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An accent on versatile

Antonio Banderas enjoys moving from the adult to the children’s film world. Grown-ups know the 44-year-old Spanish actor for his work with director Pedro Almodovar in such controversial films as “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” But thanks to the popular “Spy Kids” action franchise, Banderas has become family-friendly. And he further solidified his young fan base in this year’s No. 1 movie, “Shrek 2,” which was released Friday on DVD. Banderas steals the film as the voice of the dashing, swashbuckling orange tabby, Puss In Boots, the wily feline who is hired to murder Shrek and Donkey and ends up becoming their faithful friend. Spoofing his heroic image from “The Mask of Zorro,” Banderas’ Puss purrs, coughs up hairballs and says such lines as “I’m Puss ... In Boots” in a deep sexy growl.

Banderas was on Broadway last year in the revival of the musical “Nine,” for which he was Tony nominated, when he recorded his lines for the DreamWorks sequel. Banderas, married to actress Melanie Griffith, is a charmer in person -- down-to-earth and funny -- and though he’s resided in Hollywood for a decade, he hasn’t lost his appealing, and strong, Spanish accent.

Do you have cats?

We have two cats in the house. One of them is not a Siamese, but it is a Chinese something, and the other one is a very normal cat, a street cat. Cats are very independent animals. I like to observe them, I like the way they move, I like the way they perceive things. Dogs are very warm and beautiful, but they humiliate themselves in order to obtain. That is something which cats don’t do.

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Puss In Boots has a rather high opinion of himself

He thinks he’s Zorro. But he isn’t. Zorro is me -- stupid cat! But that’s what produces the comedy with him.

So it must have been fun to spoof Zorro in “Shrek 2.”

The possibility of laughing at yourself is very healthy nowadays. What I found when I did this work was I was absolutely surprised by the process. Not only did we get to ad-lib, it was demanded we do that. We were demanded to improvise, to bring our own input into the character. In fact, we had a script, but it was an excuse, a pretext to start working. They may ask you, “What do you think your character would do when Donkey says that line? Would you take up your sword or hide behind the tree? What would you do?” Once they have the scene they want, that’s when they start pushing you to improvise. They present the scene with several storyboards, and then you do improvisation. A lot of the improvisation changed the storyboards.

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What scenes were changed after your improvisation?

We improvised very much the first meeting with Shrek when I say, “I’m Puss In Boots.” We did it a lot and in many different ways.

Did you come up with the hairball cough?

That was already there, but I was singing 14 songs a night [in “Nine”] and I had to do it for 45 minutes, and that night I couldn’t hit the C notes.

Was it difficult to do your lines without the other actors present?

It would have been more challenging to me if I had to have worked with Eddie Murphy or Mike Myers because they are very strong comedy actors. They are very fast, so I would have been intimidated. I would prefer to be alone in the room -- you can be as crazy as you want.

Did your 8-year-old daughter, Stella, like Puss?

Absolutely. She loves the movies, and she loved the first “Shrek.” She loved the second one the same way, but she’s almost like a good critic. She loved the character, but I think she generally forgets that papi is the one who is putting the voice to the character. When I went to Spain, my nephews made me say those lines 30 times in five minutes. But my daughter is very detached from our careers. The only thing I saw her attached to was the theater. Many times she saw “Nine” in the wings. She was totally fascinated.

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Are you pleased with the variety of roles you have been offered in American movies?

I have a multiple career. This is something America gave me as an actor. The possibility of doing many different works, that is something in Spain I never had. I had the possibility of working with brilliant directors like Pedro Almodovar, with whom I did five movies. Once I move here, I do musicals like “Evita,” adventure movies, action movies like “Mask of Zorro,” social movies like “Philadelphia.” I get involved in many projects. I even directed a movie and went to Broadway last year. But that for me brings pleasure because I love to change. After I finish a comedy I want to do a tragedy or something more dramatic -- something that complements me not only on a professional but a personal level.


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