Antonio Banderas for “The Legend of Zorro”

Banderas is back and he’s having a wow of a time as the classic Zorro character in the long awaited Martin Campbell-directed sequel. About to direct his second film in his native Spain, Banderas was more than happy to talk heroism, swords and family to an eager press in Los Angeles. Garth Franklin reports.

Question: Did you keep the sword from the last movie at your house?

Antonio: That’s right.

Question: So did you get it out of mothballs for this?

Antonio: Yeah. I didn’t practice very much during those seven years in the middle. I didn’t have an intruder in the house. What we did basically, for the second part, is just to refresh everything that we knew from the first time. Somehow, fighting, fencing in general is just like riding a bicycle. Once you know, you never forget but then you have to refresh it. We have new choreographies. But, it’s a dance, that’s what it is, with an edge, actually and that edge is very dangerous if you are carrying a real sword in your hands and once in a while, it could be potentially dangerous.

Question: What was it like to put the mask on for the first time in seven years?

Antonio: It was more painful this time. [he laughs] possibly because I’m 45 now and any time that I crashed somewhere the bones start telling you, you are 45. It was way harder than the first one. Way harder and I suppose that’s not only because I’m seven years older, it’s because the movie was, in that aspect, a little harder.

Question: Would you have wanted it to be sooner than seven years or was this the time?

Antonio: There comes a moment that you have a feeling that the movie doesn’t belong to you anymore. They belong to the audiences and, for movies like this, the audience is the one who decided, at the end, if there is going to be a sequel or not. What supposedly happened is, during these seven years, people demanded Zorro very much and so they sold videos and DVDs more than they expected but, for me, it was important, more than to do one, right immediately after, which, sometimes is kind of cheesy because what you are doing basically is a movie with less budget, trying to use the heat of the first one and just throw it out to make more money with it. That is not the style of Steven Spielberg or the people involved with the movie. They wanted to do a second movie at least with the same parameters of quality that we used when we did the first one. So, they were very keen to find the right script and the right people. The right people are basically the people who made the first one. Not only the people in front of the camera but also everybody behind the camera; the same cinematographer, the same art director, the same costume designer so it was kind of a family scene, going back to it another time. And, on one hand we had to form how the script was made and it was very reminiscent of what we did in the first part. I think we were very keen to do something that reminds you of the way these kinds of Western movies were done in the ’40’s and in the ’50’s, not using so much computer animation and technology and stuff like that. We have some in the train [scene] obviously and even that technology is presented almost like transparencies that were made in the ’50’s, not with such a perfection as they do things now. We wanted to have that kind of feeling and flavour and I think it adds a value to the movie in a world surrounded by new technologies and stuff like that.

And, on the other hand, it’s something which is very contemporary which is we had to put Zorro in a position where he’s not supposed to be and having problems with his family, a quite dysfunctional family at the point when we start the movie. He doesn’t have communication with his son, neither with his wife. He’s just playing Zorro a little bit too much, probably playing more for himself than for the people. And then, what happened there is once we got into that type of crisis, for me, it specifically allows me to go to the side of Zorro that I like most which is the comedy side. I can make the character, in different pieces, make him jealous, make him drunk and make him be in positions that Zorro is not supposed to be. Then, just take all these pieces and put them together to be what everybody’s expecting.

Question: Is this one toned down for a PG rating?

Antonio: I really don’t understand about those qualifications for movies. We were very specific about the fact Zorro should kill directly anybody. Obviously, the two deaths in the movie, the two bad guys, almost accidentally, the first one with the character of McGivens and then the second one, yes, he set up the guy so he’s going to crash against the end of the trail [rails?] but he’s not directly killing him with his own hands with the sword. And we were very keen on not showing any blood in the movie or show Zorro stabbing anybody which, in the first part, happens. In the first part I remember killing Love at the end of the movie, with the sword. But, this time, Steven and Martin Campbell and everybody around the movie were very careful with that type of thing.

Question: Doesn’t that lost a little bit of what Zorro is though?

Antonio: I don’t think so. We have to think also that this movie is going to be seen by kids too. It think it’s important the fact that it’s not so bloody in a way.

Question: You are Zorro basically but was there every an issue like with Pierce Brosnan and James Bond, that you are asking too much money or getting too old. Was there ever a possibility that they were going to put someone else in the role?

Antonio: It may happen now. [laughs]. It may happen that this is the last time I put the mask on but I don’t know. It’s going to depend also on the audience, as I said to you at the beginning.

Question: But there was never a question that you weren’t going to do this one?

