MoviesOnline sat down at a press conference in Los Angeles with Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris and director Chris Miller to talk about the epic story of cinema’s funniest, furriest feline movie star, Puss in Boots. They told us how they prepared for their roles, what it was like turning a warm and fuzzy fairytale persona into a dark and edgy character, and why they looked beyond Puss in Boots’ fairytale origin to find their own bracing adventure of how this cat came into legend.
The director and cast also discussed executive producer Guillermo del Toro’s role in the creative process, the influence of Clint Eastwood, Serge Leone and the Spaghetti Western, and why the film is considered groundbreaking with two Latinos playing the lead roles.
Q: Salma, how do you explain to your daughter that you’re a cat? Does she realize that’s you on screen?
Salma: I was worried about that because it’s like telling them about Santa in a way because she really thinks there are cats there. I thought I had some time but I took her to see one movie and in the previews I see the cat and I go oh no, I have two seconds to break it to her. And, before I could say anything, my character came on screen and she says “Oh my gosh, Mommy, that cat sounds just like you.” I said “Well actually it is me but it’s not.” So I had to explain to her that it’s not real, that it’s drawings in the computer and then you talk. I think she was confused for a couple of days but now she loves the film and she’s so proud of me.
Antonio: Ten years ago my kids were still kids but now my oldest is 26. He’s got a rock band in Brooklyn so he just says to me “That’s a cool cat, dad.” That’s pretty much his comments about it. (to Zach) What about you, egg?
Zach: I don’t have any children. They left me.
Q: Antonio and Salma, you have such great chemistry in the movie. Normally, in animation, you work in isolation. Did you have a chance to interact at all together?
Antonio: The technique basically is just to work individually. I was doing that for almost 10 years now with Puss in Boots. But, in this particular case, I asked our director Chris to give us the opportunity to work together so we did a session. Actually, some of our stuff we did together made it into the movie. For whatever reason, when we have worked together in the past, it may have worked but I don’t want to intellectualize that. When things work, it’s best not to touch them. Probably the worst enemy of an actor is to be a little bit self conscious about whatever you’re doing so we try to just work together nicely. We did that session and it was great. We improvised a little bit and we just did what we wanted to do. If we would have done that individually, it would have been very difficult for the other person just to imagine whatever the other person did.
Salma: There’s nothing left to say. No. It was great. I’m just grateful that I had some training with Chris because it was the first time I did this and I was scared to be by myself, but I was never by myself. Chris Miller is an amazing director. I really cherished the experience I had with him in this. He trained me in it so that by the time I got to Antonio, we really had the character. I knew who she was and it was very solid so that helped me. And also, he took me out of the books because he really pushed me to explore improvisation in comedy and in these two years I think I’ve gotten so much better because of him. He really encouraged me and it really helped me by the time I got to do this session with Antonio.
Q: Salma: How did you prepare for the character and make her so sexy?
Salma: I didn’t prepare. I never even got to see the script. He never showed me the script. So I just showed up blind. There were no drawings or anything. At the beginning, it was just Chris and I and he gave me a scene. He explained it to me. He would tell me and it reminded me of my grandmother who used to tell me the most amazing tales and you had to imagine everything. It was like that. He would walk me through it. He would even explain the production design to me and then we would do the scenes but I really didn’t prepare. I wish I could tell you I did something Method, but no.
Q: You’re a very successful actor and have a lot of fans from your movies. Are you looking forward to having young kids as fans and having them discover your work?
Salma: I sure hope so because I’m too old. The ones that discovered me a long time ago don’t want to go to the movies anymore so I need a new generation or else I die.
Q: In the Shrek universe, is there a certain perverse pleasure in taking fairytale characters that have been nice and warm and fuzzy and turning them into the edgy characters you were able to create for this?
Billy Bob: Absolutely. Here’s the thing, though, about fairytales and nursery rhymes. When you’re kids, I guess you don’t think about it that much, but you grow up and you notice those things are pretty dark and I can’t believe that we read those things. Hansel and Gretel terrifies me. So, in doing this, and being able to make edgy, weird characters out of ones that are traditional like Jack and Jill, you saw the pictures. Amy and I decided yesterday that something went wrong when they went up the hill to get the pail of water and when they came back down it was a whole new world. But yeah, it was a lot of fun doing it and I’m a rookie at this. So, for me, it was just a great experience, and Chris, as Salma and Antonio said, is a terrific director at this stuff. I wouldn’t have known, left to my own devices, how to do something like this. Chris essentially just stood there and said “Now say this and say it like that” and I went “Oh, okay” and I just did it. I like working with a director in the animated world, because usually in live action movies, the director is the first guy I go over and grab by the neck and I didn’t have to strangle him one time. It was a lot of fun.
