Even after weeks of talking about pet project, Frida, Salma Hayek remains an impassioned presence. The petite, beautiful actress is in a good mood, as well she should be. Attired in a nearly transparent, light yellow blouse with black stitching along the front and collar and black skin-tight pants, she laughingly insists that all her clothes are borrowed. “You think I’m going to spend my money on clothes? No way.” She would rather spend it on art, she says, and she does, including two Frida Kahlo drawings. “I have a small house so I borrow everything except art, that’s what I love.”
Hayek is nursing a bottle of Ice Age mineral water between her knees while wildly waving her arms about, joyously relieved that after eight years, her beloved Frida is finally about to see the light of day. For eight years Salma had been desperate to bring the Frida Kahlo story to the screen, and she is very clear as to why. “There was something about the woman and the times in which she lived that I just found fascinating,” explains Hayek, who is both star and producer of the movie. “She was never conventional about anything she did, was always herself, which was not easy. She started exploring with women at a very early age and was never apologetic about who she was. Also, the fact that she took all the different tragedies or difficulties in her life and made the best out of them, and not only made the best out of them, but did it in an interesting way. From pain, she did art and poetry; from the infidelities of her husband, she found freedom.”
This film tells of Mexican painter and icon Frida Kahlo focusing on her tumultuous relationship with husband and fellow artist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) and their place in Mexican society. The film evolves into a portrait of Kahlo as a bisexual and communist struggling with an abusive husband, a life of physical pain, the amputation of a leg, and, finally, the drug and alcohol abuse that killed her at age 47. Rather than relate to Frida on a direct and personal level, Hayek simply says that she would like to learn from her, adding, that “she’s definitely an inspiration” adding that she is working on “trying to take it in.” Hayek immersed herself into the role, including an attempt to shave her upper lip in order to accentuate a specifically physical aspect of the character “but it didn’t work and now, I’m stuck with it,” she laughingly concedes. “I had a shoe that was one centimetre taller than the other one to stress her limping.” It is this degree of commitment that remains Hayek’s mantra. Her determination to succeed where others have failed is what impresses one about the Mexican-born actress, who is unconcerned at the so-called ‘race’ to get the Frida tale on the screen. Most notably, Madonna was anxious to try.
While Hayek has never spoken to Madonna about the project, Hayek seems genuinely pleased that the Material Girl was keen to tackle the complex film “Madonna is a woman with very good taste and I think that she truly and honestly admires and loves Frida. I actually think she would like the film.” Years of working with screenplays that didn’t work, it was finally her boyfriend, Edward Norton, who came to the rescue. “Julie [Taymor] had come on board and now we needed to shape the movie to her taste, to rewrite the movie and do the movie that was Julie’s vision. We had been working with a writer we liked very much, Rodrigo Garcia, who was so talented and such a lovely man. But at the time he was directing a film, so Edward offered to do it.”
The key word here is ‘offered’. Hayek insists she never asked Norton for help. “I would never say that,” she defiantly insists. “For me the most painful part of the process was finding a new writer. You don’t know what its like,” she says, her voice rising in frustration. “You have to read 100 scripts or samples. I never like any of them. I have to pick 10. Then you meet all of them and you like them all because they’re all so nice and smart but you don’t know which could do a better job than the other. Then you pick one. This with a lot of people deciding with you. Then, you decide on one after many fights. Then you spend weeks with this person, telling them your vision of your film, giving them research, calling and tormenting them with all this information. And you have such high hopes and they go away. They’re never on time. So you have to keep waiting and then they give you the script and it’s terrible. Then you have to go to the rewrite and they’re very upset because you didn’t like it. I went through that for seven years.”
After being on board producing, fighting and enduring pain and anguish for close to eight years, Salma was able to finally let go and act, giving into the film body and soul. It was Norton’s final rewrite that was shot, and as painful as it was, “it was worth it. For me it was a great learning experience.” Hayek now surrendered to the film’s director and allowed herself to just act. “I was 100 percent convinced and had 100 percent faith in this director,” says Hayek, referring to Julie Taymor. “I knew that this director was perfect, and that she was going to make an amazing movie. So I said, here, take my child. Do something with it.” Much was demanded of Hayek as an actress, including some graphic love scenes, including a nude scene with another woman. “That was no big deal. You have to be somebody and that was what that person was into. It’s like when you have to get into somebody you’re not attracted to. They have bad breath and you have to pretend you’re in love,” she explains, laughingly. Salma Hayek may have been considered Mexico’s most alluring sex symbol, often used as eye candy in films such as Fled, Fools Rush In and The Faculty.
But Hayek is far more than meets the eye. Beautiful she is, but intensely passionate, and someone who has no doubt brought that passion to her work as a director. Her directorial debut, The Maldonado Miracle, will be out next year, and the actress admits she could never have directed until after Frida was done. “They offered me that film before I did Frida and I said, no, I’m not capable of directing. Then after seeing Julie direct, I was inspired by it. She motivated me to do it, because we don’t have role models as woman for directors.” Asked how she would define herself as a director, Hayek takes a swig of mineral water before contemplating a response. “Naïve, new, passionate about what I do and lucky. It turned out pretty well and I had a great time.”
Hayek may be a woman in a man’s industry, but as ferocious as she is to attain her own artistry, she remains non-completive in a completive field, described by Julia Taymor as a ‘woman’s woman’. Salma doesn’t disagree, “because I feel a sisterhood with all women. I don’t see women and think of them as competition or with judgment. Women really move me. I feel connected to all kinds of women. I am angry because I think we’ve been mistreated throughout history in different countries, including America. I admire women” There is, of course, life after Frida and the actress/producer is already moving on, saying that it is not hard to leave this once all-consuming project. “I’ve already moved on to the next thing. I directed a movie and now, I’m going to do the editing. Of course, it’s hard to leave it behind when you talk about it 24 hours a day in these interviews. It’s different. You do it from a place of peace. Maybe my frame of mind is a peaceful one. I’m proud of it and it’s getting a lot more attention than I thought.” Apart from directing, Hayek is busily acting in other people’s projects, re-teaming with Robert Rodriguez in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, opposite friend Antonio Banderas. “It was fun working with him again. I will always work with Robert because he’s the first person who gave me my first opportunity and it’s thanks to him that I’m here today. He believed in me when nobody else did. I will never forget that. I’m very loyal.”
Hayek has proven to be more than just a pretty face, and now there is even Oscar buzz about the movie, something she was never expecting to talk about. Nor does she want to think about it. “I don’t want to get excited about it. I have to stay clear in my mind and stay in the place where I am today, which is that I’m proud of the film. If it does well, then it’s a good thing and if it doesn’t, then it’s a good thing because I like the movie.” But Hayek says that she does have a personal fantasy about the Oscars. “I think it would make Frida so happy that through her life story for the first time, a female director wins an Oscar.” And the first Mexican actress as well, perhaps? She smiles at the possibility. Next up for Salma the actress is a change of pace, a comedy called Murphy’s Law, a film that she is relishing. “I’m Murphy and my job is to make everything that CAN go wrong, go wrong. I love it already,” she says laughingly. No wonder, she adds with a glint in her eye. “Because I’m definitely a troublemaker.”