Antonio: It may have happened at the studio but I don’t know. I don’t know if there was a debate among the studio people about the possibility of using another actor to play the character or not but I know from like two or three years ago, the contact that I have had with Walter Parkes and the Columbia people, they said to be, ‘we are sending you scripts for your approval’ and it was postponed and things like that so I supposed that they would come to be from the beginning when they conceived the project of the second movie in their heads but I don’t know more than that.

Question: You are repeating another character, Puss in Boots in Shrek Three.

Antonio: We were just recording that.

Question: Do you have a lot of fun doing the voice acting?

Antonio: Yes, because it is totally different than I thought it was going to be. for an actor like me who arrived in this country sixteen years ago without speaking the language and the fact that they called me just to use my voice, kind of made me proud somehow. But, it’s a method that was very unusual from what I thought animation would be. Basically what we do is just improvise. The voice goes first and we improvise around what we have is an excuse . It’s called a script but what it is an excuse to start going somewhere. We improvise a lot and they go away when we do the first session and come back a couple of months later and they show you the first stages of animation and ask you ‘where do you think the character should go?’ which is very unusual for an animation movie. Then we just debate about that and jump into ideas coming out of the conversation. So, it’s a totally different way. I know it’s a totally different way because my wife did a little bird in ‘Stewart Little 2’ and it was totally different. She said to me ‘it’s almost like working in publicity. You have to repeat the line eighty times until they say to you, ‘we have it”. It’s kind of different the way that “Shrek” is done and probably that part of the success.

Question: Does your daughter love Puss in Boots?

Antonio: You bet man!

Question: Is she more impressed with Zorro or Puss in Boots?

Antonio: Definitely with Puss in Boots but the thing is, I didn’t allow her to see Zorro until a very little time ago. When she saw it, she was basically elbowing me during the entire movie saying ‘Is that you, papi?’ Every time that she sees a stunt, she asked me and, of course, my answer is ‘yes’ but it is not true.

Question: Will there be a Puss in Boots spin off into his own movie?

Antonio: Yeah. So far, we are going to do it. It seems that it is going to happen. I supposed that will also be after they counting how much number three is going to make and if the character continues to be appealing to audiences. But, yeah, the latest conversation that I have had with Jeffrey Katzenberg, he is going for it. They are writing a script and taking with directors already and it would be great to see The Story of Another Cure it’s going to be called.

Question: What have you learned in the sixteen years since we first met you?

Antonio: Ah, what I have learned. It’s so vast, so many things. So many thing happened in my life, my professional life, my personal life from directing my first movie to going to Broadway, ‘Zorro’, ‘Evita’, I don’t know, I guess that I became a very eclectic character actor. I have done practically every genre that you may do in this profession. I have done horror movies like ‘Interview with the Vampire’, musicals like ‘Evita’, movies for kids. But it’s true sometimes it gives me some type of vertigo to think that sixteen years happened from the first time that I stepped foot in this country and started doing movies here. Very interesting. Interesting is not a good word nowadays but it has been interesting. I don’t think it’s over. I keep going and working. I feel better than ever, actually.

Question: Why go back to Spain to direct a movie then?

Antonio: Because I need it. Because being out of the Spanish cinematography for a while, it was almost like a duty for me to do so. I didn’t feel very good about my persona just working in America all the time and not giving anything to the Spanish cinema so I just decided to just to put a production company together. I am right now in pre-production and starting to shoot this movie on the 21st of November. It doesn’t have anything to do with the movies I have done here. It is harder, darker, more sexual than movies I have done here.

Question: Sound good.

Antonio: Sounds good, yeah.

Question: Are you going to star in it as well as direct it?

Antonio: No. I don’t feel prepared to direct myself. It’s Spanish actors, Spanish production. Everything is Spanish.

Question: What was Imagining Argentina?

Antonio: Imagining Argentina was a project that failed, totally, the expectations that we had. I supposed the fact that we put together a social, political movie based on reality, a thriller, it wasn’t very appealing for critics and for audiences. I have to recognize that but if it was up to me, would I do it again? I’d say ‘yes’. Even with the same mistakes because I went there with a very specific cause and I would do it again. That’s the way things are. Sometimes it may happen that the movie hits the people in the way that you want it and sometimes not. That’s the story of this profession. That’s the greatness and the miseries of being an actor or just trying to tell stories. That’s the way it is.

Question: Are you going to work again with Almodovar?

Antonio: I told this story before. Three years ago he approached me at the Cannes film festival and he said ‘well, Antonio, we have been fifteen years now without working together. It’s time to go back’. So I said ‘absolutely, yes’. So he proposed to me the possibility of doing a movie based on a French book called ‘Tarantula’, a very strong story, very Almodovar story and I said ‘absolutely, yes’. So, the last times I have been talking with him, he had problems putting the script together. It’s complex. And, I supposed someday when he thinks the story is done, he’ll come to be and I’ll be here for him. I would clear my schedule to work with him again. But, if it doesn’t happen, I will continue being happy and working on my own stuff.