Amy: I really liked my size in the movie and if I wanted to look like that in a regular movie, they wouldn’t let me. They wouldn’t let me have a hump or over-tweezed eyebrows so I was happy that I looked that way. I thought she was attractive and I loved that I had a husband. They never give me a husband in a movie or children so it was fun being part of a family. It was nice to do a film. I have a niece and in my family we compete for who’s going to be the best aunt or uncle and so far I’m winning. My brother calls himself Uncle Money, David, so this is so much better.
Q: Zach, what did you perceive as Humpty’s motivation in terms of what he does to his best friend and brother?
Zach: On the Humpty Dumpty character that I play, I never thought I’d say that sentence in my life, but I finally have. Thank you, Jesus. I think Humpty Dumpty is a little bit all over the place and he’s a little emotional. I mean, he is a little greedy and I think he’s a little vindictive but he’s also trying to have a friendship, I think legitimately, maybe. But his greed gets the best of him. I think down deep in his yolk that he’s an okay guy.
Q: This movie is groundbreaking because you have two Latino leads, Salma and Antonio. When you first started and came here as actors, obviously you struggled. How does it feel now to be the two leads in a big Hollywood movie?
Antonio: When I first came to America 21 years ago, I did The Mambo Kings. Somebody on the set said to me if you’re going to stay here, basically you’re going to play bad characters. You’re going to be the bad guy in movies. In those 21 years, everything has changed very much. In a way, it’s a reflection of what’s happening in society. There were many generations of Latino people coming to this country, coming from difficult political or social situations in their own countries, and they worked very hard to make sure their kids went to the university. Well, those kids came out and they are now doctors and architects and bankers and serving on the Supreme Court. So that has a reflection in Hollywood. We are actually very proud that our characters are Latinos and I think it’s good for diversity and for cultural interaction because this movie is going to be seen by kids who actually don’t judge in those terms. They’re going to watch the movie and see that the heroes actually have a strong accent and this is good.
Salma: I just feel very lucky that I’ve been able to piggyback ride on Antonio’s superstar career. Thank God he’s doing so well because every time he gets a movie, then I get to sneak into it somehow even if it’s a cameo and I think that’s how things happen. I’m sure somebody else, my double, is going to sneak in because of it. It’s a good chain. I’m very proud to be part of this movie.
Q: For Zach and Billy Bob, both of your characters are famous but nobody really knew who these people were. Everybody knows Humpty Dumpty but they really don’t know who he is. What was your first impression when you finally got the part, and how did you approach giving this guy a personality?
Zach: I interviewed the real Humpty Dumpty who’s now 89 years old and living in Vermont. Chris really gave me all the information that I needed to know in the context of doing the voice work for this movie. All I know is vaguely from childhood memories of not Humpty Dumpty, but children throwing eggs at me, is that I don’t really know that much about Humpty Dumpty, but Chris filled me in and did do some specific direction that he saw from the grand scope of the movie. But, to be honest with you, I didn’t really make that connection. I didn’t know if I needed to for this kind of movie.
Q: Jack and Jill were kids in the classic nursery rhyme, not grown-ups.
Amy: And siblings.
Billy Bob: And that’s why they chose the hillbillies to play them. They checked into our backgrounds. Our characters were completely different than the image of them we saw as kids. I mean, Humpty Dumpty at least was an egg. Our guys were these huge, fat characters. I was telling Amy yesterday, my guy looks like maybe Henry the VIIIth’s mentally challenged brother or something like that. But just like Zach said, I completely relied on Chris not having done this before. He pretty much gave me who the guy was. My only job was to come up with a voice that kind of fit him. You look at the character’s drawing and you look at yourself. I weigh 143, 144 pounds and then you look at this huge guy. I just had to sound like my voice had a little more weight to it, if you will. That was really the only thing I had to come up with. I just deferred to Chris every moment.
Q: Antonio, did you see the potential of the cat from the first moment that I was offered the role? Also, how do you feel now that the cat has become the star?
