Antonio Banderas for “Shrek 2”

The person most surprised that he steals the new Shrek from the likes of Myers and Murphy, is the actor responsible for some scene-stealing: Fast-talking Spaniard Antonio Banderas. “Really? Do you think so? When I saw the movie, the character that made me laugh the most was donkey,” says a modest Banderas, laughingly.

But the actor does get the most laughs in his unique take as Puss ‘n’ Boots, who begins as an assassin-for-hire and ends up joining Shrek and Donkey on an adventure to save Princess Fiona from marrying a dastardly Prince Charming [Rupert Everett]. In naturally high spirits as we chat in a Beverly Hills hotel, Banderas says that he didn’t quite discover his hidden feline. “At the beginning, when I first got on this film two years ago, they said to me that the guy was thought to be French, kind of a D’Artagnan, from Three Musketeers but obviously, once I jumped in there with my accent, he became Zorro,” the actor recalls.

The actor’s Zorro character became a template for his purring feline, and Banderas recalls being surprised that he was able to inject as much of his own input as was allowed. . “I didn’t know that the movie is so related to the actors. I thought it was going to be more a process like just repeat this line until the line got totally perfect. I probably did because it’s so technologically based that I thought it was going to be almost like being in a tube without any kind of creativity but it was not like that at all.”

One wonders whether Banderas’ attraction to Shrek 2 was based on an innate desire to make a film for his daughter, 8-year Stella. “No, actually. I have to say that I am a fanatic of Shrek 1. My daughter may have seen the movie two times but I saw it like six. I just love it and thought it was beautiful But I wouldn’t base my whole entire career in my daughter. I mean, three Spy Kids, now this cat, it would be kind of weird,” Banderas says laughingly.

Two years after first laying down his voice tracks and having seen the final Shrek, Banderas says he was surprised by the final film. “What surprised me the most is that we were working in solitude and didn’t have other actors working with us. Even when I sung La Vida Loca, I sung my part totally independently of Eddie, so it is nice just to see it all together. Not is the animation fabulous, but just the interaction among all the actors sometimes even stepping on the lines of each other is something that we didn’t do when we were recording it. How they edit it, was masterful.”

Jose Antonio Dominguez Banderas, who was born and grew up in the Spanish city of Malaga, says that he, too, was brought up on some of the classic fairy tales that inspired the Shrek films. “In Spain, Puss in Boots is called El Gato Con Botas and he’s a very, very famous character for kids. Many of the characters that appear in the movie are international fairy tales in Spain which helps the movie because everybody recognizes those characters. If there is a word that defines this type of movie, and not just the second one, even the first one, is wit.”

Banderas may not have made Shrek to appease his daughter, but fatherhood is enabling the 44-year old actor “just to work in a totally different way,” he says. “Since October, I rejected a bunch of movies and I’ve been basically writing and preparing things that I would like to do in the future.” Banderas adds that he yearns to direct, but not in Hollywood, but in his native Spain. “I bought the rights of a novel in Spain and am right now in the process of putting it together.” Banderas says that he has reached a point in his life when it is important to return to Spain and his roots. “It’s just enough time for me to be out of the country and there are the possibilities of going back as a director and also Pedro Almodóvar and I have been in discussions for a year and a half now, of doing a movie that’s an adaptation of a French novel.”

It’s been 15 years since Banderas and Almodovar last worked together [on Tie me Up, Tie me Down], and 13 years since shooting his last all-Spanish film. Returning with an Almodovar film, says Banderas, may prove to be very daunting. “I’m pretty scared actually to go back to Pedro, because he’s a tough director and not an easy guy. He’s very creative, but because he’s the leader of the whole bunch and controls practically everything from cinematography to costumes and makeup, he is one of the directors that actually doesn’t allow you to create very much. In fact, I remember the times that I was working with him, I used to say, ‘I have an idea’, He’d say ‘No, no, you don’t have ideas. I have the ideas. You just come here very fresh in the morning, very happy and I will direct you.’ But when you have a director that has the talent that he has, you immediately jump into that pot and you don’t care. If a director that I don’t trust comes without a story, I will say no way. If you want to do it like that, I’ll go home and then I want to have my input. But if it’s Pedro Almodovar, I’ll allow him to do it”

But before returning to where it all began, Banderas is finally set to star in the long-awaited Zorro 2, which he confirms will begin shooting on July 26. There’s no Hopkins, but Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose Hollywood career was truly cemented with the first Zorro, is back, as is original director Martin Campbell. “Last night I had dinner with Martin and they’re putting together the whole thing now. But it’s green lit, we are going, and on the 26th of July, principal photography starts.” Comparing the sequel to its predecessor Banderas says the new film “is a little bit more mature. It still keeps the adventure feeling and it keeps us with a hero, which I think is fundamental for Zorro. But this one is more based on jealousy and concepts that are more for us than for kids.”

Banderas is not only at the pinnacle of his success as an actor, but says that his nearly 10-year old marriage to Melanie Griffith is stronger than ever. “To be married in our profession is not an easy thing, as there are too many beautiful people around, very interesting people. It’s just a matter of really being patient and probably having the capacity and the faith of falling in love with your own wife again, which happened to me,” Banderas confesses. “It’s almost like a fire that you just feed with little pieces of wood, little by little and then if you cross a certain line around the sixth, seventh, eighth year, everything becomes easier. We are now actually living a beautiful time together rediscovering amounts of things that are not probably related to passion, but to some things that are more mature, that start driving us to maturity in a nice way. I don’t know how to explain it actually, but it’s a feeling and more a sense that goes to family which is cool”.