. I donít think Iím ready to direct myself; Iím very insecure with that. But I feel I have to go back to Spanish cinema in a way. The film is about a group of kids in 1978, at the end of the summer they are confronting the end of their teenage years and itís a reflection about death, in a way, and the passing of certain phases in life. Itís sexual and dark and a strong story. I have my cast ready and my locations are ready and Iím ready to rock and roll.

How is Melanie doing?

She is wonderful. She is very happy because she is working, she is doing a sitcom called ĎTwinsí and Iím very happy because I donít think Melanie deserved to stop, she is such a wonderful actress. But Hollywood is very cruel with women. Not only Melanie, but I see actresses like Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer, they are having problems with the studios and they have to work independent movies. And itís a pity but thatís the way that Hollywood behaves with women, they want fresh flesh all the time and thatís it, thereís nothing you can do about it.