Antonio: At the beginning, Puss in Boots was a recurring character. I didn’t know that it was going to have a long career. Actually it’s been 10 years now. The story of the cat has to do with the first choice that we made which was providing him with a voice that actually doesn’t match the body, that goes exactly in the opposite direction. The cat is not supposed to talk like that. He doesn’t even talk like me. I created a voice for him that is deeper and bigger. I think the source of comedy is in that contrast because he’s not supposed to be like that. That actually creates the comedy. I think it was at the Cannes Film Festival, when we were in competition there with the movie in 2004 and in front of all the intellectuality of Europe, and suddenly there were like twelve interruptions in the movie and people were just laughing and were losing lines and stuff like that. At the end of that, after the movie, I had dinner with Jeffrey Katzenberg and he mentioned to me the possibility of continuing with the character in the Shrek series and then the possibility of having a movie for him (Puss in Boots) later on.
Q: Did you learn something interesting about the culture in the process of making this film?
Antonio: In the original fairytale, Puss in Boots was French so this is a victory actually for the Spanish community.
Salma: We killed them in soccer carrying the World Cup and now Puss in Boots.
Amy: I love anything with an accent and I loved the music in the movie a lot. Even when you ask a question and you speak a different language, that’s just thrilling to me and that’s what I liked about the movie also. I felt like I really was some place else. I mean, I was really because I was under the influence. But no, that really put me there. I like that extra.
Salma: I just felt like we went to Billy Bob’s house. The whole movie was shot in his neighborhood.
Billy Bob: I actually ended up hitting on both of them.
Q: For Amy and Zach, as comedians, what was the isolated recording process like for you and did you have an opportunity to do a lot of improvisation or did you feel like you had to stick to the script?
Amy: Well Chris encouraged me. I got to improvise a little bit just to feel it out. But I remember the first time I went in there, the night before I’d seen Johnny Knoxville’s documentary, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, so I just went in there and tried to imitate every accent in that movie. He was really good about deciding “Okay, let’s go with that voice and then let’s improvise a little bit.” But it was all there on the page really.
Chris: When approaching Amy, we would take lines to Amy knowing full well they weren’t going to be in the movie. Amy was going to give at least 80 different versions of a line we put in front of her. She was so incredible and just extemporaneous and the improv was amazing. We’d get 80 lines, all of which were better than anything that was scripted. We have a catalogue of your voice with hundreds of lines that we would pour through and actually just build her performance, build her character out of stuff that was coming out of Amy’s head. It was always a joy.
Q: Obviously it’s very different being behind the camera versus being behind the microphone. Did anyone get really physical in the booth while you were performing the character?
Antonio: I did actually. I get really physical. Sometimes I go in and out of the microphone and they have to pull me back in there. It’s so amazing to me. I got to this country without even speaking the language. The fact that they use my voice for this is such a paradox. When I came to America, I said if there’s something that I cannot do, it’s going to be an animation movie. And here I am. I have a lot of fun. I know that the film is working when I see everybody in the booth laughing and Chris gets in my take actually laughing sometimes. We just ruin a lot of the best takes because we laughed. It’s embarrassing almost to say this, but it’s easy. It’s just fun. You don’t feel that you are spending so much money as you do when you are working on a traditional movie where everybody is just rushing you because there are 200 people there and they’re spending money. You’ve got an open tool which is a machine that we use to record voices there, and if you want to throw whatever comes to your mind, you’re allowed to do it. Chris, the director, is not going to say to you “No, don’t do that.” Instead he’ll say “Do it” because you’re not just filling pieces of a puzzle, and then you take all that work and there are fantastic people on the creative side of the whole entire movie that are going to put this together in unbelievable ways. Working already 10 years on this, sometimes Chris showing me the storyboards, I know pretty much what the final result is going to be. That’s what we used to do every day. I’d arrive there where my character is right now and he’d show me the storyboard. “That’s how we get it over here. That’s the continuation. We have to fill this space over here. Go in there and just do it.” It’s a lot of fun, believe me.
Salma: I’ll tell you one thing that got really physical with Chris and I. One day we were recording a scene in the studio and the wall came down on us. I’m not kidding. We are alive by a miracle. How it missed both of us we still don’t understand. The wall broke and landed [alongside us].
Chris: The wall almost landed on us that day but Selma’s psychic powers kicked in just in time.
Salma: No, it’s true. I moved right before it happened. I don’t know why I moved, and then, boom, it fell. He saw it. It missed him by nothing. So I was very physical that day. I ran fast.
