Antonio Banderas Talks Fatherhood and ‘Puss in Boots’

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After making it big in his native Spain, Antonio Banderas brought his seriously sexy acting chops stateside.

With a career including a vengeful desperado to a masked man to a turn as the animated title character in DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures’ Puss in Boots – which purred its way to a cool $33 million this past weekend – the father of three with wife Melanie Griffith is focusing on love in his life.

I had a chance to catch up with Antonio during premiere week, parent-to-parent and talk about all things Puss, and the life lessons he hopes his children carry with them throughout their lives.

What do you like best about making films?

Sometimes you completely identify with the story that you are telling. The fact that you are working with a number of people, all of them interesting in their different fields – director, lighting people, makeup artists, your own fellow actors. They always have something to bring. What I love the most is the possibility to do teamwork, and that is one of the things that attracts me while making movies. The possibility, also, of telling stories that you know are going to go to a very wide range of people around all the world.

Do you use a method for getting into the Puss mood?

It’s very easy. Improvise a lot. Knowing the parameters in which a character can move, you know, with the materials they are giving me. The use of my voice.  Because I don’t use the voice that I’m using right now with the character. The character speaks a little bit bigger than life.

I think that one of the decisions that is very important for the character of Puss in Boots is just to establish a contrast in what he is physically and the voice that he has. In that dichotomy is where you find humor and contrast. If I would have gone and tried to make a little voice for the little body that the character has, it probably wouldn’t have been so effective. The interesting thing about Puss is that he’s very little inside, right, and he has got a very big voice. That is where he produces humor, and I think that’s the part that the people like about the character. 

Doing voice work is becoming old hat for you. What’s the process like?

It’s not only the voice. And they ask us in the studio, all this creative team, you know, the cartoonists and the people who wrote the script.  They ask us to participate in the creation of the characters from the beginning. Sometimes we have been taken to the studio here in California just to have encounters with the creative team in order to tell them what do we think about the characters once we have the first draft of the script, and do corrections and try to give them an input as an actor, telling them what we really think the character should do in very specific scenes.

And then we have a second draft of the script, with all of those notes attached too. And then we start working, putting the voice, which is the first thing that goes in the whole entire process. The drawings come after. Still, after 10 years… I came to this country 21 years ago and I couldn’t speak English. So the fact that they are using me in the last 10 years just to use my voice is kind of a paradox. And quite interesting.

There is a number of things we have to do, not only in the the movie, but also later on in Spanish, in two different versions – one for South America, and one for Castilian Spanish in Spain. I do also the Italian version of the character.

Promoting the movie is very tough. We travel all around the world.The Cannes film festival has been a very good friend of DreamWorks. You have to remember that Shrek and Shrek Two, they were in competition, which is quite rare, in that the festival that is put together by intellectuality all around Europe. With mostly independent movies going there, suddenly these two movies were invited to participate.

Tell me about fatherhood. Is there something you hope your children carry with them as they get older?

Well, my babies live under different circumstances probably than other kids. Hollywood is not probably the best place in the world to raise kids. You have to be very careful for many different reasons.

One of the reasons is the perception that they may have about what life is all about. Life is not Beverly Hills. There are other people around the world that live in completely different circumstances. And so their mother and I, when I was working at the beginning of our relationship and I was working a lot outside of the country in Argentina, in Mexico and some other countries, we used to take them with us. 

It was very interesting for us to put our kids in the position that they can see how other kids live in different cities, you know, where they don’t have so many opportunities, where they live under strong political or social circumstances, in the outskirts of the city where they don’t have any schools, sometimes. It’s important that our kids see all the realities so they can compare to the reality that they live.

At the same time, I feel a little bit guilty because I spend a lot of time – because my professional life – outside of the house, so it’s difficult sometimes just to keep up with the kids as a normal family. Sometimes they spend two, three, four months outside of the house. So what we try to do is just keep a line open with their mother so I can always receive information about their studies, whatever they’re doing, and try, in a way, to establish our principles, which are not based so much in strong discipline but in dialogue. That’s what we try to do as much as we can, you know, because Hollywood is a wrong perception of the world that we don’t want them to have.

Now that your children are older, what do you like to do together?

Well, movies… we love to go to the movies. But I love the fact that because we spend a lot of time outside of the house, the luxurious thing for us to do is just to be together. Friday night used to arrive, and we’d get we get in bed with a good movie, a big packet of popcorn in between us, the kids, Melanie on one side of the bed and I’m on the other side of and the kids in the middle. That was for us like the happy times, you know.

And then I try to understand what they are interested in life. For example, my daughter Stella is a compulsive reader. She loves to read.  And I love that, because I think it enhances the perception that she may have about the world. She learns about relationships, human beings and their complexities. And so we comment about books. They’re all very, very related to art.

Alexander plays in music. He plays piano. He plays guitar, and I do, too. So I try to relate with him in those aspects.

Dakota is now making movies, so she’s very close to our professional activities. And we talk about that, how she can confront in the years to come this professional role with all the difficulties that you may find, not only just what you find in front of the camera, but all the parallel lives that exist around this professional life that is actually not only difficult, but sometimes, eventually could be even dangerous.

So try just to keep the contact with them as much as we can, and try to be coordinator of all effort they are making in order to achieve whatever they have in mind that they want to do in different professional lives that they will have in the future. Some of them they already do. And in their hobbies, their activities that they do at home.

We talk also with them about general issues – politics, society and poverty, ecology – it is a number of things that we do though. The one who set out the ecology mood in our home is the little one, Stella, because she actually is coming from a school with some lessons that when I was in school I didn’t learn. She’s the one who runs the whole entire thing with recyclabes. So I think that sometimes we also have a lot of things to learn from our kids.

Balance is hard, as you know. It’s never fully achieved in parenting it seems. How do you work at it?

Love is the word.  Love is everything we do in life. Love for the profession. Love for action. Love for whatever is in the middle. My wife and I, we are staying together now for 17 years. What is the secret? The secret is that we love each other. It is that simple and that complicated. I mean, remember that love has been trying, you know, to be defined by poets for centuries. That is the key of everything.

Your favorite piece of parenting advice?

Building a world in which being famous is the result of something that you do. Whether it’s in the acting world, you can be a celebrity also because you’re a great doctor or you are a great architect or you are a great journalist. Because you are deserving. You’re professional at tasks.

Concentrate in that love what you do without thinking so much in the result of it. 

Photo credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

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