The actors, who star in the cat-loving, animated film “Puss in Boots,” made an appearance at the opening day of the Cannes Film Festival.
"When I started out, Hispanic roles were very limited," Hayek said Wednesday at the Cannes Film Festival, where she and Banderas joined DreamWorks Animation overseers to show off footage of "Puss in Boots," a "Shrek" spinoff coming this November. "Roles were very limited.
"There were one or two kinds of characters you used to do," she added. "Now we get to play the cats! It's OK to be a Hispanic, even if you are a cat."
"Cats were British, normally," Banderas added at a question-and-answer session alongside Hayek after the footage screened.
"I feel very proud, actually," Banderas said of his role in expanding the types of parts open to Hispanic performers. "I never pretended when I first went to Hollywood to be a guy from Oklahoma. I am what I am.
"And fortunately, the Spanish community in the United States has grown in the last 22 years that I have been there," he added. "There has been an explosion in Hollywood, which is a reflection of the society in which we live."
After the footage showed, Banderas and Hayek headed to a pier along the Mediterranean beach, where they posed for photos on a giant pair of boots bearing the movie's title.
Banderas reprises his voice role from the last three "Shrek" films, providing the voice of Puss in Boots, the tiny cat with the big heart, big ideas and bigger ego.
A prequel chronicling Puss' adventures before meeting ogre Shrek, the movie has the cat as an outlaw, looking to pull off a big score.
But his scheme is interrupted by another calculating cat, Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Hayek), who is in league with Puss' pal-turned-foe Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), as they try to swipe the magic beans of the "Jack and the Beanstalk" fairy tale from beastly bandits Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris).
Age is another Hollywood barrier Banderas and Hayek feel they have skirted.
Banderas proudly called out his age, 50, while Hayek, 44, said this is the best time in her career, with four movies in the works this year and the work more enjoyable than ever.
"What makes you feel old is when you are not excited about life. You are not excited anymore about what you do, and you cannot do it as well," Hayek said. "I do feel my body beginning to — like, I need glasses now when I read my scripts. I wear them, but I'm happy to wear them and happy that I still get to read my scripts.
"So it's not been so bad. They scared me. They told me, 'Forget it. At 30, it's over for you.' And it has not been the case. It feels great to age in Hollywood."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.