Chris: Other than that, all the violence on set was necessary.
Q: Chris, can you talk about the input that Guillermo del Toro had in this movie?
Chris: Having Guillermo tied to the film was just a real blessing and fated event for us. I remember I’d just been reading in the trades that he wasn’t working on The Hobbit which really bummed me out because I wanted to see whatever dark twisted version of that film he was going to make. And then, a few hours later, I heard that he was going to DreamWorks. Jeffrey was hosting him. He was just checking out the projects since he was back in town so I had an opportunity to pitch him the story, show him some artwork and he was definitely attracted to it. Also, it just so happened we were screening the movie for the studio the next day so I invited him. He saw it and really gravitated towards it, really fell in love with it and asked “Can I be a part of this movie?” I immediately jumped on that. He became an Executive Producer and then really became a great sort of creative force for us. We worked out a system because, as Guillermo put it, he didn’t want the Kool-Aid on the film and get too close to it and fall in love with it. So we’d bring him in once a month or every six weeks and just show him artwork and show him a sequence in editorial, just talk about character and story, and he was great. When we were going to Aretos (production designer Guillaume Aretos), he encouraged us and pushed us to make the film more fantastic, more exciting. He was just a benefit all around – a great filmmaker, a real blessing and a great producer too.
Q: Did Guillermo have anything to do with the acting or the creation of your characters?
Antonio: No, he was behind the microphone. As Chris explained, he has been supervising in a way all the editing, and I suppose to a certain point too, because he is also Mexican, just checking out how the Latino feeling of the movie was portrayed. I guess that he was helping in that aspect too. I remember he visited the recording studio once and then in promotion when we went to New York, he traveled with us. You feel secure in that aspect that the Latino is going to be there. It’s not going to say St. Richard (referring to the town in the movie), it’s going to say San Ricardo with all the letters displayed which had to do with our community.
Q: Chris, what challenges did you encounter directing live animation as opposed to live action?
Chris: I’ve never directed a live action film so it’s hard for me to say. I can’t really compare but there are so many great artists at DreamWorks and it’s such a collaborative effort. It’s my job to keep things on course and try to create a singular vision or version of the film. And working with everyone on the panel, it’s the same thing. It’s a complete collaborative effort. Everyone here, they’re all great actors. There are many great writers on this panel, great producers, great directors. I mean, these guys are all filmmakers so it makes my job really pretty easy.
Q: Chris, throughout the Shrek films and this one too, you guys have become the standard for how to push the adult twist to kid cartoons without crossing the line. How do you do that?
Chris: I just operate on a gut feeling with that stuff. It just feels like it crosses the line. I can’t think of a specific thing where we went way too far and had to pull back. You just go for your gut. And yeah, the film is geared towards a family audience, but at the end of the day, I want to make a film that I’d want to see. I don’t know, just keep it simple. You kind of know if it’s gone too far.
Q: Chris, what is the secret to directing an animation film?
Chris: I don’t think there’s any real secret to it. It’s all filmmaking. It’s all storytelling. We start with a great character, a really bold, dynamic, colorful, romantic character and larger than life. Everything just springs off from the character that Antonio created so the look of the film is a reflection of his character. His world is a reflection of him. One of the things I love about the character of Puss in Boots is just how seriously he takes himself, how melodramatic he can be at times, which I think was really a great source of comedy for the character. But, even talking to Antonio before we started, in the very early stages of developing the script, he said something to me. I had asked him “What do you want to see from the character?” and he thought it was so important to really take something precious from him and really punch a hole in his heart and give him a journey. And, as funny as the film is and as beautiful as it is, I think it’s that journey and the very personal, dramatic story – a film about redemption, revenge, betrayal and brotherhood – and that’s what’s going to make the film special and you’ll stick around for the emotional journey that he goes through.
Amy: Has he always been an orange cat like in the French version when he was created?
Antonio: Do you have anything against orange?
Zach: It’s a dye job.
Amy: Do you know?
Chris: No, I don’t know. I never read the original.
Q: Can you talk about your transition from the old school charm of the Spaghetti Westerns even down to the split screens to the 3D epicness of the bean stalk growing and the stagecoach scene?
