My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 5 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Family Man

From Day and Night magazine in last Friday's Irish Independent

Antonio Banderas is suffering from serious jet lag - not that you'd be able to tell from the level of energy he invests in his interviews to promote Shrek the Third. "This junket isn't so bad because we don't have to defend the product," he says. "Sometimes on these things a journalist will say something harsh about the movie and you think, 'He's absolutely right', but you can't say that because your producer is right there!"

I'm talking to Banderas in the Dorchester hotel in London, where he has just flown into from LA the night before. The Spanish star is taking part in a frantic European promotional tour for the threequel to the mega-successful, pop culture behemoth Shrek (the first two movies have grossed $1.4 billion and sold 90 million DVDs, while Shrek the Third earned $122.5m in its opening weekend in the US).

Banderas reprises his role as the Casanova-esque feline side-kick Puss in Boots, a role that Banderas says he was more than happy to return to.
"I love him. He's kind of dangerous," Banderas says. " He's very irreverent, which is weird for a kids movie, but we're very careful about how far we can go with the character. You don't want to mess up the kids! He's a Casanova, a Don Juan in the body of a pussy cat which is absurd, but because it's absurd, it's funny. I think that contrast between what he is physically and what he is in his mind is a constant source of comedy."

In Shrek the Third, the green ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are reluctantly thrust into the roles of stand-in King and Queen of Far Far Away when King Harold (John Cleese) suddenly (or not, as you will see in the movie) croaks. Proving to be a disastrous and clumsy monarch, Shrek decides to shake off the role by finding the only other heir, the King's teenage nephew Arthur (voiced by Justin Timberlake). While Fiona and her scene-stealing Princess buddies try to foil a coup d'etat by the dastardly Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), Shrek sets off to Artie's boarding school to bring the nerdy teen back to be King, accompanied by his loyal companions Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss.

Banderas relished the chance to develop Puss' character and to deepen his pivotal (and hilarious) relationship with Donkey. "In Shrek 2 we had to introduce the character because he came into the movie to break the group," he explains. "Little by little, the concept of Puss fell into place. Initially, he wasn't to be a recurring character, but he connected very well with audiences and here we are.

"I think he's such a good pairing with Donkey, because, at heart, they are both so lonely. They are sole characters. They don't have anyone around so they have to fight for and conquer Shrek as their only friend."

Indeed, such is the popularity of Puss that a movie spin-off for the seductive kitty is in the works. "It seems it's going to happen," Banderas reveals. " We have the script, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. What I've heard is that it will tell his story from his time when he was little until the time he, probably, becomes a noble killer. It will be fun and will bring more colour to the whole story." Banderas will also reprise his voicing duties in a half-hour TV special called Shrek the Halls, and, of course, Shrek 4, which has just been greenlit by producer Jeffrey Katzenberg.

It can be easy to forget just how long this ineffably handsome and charming actor has been knocking around in this business. Today, he looks deceptively younger than his 46 years, with the only signs of ageing being a few greying chest hairs spurting out of his opened blue shirt. Banderas was born in Malaga in Spain, and moved to Madrid at age 19 to pursue acting. He soon became a huge star at home by making five movies with acclaimed auteur Pedro Almodovar over an eight year period.

Banderas arrived in America in 1990 without a word of English, but slowly built up an impressive resume of work in The Mambo Kings, Philadelphia and Interview with the Vampire. Banderas continued to play a wide range of roles, from the sweaty action of Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, to acting and singing Madonna clear off the screen in Evita. Banderas' star rose higher with his roles in the Spy Kids franchise, The Mask of Zorro and its sequel, and a highly successful stint on Broadway with the musical Nine.

Despite his status as a Latin sex god, Banderas is very much a family man. He has one of Hollywood's most surprisingly stable marriages to husky actress Melanie Griffith (since 1996) and is a devoted father to two children. Indeed, the over-riding theme of Shrek the Third is fatherhood, and, in particular, Shrek's terror at becoming a dad. Was that how Banderas felt when his own daughter Stella came into the world?

"No it was the opposite," he replies. "I was so happy for the whole nine months. I was just waiting, waiting, waiting for my baby. So the night of the birth was one of the most beautiful nights of my life. Just being there to recognise parts of her that are mine, like 'Oh my god, she has the same hands as me'. It was magic. I even remember the exact time she was born, 9.18pm."

As in the other Shrek movies, the lesson imparted in the third instalment is that beauty is on the inside and that we must all accept who we are. It's a philosophy that Banderas is eager to instil in his children.

