Hayek's birthday present was a tailor-made role

Salma Hayek with screenwriter Mike White (left) and director Miguel Arteta at the European premiere of Beatriz At Dinner in London on June 1.
Salma Hayek with screenwriter Mike White (left) and director Miguel Arteta at the European premiere of Beatriz At Dinner in London on June 1. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LOS ANGELES • If the movie Beatriz At Dinner - about a Mexican- born masseuse and healer invited to dine at her rich client's home, where the guests include a billionaire real estate developer with a passion for big-game hunting - seems tailor-made for actress Salma Hayek, that is because it was.

Two weeks before her birthday in September 2015, Hayek spent the day with Miguel Arteta, the film's director, and Mike White, its screenwriter.

They spoke about the dentist who had slaughtered a lion called Cecil and "this thing about killing for fun", she said.

The 2015 killing by an American dentist in Zimbabwe sparked a global outcry against the hunting of animals for their heads, skins or other body parts.

Arteta and White later told Hayek, 50, that they had a project for her. Two weeks later, she received an e-mail from White, saying: "Happy birthday. The script."

The film, opening on Friday in the United States, stars John Lithgow as Doug Strutt, Beatriz's pompous adversary, who cares not a whit about the environmental havoc caused by his projects. When he first meets Beatriz, he assumes she is part of the wait staff. As he gloats about killing a rhino, her placid demeanour cracks and a war of wits ensues - a tangle of race, inequality and immigration at its core.

Hayek is married to Mr Francois- Henri Pinault, chairman of Kering, the French luxury goods company.

In an interview in New York, the effusive actress chatted about culture clashes and United States President Donald Trump. These are edited excerpts.

Strutt can be seen as a very Trumpian character. What point do you think Mike and Miguel were trying to make?

I think Trump is the collateral damage of the times we're living in.

You know, it's not that we're living in these times because of him. No, I think it's the eye-opening of an America that was not clear before.

And the casting of John Lithgow?

I was like, "But John is the most lovable human being." It's ridiculous. He's so big, but he's so angelic, kind and generous.

But Miguel had a point. You don't want somebody who moves like a villain because it's not about demonising that other human being, who also has a belief system.

What is it like presenting this film amid the debate around immigration from Mexico, your home country, and the President's desire to build a wall?

I think the most important thing that this film can do is promote the conversation between two Americas because I want to understand how the people who think very differently from me think.

We are spending so much time talking about the wall when the real issue is immigration reform.

We haven't even reached the right questions. And it's a very primitive thought that a wall is going to keep you safe because history has proved that it doesn't.

I'd like to think that there would be a greater level of sophistication.

You appear to be wearing no make-up in the film. Did that make you anxious?

No make-up and they purposely wanted me to be ugly. And they cast tall girls.

Miguel put them in high heels so I was even shorter. It was cold at night shoots and I had on so many layers underneath that the costume could barely fit me.

I loved it. It relaxed me, gave me a sense of freedom because you don't have to make any effort.

Do you realise how wonderful that is - that for once you're not supposed to look this way or the other?

How do you handle expectations of beauty?

Frankly, it's not something I'm fixated on and I've cut myself some slack. I'm in a place where I have a good life.

I already have my husband and we are in love for 11 years. I have my baby, a pregnancy which I thought I was not going to be able to achieve. I have my wonderful stepchildren, my animals.

What is it like being 50 in Hollywood?

When I was young, I read a play by Henrik Ibsen called A Doll's House. And I thought: It's interesting but what I want to know is what happens to Nora after she leaves the house.

I realised that the best roles for women are going to come in my 40s because it's when a woman has the most richness, experience and wisdom, and also challenges that are more profound.

If you told me today there's a magic potion that can take me back to 25, I would never take it. Because I like me better now. And I'm actually curious to find out who I'm going to be next.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'Hayek's birthday present was a tailor-made role'. Print Edition | Subscribe