Not just a Spanish Puss

Antonio Banderas is the voice of Puss in Boots, Shrek’s sidekick and confidant in the successful animated franchise. Renaye D Menasseh spoke to the hot-blooded superstar

Spanish-born Antonio Banderas, who turns 50 this year, starred in five films by Pedro Almodóvar between 1982 and 1990, including Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! He had his first major American role in The Mambo Kings and went on to key performances in Philadelphia, Evita and The Mask of Zorro. He voiced Puss in Boots in Shrek II, returning as the same character in Shrek the Third and now Shrek Forever After—in which Puss starts the movie terribly overweight. Banderas will also play the sneaky feline in a Shrek spin-off, Puss in Boots, slated for release in 2011.

What do you love most about Puss in Boots?
He is mischievous. I love the contrast in size between him and Shrek. Puss is so little. When we were first discussing what kind of character Puss should be, we wondered about his voice. Should it be a quiet voice to match his small body? We decided no, let’s go in the opposite direction. We gave him a very secure voice. In that body, it is very funny. It’s like he has never looked in the mirror at himself. It creates comedy. In the Shrek movies, Puss has done some amazing things. He’s a womaniser. He’ll say “I love you — and I love you and you and you” to the lady cats.

Would it be correct to say that in Shrek Forever After you put a lot of weight into your character, Puss in Boots?
Yes [laughs]—only me and Robert De Niro have put on so much weight for a role in the history of motion ­pictures.

In terms of your career, what does Puss mean to you?
In terms of my career, a lot. When I came to America, I couldn’t speak the language, but when they called me to be in Shrek, they only wanted my voice, which amazed me. I didn’t know the animation process. It was difficult. For it to work you have to get into the character. I was a big fan of the first Shrek. It represents to me the magnificent part of Hollywood and the search for perfection. It is the work of a large team of animators, creative people, screenwriters, producers—and they are all looking for excellence. To be part of that is very beautiful. They are movies that take animation to a very interesting place.

The process is quite interesting. I didn’t expect that. I thought they did the animation, then they put your voice over the top, but that’s not the case.
The very first Puss voice session was the hairball scene. I spent 45 minutes doing strange sounds. When I get in the room and see the people on the other side of the glass laughing, I know we are doing something special.

Shrek pokes fun at popular culture, but Shrek now holds an important place in pop culture.
Yes, indeed. I was looking out the window of my house in New York when the Thanksgiving parade was on and there he was, Shrek, a big balloon floating past, and behind him was Mickey Mouse. So, there you go. He’s a part of pop culture.

Is it true you voice Puss in a number of different languages for the different markets?
Yes. I am the only one of the four characters who does voices in Spanish. I do a version for the Castilian market and I do a version for the Latin American market in Spanish and I do an Italian version. The Italian is the most challenging. They loop it. You have to lip-sync it, so you can’t miss the character’s face movement. The Spanish Puss, he talks with a lisp.

And you are doing a spin-off Puss in Boots movie?
Yes. It is slightly different to Shrek. We go back to the time of spaghetti westerns and Sergio Leone and divided screens. It is much more of an epic than Shrek. Shrek is more supported by fairy tales. We have some fairy tales going on, but it is more of an epic.

Will Puss change at all from how we have seen him in the Shrek films?
No. I don’t want him to lose his mischievousness and edginess. We have to have that kind of edgy side of the character because he appeals very much to a lot of people.

You have a photography exhibit that just opened in New York. How important was that for you?
Very important. It’s fantastic. It has been very well received. I have been taking photos for a very long time, but never showed them publicly. Then the company I have worked with for 14 years with my perfumes saw some of my photos and said: “We will pay you to get into a photo studio.” It is something I never thought I’d do. At first I wasn’t sure about it, but then I had ideas and they didn’t censor me. There are 23 pictures, very iconic of Spanish pop culture—bullfighting, myths, Carmen, Don Giovanni, Goya. It is a very strong, independent, sometimes aggressive point of view of history. We are selling the photos—and the money is going to charities.

You are soon going to work with Almodóvar again [in The Skin I Live In, due in 2011]. It has been 21 years since you worked with him, right?
Yeah. It’s a big issue for me. It is a long time.

Are you at peace with Pedro? Have you forgiven him for taking you through hell?
I don’t care, because the hell is a very creative one. I prefer to go to that painful place, the unsafe place where creation is. I am absolutely open to receive anything from him. Many things have happened to both of us over 21 years, but I will be working with one of the best directors in the world, one of the best creators and filmmakers. He is also my friend. The movie, I can’t say anything about. Pedro called me and said: “Don’t say anything about it. Put it all on me. Tell people who ask that I tyrannise you and you are my slaves and I have a whip and have forbidden you to say anything.” I will go into the film with my heart and mind open and ready to do anything.

Shrek Forever After opens on South African screens in 3D on July 16. Go to www.shrekforeverafter.co.za to see where and when parents and kids can meet Shrek as he tours Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, East London and Cape Town

 

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