When Antonio Banderas came to America to do the movie The Mambo Kings he didn’t speak a word of English. Just twelve years later he would be chosen specifically for his voice, for the role of Puss in Boots in Shrek 2, and practically stole the movie from Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy. After voicing Puss in two other Shrek movies and a Christmas special, his time has come to star in his own movie.
Puss in Boots tells the feline’s back story, before he even met Shrek, chronicling his adventures with Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) as they attempt to save his town.
Did you see the potential in the character of Puss in Boots from the first moment it was offered to you?
At the beginning [he was] called a recurring character. I didn’t know that it was going to have a long career. The story of the cat has to do with the first choice that we made, providing him with a voice that actually doesn’t match the body.
It goes exactly in the opposite direction, a cat is not supposed to talk like that. And he doesn’t even talk like me, like Antonio, I created a voice for him, he’s set deeper and bigger. And I think in that contrast is the source of comedy.
Is it still fun to play Puss?
He’s such a great character. There are so many different colors that we’ve been discovering since I started giving him my voice in 2002. He’s romantic and he’s an epic hero. He’s got a great heart. He’s got a sense of honor and loyalty – along with a bit of something mischievous that I think just adds an edge that is interesting.
The kids love that, too, that side of him. But when he started in the Shrek movies, we really didn’t know much about him. He was and still is a bit mysterious. For me, actually, the character is a dichotomy and that’s what makes him funny.
You know, for me, Puss is not just a cat. It’s an honor and a privilege, in the very difficult times that we are living in, to have the capacity and the opportunity to make people laugh, all around the world. It’s a gift.
For almost 10 years now, even from the beginning, Puss started having his own space, if you will, in the American pop culture and then, in the world. I have seen the effects that the cat produces in other countries too.
Were you and Salma able to do some of the voice work together?
I’ve worked with Salma since the beginning of the ‘90s, and she’s a dear friend. Normally, in animation, we work alone. But this is the only time we have such chemistry, and especially, we fight very well on camera. We have a kind of rhythm and we can improvise.
I asked them to bring her here with me, and we did a session together, and I think some of our stuff that we did together made it into the movie.
Do you act out behind the mic?
I do actually. I get really physical. Sometimes I move away from the microphone and they have to pull me back.
It’s amazing to me still. I got to this country without speaking the language. The fact they called me to use my voice is such a paradox. When I came to America, I never thought I’d be able to do an animated movie. I’ve had a lot of fun.
I know the thing is working when I see everyone in the booth laughing. Chris (Miller, the movie’s director) ruined some of my takes laughing. It’s almost embarrassing to say this, but it’s easy. It’s just fun. If you want to throw in whatever comes to your mind you’re allowed to do it.
Chris isn’t going to say don’t do it. Doing this for 10 years now, when Chris shows me the storyboards, I know what the final results are going to be.
You are a star now, but how hard was it when you began in this business?
When I first came to America, twenty-one years ago, I did The Mambo Kings. Somebody on the set said to me, ‘If you are going to stay here, basically you’re going to be the bad guy in movies. In these twenty-one years everything changed very much. In ways it’s a reflection of what is happening in society.
There were many generations of Latino people coming to this country, coming from difficult, political situations, social situations in their own countries, and they work very hard to make their kids go to universities. Well, those kids came out and they are now doctors and architects and they are in banks, they are in the Supreme Court.
I’m so proud that our characters are Latinos, and I think it’s good for diversity, for cultural interaction, because this movie’s going to be seen by kids who don’t judge in those terms. They’re going to watch the movie and they’re going to see that the heroes have a strong accent and that is good.
What do your children think when they hear your voice as Puss in Boots?
My oldest is 26, he’s got as rock band in Brooklyn, so he just said to me something like, ‘That’s a cool cat, dad.’ That’s pretty much his comment about it!