NEW YORK -- A small cat is giving Antonio Banderas as much satisfaction as the very Zorro.
The Spanish-born star returns to the screen this weekend in "Shrek Forever After" as the voice of Puss in Boots, a Zorro-like feline that the actor says is the antithesis of the big heroes he usually plays.
The popularity of the little cat, which debuted in the second movie of the "Shrek" franchise, has landed Puss the title role in a separate movie for DreamWorks that could be released in 2012. Banderas already has begun working on the film with Mexican actress Salma Hayek.
Just prior to the world premiere of "Shrek Forever After" at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, Banderas spoke with The Associated Press about the movie, animation in Spain, wife Melanie Griffith and his next projects, including his recent work with Woody Allen on "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger."
Q: This is the fourth installment in the "Shrek" franchise -- nearly 10 years of successes. How does the series stay fresh, and what attracts people to watch it?
A: I believe it's fundamentally the possibility that the movie has to be liked by kids and parents alike, but most specially by the parents. ... There's also something very important. ... We are absolutely not conditioned to say the lines in a specific way, but they allow us to improvise a lot ... and I know that is not a method used in all animated movies."
Q: What do you see of yourself in Puss in Boots?
A: Not of me. (But) Puss has given me the opportunity to laugh at myself and to laugh most of all about the great characters that I've played who are bigger than life, such as "El Zorro," such as "Desperado," such as "The 13th Warrior." Heroic stories where I have depicted major characters.
Q: So this would be like their antithesis?
A: Exactly! Suddenly, all of it gets reduced to a little cat. It becomes an alter ego of some of the things that I've done, but not so much about me. I wish! I like the cat a lot. I would like to be as ironic as he is and have that certain mystery that he has.
Q: It won't be Zorro, but the cat's had so much success that they're making a movie about him. What do you think of the fact that the "Shrek" film series began without Puss in Boots?
A: And now Puss in Boots has his own world! (Laughs)
Q: What can you tell us about the movie?
A: What I can tell you, without giving away too much, is that it's a film that is a bit separate of "Shrek" in terms of style, that it doesn't go toward the counterculture so much and doesn't laugh as much about pop but is more akin to an epic.
Q: Will any other character from "Shrek" make an appearance?
A: No, he's the only one. All the characters that surround him are new because it's about the beginning of his life. ... He's in an orphanage and there's a bit of "Oliver Twist" to the story. It's sweet and almost moving in some moments.
Q: You're working on and producing animated films in Spain (including the short film "La Dama y la Muerte," which was nominated for an Oscar). What's the next such project?
A: We're producing our second feature film, titled "Goleon." We're even developing our own software, working with innovative companies in Spain, with the University of Granada, and our own 3D stereoscope software, which is spectacular.
Q: What have you learned from "Shrek" that has helped you with your own work in animation?
A: A lot. Above all else the method of working with actors who are going to be in the movie and that's exactly what I'm going to do with "Goleon," direct voices and produce.
Q: Speaking of directing, what more can we expect from you after "Crazy in Alabama" (starring Griffith) and "El Camino de los Ingleses"?
A: I just completed a merger of my company, which has been operating for five years at a very humble level, and we're going to make a qualitative and quantitative leap. ... We're going to go for a movie probably with Melanie, whom I would love to direct again.
Q: How is Melanie? (She was in a rehab facility last August.)
A: Very good. And also very eager to go to work again, like I've never seen her before in these 15 years. This movie is going to be stronger (than "Crazy in Alabama"). I can't reveal many details, but it's going to surprise a lot of people, and most of all, women.