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MASK OF ZORRO

In the tradition of a golden past Hollywood adventure romance, The Mask of Zorro is a full bodied movie made of betrayal, revenge, romance, swordfights and a terrific sense of humour. It also stars Anthony Hopkins, Antonia Banderas and the drop dead goregous Catherine Zeta-Jones.

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 screen today."

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 Doug Claybourne

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 Hopkins

"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 personal style.

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.

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