Question: Is ‘take the lead’ a musical comedy or a musical drama?

Antonio: It’s not musical. It’s based on a real character called Pierre Dulaine. He is alive. He was the world champion of ballroom dancing and when he retired he put together a school in Bronx, New York. He brought it into the public school when it had all the problems with drugs and all the problems that public schools have in our days in America. So he decides to go there and talk to the principal and propose to the principal the possibility of integrating the kids into another type of integration through dancing and it was pretty successful. They now have a thousand kids on the east coast dancing. They’ve had some help from the government and different institutions, and it’s proved to be something very interesting for kids to do. Almost from the very beginning the reaction was totally against him. ‘What are you talking about? These are rappers. This was in the projects and people weren’t interested in dance or anything like that, but he proves them wrong, all the people who wanted these guys to step back from this.

Question: Do You Get To Dance A Lot?

Antonio: Not a lot. I’m supposed to be retired [Laughs]. But I dance a tango in the movie just to show off in front of the kids so that they really know what I’m talking about and I’m doing a bit of a waltz, but the kids do and they dance great actually.

Question: It sounds like you’ve got a full plate with work. What happens with you away from work? Anything fun and exciting, travel plans, holiday plans?

Antonio: Holiday is impossible right now. Impossible. I’m not in a holiday mood. Right now I’m in a working mood and I’m going for it. Right after I finish that movie I’m going to come here and do a movie in America. I don’t know what I’m going to pick, but I have several projects on the table, and then I plan to go back to Broadway.

Question: Another Revival Or A New Musical?

Antonio: It’s a new musical, but it’s something that you know. It’s based on a movie that we all know. I don’t have all the cards in my hands, and I don’t want to jump and tell you what it is just in case of the possibility of it not happening with the rights and stuff like that and a variety of situations, but the plan is to make it with the same director as ‘Nine’ and ‘Don Juan DeMarco’ into a musical.

Question: The Johnny Depp Movie?

Antonio: The Johnny Depp movie. Yeah. We’re trying to use the Michael Kamen music, but now he’s dead unfortunately and Brian Adams wrote some things also. I would go to hell if he asked me. We had a beautiful experience doing ‘Nine.’ It is something I would like to repeat. I know the risks of going to Broadway, but this profession is a risk in anyway.

Question: This will be next year?

Antonio: I don’t know. I have to edit my movie. I’m going to finish shooting at the beginning of March. I have to edit into May, June. Then I’ll probably go to some festivals, the movie and I’ll have to go to those. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the movie.

Question: There were rumours that ‘nine’ was going to be made into a movie, right?

Antonio: That is a possibility. Yes.

Question: You would do it?

Antonio: Yes. I would.

Question: You’ve talked about your age a couple of times already. How is it in America with all the actors being twenty? As the sexiest man alive at one time, where does being 45 fit into all of that?

Antonio: I would be very worried if I were a woman. I don’t know if that answers the question.

Question: Your wife is that age. Are you worried for her?

Antonio: She hasn’t worked at the studios in a long time. As many actresses as there are, and I mean amazing actresses, they’re not working. I don’t know if I should say names, but like Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer – people that are amazing actresses and the studios are not calling them anymore. It’s like a fresh flesh thing that goes on here especially with women. With the men it’s a totally different thing. It’s funny, right after the first ‘Zorro,’ Catherine Zeta Jones did a movie with Sean Connery and they were a couple in the movie and it was accepted.

Question: With The 50-Year Age Difference.

Antonio: But if you do that in the opposite direction, you’ve got ‘Harold and Maude’. There’s that restriction with age. It just depends. But for a woman, it’s kind of cruel actually, because it doesn’t happen like that all over the world. I remember Anna Magnani working until the day she died or Simone Signoret – actresses that are as important as the Statue of Liberty. They represent America in a way. They are America in a way. They’re left behind which is something that is very unfair.

Question: And in Spain it’s different?

Antonio: It is. It is.

Question: How does it make you feel to see all of the kids dressed up as Zorro on Halloween?

Antonio: I think that it’s fun and fine especially if they bought the ones that we put in the stores. [laughter]

Question: What about being upstaged in this movie by your horse?

