Actor Antonio Banderas poses during the photo call of the movie "Puss in Boots" in Rome. Image Credit: AP

You'll struggle to find a bigger paradox than Antonio Banderas and his lovable Shrek character Puss.

When Banderas crossed the Atlantic from his Spanish homeland to star in his first Hollywood movie he didn't speak a word of English. Naturally the saucy Spaniard, who admits he relied more on his dark smoulder than his delivery of lines back then, assumed animation would be something he'd never do.

"I can remember saying it in one of the first interviews I ever gave," he said pushing aside his more recent achievements and recalling more uncertain times.

"A journalist asked me what was next. I said I didn't know but that I thought we could rule out an animation where I lend my voice because my English just wasn't good enough. I never thought it would be. It probably isn't really now. But Puss gets a way with it," he said with more than a cheeky smile.

He still hasn't lost his accent, even if he hams it up in the film. Banderas may have mastered the vocab but is every bit the Spaniard.

"They call me for the use of my voice in a country where I once arrived not speaking the language. Which was just unbelievable," he said.

Banderas ignited box office figures, particularly in Spanish-speaking markets, when his Puss character came on board in Shrek 2. A deep-voiced ginger cat brandishing a sword, wearing boots and a feather in his hat brings to mind Banderas' dashing hero in The Mask of Zorro.

"It's been 10 years with the character," said Banderas raising a furrowed brow.

"We took a decision in the beginning which I believe has proved crucial, to provide him with a voice that he's not supposed to have. He's not supposed to have this thick voice, which I believe it such a major source of comedy for the character."

When he struggles he falls back on every sense other than his speech forced to "feel his way through it".

"I don't work with the animation. I just go in front of a microphone and have some fun and I'm pretty much free to do whatever I want," he said looking comfortable for the first time so far.

"I have a script and I read my lines and then the fun starts because I say ‘I got this idea, last night' or ‘let me just improvise here a little' and the script is very flexible. At the beginning they give you a script which is hardly gonna make it to the movie. I like that because I don't feel constrained by the words."

Banderas' journey started three decades ago at Madrid's National theatre with a chance meeting with director Pedro Almodóvar. "‘You have a very romantic face,' he said to me. ‘You should do movies. Bye-bye.'" Banderas and Almodóvar went on to make five films together.

But Banderas says he never knew where anything would lead and was always realistic about it ending at any time. He had no special desire to move to America, it was just the way the pieces fell. He remembers sitting down with agents, producers, casting directors; nodding and smiling without understanding a word.

‘Bit of an accident'

"When I did my first movie, Mambo Kings, I just thought it would be something that I could tell my kids. It was a bit of an accident. That's how I viewed it," he said adding he learned his lines phonetically, "like singing a song".

"I went back to Spain after that until I had the chance to do some reading with Tom Hanks," he said with distinct accent on the Hollywood hero's surname. "Jonathan Demme called me to screen test for this movie with him,"

So he returned to Hollywood to play opposite Hanks in Philadelphia, and the snowball started to gather momentum.

The House Of The Spirits was signed, he shot Desperado for Robert Rodriguez before waking up every day to film alongside Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in Interview With The Vampire. Lift off for a Hollywood career.

"I went back to Spain and I thought OK I've done two after Philadelphia," he said. "Then they called me back and little by little they started giving me more responsibilities."

But even today Banderas credits his love affair with America to his wife Melanie Griffith.

"Really the turning point has to do with my personal life, you know when I met my wife, and then I married her and she came with two kids," he said. "I didn't have any kids so I was the one who was going to move. I went to live in Los Angeles and that changed my life. I think if it wasn't for them I'd probably be in a bit of a bridge, going back and forwards. I think definitely I would live in Spain, I do believe that," he added.

As well as Cat in Boots (released as Puss in Boots globally) Banderas also stars in Black Gold, filmed in Qatar.

"It came in an interesting moment for me because for many years I've been trying to put together a movie about a Muslim-ruling sultan in Spain, so I was very familiar with this Muslim and Arab issues," he said rubbing his forehead as he yawned. "Somehow, you just walk in my land, Andalusia, and you have so many references to the Arab world. The first one is the architecture. But the music also belongs to that world."

Black Gold, a movie by French director Jacques Annaud, tells the story of two emirs locked in a feud after the discovery of oil, as a young leader emerges to unite the desert tribes.

"Even though the film is set so long ago it's still happening now. The fact that money can establish this Black Gold can corrupt people and create a source of conflict, literally. It makes sense in our days to talk about that. I think we are living in a time in which money is actually taking over everything. We see all these people on the streets in Spain, people in NYC, because we are coming to a realisation that we are not actually ruled by people that we voted for, we are ruled by markets and corporations. That has to do with Black Gold, people who play with it and get totally blinded by it."

Not bored

Banderas yawns again but insists he's not bored.

"I feel very good this year, I mean I'm very tired," he laughed. "I've been doing interviews all over the world. And I still have to go to South America, Europe and Australia. I want to keep going because I am a professional and I shouldn't complain. There are a lot of people who don't have a job so I should shut up, I grit my teeth and I keep going. But now I'd like to stop, think, and take some time. A friend of mine once told me ‘you know what's the most important word in Hollywood' and I said no, but I'm sure you're going to tell me. He said ‘the most important word in Hollywood is no' so I need to start practising that.

"I am going to just step back, relax and try it. And work with those people who I really want to work with. Time is more precious now. It's probably my age. Now I'm 51 I feel I don't have to work any more. Things will come to me. I don't have to go chasing them any more. It's a nice feeling."