Q: When you came to the U.S. to do The Mambo Kings, you were an accomplished actor in Spain but you didn't speak English. Was it hard for you to adjust?
A: It was difficult. I was living in New York, and I went to Berlitz two months prior to starting shooting, studying eight hours a day. But making the movie was not the most difficult part. The problem was living in a place where I didn't understand anybody. I was staying in a hotel, and I was afraid even to call room service. There was a deli on the same street as the hotel, and I spotted a tag on a guy there that said "Rodriguez." I used to go down and talk to Rodriguez and buy sandwiches, then take them back to my room.
Q: How did the opportunity occur for you to come here in the first place?
A: I had done a lot of films with the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, and one of them, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, was nominated for an Academy Award. I came to Los Angeles for the awards show, met some agents, and was eventually asked to read for The Mambo Kings. I thought that I would do that movie, go back to Europe, and just have the story of what happened in America that I could one day tell to my grandsons.
Q: Soon after that you did Philadelphia, playing opposite Tom Hanks, then Desperado. At what point did you finally say, "Okay, I'm here for a while"?
A: When I met Melanie and had to make a decision about where we were going to live. She had two kids, and they had two different fathers in America. It would have been very difficult if we moved to Europe, because those kids needed to visit their parents. The kids cannot pay the price of whatever love story was happening between Melanie and me. We cannot be putting them on planes every 15 days. I was alone — in my first marriage I didn't have kids. So it was clear: I am the one.
Q: Did that decision feel like a sacrifice?
A: Not really. If she had been living in Uganda [laughs], yeah. But we're talking about the United States of America — a really great country.
Q: You've done many different films. In your latest, you play a cat in the animated Puss in Boots. What do you think of the Puss character?
A: He means a lot to me, as I came to this country not speaking the language at all. When they called me to play Puss in Boots for Shrek 2 in 2003 and asked for the use of my voice for this character, it was very surprising.
Q: By then you had already married Melanie Griffith. What was your attraction to her?
A: I had admired Melanie long before I met her. I remember seeing Working Girl in Madrid and thinking, "Wow, she's so beautiful, so special!" And on the night of the Oscars, when I came for Women on the Verge, I saw her on the red carpet but couldn't remember her name. Pedro Almodóvar said, "It's Melanie Griffith, you idiot! She's nominated for an Academy Award tonight!" Six years after that, we're married!