Antonio: [Laughs] No problem. Actually, that horse is nine horses, and I trained with all of them because each one them has a different skill. You have the horses that play drunk. You have horses that run very fast. You have horses that come and run alongside a train. One’s that rear. Whatever. So you have to start a relationship with all of them especially because in the movies time is very important because time means money and they don’t want to lose money. And when the horses start getting a little bit funny everyone gets very nervous. So I try to be as acquainted with the horses as I could, as I did with the sword and fighting too.

Question: Is Melanie still shooting ‘twins?’

Antonio: Yes.

Question: How is family life now that you’re both working at the same time?

Antonio: Yes it is.

Question: How do you do it? What’s the secret?

Antonio: There’s no secret. It’s just recognizing what your profession is and just trying to be very sincere with each other, and with the kids. But that’s it.

Question: She has a website where she puts her diary on there. Do you ever say, ‘Melanie. Enough. Don’t do that?’

Antonio: I don’t think that she’s doing that anymore. There was a time that you might remember where she had a problem and she went to rehabilitation and she made it public and I was right behind her. I said to her, ‘Why are you going to hide this? You can help other people. Use it. We don’t have to hide anything.’

Question: Are you surprised that the two of you are still together especially living in Hollywood?

Antonio: I’m not surprised, but I see some people that are [Laughs].

Question: You have people who are younger that are supposed to be the golden couple breaking up after two years, and here you two are still together. It’s wonderful. What’s the secret to that?

Antonio: I don’t know. Eleven years now. I suppose that we learned very much from the relationships that we had before in our lives I guess. We made probably a lot of mistakes and so we have purposely when we got together, we said that we weren’t going to repeat those same mistakes. I think that there is a quality that people don’t have nowadays which is being patient and giving things time. If you do that you might find a reward at the end of that and the reward may be that you fall in love with your own wife again. If you get past those obstacles and crisis you make yourself stronger.

Question: Whom do you play in ‘Bordertown’ with Jennifer Lopez?

Antonio: I play a journalist, a Mexican journalist.

Question: She’s an American journalist?

Antonio: She’s also a Spanish journalist, but she doesn’t want to play Spanish, which is something that I’ve seen sometimes in this country. She wants to be an American and she goes blonde and all of this stuff, and at the end of the movie she has to recognize her origins. It’s a movie made with very little money a little bit in the same way that we did ‘Imagining Argentina.’ ‘Here we go again.’ We might have a movie that is a failure, but we did it all for a cause that we thought was important. It’s been almost three and a half years of my life in Mexico. I’ve shot seven movies there. I’m conscious of their social and political situations that they have sometimes and it was important for me to not only do movies like this which I’m very proud of, it’s pure entertainment, but I want to do some movies that sometimes might make people reflect about problems that are probably too close to us and too far away from our minds at times.

Question: Are you concerned about the historical inaccuracies in this film? California was taken over… etc.

Antonio: No. Not really. It’s no problem. Look, some people in England and Germany and Paris were a little bit worried that the movie has certain touches, political touches that have to do with the actual situation in the United States. Someone that’s going to come from outside and is going to get into the country and produce the destruction of many people and so on, but at the same time you have the movie start with the election days and they’re trying to be manipulated. Some people might read behind that some other stuff, but at the same time you have the Pinkertons, for example, which is an institution that really existed in the 19th century, and it’s actually what would be today the CIA. And they are bad guys. They are coming from the federal government in Washington, and when I wake up in the jail, I’m like, ‘But you’re the good guys. You’re coming from the government.’ So it’s a little bit of confusion that is the actual state the world is living in. But I don’t consider those things. Believe me, I really believe in this movie for concepts that don’t have anything to do with politics which is epic adventure, romance, and a lot of comedy. For me, this movie wouldn’t be a movie without that comedy and the possibility of taking Zorro and making him absolutely clumsy, awkward and imperfect in front of the audience. That allows me to just be more human. To humanize the character so that the people can connect with him. He’s not a guy who’s perfect. He’s a man that has problems with his own family. That, for me, is important. It’s one of the keys as to why the character might be sympathetic for audiences.

Question: What have you learned from being a dad too? How has that changed your life?

Antonio: I don’t know. I suppose that I learn more from my daughter than she does from me and through my other kids too. I can go back to those years with my own experience and I’ve come to recognize sometimes the problems that they’re going through. I have a stepdaughter now that’s sixteen years old and there’s a hormone festival going on. It’s difficult, but you know that she’s going to cross that.

Question: You don’t send them to a convent school?

Antonio: No. No. She’s now studying here in Los Angeles and my stepson, Alexander, is studying to be a movie director in New York.

Question: How old is your youngest daughter?

Antonio: She’s nine.

Question: Do you have a favourite movie of all time?

Antonio: This year ‘Crash.’ I thought that it was talking about people, which is very unusual.