En Garde! Facts About The Mask Of Zorro

The Mask of Zorro is a 1998 swashbuckling film starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Stuart Wilson. It is based on the character of the masked vigilante named Zorro, created by Johnston McCulley in 1919. The film was met with both commercial and critical success although it had its fair share of roadblocks along the way. So, unsheathe your saber, steal a horse, and ride into these lesser-known facts about The Mask of Zorro.

Sean Connery Almost Played The Older Version Of Zorro

Photo of Sean Connery
Alberto Pizzoli/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
Alberto Pizzoli/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Although The Mask of Zorro may have had its ups and downs during production, one of the biggest issues when making the film was casting. When discussing who should play Don Diego de la Vega, Danish cinematographer Mikael Solomon was intent on casting Sean Connery.

Solomon was interested in the idea that the whole cast would be Latino except for Connery. However, after he missed the start of principal photography, he dropped out of the film and took his idea of casting Connery with him.

The Film’s Sword Trainer Was Blown Away By Antonio Banderas

Antonio Banderas with sword
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Although Banderas wasn’t known as a swashbuckling actor, when it came to The Mask of Zorro, the actor wanted to make sure that the film was as authentic as possible. This means he insisted on performing the majority of the stunts himself, including the intricate fencing sequences.

Banderas went on to train with legendary sword trainer and member of the English Olympic fencing team Bob Anderson. After working with Banderas, Anderson claimed that he was the most talented swordsman that he’d worked with since Errol Flynn.

Catherine Zeta-Jones Was Cast Thanks To The Help Of Steven Spielberg

Zeta-Jones as Elena
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Before filming began, Steven Spielberg was considered to take on the job as director. Although he turned the position down, he remained attached to the film as an executive producer.

He had seen Catherine Zeta-Jones in a Titanic miniseries in 1996 and she caught Spielberg’s eye even though the series was panned. Spielberg enjoyed Zeta-Jones’ performance so much that he suggested her for the role of Elena in The Mask of Zorro, which she pulled off very naturally.

There Was A Sequel In 2005

Banderas and Zeta-Jones in the sequel
Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

While it’s common for sequels not to do nearly as well as their predecessors, it is uncommon for sequels to manage to get all of the original cast back together. This is exactly what happened in 2005 when The Legend of Zorro was released.

The film follows Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Zorro and Elena, now husband and wife, as they try to stop California’s attempt to achieve statehood. Although the film made some profit, it was torn apart by critics, receiving a rating of 26% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Director And Anthony Hopkins Both Turned Down James Bond For Zorro

Martin Campbell on set
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

In the 1990s, the James Bond franchise experienced a resurgence with Pierce Brosnan taking up the role of 007 in Goldeneye in 1995. The film was a critical and commercial success with director Martin Campbell at the helm and grossing more than $355 million at the box office.

Of course, Campbell was invited back to direct the next film, Tomorrow Never Dies, but turned it down to direct The Mask of Zorro instead. Ironically, Anthony Hopkins was considered for the role of Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies, but also turned it down to be involved in The Mask of Zorro.

Zorro Is Based On A Real Person

Tombstone
Bob Grieser/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Bob Grieser/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

While Antonio Banderas might be closely associated with the Zorro name, the character can be traced back to a real-life historical figure named Joaquin Murrieta. Around the time of the 1849 Gold Rush, Murrieta and his partner Three-Fingered Jack were bandits in Northern California, with Murrieta having moved north from Mexico to make his fortune.

However, after being beaten and robbed, he swore vengeance against the Americans, becoming a legendary figure in the West. Many books and films have been made about Murrieta, and the character of Zorro was born.

There Were Issues With The Swords

Banderas with a sword
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

When filming The Mask of Zorro, the production team had a lot of difficulty with the prop swords. Although Banderas was trained on how to use a sword properly, the ones he learned to fight with were made of aluminum and made dull clinking noises when they collided with another weapon.

All of the sounds of swords hitting each other had to be re-dubbed in post-production so that they sounded like real weapons, which was no easy feat.

The Studio Filed A Lawsuit Against A Television Show

Woman with a mask
Fireworks Entertainment
Fireworks Entertainment

Three years after The Mask of Zorro was released in theaters, Sony Pictures Entertainment filed a lawsuit against Fireworks Entertainment Group over their television show Queen of Swords. The show follows a Spanish aristocrat who returns to her home in California to find it taken over by a governor who took her father’s life.

She then uses a mask to hide her identity and seeks revenge. Sony claimed that Queen of Swords infringed on elements of their Zorro character, although the judge disagreed, claiming that the character Zorro is in the public domain.

One Scene Is Inspired By A Jackie Chan Film

Hopkins and Banderas training
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

There’s no doubt that The Mask of Zorro was influenced by several different genres ranging from Errol Flynn swashbuckling films to Westerns. However, one scene was inspired by a Jackie Chan film, something most people wouldn’t expect.

According to the DVD commentary by director Martin Campbell, the scene in which Alejandro is doing push-ups with candles burning below him and la Vega’s feet on top of him came from the Jackie Chan film Snake in the Eagles Shadow, a martial arts comedy.

