Interview: Antonio Banderas & Salma Hayek talk “Puss in Boots” Among Other Things

Photo by Danielle Samaniego

Seeing Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek reunite for the new animated comedy “Puss in Boots” has proven to be a bittersweet affair for film lovers. Some have embraced the “Shrek” spinoff as a lighthearted good time at the movies while others are disappointed the pair aren’t killing Mexican drug lords in a “Desperado” sequel.

The bad news is “Puss in Boots” has absolutely nothing in common with Robert Rodriguez’s Mexico trilogy of guns and corruption. The good news is “Puss in Boots” does have loads of comedy and action, albeit family friendly. This sits just fine with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek who feel that a good balance between darker and lighter fare is the best way to please as wide an audience as possible.

The two actors recently revisited San Francisco on a nationwide promotional tour for “Puss in Boots” and entertained questions from myself as well as other local journalists. The schedule was tight and a bit draining on the pair but they were more than happy to get the word out on “Puss in Boots.” Another cause for celebration, the film enters its second weekend of wide release today with no other family entertainment in sight.

The following is my conversation with Banderas and Hayek where we discuss cats, going crazy in a sound booth and the many ways Salma can rock a panther bikini.

Q: What was your reaction when you found out Puss in Boots was getting his own movie?

Banderas: It was a mixture of emotion because the news was given to me at the Cannes film festival right after the premiere of “Shrek 2.” Mr. Katzenberg saw the reaction of the people and said that the character had a lot of potential and wanted to explore the possibility of someday making his own movie.

Q: You’ve both collaborated several times before. Do you remember your first impressions of each other?

Hayek: We met at the “Desperado” screen test in Los Angeles and I was super excited because it was the biggest break of my life. I remember it very well because my dreams were about to come true and I was going to meet Antonio Banderas. He was super nice and calmed my nerves but apparently he had to do that with all those other girls who came in to audition. I remember it really well and he says he doesn’t remember it until a week later when I showed up to the set in a bikini.

Banderas: That I remember very well. I remember a woman coming toward me in slow motion in a panther bikini and I thought, wow!

Q: Since you two met shooting “Desperado” that brings up the obvious Robert Rodriguez connection. Do you both plan to work with him again and what’s it like on his sets because he tends to shoot very fast.

Hayek: For me, it was my film school and he has great chemistry with Antonio. They’re both very fast so I’m always trying to catch up.

Banderas: I think the worst enemy for an actor is to be self conscious and Robert helps us with that.

Q: How energized do you get when you’re recording the animated voices in the sound booth?

Hayek: You can’t help it. I’m Latin so I can’t help but move all the time. British people might be able to say the lines and not move but not me. When you’re doing the voice, everything’s coming with it.

Q: You were talking earlier about being paired up and working together a few times. I’m sure a part of it is the Latino connection. Since the “Desperado” days, the mid 90’s, how have you seen things change for Latinos in film? The world has obviously changed but have things changed in Hollywood?

Banderas: It has to do with how people are raised in the Latino community. I’ve noticed that generations of people who came to this country under difficult political or social situations are looking for a better life and have to perform work they didn’t do in their own country. They work very hard for their kids to study and be somebody and those generations that went to universities started to come out and occupy positions of power and that definitely has had a reflection on Hollywood. When I came here 21 years ago it was totally different. I remember people telling me when I was doing “The Mambo Kings” if you’re going to stay in this country as an actor you’re going to play a lot of bad guys. Now it’s normal for the hero to have an accent not just for Latino kids but also for Anglo kids to see that a hero can have an accent.

Hayek: I also think that in “Desperado” Antonio was the first Latin hero in movies and now he’s the first Latin hero in animation.

Banderas: We all do what we have to do but I never felt representative of those things. I have enough of a burden representing myself but if it’s opening doors for other people to do other things then it’s a good thing.

Q: I just saw “The Skin I Live In” and am curious if you both plan to work more in Spanish language projects.

Hayek: I just did a movie with Alex De La Iglesia. It’s coming out at the beginning of next year.

Banderas: Making a new movie with Pedro Almodovar (“The Skin I Live In”) is a return to my home and my language so it’s like returning to a family.

Q: The movie’s pretty messed up too.

Banderas: Oh yeah. There’s white, black and this movie is pitch black. I don’t judge movies based on how dark they are, only if they’re good or bad and I think it’s a good movie. I also think this is the movie that is going to change my career. Almodovar had me start from scratch and wouldn’t use any of my actor tricks to wink at the audience that I was playing a bad guy. We were both reinventing ourselves with that film.

Q: What’s the one film you feel is the most underrated in your body of work?

Banderas: “The 13th Warrior.” This was a quest movie before “The Lord of the Rings” and it came out of nowhere. There were a lot of problems on that set that I would not like to reveal because Michael Crichton (the author of “Eaters of the Dead” which the film is based on) is not with us anymore but there were definitely problems there that didn’t help the movie.

Q: Typically voice talent in animated movies record their dialogue separately but the chemistry between you two is so on. Did you record together?

Hayek: At the beginning we did it separately and thank God because it was my first time and I got to build some self confidence and create the character. It was nice to be in the intimacy of the studio with the director. Once we created the character then I got the great opportunity to work with Antonio and improvise with him.

Q: Was there a lot of ad-libbing?

Both: Oh yeah.

Banderas: They had to stop me.

Hayek: Yeah, we went a little crazy.

“Puss in Boots” is now playing in theatres nationwide.