Antonio Banderas can pinpoint the moment he realized that Shrek had become an entertainment icon for the ages. ”It was during the Thanksgiving parade last year,” recalls the actor, who voices the suave Puss in Boots. ”I was in my house on Central Park West, and the huge Shrek balloon came by the window. I said, ‘There he is! Right after Mickey Mouse!”’
On the list of characters that altered the course of animated films, that’s a pretty accurate ranking. When DreamWorks released the first Shrek film in 2001, the story of a lovable ogre (Mike Myers), his princess sweetheart (Cameron Diaz), and his best donkey pal (Eddie Murphy) was remarkable in its appeal to grown-ups as well as kids, thanks to its sly, ebullient use of pop music and its ingenious skewering of pop culture in general. The first three films have grossed more than $2.2 billion worldwide, and there’s a fourth installment of the saga opening this week. Shrek Forever After (rated PG) is being billed as the final chapter — though, as Myers puts it, ”the door is probably latched, as they say, and not locked.” We gathered the four main cast members — Myers, Banderas, Murphy, and Diaz — in New York to discuss how green creatures and talking animals changed their lives.
Do you each remember your reaction when you heard about Shrek for the first time?
Mike Myers I thought it was the worst title ever in the world. It sounded like the sound I make after drinking 12 Molson Canadian beers. But I liked the idea of taking the classical fairy tale and turning it on its head, where the traditional villains are heroes.
Eddie Murphy Jeffrey [Katzenberg] had offered me Who Framed Roger Rabbit years ago. It sounded weird to me, and I passed on it. To this day, when I see the movie I feel like a f — -ing idiot. When he came to me with this one, I was like, ”Yeah.”
Cameron Diaz It was a no-brainer for me. There was no downside. You go in for a few hours here and there and do a little voice. And it sort of paid off.
Antonio Banderas For me, the thought was ”What the heck are these guys thinking?” I got to this country without even speaking the language. And the fact that they called me just for the use of my voice? It was unbelievable. The first session that I did was here in New York. I was on Broadway [in Nine]. And the first thing I did [as Puss] was get a hair ball out of my throat for 30 minutes. I went to the theater that night and I couldn’t even sing.
None of you have ever actually worked in the same room on these films. How did you establish a rapport? Was there ever any rehearsal? Or even a table read?
Diaz We don’t even get a script.
Myers We never get to see each other. I’m mildly starstruck seeing Eddie right now. I get superquiet.
Diaz The rapport is really between the characters, you know what I mean? The first one, it was really sort of flying blind. But once I saw the finished product, I had a better understanding. I know Shrek now. Now I have a relationship with him. That’s the only saving grace, because you really do want to be in the same room.
Banderas For me, it would have been incredibly intimidating to get in a room with these guys. I don’t know if I would have been able to let myself go in the way I did when I was alone.
Have you had any input regarding your characters over the years?
Murphy I’ll go in and I’ll do it right off the paper a couple times, then I’ll do a couple where I improvise. And they’ll take the best stuff out of that. Lots of times I don’t even remember saying stuff [when I see it]. There’s something in this new one where I go, ”You know what would help with morale around here? Flip-flop Fridays.” I’m like, ”When the f — – did I say that?”
Obviously, introducing Puss in Boots in Shrek 2 helped the franchise, but weren’t the rest of you guys jealous when Antonio came in and stole the movie?
Myers Every series of films always infuses a new perspective for the characters that are already in the series. It always happens that way. For me, with Wayne’s World, it was Mini-Me and Fat Bastard.
You mean Austin Powers.
Myers Jesus. Wow. That’s a grandpa move. ”During World War I, you understand…” But when it was Antonio Banderas, it was like, ”Ahh, he’s so charming.” He knocked it out of the park. You love the whole, and that’s the good news about it.
Banderas I’ll never forget the opening of that one at Cannes. There was a roar in the theater. Normally people get out of that theater slapped and kicked.
