15 Years Later, Salma Hayek Reflects on Producing ‘Frida’ and Showing a Different Side of Mexico

Salma Hayek speaks onstage during "Indie Contenders Roundtable" at AFI FEST 2017. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for AFI

Between revitalizing her acting career and getting behind important causes, 2017 has been an eventful year for Mexican star Salma Hayek. In January, she presented Beatriz at Dinner at the Sundance Film Festival, a film directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Mike White, which reminded us of the quality of her performances when given substantial roles.

In the spring, she went on a massive press tour to promote the comedy How to Be a Latin Lover, where she starred opposite Eugenio Derbez, and in May she was the mastermind behind the now iconic moment where mariachis took over a party at the Cannes Film Festival. More recently Hayek has been outspoken in support of DREAMers, donated funds towards the reconstruction efforts in Mexico, and even shared this DREAMer’s story on her Instagram.

Now, as the year winds down and awards season reaches its peak, Salma Hayek’s name is popping up as a possible nominee, thanks to her turn in Arteta’s latest work. Knowing that in a crowded race the actress would have a better shot at a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actress – Musical or Comedy category, distributor Roadside Attractions submitted the film as a Comedy, however the HFPA (the people behind the globes), classified Beatriz as a Drama.

An appeal was filed to try to change that decision, but in the meantime, Hayek was part of the Indie Contenders Roundtable at AFI Fest in Hollywood alongside director Sean Baker (The Florida Project), Richard Gere (Norman), Diane Kruger (In the Fade), Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), Robert Pattinson (Good Time), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), and veteran actress Lois Smith (Marjorie Prime).

The Veracruzana charmed her way through the conversation with zingers like pushing the moderator to not be afraid of saying Trump’s name out loud or noting that she has always had to work hard to get even the worst of roles. Salma Hayek reflected on the difficulties of producing Frida, the myth that independent cinema has been more helpful for Latinos than studios, and audiences that want to be spoon-fed. She did not come here to play. Here are some highlights from the discussion.

On Beatriz Being One of Her Favorite Roles of Her Career

This character is probably one of the characters that I’ve fallen the most in love with ever, and as we were shooting, I was falling more and more in love with it. [Mike] knew that I care a lot for animals. I have a problem of excessive empathy, and he does too. We’ll wake up in the middle of the night and start crying because there’s a problem in Syria, which has been there forever, but we do strange things like that. I rescue a lot of animals, and he knew that. I have a ranch were I keep them ok? Don’t send the cops to my house.

On Indie Films Being as Bad for Latinos as Studio Productions

No, it was pretty much all the way around. I mean, can you name an indie film in the early 90s that told the story of a Mexican woman? Can you think of one? No. Indies were not more receptive. When I started out, they just thought it was ridiculous and absurd. I was always fascinated by Frida Kahlo, I was kind of obsessed with her, but one of the reasons why it was so hard to make this film was…You [looks at Kumail Nanjiani] talked about making a film about your girlfriend in a coma – at this time, all of the films about painters were not welcomed, period pieces were not welcomed, and Mexicans were not welcome – so imagine going around saying, “I want to make this movie about a Mexican artist, and it’s a period piece, and by the way they’re Communists in Mexico!” And when I saw that they were ready to kick me out of the room, I said, “No wait, it’s a love story between this fat guy and a hairy woman with a unibrow and a mustache as the lead.”

On Wanting to Show a Different Side of Mexico in Frida

I wanted to make this movie because I realized that people misunderstood what Mexico was and who Mexicans are. Through this movie, besides the fact that I was obsessed with her, it was not just about her, I got to chance to show a Mexico in an era where it was very sophisticated, and it still is. At this time, all of the avant-garde thinkers, these people who were trying to come up with a new philosophy for humanity and new ways to operate, they were kicked out of their countries and were all gathered in Mexico, so it was effervescent with an art movement and a political movement. I thought this would help enlighten people that it was much more than the idea they had.

(L-R) Margot Robbie, Sean Baker, and Salma Hayek speak onstage during “Indie Contenders Roundtable” at AFI FEST 2017. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for AFI. Courtesy of AFI Fest
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On Beatriz at Dinner Not Being About Racism

Beatriz at Dinner, for those of you who haven’t seen it, you might be confused by the trailer – is not about racism. The two extreme philosophies of the country are portrayed by two characters. One, played by John [Lithgow], is somebody who is very selfish, and not conscious about the world. He’s the ultimate businessman. He is all about growing the business, a hunter with an amazing personality, and super charming. My character is very tormented about humanity. She’s a healer. She’s concerned about how hard it is to heal somebody and how easy it is to break society. She’s very concerned about the planet, and she has no sense of humor.

On the Rest of the Characters Being Sheep in a Divided Country

“I wanted to make this movie [Frida] because I realized that people misunderstood what Mexico was and who Mexicans are.”

All of the rest of the cast, who are all brilliant, are sheep that in this case are going with the powerful figure. They’re all different nuances of being a sheep, and it’s really interesting. What is great is that we are living in a society that was divided before, but we were not accepting this reality. We didn’t want to see it, and now of course, the movie comes out in a time where this is very, very obvious. He treats both points of view with a lot of respect, and he does the ultimate thing, that you cannot do in a studio movie: it does not tell the audience what to think.

On Audiences and Politicians Refusing to Think for Themselves

People now are a little bit lazy because they want to be told when it’s time to laugh. “Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? Put it in a box so that I don’t have to do any thinking. I know exactly what I’m going to feel and what’s going to happen.” They don’t want to think, and I think it’s happening in politics too. In this film, they don’t really give you a solution. It’s for you to go find it, which is a source of inspiration. You are not inspired when it’s a commercial film, you are entertained and you escape, but you are not inspired. The inspiration must come from something that inspires you to do work, to go inside and feel something, and right now a lot of entertainment is superficial sensations that are standing in for real feelings.

On Cinema Reinventing Itself in the Future

The industry is changing, and I think some of the best art always comes when you hit that place where things are not working, and art has to reinvent itself. I think that cinema is getting to that point where the formula is quite old, so I’m excited about this time, because it’s a time where we are going to have to change the formulas or get rid of the formulas, and I’m excited about filmmakers like Sean [Baker] or Fatih Akin and many others, because they’re going to have to find a new way of experimenting with cinema and television, which is also exciting. So I’m actually excited by the challenge.