Chris: The Spaghetti Western style you’re talking about, the Sergio Leone vibe the film has, I think it’s part of the fabric. We wanted to make a film that was really based on lots of legends, a very legendary, epic movie and took some cues from some classic cinematic figures. I think there’s a little bit of Clint Eastwood. Actually it’s even more Clint Eastwood than Sergio Leone, but there’s also a bit of Indiana Jones, some James Bond in there, and some Zorro and Errol Flynn. Once again, the characters are so dynamic. The 3D lends itself to his world for scale and depth and really helped inform the action scenes knowing that we had that tool. I think the 3D looks beautiful in the film. It’s really special and the film is best seen in 3D. Without a doubt, the story plays really well in that format. We had some great people working on it. Our cinematographer also did How to Train Your Dragon which next to Avatar I just feel like that’s the most beautiful 3D film that’s been done. He worked with Roger Deakins on that film so he brought all that knowledge and all that skill to Puss in Boots and I think really raised the bar.
Q: How involved were you with the editing which was a great source of comedy?
Chris: All we did was edit on this film. That’s all you do in an animated film anyway. It’s all a completely backwards process. You actually edit first before you shoot in our world. I do them both. That’s the last six months in production. I’m buried in a very dark room somewhere in the basement at DreamWorks cutting away. It’s my life.
Q: Zach, if you had the ability to interview one cartoon character or fairytale character for Between Two Ferns, who would it be and why?
Zach: A fairytale character?
Q: Or a cartoon character?
Zach: Jesus Christ.
Q: Is he a fairytale or cartoon character?
Zach: That’s up to you. I’m not going to get into hot water.
Q: Salma, in that scene when you get hit in the head with the guitar, you made it so real. Could you actually visualize pain when you were doing that scene?
Salma: More than pain, it was the humiliation of losing that fight. I was just embarrassed that I even picked a fight with him.
Antonio: You were supposed to be a man. I hit you because of that.
Salma: To hit a man in the head with a guitar, it’s even worse.
Q: Billy Bob, I thought the music in this film was completely off the charts, especially the guitar playing. As a guitar player, were you inspired by that at all? Also, are you one of those actors that plays during down time with the rest of the cast?
Billy Bob: First of all, I’m a drummer so I play guitar but I’m not exactly like Steve Vai. You’re right about this music. It was terrific. People don’t understand exactly how important music is until you see a movie without it there. I think the music in this movie propels it quite nicely but it also doesn’t get in the way. It’s actually a part of it, and when music and film are married together perfectly, that’s one of the most exciting things there is. But you also don’t want either one of them to point themselves out much, especially the music, and this didn’t. It was just a perfect marriage of the music, so hats off to everybody involved in that. It was a terrific thing. In terms of playing in the downtime with other cast members, it’s real hard having grown up in music and then sort of accidentally becoming an actor, it’s really hard to get past that stigma because I take music very seriously. So, when people want to jam on the weekends, I don’t do it. It’s like “Hey, did you hear that Billy and the grips were all out there on the lake.” No, I don’t like to jam to start with because it’s usually not very good when people jam. For some reason, people get a kick out of it except for usually the people that have to listen to it. I kinda like a nice rehearsal first.
Q: What are you working on now? You have something new coming out?
Billy Bob: I just finished directing again for the first time in 11 years and it’s a movie called Jayne Mansfield’s Car and it takes place in the 1960s and we’re hoping that it will come out sometime late Spring or the Fall of next year. We literally just finished it and we’re still working in post production on it. It’s a movie that stars myself and Robert Duvall and John Hurt and Kevin Bacon and Ray Stevenson and Francis O’Connor and a few people. It’s a very nice bunch of folks and a great experience and hopefully I’ll get to come back and talk to you guys about it. It’s a much smaller kind of movie. Maybe the room won’t be as big, but hopefully I’ll get to see you guys on that.
Q: Is it tonally like Sling Blade or All the Pretty Horses?
Billy Bob: It’s tonally Sling Blade-like. I think there’s probably more humor in it than Sling Blade but it’s once again very dark humor as usual. But, just so you know, Jayne Mansfield is more of a metaphor for the movie. It’s not about Jayne Mansfield’s death or anything like that. It’s mentioned but that’s not what it’s about. It’s really about how war affects different generations and done in sort of a darkly humorous way about the examination of life and death and the fear and fascination with both.
Q: Have all of you found your magic beans?
Salma: I have some.
Amy: I always swallow them. That’s what I always say. I would swallow them and then ask “What did I just take?” That’s what I would do.
“Puss in Boots 3D” opens in theaters on October 28th.