Banderas was already a bonafide star back then – previously co-starring with Tom Hanks in Oscar-winning drama Philadelphia and with Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire.
He and Salma Hayek Pinault went on to co-star in 1995’s Four Rooms, 2003’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico, 2021’s The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard and, memorably, in Hayek’s 2003 Oscar-nominated biopic Frida. The actress says that the closest they have ever got to echoing their own real-life relationship is in their roles in animated film, Puss in Boots 11 years ago.
A spin-off from the Shrek universe, their feline alter-egos Puss in Boots and Kitty Softpaws reflect their own long friendship, bringing a warmth and humour to these sparring soulmates.
Reunited for the long-awaited sequel, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, we meet Puss at a crossroads in his life as the fierce outlaw is forced to come to terms with the fact that he has used up eight of his nine lives.
Banderas’ once swashbuckling Puss is plagued by self-doubt, although he still cannot quite let go of his old bravura as he faces the end of the road.
“There is an unapologetic confidence to Puss,” says Hayek. “I don’t know anyone in the world but Antonio, who can make him so charming. He has such joy, passion and love for life. Not one grain of salt has diminished Antonio’s passion for life. Maybe it’s grown, even. It’s refreshing and contagious.”
Directed by Joel Crawford, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish introduces us to a rather reduced version of our favourite fearless feline, now resigned to life in a cat shelter. “And remember, he’s very narcissistic. So, he wants to be special – not one of the cats!” teases Hayek.
Even as he escapes the cat home – in search of the mythical Wishing Star which he hopes will restore his lost lives – he cannot help himself, falling back into the old self-absorbed ways, much to the annoyance of Hayek’s Kitty SoftPaws.
It’s only by letting go of that persona – with the help of a new annoyingly optimistic sidekick, namely an abandoned mutt named Perrito – that he is able to grow and earn back the trust of his former feline fancy, Kitty.
Despite this being a family film, Hayek hopes that there’s a lesson to be learned for any man who is afraid to show their vulnerability.
“Oh, absolutely,” purrs the actress. “Also, in a loving way, we can inspire men to let themselves be fragile and vulnerable and real and talk about their actual feelings; that it’s okay to be fearful; that we don’t see them less because of it. Sometimes, that’s what makes somebody brave and courageous.”
While languishing in the cat home, Puss has let himself go, now sporting long shaggy whiskers, resulting in witty banter between him and Kitty.
The back-and-forth between the two characters is so plausible, you even wonder whether this is an ongoing theme between Hayek and Banderas themselves.
Ask Hayek if she is beard-adverse, she laughs, “It’s so funny. I don’t mind beards but I would find any excuse to pick on Antonio, so he would answer to me something nasty, and then I’d have to be on my toes and respond. I don’t mind it, but if he did have a beard, trust me, I would come up with 1000 ways to poke fun at him.”
Having brought life to Puss in Boots for almost two decades, Banderas has seen the impact of the character first-hand throughout all corners of the globe. “I have had interviewers and thought, ‘Wow. When that person saw Shrek 2, they were seven, eight years old,’” he says. “Now, they are interviewing me about this character they saw years ago, and now they are 28 or 29. It’s beautiful that younger people have grown up with this character that produced such a strong impact in their lives. It seems like the right time to pick up Puss and throw him back to the biggest screen, the place where he belongs.”
This time around, Banderas and Hayek are joined by new fairy-tale characters, including John Mulaney’s Jack Horner while Florence Pugh voices Goldilocks to Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone and Samson Kayo’s Three Bears Crime Family.
“I absolutely loved Goldi immediately,” says Pugh. “When I saw the sketches of what Goldi would look like, she looked like this incredible pixie pirate. Everything that she was wearing and everything that she was about just felt right. She was this feisty, grumpy, sassy little thing. I couldn’t believe that this role had come my way.”
For Winstone, he was delighted to be invited to adlib rather than slavishly working off the script, adding Papa Bear’s own dry observation about Goldi: ‘I guess some people stay until the porridge is gone…’
“What struck me is that Goldi actually has been biding her time just to move on from this family,” says Winstone. “How heartbreaking must that be for these three sentient creatures who have opened up their home to a stranger? It was a gut reaction comment that I made, and I’m honoured that the filmmakers included the line in the final film.”
Colman relished the opportunity to join the Puss in Boots universe. “I was thrilled to be doing an animation that my youngest would enjoy,” says the Oscar-winning actress. “I love all the Puss in Boots and have watched them with my kids over the years.”
Vocals in animation are usually a solitary venture, and Colman, Pugh, Winstone and Kayo all had to nail Cockney accents to sound like a believable family, something they achieved without ever physically meeting each other.
“I wish we’d all been in the same room, what fun that would have been!” says Colman. “I met my baby bear Samson just the other day. Cuddles all around. Our director Joel was such a good audience and cheerleader, laughing even at our rubbish improvs. I genuinely enjoyed it all. Such fun – even in the cupboard in my bedroom during lockdown!”
If movie buffs wonder why Hayek’s voice has been absent from animation for a while – her last voice role was raunchy animated comedy Sausage Party six years ago – then her answer is simple.
“I ODed on animated films,” laughs the actress whose youngest is 15-year-old daughter Valentina. “Not only do they watch them all, they watch them millions of times – the same movie over and over. I got kind of disinterested in them.
“But I was excited about this one. It completely grabbed me like I have not been grabbed before. I think that it’s gonna happen the same to Valentina, even though she’s not watching a lot of animated movies now, and she hasn’t watched this one yet. But I am sure she’s gonna love it,” she says of The Last Wish’s big holiday release which she hopes her family will watch together.
As for her own holiday plans, she reveals, “I have two fake Christmases and a real one. Because I cannot be everywhere at the same… I wish I was Santa that is everywhere all at once. But I cannot be at the same time in different countries. I do one with my family in the US, let’s say the 22nd or the 23rd and then I do one with Francois’ family on a different day,” she says, referring to her French husband Francois Pinault. “And then we do our little Christmas just the four kids and us on Christmas Eve which is more intimate – and then on the 25th, we give some little gifts, and sometimes I give them toys that they used to play with when they were little. It’s a lot of work,” she sighs.
She also hopes The Last Wish contains a powerful message, beyond mere entertainment value. “I think there’s a time for wishing and then there’s a time for just being grateful. I think that’s part of what this movie is about. You learn to dream simpler if you’re smart. And so, I wish for health. I wish for my family to be happy and together. I wish for the world to evolve. I wish for hate to be diluted. I wish for little things and sometimes you wish for a movie, but it’s not as important anymore. I’m just grateful. Gratefulness, when you really feel it, is a stronger feeling than dreaming.”
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is in cinemas Boxing Day