Murphy I was at the premiere of Scarface [in 1983], and they hissed at that movie. I was shocked. It was right here in New York. It said ”This film is dedicated to” somebody [original Scarface director Howard Hawks and screenwriter Ben Hecht] at the end, and the audience went ”Ssss!” Then Lucille Ball tapped me on the shoulder and said, ”Hey, Eddie, can you give me a ride?”
Diaz Shut up! No way, that’s amazing!
Where did she want you to take her?
Murphy She was just joking. I didn’t know she was sitting behind me. ”Oh, s — -, Lucy’s behind me!”
Antonio, as Puss, are you intentionally playing for comedy?
Banderas We were mocking characters that I did in real life: Zorro, Desperado. It was perfect. I think I understood very soon that it would be an opportunity to laugh at some of the characters that I had done.
Murphy We were talking yesterday on the plane about how actors bring baggage with them. Like when you see De Niro in a scene in, like, Analyze This, and he looks at somebody and it’s funny because he’s got all this tough-guy stuff. You bring all of your stuff with you to the screen. That’s why I was perfect to play a jackass! I’ve had people actually say that: ”You look like that donkey!” You know what? F — you. [Laughs]
You must have people asking you to do your Shrek voices all the time. When do you say yes?
Myers You say yes every time. Because it’s sweet. I’ve called friends’ kids that had a cold or something and done it. And they’ll be like, ”Okay, that’s great, now can you put on the tooth fairy?”
Murphy I know how to make a shadow puppet that looks exactly like the donkey. So when my kids are over I’ll do the donkey shadow with the voice.
Antonio, will you allow the other three to do cameos in your Puss spin-off (due in 2011)?
Banderas No way!
Myers I saw that coming.
Diaz Is it before we meet Puss?
Banderas Oh, yeah, he’s just a kid in an orphanage. He starts seeing the potency of his eyes. He does it accidentally and it produces an effect, so he starts rehearsing. But it’s totally different. It doesn’t have that anti — pop culture thing that Shrek has. It’s an epic.
Antonio, you made the third Spy Kids in 3-D, but for the rest of you, this is your first 3-D movie. Would you ever want to do live-action 3-D?
Banderas I’ve been doing 3-D for a long time. It’s called theater. It was invented 3,000 years ago.
Murphy I think in 25 years you’ll go to the theater and it’ll be like the Bug’s Life ride at Disneyland: The chairs are shaking, and you feel bugs on your legs. Ultimately they won’t have actors. They’ll draw us all. More and more I find myself doing scenes by myself. Now you can do an action sequence where you just stand there and say your lines and they take your head and put it on some other body. You can’t go to acting school and prepare for that.
Myers My next movie is in pill form.
You’ve all been very well paid for this franchise. Do any of you have a house or a car that Shrek bought?
Banderas I don’t compartmentalize my life like that: ”I bought this house with Zorro. That car belongs to Puss in Boots.” I don’t do that.
Diaz Certainly there’s been a lot of generosity. But that’s not what I think of when I think of Shrek. My accountant might.
Murphy I save all my Shrek money. I spend the flop money.
What will you miss most now that the Shrek series seems to be over?
Myers I’m going to miss the other characters. I fell in love with them. I thought I was coming in to do a comedic role and I found over time that it was one of the most satisfying dramatic roles I’ve ever been involved in.
Diaz There’s always something very comforting for me for the last 10 years knowing that I get to go back to Fiona, Shrek, Donkey, and Puss. That they’re there, and somebody is thinking about them and creating them. I’m starting to get a little bit emotional thinking about it. You don’t realize what it is until it’s gone.
Murphy There’s no pressure with these movies. The onus isn’t on you to deliver everything. And then it just generates so much goodwill. And afterward, people blow smoke up your ass for a year or two. Just a continuous stream of smoke up your ass for a whole year. It’s terribly pleasant.