He’s the Spanish heart-throb famed for voicing Shrek’s cute but cunning Puss in Boots. Now, as Antonio Banderas returns to animation, he tells SUSAN GRIFFIN about his pet project that’s been 10 years in the making
It was one of the most anticipated casting announcements of recent years, so there was surprise all round when the female lead in the big screen adaptation of erotic novel Fifty Of Shades Of Grey was finally named.
The role has gone to Dakota Johnson, the relatively unknown daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith.
Her stepfather, Antonio Banderas, who’s been married to Griffith for 17 years, was among those surprised. “I wasn’t in the country so I picked up the phone, called her and said ‘Congratulations, you deserve this opportunity’,” says the Spanish-born star, who began acting in his native Spain before coming to worldwide prominence in the Nineties, landing parts in movies like The Mambo Kings, Philadelphia, Evita and The Mask Of Zorro.
“She was very happy, very cautious at the same time, because she knows she’s got a lot of work to do,” he adds. “It’s a movie that’s going to be watched by everybody who likes the book, especially women. So let’s see.”
Banderas’s latest project is a far cry from the sexually-charged sadomasochistic subject matter of Fifty Shades. He voices the handsome Sir Clorex in the family-friendly animation Justin And The Knights Of Valour.
The story revolves around Justin (voiced by young British actor Freddie Highmore) who lives in a kingdom where bureaucrats rule and knights have been ousted. While Justin dreams of becoming one of the Knights of Valour, like his grandfather before him, his father Reginald (Alfred Molina) has other plans, and wants him to become a lawyer instead.
After an inspiring visit to his beloved grandmother (Julie Walters), he decides to leave home and embark on a quest to become a knight. Along the way, he comes across Sir Clorex, who uses his strength, charm and muscular physique to convince people that he’s a knight, when in truth he’s actually an armour polisher who’s looking for a quick route to the high-life.
“He’s an impostor. He’s actually a very pathetic guy. He pretends to be a knight and goes around with that story, and people seem to believe him because he has a good presence,” says the dark-haired Banderas, who’s looking toned and slim in a grey jumper and jeans.
“But little by little we see that he’s a scam. He’s a nobody basically, and when he’s discovered, he receives a very big lesson.”
The actor, who turned 53 in August, believes Clorax’s situation is a lesson to us all. “You can tell that he’s a guy who, at some time in his life, had a dream that he hasn’t fulfilled, so he has to fake it all the time,” he says.
“It’s why it’s important to continue trying to fulfil your path in life, otherwise you can become pathetic and angry,” he adds philosophically.
But he believes there’s hope of redemption for his animated alter-ego. “If there was the possibility to do another movie about Justin, and he continues to be a character in that, he could be a little bit better. He probably has learnt something from this movie.”
Of course, this isn’t Banderas’s first foray into animation - far from it. He famously voices the plucky Puss in Boots in the Shrek films, first appearing in Shrek 2 in 2004. The character was a hit with fans, and in 2011, the talking cat took centre stage in the 2011 movie Puss In Boots.
“Animation’s a format that makes sense nowadays - technology has been taking over when it comes to telling stories,” says the actor. “Animation was very specific until 20, 25 years ago, and since that time everything has been invented in terms of computers, software and programmes, which allow us to go to universes that we didn’t even dream of before.”
And it’s a world he knows a thing or two about, as he’s one of the partners of the CGI animation film company Kandor Graphics, the Spanish team behind Justin And The Knights Of Valour.
The film’s been a decade in the making.
“About 10 years ago, I met this group of crazy guys from the south of Spain, and they came to me with a lot of drawings and videos and stuff,” Banderas explains. “I was crazy enough to jump into the part, and from there we started working together.”
Justin And The Knights Of Valour is in cinemas now.