Antonio Banderas has yet to read a single review of his latest action-adventure film, "The Legend of Zorro" (see review on Page 42), a family-friendly, swashbuckling film whose "imperfect," "clumsy" and "goofy" central character, the actor warns, "will probably not be loved by acting lovers."
"If you watch Ingmar Bergman, and only Ingmar Bergman, you're probably going to hate the movie," he confesses. Still, the actor is eager to let the world know he's completely happy about one aspect of the project.
"I survived it," says Banderas, who, in a telephone interview, calls the film "probably the toughest thing I've done in my life."
This, coming from a man who has already made one stunt-heavy film about the acrobatic, horseback-riding swordsman (1998's "The Mask of Zorro"), sandwiched between two physically demanding performances as the guitar-playing gunslinger known as El Mariachi for Robert Rodriguez, a director about whom Banderas says, "I would go to hell with him if necessary." Not to mention the five movies under filmmaker and notorious control freak Pedro Almodovar. Banderas recalls once making the mistake of telling Almodovar that he had an idea. " 'No, no, no, no,' he said. 'You don't have the ideas. I do.' With Pedro, you have to allow him to play with you like a pen, and he is the writer."
So what was so much harder this time than the last "Zorro"?
"For one thing, I'm seven years older, and you have to confront that," says the actor, who, unlike his stunt double, did not suffer any broken bones during the filming -- just the cuts, bumps, bruises and back pain of a 45-year-old who isn't used to jumping on and off horses all day. "The last month was almost traumatic," he continues, citing the heat, his mask's limited visibility, the unwieldiness of the caped costume and the inherent risks involved in six extras swinging swords at a groggy actor at the crack of dawn as reason enough to be grateful that the job is finished.
"Of course," he laughs, "if there's a good result, and people like the film, you quickly forget about all that."
Not that he's thinking about taking another leap into Zorro's saddle anytime soon. Although, Banderas says, Sony Pictures has bought the rights to author Isabel Allende's "Zorro: A Novel," he says it's way too early to wonder whether he'd say yes, or whether he'd even be asked to take the part, in what is essentially a prequel to the first film. Besides, there's a lot of other stuff on his plate.
Earlier this month, the actor finished the second of several planned recording sessions for "Shrek 3," the upcoming sequel to the animated green ogre franchise (whose plot this time centers on a coup d'etat by Prince Charming). Banderas also has signed on for a spinoff, due out in 2008, based on the animated, scene-stealing feline character he introduced in the last "Shrek" and whose popularity transcends generations. "I know a lot of guys my age who are totally nuts about Puss in Boots," says Banderas, who attributes his belated introduction to the world of voice work (listen for him as the voice of the cartoon bee in the Nasonex commercial) to what the native Spaniard facetiously calls his "handicap condition." Meaning simply that he's "an actor with an accent."
The accent thing, Banderas says, may have a little something to do with the fact that he so often plays exotic and "larger than life" characters, such as Armand in "Interview With the Vampire" and Zorro. It's a casting trend he'd like to see less of, in favor of playing "more realistic, contemporary characters." His next couple of roles should help. "Bordertown," with Jennifer Lopez, centers on the investigation of several murders of young female factory workers in Juarez, Mexico. And he just finished shooting "Take the Lead," in which he plays a professional-dancer-turned-New York-public-school-teacher. It was, he says, "a very satisfactory experience, almost like recognizing another me."
At the moment, he's at work on preproduction for his second directorial effort (after 1999's poorly received "Crazy in Alabama," starring wife Melanie Griffith). Called "El Camino de los Ingleses," the dark, 1970s-set drama is based on a book by Spanish writer Antonio Soler and deals with, according to Banderas, sex, death and the "vertigo" of young people on the cusp of adulthood.
He also would love to get back to the New York stage some day, saying he can still taste "the flavor" of his Broadway debut in "Nine," the musical revival that earned the actor a 2003 Tony nomination. "That," he recalls, "was one of the happiest years of my life."
In the meantime, Banderas says he tries to "take life with a little smirk," emphasizing that "The Legend of Zorro," despite the topical overtones of its plot -- involving election fraud, shadowy government agents and an attack on the United States -- is supposed to be fun. "When I do a political movie," he says, "I do a political movie."
As for the future, Banderas says, "One thing I have clear is that I don't want to work for money anymore." He doesn't like to name names, but, somehow, the title "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" slips out. Not that that 2002 bomb is an example of such mercenary decision making, of course. "You never do it just for money," Banderas laughs, "but when the movie doesn't work, sometimes it's the only thing that is left."