The Ending Was Changed Three Months After Filming Had Wrapped

Banderas running away from an explosion
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

In the script, the initial ending had Diego de la Vega die in the arms of his daughter, as a final blessing of the union between his daughter and Alejandro.

However, during post-production, director Martin Campbell and Steven Spielberg thought that the ending was a little too depressing and needed to be changed. This decision was made three months after filming had finished, and the filmmakers had to go to great lengths to ensure that the film kept its continuity.

Banderas’ Lines Were Changed to Avoid English Words He Couldn’t Pronounce

Banderas with a beard
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Antonio Banderas had been an actor for more than 10 years before finally making his way to Hollywood. It was there that he had to master the language of English, and in 1998, he still hadn’t worked out all of the kinks.

In an interview, he admitted that he had a hard time saying the word ‘animals.’ “In Zorro, I had a line changed from ‘you look like a bunch of animals’ to ‘you look like a collection of beasts,'” he said. “It worked much better, so I don’t care.”

Catherine Zeta-Jones Fooled Audiences Into Thinking She Was Spanish

Catherine Zeta-Jones in Zorro
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Catherine Zeta-Jones’ performance as Elena successfully fooled millions of viewers into thinking that she was of Spanish descent, when she is in fact Welsh. Not only did Zeta-Jones take Spanish lessons, but she also spent a lot of time learning how to ride horses, dance, and fence.

She commented, “After [filming] I had great expectations of continuing this and maybe being an Olympian sword woman, but course, lazy old me.” Elena was Zeta-Jones’ breakout role and one of her most notable.

How They Cut The Dress

Zorro and Elena duel
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

One of the most memorable moments in the film is when Elena and Zorro duel and Zorro successfully manages to cut off all of her clothes.

Of course, Banderas doesn’t actually cut off Zeta-Jones’ clothes, as there were wires attached to the dress that are pulled in order to seemingly rip off a piece of clothing at the desired moment. Interestingly, both actors admitted that they enjoyed the scene and that it was erotic to film.

The Musical Score Was Inspired By El Cid

Anthony Hopkins on a wagon
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

The film’s score was of particular note when the movie was first released, with composer James Horner making a point to avoid stereotypical Hollywood music. Instead, he aimed for the film to be true to Spanish musical history.

One of the films that inspired the score was the 1962 classic El Cid, which was directed by Anthony Mann and starred Charlton Heston. Horner wanted to make the soundtrack something that people could dance to and fought for the originality of his score even though he was being pressured by the producers to conform with other blockbusters.

Zorro Helped To Inspire Batman

Anthony Hopkins with a sword
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

The character of Zorro was first established in 1919 and Batman first began appearing in comics in 1939, two decades later. Batman’s creator, Bob Kane, has noted the influence that Zorro had on his iconic character.

Some connections include that Don Diego lives in a house with a series of hidden passages beneath it which leads to his hideout and contains his horse, Tornado. Furthermore, Diego also has servant Bernardo, who is believed to be the inspiration behind Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s butler.

Anthony Hopkins Almost Didn’t Take The Role

Banderas and Hopkins
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Anthony Hopkins was in the middle of filming the predator and prey film The Edge when he was offered the role of Don Diego de la Vega in The Mask of Zorro. However, he initially turned the role down after sustaining a back injury while filming at the age of 60.

Luckily, he was able to take a few days off from filming The Edge in order to have laser surgery on his back. It successfully eased his pain and allowed him to take the role of the elder Zorro.

Much Of The Movie Was Filmed On Location

Mining scenes
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Director Martin Campbell went on record saying that around 80% of the scenes were shot on location. He was disappointed when he learned that a lot of people thought that the massive mining scenes at the end of the film were CGI.

He claims that they spent a ton of time building the sets, and that they must have come out so well that audiences just assumed that everything was fake. The joke is on them!

The Release Date Was Changed

Antonio Banderas in a mask
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Initially, the movie was set for release on December 19, 1997, before it was eventually changed to March of 1998. This change led to rumors indicating that TriStar had changed the date because they didn’t want to have to compete with Titanic.

While this may seem possible, in reality, the movie had several production problems that resulted in an extended shooting schedule. Furthermore, Sony Pictures Entertainment wanted an action movie for its first-quarter release of 1998.

There Was Controversy Over Writing

Anthony Hopkins in costume
TriStar
TriStar

In the book Tales From the Script, written by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman, a story is mentioned regarding the writing process for The Mask of Zorro.

It tells how director and screenwriter David S. Ward was hired as a writer on the film to change around 85% of the script. However, he remains unmentioned in the credits which resulted in a fair bit of controversy. The story even made it to the front of the Los Angeles Times!

The Film Could Have Been Rated R

Banderas in a suit
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Even though The Mask of Zorro has a lot of weapons and fight scenes, at its core the film isn’t necessarily violent. Nevertheless, the film could have gone in a completely different direction if the producers had ended up putting Robert Rodriguez in the director’s chair, who isn’t known from shying away from gore.

While Rodriguez’s past projects have been praised, some believe that he relies too heavily on violence. When Rodriguez said he intended the movie to be rated R, the studios disagreed and he was removed from the film.