A different toon

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A different toon

Shrek Forever After marks the fourth and possibly final installment of the uber-popular cartoon franchise. Antonio Banderas, who has won a generation of new fans voicing the ogre’s gallant companion Puss in Boots, talks about life on screen, on stage and at home

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Published: Sat 29 May 2010, 7:32 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:52 PM

Antonio Banderas has appeared in more than 60 movies in two different languages, not to mention his work on stage and on television. He has won untold numbers of awards, and is a fixture on sexiest-man lists in the United States and in his native Spain.

But when people come up to him in the street, they always want to talk about that darn cat – Puss in Boots, the suave swordscat that he voiced in Shrek 2 (2004), recreated in Shrek the Third (2007) and does again in Shrek Forever After, that is currently playing in the UAE.

“Women and men and children will say, ‘I love that cat, do the cat!’” Banderas says. “I get more questions about that cat than I do about Zorro.” Which is gratifying, he admits, because there’s more than a little of the actor in the toon.

“Few people know it, but Puss has a back story,” the 49-year-old Banderas says. “He grew up in the South of Spain, just like me. He’s also an adventure-loving cat, just like me. He loves women. He’s exactly like me.”

Puss loves women and women love him, the actor says. The cat has a bevy of female fans of all ages, but the most notable one is 12 and lives down the hall from Banderas at the California mansion he shares with his wife, actress Melanie Griffith.

“My daughter Stella says that my cat is her hero,” Banderas says. “She has the ears of the cat in her bedroom, and this huge stuffed cat the studio gave us. It sits on her bed. I guess it’s very cool when your father is animated.”

Shrek Forever After finds the titular green ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) signing a magic contract that, for one day, relieves him of his royal duties as King of Far Far Away and lets him be a regular ogre again. Suddenly he finds himself in some alternate Far Far Away in which he doesn’t exist, Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) is a common mule and Puss in Boots is an overweight house cat. As for Shrek’s beloved Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz), she’s a hunted outlaw.

This is supposedly the last Shrek film, but few doubt that if it scores at the box office like its predecessors, a fifth one will be on the cards – plus a Puss in Boots spin-off film may materialise as early as next year.

More than just a cartoon

It was not the character that originally sold him on Shrek 2, Banderas says, but rather the chance to make a movie for his then six-year-old daughter.

“It was finally a film she could see with her little friends,” he says, “along with Zorro, which was very child-friendly. When you’re an actor you want your children to see your work, but unfortunately not all of it is appropriate.”

He and Stella had seen Shrek together, he adds, which only helped sell him on Shrek 2. “I also know that these films are more than cartoons,” Banderas says. “They’re wonderful pieces of art. Shrek is timeless. Generations of children will watch these movies.”

Born the son of a policeman and a teacher, Jose Antonio Dominguez Banderas had his heart set on becoming a soccer star until he was 14. That’s when he broke his foot and, for want of anything else to do, turned to acting.

His stage work caught the attention of the legendary Spanish director Almodovar, who cast him in several films, most notably as the lead in Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (1990). That film brought the young Banderas to the attention of Hollywood, and he made his American debut in The Mambo Kings (1992), going on to make such films as Philadelphia (1993), Evita (1996) and The Mask of Zorro (1998).

A long association with the director Robert Rodriguez has included such films as Desperado (1995) and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), as well as Spy Kids (2001) and its two sequels.

He continues to be busy, currently reuniting with Almodovar for The Skin I Live In, an upcoming horror film in which Banderas will play a man seeking revenge on the man who attacked his daughter.

Banderas has also re-established himself on the stage, earning a Tony Award nomination as Best Actor in a Musical for his performance as a tormented film director in the hit Broadway revival of Nine (2003).

“I love to do a combination of both stage and screen,” the actor says. “I’m absolutely captivated by the stage, and I’m always crazy about going back to Broadway. There’s a sense of community on stage that I don’t find in Hollywood.”

Most of his free time is spent with Griffith and their children, Stella and Griffith’s two children from previous relationships, Alexander Bauer and Dakota Johnson. The actors married in 1996 after meeting while making Two Much (1995).

“My wife is great,” he says. “We’re very strong as a couple. The bond is unbreakable.”

The two have savoured their respective cultures, he adds, introducing each other to the best of both worlds.

“I’ve taken Melanie to Holy Week in Spain, which is a huge celebration with floats,” Banderas says. “I’ve explained my culture to her in detail.

She tells me about the 60s and 70s in New York. It’s fascinating. I’ve also learned the rules of baseball.

Melanie has also opened my eyes to American politics and art.”

Even her problems with drugs, he says, have brought them closer.

“Melanie and I have been through many things during our journey together,” Banderas says, “but one of the true joys for me is spending each day with someone who loves me and who I love very much.

Going through life is what bonds you. We have a history together that is beautiful.”

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