The Mask of Zorro is possibly the most fun you can have in a cinema without risking being thrown out by the management. It’s an old style adventure brought up to date without losing any of its original charm. Antonio Banderas and the wonderful Catherine Zeta Jones reveal how they spiced things up down Mexico way… By James Mottram and Ian Spelling
Selected from the January 1999 Film Review
The Mask of Zorro - our film of the month

Will international movie-goers so spoiled by special effects-driven event pictures show up – as American audiences did this past summer – for a classic-style action flick bolstered by high-flying, horse-hopping stunt work, delicious battles of the spoken and sword variety, and a good deal of romance?

Banderas becomes Zorro“It’s a mystery,” Antonio Banderas replies, after lengthy consideration. “The Mask of Zorro is a real action movie. Will children go? I don’t know. That’s the mystery for me... to find out if people buy the story of Zorro. I do think that anybody who was a kid 30, 40 or 50 years ago, who grew up with or were followers of Zorro in the old films and on the TV show will probably like the movie.”

Zorro stars Anthony Hopkins as Don Diego de la Vega, a gentleman renowned as the masked, Z-carving alter-ego, hero of the Mexican populace. Escaping prison after 20 years, de la Vega meets Alejandro Murieta (Banderas). Far too aged to don Zorro’s mask anew, de la Vega reinvents Murieta as Zorro.

Banderas – who was raised in Spain watching the TV Zorro – marvelled at the film’s good fortune when Hopkins turned down the media titan role played by Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies in order to play De la Vega.

“Tony’s a luxury to have in the movie and he was unbelievable. I knew from the moment he said yes that the movie would be even more special,” Banderas says. “I was pretty scared before I met him because I’d always admired him and knew his reputation. When he arrived on set he was like a kid. He confessed to me that he was tired of playing all these psychological characters. He played with his sword and had so much fun. It was gorgeous to see this 60-year-old man act like he was an 18-year-old, brand new actor."

The screen’s latest swashbuckler also has plenty of praise left over for the lovely Zeta Jones. “Catherine has one of the most beautiful faces in town. Nobody looks better in close-up. She makes me think of Claudia Cardinale and other stunning actresses from the 1960s. At the same time, she’s got an incredible sense of humour. That combination makes her an interesting person, an interesting actress, and very fun to work with.”

Catherine Zeta Jones lets out a sigh. “I don’t know about being a sex symbol or anything like that. I’d rather do without it all." That she has a web site devoted to her – simply called ‘The Goddess’ – points to her modesty. The 29-year-old, who shot to fame in the popular Darling Buds of May TV series, is one of Britain’s few genuine pin-ups. Cutting a striking figure, her dark locks and rich brown eyes draw you to her alluring pose, her smouldering features lending her the look of a Forties movie star. And now she’s found a film that suits her down to the ground.

Catherine Zeta Jones as ElenaAn old-style return to the legend of the swordsman, The Mask of Zorro brims with sexual tension. As the long-lost daughter of Anthony Hopkins’s elder Zorro, and the object of affection for Antonio Banderas’ younger version of the crusader, Jones’s Elena is no shrinking violet.

“My character in Zorro is essentially Wonder Woman… she’s no damsel in distress.” With eight hours training a day (She calls it their ‘Mexican boot camp’), all the tricks of the trade were learnt, courtesy of one 70-year-old Bob Anderson, who also taught Errol Flynn a thrust or two. Boasting that her sword left not one mark on Banderas’s much-lusted after torso, the only injury came in a dance sequence rehearsal – when her watch took a chunk out of his back.

Playing on the Latino l’amour that pervades the film’s atmosphere, Jones glints, “I think the sword fighting is like foreplay or something. It’s really quite sexy. Working with Antonio was in no way difficult. The dancing was great, but the most enjoyment was when we did the sword fighting. Me and Antonio had a great time – we had about four weeks to learn the choreography, but also to get to know each other so that we could incorporate our sense of humours into the scene.”

Banderas, unsurprisingly, felt much the same – “For me it was a pleasure to undress Catherine Zeta Jones, I must say.”

Pictures copyright: UIP
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