With The Mask of Zorro, Antonio Banderas truly marked himself as a genuine star and sex symbol across the globe. While he earned acclaim for his collaborations with Pedro Almodóvar in Spain and made his presence known in the States with Philadelphia and Interview with the Vampire, The Mask of Zorro was his first leading role to near $100 million at the domestic box office. But the iconic swordsman almost had another man behind the mask: Tom Cruise.
According to The Mask of Zorro‘s original director Mikael Salomon, executive producer Steven Spielberg wanted Tom Cruise to star. “Who else was [in the mix]? Some big — oh yeah, Tom Cruise. Early on, [Spielberg] wanted to offer it to him. Have you heard that? He wanted to offer it to Tom Cruise. And my friend and countryman Bille August had done The House of the Spirits with all non-Latinos, and he got in so much hot water because of that, and they picketed the movie in South America. And I said to Steven, ‘You know, that’s probably not a good idea, just for that reason.’” Cruise would end up calling Salomon directly to turn down the offer because of whitewashing concerns, telling his would-be director, “Thanks for the offer, but I think it’s not a great idea for me to do this movie because, as you know…” (For reference, The House of the Spirits was widely panned for casting the likes of Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, and Winona Ryder as Chileans.)
Instead, the lead in The Mask of Zorro would go to Cruise’s Interview with the Vampire co-star Antonio Banderas – who also appeared in The House of the Spirits – although he would be directed by Martin Campbell when Salomon dropped out. There were other casting changes as well, as Salomon once had Sean Connery attached to Diego de la Vega, the role that eventually went to Anthony Hopkins. Andy Garcia was even in talks to play the lead.
But with The Mask of Zorro, Antonio Banderas would become as synonymous with the character as Douglas Fairbanks – who brought the character to the big screen with 1920’s The Mark of Zorro (note the spelling) – and Tyrone Power, who starred in the sound remake two decades later. There have been many other versions as well, although unfortunately a recent attempt by Robert Rodriguez to spearhead a female-starring Zorro series was cut. However, a Wilmer Valderrama-led take is apparently still moving forward for Disney+.
What place do The Mark of Zorro and its sequel, The Legend of Zorro, have in Antonio Banderas’ career? Are you a fan of his portrayal? Let us know!