Going Back to Her Roots
May 30, 2014
Salma Hayek no longer worries about the ups and downs of her acting career. Her marriage to French billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of Kering (previously known as Pinault-Printemps-Redoute or PPR—one of the world's largest luxury goods and clothing manufacturers), has given her happiness, peace of mind, and a loving family to look after. Arriving at the Cannes Film Festival together with her beloved 7-year-old daughter, Valentina, the stunningly beautiful Hayek admits to being at times "an over-protective mother," but that motherhood has also given her more fulfillment than she ever imagined.
"I was very driven when I came to Los Angeles and determined to be successful," Hayek recalls. "But I wouldn't have had a fulfilling life if I hadn't been able to start my own family. Being a good wife and mother is what matters to me most. Sure I love to act and working on films but nothing gives me greater happiness than seeing the smile on my daughter's face."
Hayek was in Cannes to promote her new project, an animated film adaptation of Khalil Gibran's legendary book, The Prophet. Hayek has spent three years developing the project as a producer, and she summoned nine animation directors to contribute their own interpretations of Gibran's poetry.
The project is particularly close to Hayek's heart because Khalil Gibran was Lebanese, just like Hayek's father, and she had long dreamed of trying to bring The Prophet to life as a feature film. She presented The Prophet as a work in progress at the Cannes Film Festival where there was intense interest from anxious international buyers and distributors.
After a career as a highly popular Mexican soap opera actress, Hayek moved to L.A. where she dreamed of becoming a Hollywood star despite struggling to overcome her accent. She went on to landing major roles in films like Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, 54, and Wild Wild West. Growing tired of playing characters where too much attention was focused on her buxom physique, Hayek put together her own project, Frida , the biopic about legendary Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, which earned Hayek an Oscar nomination. More recently, audiences know her from the Ugly Betty TV series and her voice-over work as Kitty in the Puss n' Boots children's film.
Hayek, 47, lives with her husband in Paris with their daughter Valentina and Pinault's two children, François, 17, and Mathilde, 14, from a previous marriage. In person, Hayek has never looked more radiant and cast a slimmer profile than she has in recent years. For our interview, she was wearing a chic Gucci black jacket and striped pink blouse. During the festival, Hayek wowed the paparazzi with a striking pink Yves Saint Laurent (her husband owns the fashion house, after all) gown and a multi-million dollar Boucheron bracelet.
Salma, how is being at Cannes?
It's been wonderful! I love being here and I've been able to show my daughter Valentina around a bit. She's quite excited about it all and it's fun for me to have her along.
Is it important for you that your daughter learns about her mother being part of the film world?
Of course! She's seen some of my films and she now understands more about my other life as an actress. I want her to appreciate that side of my life. For the past three years, I've been working very hard on this film and my daughter has heard me talking about it on the phone every night before she goes to bed because I'm calling Los Angeles where people are just getting to work. My daughter gets to bed later at night because her mother is so busy sometimes so bringing her to Cannes is a little reward for all that.
What drew you to Khalil Gibran's book, The Prophet?
The Prophet was the bedside book of my grandfather, who was Lebanese. When I re-read it as an adult, I realized who my grandfather was... Ever since I have always felt a deep connection to the book and it was important for me to find a way of bringing the work to an even larger audience and acquaint a new generation of people to it. I was very close to my grandfather and I was also his favorite granddaughter. When he died, I was six, and this image of this book came to my mind and never left me.
Is that what inspired you to produce this film?
Yes! It was that and also the fact that The Prophet has been read by millions of people all around the world without ever having been adapted into a film. So it was a challenge for me to find a way of bringing his poetry and words to life and I saw that it could make for a wonderful animated film. I then asked nine of the world's most outstanding animation directors to work on the project and I gave them total freedom to create their own stories based on the book.
What led you to decide to make it an animated film?
I wanted the audience to experience the philosophy of the book through the eyes of a child. The film is an invitation to talk about the serious and important things in life in a very simple, even naive way. Animation is the only thing that makes that possible.
What message do you think audiences will take away from the film?
There is so much poetry and philosophy in The Prophet that speaks to everyone. It's more about having faith and a sense of wonder about the world and finding meaning by asking questions about life. Sometimes that ability to think about the world and approach it that way is more important than finding answers if there even really are definite answers.
Are you looking forward to watching the World Cup this summer?
Sure... I love to shout at the referees when I'm watching TV at home but when we go to games the French are so very composed, and I'm not. I saw pictures of myself on the Internet, and everybody made fun of me, so whenever I go to games I try not to move a muscle. I prefer to watch football at home where I can drink my beer, be in my pyjamas and insult them, in Spanish, in English and, if necessary, in French. (Laughs) I really enjoy a good football match. I adore it. I know I should be saying, "I love my shopping sprees," but I love soccer. It's something that ignites my fire. I become very, very passionate and, at the same time, very emotional about it. I'm tough, but it's one of the few things that can make me cry.
Looking back, how hard a road was it for you to build your career in Hollywood as an actress?
I’m grateful to everyone who gave me an opportunity but strangely there hasn’t been that many. I’ve had to fight very, very hard for every silly small role. I think my accent cost me many parts, and I accepted that, but there were other times where it also helped me work with directors like Robert Rodriguez. Sometimes I look and wish I could have done more but I'm also proud of bringing to life Frida and now The Prophet. You shouldn't ever waste time in life complaining. I just tell myself to get up and make something happen and that gives you so much energy and self-belief. I've always had that in me.
You seem to have a very positive outlook on life. Where did you get that from?
From my parents I think, and from observing people and seeing how much you can change your life for the better by maintaining an optimistic outlook. When I was working on this Mexican TV show, I was very, very popular and successful. I could have had a great career for the rest of my life in Mexico. I was famous at the age of 18 but as a TV star. But I wanted more than that. It was my dream to come to Hollywood and make movies. People thought I was crazy to quit that series and move to L.A. I could barely speak English and I had a very thick accent when I first started auditioning for roles but I was stubborn and I kept working hard. I knew I had enough talent and willpower to be successful even though for a long while I didn't really get the roles I was looking for. But it's worked out pretty well for me...
Do you have any advice to give other women who may be struggling to realize their dreams or find happiness?
Be yourself. Live the way you want and try to find positive people and forces around you who will help you realize your ambitions and dreams. We don't have to conform to the latest fashion and trends. Look at me. I'm short, I have big boobs, and they never make clothes that really fit me. So I find things that I can wear, I have them altered, and usually I feel very sexy in clothes. But that's only one way to display your sexuality and femininity. I think real men like real women who think and feel things passionately. So indulge your passions!
Making The Prophet is obviously your way of paying tribute to your Lebanese roots and your love of your grandfather. Is it also a legacy for your daughter?
Of course! Besides being a beautiful lesson in life, the film will remind her of her origins, because it's my love letter to the Lebanese part of my heart... I want my daughter to get to know that side of her mother's history as well as her French background. It's important for children to have roots.