Who can get a film off the ground just with their pretty face? Brad Pitt, for sure. Tom Cruise, of course. And Antonio Banderas? Up to a certain point. At least if the budget doesn’t exceed 22 million euros, which is what his animated feature Justin and the Knights of Valour cost.
Banderas has spent years as a distinguished partner at the Granada-based animation studio Kandor, which has already spawned one Oscar nominee (Javier Recio, director of the short film La dama y la muerte) and two Goya Award-winning works (La dama... and Manuel Sicilia and Raúl García’s feature The Missing Lynx). Now the moment has arrived for its big bet: the 22-million-euro Justin and the Knights of Valour, which tells the story of a boy who wants to become a knight in a kingdom dominated by lawyers.
Banderas has been at the helm of the operation to publicize the film’s Spanish release. With no big marketing budget, the movie has only its quality, director Sicilia and Banderas’ promotional talents behind it.
The Málaga-born actor will be in the middle of filming The Expendables 3 with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sofia when the film comes out. In fact, his current projects are piling up: he recently appeared in Terrence Malick’s forthcoming Knight of Cups and Robert Rodríguez’s Machete Kills; and he stars in and is producing Gabe Ibáñez’s Autómata, which is now in postproduction. After Expendables he will be playing the only flesh-and-blood character in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie; and he is also in the cast of The 33, the film about the real-life Chilean miners who spent 69 days trapped underground.
On the horizon for 2014 is his second directorial effort, Solo, and also pending is Carlos Saura’s 33 días, in which he is set to play Pablo Picasso in the middle of the creative frenzy that produced Guernica. “It’s a complex production because it is in French and Spanish, not English. It is difficult to finance those projects. Here I am only an actor. If I were the producer...”
So let’s return to what he is producing... Justin was originally shot in English with voice talent from actors such as Alfred Molina, Rupert Everett, Julie Walters and Saoirse Ronan, as well as Banderas. His voice will also feature in the Spanish version, alongside that of Inma Cuesta. “We are going for the children’s audience, pure and simple, and what’s more, in a classic way, with no Shrek-style pop-culture references. We were looking for a classic tale, with values such as loyalty, honor and effort, in a universe full of strict rules taken to absurd extremes. And a romantic, valiant hero appears... We are sometimes hypocrites as parents, taking our children to see films we want to see ourselves. Justin refuses to play that game and aims straight for the kids.
“As a producer I don’t enter narrative or creative territory, but I was bowled over by the technical quality, something I know well from my work on Shrek and Puss in Boots. In various parts of the process we created our own software. Will I lose money? I might!” he says with a chuckle. “But I see the poster and it brightens up my life — at least we have fought to save some jobs.”
This sounds like an ideal moment to discuss the current economic climate. “You have no idea what it cost us to keep the film going. My current job — after four years battling for the financing, to sell it around the world — is to make people aware that this exists, because we don’t have a TV channel behind us. I remember when Cameron Díaz and I went to the semifinal — not even the final — of American Idol to do a 30-second interview, which cost $10 million. We repeated “Shrek 4” several times to an audience of 45 million people. How I am going to compete with that? And without a TV channel to bombard viewers with the film, to make you think you are stupid if you don’t see it, I am the one who has to slog it out. I’m going to wage the most honest campaign I can, but I’m going to get the message across that Justin is a Spanish effort, an honest, solid, project, and that in the middle of a terrible crisis we are moving forward and spending money, but more so with the hope, sweat, tears and many hours of work from the animators.”