Although based on Johnston McCulley's well-known character (born 1919 in a pulp novel),
The Mask of Zorro is very different from previous interpretations of the story. "Ours
is not the traditional story of Zorro being a nobleman's son," says director Martin
Campbell. "Our story has much more to do with a Merlin/King Arthur type of
relationship, where an older Zorro trains a younger man to become his successor."
"Antonio has all the attributes I wanted for
Zorro," Director Martin Campbell
Campbell was attracted to the character of Zorro because he is an anachronism in the
'90s action genre – characterised by gratuitous violence and a decidedly hard edge
– who still generates excitement and retains tremendous appeal. "Zorro is the
perfect hero," says Campbell. "From a moral point of view, he doesn't go out to
kill as many bad guys as he can – he cleverly disables them, embarrasses them and
makes fools of them. I thought it would be interesting to bring such a character to the
It is no accident that The Mask of Zorro, which teams lightning paced adventure,
daredevil stunts and acrobatic swordplay with drama, suspense, classic romance, and a
tender reunion story, evokes great adventure films of the past. "I wanted this film
to look like one of those big Hollywood epics with tremendous action, romance and
fun," says Campbell. "Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. had this terrific sense of humour
with the character, a real joie de vivre. I wanted that for our film."
Adds Executive Producer Walter Parkes, "The word we constantly used was 'operatic'
– we wanted to create a story in which sweeping emotions like betrayal, revenge and
redemption were as much a part of the movie as were the swordfights."
The actor whom all agreed was capable of bringing these qualities to the production was
Antonio Banderas. "Antonio has all the attributes I wanted for Zorro," says
Campbell. "He is a very fine actor – dashing and physical as well – who
easily conveys compassion and has a great sense of humour. If ever there was a perfect
Zorro, it is Antonio."
"I was so nervous the first few days"
Antonio Banderas on working with Hopkins
The filmmakers were ecstatic when Anthony Hopkins agreed to join the cast as de la
Vega. "Tony Hopkins was the icing on the cake," says producer Doug Claybourne.
Adds Campbell, "He's the nobility in the film. He brings tremendous weight and depth
to the character."
Banderas was equally thrilled about Hopkins. "To work with Anthony is an honour
for me," he says. "I was so nervous the first few days that I couldn't stop my
legs from shaking." Hopkins returns the praise: "Antonio has endless ideas and
tremendous energy and enthusiasm. We had a lot of fun working together."
Catherine Zeta-Jones was cast in the role of Elena after Steven Spielberg caught her on
television in the miniseries The Titanic. Many predict The Mask of Zorro will be her
breakout film. "I think she's going to be a major star. It was a tough role –
very physically and emotionally demanding. But Catherine handled it," says Producer
David Foster. "We were lucky to have an executive producer in Steven Spielberg who
brought her to our attention.
"It offered us the most inspiring locations" producer
The Mask of Zorro was filmed entirely on location in Central Mexico. Production began
at Churubusco Studios in Mexico City on January 27, 1997. Filming continued at the San
Blas hacienda outside the city of Tlaxcala; the Tetlapayac hacienda outside Pachuca and
Santa Maria Regla, both in the state of Hildago; and along the beaches of Guyamas before
returning to Mexico City in April. Principal photography was completed in May 1997.
"Initially we began looking for locations that would give the feeling of Monterey,
California, during the 1800s," says Claybourne. "We looked around California,
and even Spain, but were drawn to Mexico because it offered us the most inspiring
locations. The view seen through our camera lens was the same as it would have been for
Zorro some hundred years ago."
Moreover, adds Claybourne, "The locations have not been blighted by high-rise
towers, modern architecture, high-voltage power lines, telephone poles, television
antennas, satellite dishes, or, in some cases, even paved roads."
"Finding the right locations was critical for us since 80 per cent of The Mask of
Zorro was filmed outdoors," says Foster. "It was important that the locations
reflected the Spanish Colonial era of our story. We needed the great expanses of land that
existed in California circa 1820 to 1840, and we needed several period haciendas."
"I loved Mexico," Anthony
"I loved Mexico," says Hopkins. "The weather was beautiful, the local
people were friendly, the extras were warm-hearted, the crew was great."
Banderas echoes Hopkins, "Shooting the movie in Mexico was a big plus for us. The
architecture, the people, the culture, the folklore – everything that surrounded the
production supported the idea of Zorro."
The filmmakers found a largely agricultural area in the tiny state of Tlaxcala where
one of the most important sets for the movie was built. The region evoked a world of the
past, with sweeping vistas and several magnificent haciendas that dated back to the time
of Spanish occupation. For the classic old town plaza that is used in the opening of the
film, the filmmakers selected San Blas hacienda outside the tiny pueblo of Lopez Mateos in
Tlaxcala. It was chosen for its unique physical layout, which enabled Production Designer
Cecilia Montiel to create seven separate sets within one gigantic master set. Once Montiel
and her crew were finished, the hacienda, which had been in an advanced state of
disrepair, contained a governor's office, a church, a military cartel, a marketplace, an
execution site, a cantina, and the fictional town's plaza.
Because many action and stunt sequences would be filmed in the plaza – for
example, Zorro runs across an archway, jumps off a roof, lands on an overhang, leaps to a
canopy and then uses his whip to swing himself onto a balcony – Campbell consulted
Swordmaster Bob Anderson, who has been Hollywood's top sword trainer for 45 years, while
the set was being designed. Swordfights, for example, require a great deal of space to
accommodate actors whose arms are extended with three and a half feet of sword.
"Swordfights are far, far more than people imagine," says Campbell.
"Staging them is complicated and intense."
"Not since Erroll Flynn have I ever worked with anyone
as natural with the sword as Antonio." Swordmaster Bob Anderson
What Anderson particularly liked about the sword action in the story is that the
confrontations are pure swordfights, and not the customary landing of one or two blows
before one character scrambles away. He choreographed each fight with distinguishing broad
moves (such as a fall down a staircase or parrying against multiple opponents), added
flourishes like swishing, missing, and sweeping, and took into account each actor's
All of the actors were up to the challenge. "Not since Erroll Flynn (with whom
Anderson worked on The Master of Ballantrae) have I ever worked with anyone as natural
with the sword as Antonio. He is an amazing athlete and a joy to work with," says
Anderson. As for Hopkins, Anderson lauds, "Tony is an amazingly quick study and took
great pleasure in perfecting his swordplay. I don't think people will believe this is the
first time he has worked with a sword." Since Zeta-Jones' character challenges Zorro
to a swordfight – which crew members affectionately dubbed the "sexy
swordfight" – the actress also went through pre-production sword training like
her male co-stars. She thoroughly enjoyed the process. "Antonio and I used to talk
about how it felt like we were in an old Hollywood musical, where actors would routinely
spend time training," says the actress.