"I want my children to be free, independent and to have an opinion about things," he explains. "I don't want them to be manipulated. We're living in very confusing and violent times, and I worry more because I have two girls. My step-daughter is now 17, and she's having a hormones festival.

"My 10-year-old Stella is a straight A student, and I don't where she got that because I wasn't like that, or her mother either! In But she gets very upset when she gets a B+ and I have to tell her, 'Hey, failing is fine'.

"I'm afraid sometimes that she thinks the world is ruled by the same perfectionist spirit that she puts onto herself and I don't want her to live life that way. So as a father I seem to go in the opposite direction of most dads. I say, 'You don't have to study so much!'
"I just want them to be strong. I don't want them to find people like Puss!"
What would you do if one of your daughters came home with someone like Puss? Banderas breaks into laughter. "Oh I'd put on my Zorro suit and sort him out," he replies.

Banderas is equally passionate when it comes to discussing his marriage and how he makes it work. "Melanie and I love each other – it's really that simple," he says. "Both of us came from failed relationships and we both learned from that.

"And she's an expert on Hollywood. She was born there, her mother [The Birds star Tippi Hedron] is also an actress and Melanie paid a price for that. She paid for the divorce of her parents. One was in New York, the other in LA so she was like a little package between both worlds.

"When we met each other, we fell in love and we just went for it. I know that people didn't give a penny for our relationship. I remember reading the papers, thinking, 'Wow these people know more about us than we do ourselves'. People actually betted that we wouldn't last three months." He smiles slyly. "I should have taken those bets. I'd be a millionaire now!"

Attitudes in Hollywood towards international stars have also defied expectations in recent years. More and more non-English speaking actors –particularly Hispanic ones - are triumphing in Hollywood, as evidenced in the 19 nominations for polyglots at this year's Oscars. Banderas welcomes that cultural shift, but also sees that change as being somewhat inevitable.

"It wasn't like that when I started out," he states. "I remember shooting The Mambo Kings, and the other Hispanic actors saying to me, 'If you're going to stay in this market, you're going to play delinquents, narcotics traffickers and bad guys. There's no space for us to just play normal characters and heroes and stuff like that'.

"People say, 'Antonio B anderas opened the door for us', but I think that change is due to many different factors, not only from the art world, but also social and political influences. The Spanish community in LA come from countries with a lot of injustices, lots of poverty, hunger, you name it. They work very hard to put their kids in university and all their kids, the second and third generation, have come out and now they can occupy any position in American social life.

"That's very different even from when I arrived there. There's more acceptance of the Spanish community in America, and I just happened to get there at a time when the wheels started to turn in a different direction. It was good for me because I got a lot of roles that were meant for someone else. For instance, Zorro was offered to Tom Cruise before me."

Right now, Banderas is very happy with his lot in life. He has set up his own production company specifically to make film projects in his native Spain and to provide the kind of support and encouragement to young filmmakers that wasn't there when he was starting out. He's also comfortable enough in his career to not follow the safe, easy track.

"I don't worry about box office anymore," he says. "I'm absolutely sincere when I say this: my life is financed. I invest my money. I have more than enough for me and my family, and my kids when I die. So now I'm looking for projects and roles I can chew on.

"I'm very much considering going back to Broadway next [in a musical production of Don Juan de Marco]. I think the best time I had in America was not in front of a camera, but on the stage on that theatre on 49 th Street with Nine. I had a blast for 138 performances and it was just so beautiful to find the material I was looking for in movies, on the stage.

"Theatre is the source of where I am as an actor, it's where I started. But I abandoned the stage for 16 years because I got so caught up in movies and Hollywood.

"And it's risky. Broadway is a merciless place. But it's exciting. If you don't do things you're afraid of, then what's left? You'll be immobile. That's not me. My whole life, I've taken risky decisions and I have to respond to those expectations of myself."

However, Banderas also recognises that he can't work at the same level that he's been operating at up until now. He's content to shun Hollywood glitz and glamour to spend time at home, but also to move away from action roles for material that reflects and acknowledges how comfortable he now is in his own skin.

"It is an age thing, mostly," he tells me, as we get up to leave. "Melanie is 50 this summer and I am heading towards 50 too. We're on the same path. There are certain things that your body asks at certain times and you can't ignore that." He pauses, and then delivers his best feline smile again. "I wasn't always like that. In the '80s, I was very wild. I was much more like Puss in Boots."

Declan Cashin, 2007


No comments: