Los Angeles: Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas have broken free of the stereotypes that once pigeonholed Hispanic and Spanish actors in Hollywood, now enjoying such elevated star status that they can carry films with their voices alone.
The sixth collaboration by the Mexican and Spaniard, "Puss in Boots", premieres Friday across the US and marks the first time the pair have worked together on an animated film.
"I arrived in this country without speaking the language. Doing animation was inconceivable," the 51-year-old Banderas, a native of the southern Spanish city of Malaga, told EFE in a joint interview with Hayek in Los Angeles, the city that served as a springboard to mega stardom for both actors after rocky starts.
"I didn`t know anyone and they mocked me for wanting to do the most basic stuff as an artist," the 45-year-old Hayek, who was born in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz, said.
She joked with Banderas that at least he came to Hollywood in the early 1990s as an "Almodovar boy", referring to his roles in early films by acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar such as "Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios" (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and "¡Atame!" (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!).
"You arrived on a plate of nominations. You had a name. You were popular and people sought you out. I didn`t have anything," said Hayek, who had to brush off numerous insulting comments from powerful figures in Hollywood before making her breakthrough.
"They told me everything, things you can`t imagine. `You`re the most beautiful woman I`ve seen in my life. You have loads of talent. Too bad when you open your mouth you have to remind everyone watching the film of their housekeeper`," an indignant Hayek said.
Despite everything, the actress was determined to alter Hollywood`s perception of Latinos.
"What they said motivated me ... `They`re wrong. I understand everyone has the right to their own ignorance but at the end of the day this will have to change`," said Hayek, who a decade after making her Hollywood debut as a Mexican-American street-gang member in "Mi vida loca" (My Crazy Life) received an Oscar nomination for best actress for her role in the 2002 film "Frida".
Hayek said she found a "small opening" for herself in Hollywood through roles that highlighted her sex appeal.
"They were never going to let me be an astronaut, but the sexy chick ... that`s what I went for and later it was easier to jump to other roles," said Hayek, who became a sex symbol through her appearances in the 1990s films "Desperado", which also starred Banderas; "From Dusk till Dawn"; and "Wild Wild West".
Banderas, meanwhile, was introduced to American audiences in the 1991 documentary film "Madonna: Truth or Dare", in which the singer described him as a "Latin lover" she wanted to seduce.
A year later, he had a starring role in "The Mambo Kings", playing a Cuban immigrant who tries to achieve the American Dream through music.
"I remember Hispanics told me that if I was going to stay in Hollywood I had to be the bad guy. The studios couldn`t conceive of the possibility of creating Hispanic heroes and having an Anglo as the villain," the actor, who starred in the blockbuster 1998 film "The Mask of Zorro", said.
In that film, "the bad guy was a blonde with long hair and the Latins were the heroes. So progress has been made", Banderas said.
Banderas noted that since coming to Hollywood he has had roles in drama films like "Philadelphia", in which he played "Tom Hanks` boyfriend", the vampire movie "Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles", action films like "Assassins" and the sci-fi family movie "Spy Kids".
Nevertheless, the Spanish actor said many people continue to see him as the "Latin lover", adding that the "stereotype precedes you and it`s almost impossible to get rid of it".
In "Puss in Boots", Banderas will revisit the cat-swordsman character he voiced in "Shrek 2" and "Shrek the Third".
Puss was so successful as a secondary character that DreamWorks Animation studio decided to make the feline the central figure in its latest computer-animated adventure film.
In that spinoff prequel to the Shrek series, Puss (Banderas) is a swashbuckling hero who sets off on a journey with the help of sidekicks Humpty Dumpty and Kitty Softpaws (Hayek) to save the world from two murderous outlaws, Jack and Jill.