FRIDA - Q&A with Salma Hayek & director Julie Taymor
Movie Interview by Toby White
Following a screening of the six Oscar-nominated FRIDA, PHASE9 joined other journalists at London's Dorchester Hotel for a press conference with the film's producer and star, Salma Hayek, and the director and theme song lyricist, Julie Taymor.
Miss Taymor, perhaps you can tell us about why you wanted to do the lyrics to the song, which has proved such a potent part of the story.
JULIE TAYMOR: All the songs are in Spanish which is deliberate because of the power and musicality of the language and we didn't want people having to separate what they were hearing but Elliot [Goldenthal], the composer, and I got to the end and I said let's throw the audience who doesn't speak Spanish a bone. Now that the film is over let's see if we can encapsulate the film in the end title song with lyrics that people can listen to. I thought about having other people write the lyrics but in a way I'd lived the movie, I knew what it was about and it naturally fell in when Elliot and I decided to create the song together. The other thing was that I wasn't interested in an end titles pop song tagged on for marketing. We went with the singers we thought were right and we wanted the song to be a part of the movie.
Miss Hayek, are you excited to be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar?
SALMA HAYEK: I'm very, very excited. And also excited that other friends of mine are also nominated - Alfonso Peron and the production designer, Felipe Fernandez. These are old friends and now we're going to the Oscars together. I thought a lot of people deserved a nomination that didn't get nominated...it is such a tough year that I was actually very scared because there was so much buzz and anticipation in Mexico so when I heard my first feeling was relief.
You've been working at this film for such a long time - you were talking in Cannes four or five years ago about FRIDA. What's fascinating is that you beat other Hollywood players to the film, both Madonna and Jennifer Lopez were talking of doing it, how come you won out?
SALMA HAYEK: It's interesting how most people find fascinating that I beat other people. It was absolutely not a part of the actual journey that I took. What's amazing to me is that it got done at all. What's amazing is that I was able to convince someone like Julie Taymor and all these stars to play small parts for little money and no perks, that we actually managed to put that script into the form that it ended up because there were so many possibilities for the story. That's what's fascinating. Other people wanting to play this part is absolutely logical because it's an amazing part but you know some movies are made because behind them there is money or power but this movie was made because behind it there were friends and a lot of passionate people.
Miss Taymor, how did you go about deciding on the look of the film?
JULIE TAYMOR: Well, you're doing a film about a painter so you'd better try and come up to the level of the painter. I had terrific collaborators in Felipe Fernandez [Production Designer] and Rodrigo Prieto [Director of Photography] and Julie Weiss [Costume Designer] but you have to start from Frida Kahlo. You start from her paintings and the detail of her work but then if you just travel to Mexico and you visit The Blue House, it really is that blue. If you look at Frida's dresses, they are that red and yellow. You're not accentuating the colourfulness of Mexico, that is Mexico. And in Pueblo or San Luis where we shot the movie, there is no pollution so the clarity of light is there. I wanted the paintings to come alive so it would step out of the normal biopic style and again I was trying to take her paintings and show how her imagination would come to these ideas, they are self-portraits after all, so you can find where in her life they happen, like chapter headings or moments where the most potent emotional things happen - how does she see it? You're going from the exterior of the story-telling to the interior of her imagination. In that I used collage, which is in Frida and Diego's style. At times it was because we had no budget but it turned out a better choice anyway. Sometimes I used animation, puppets, hand-painted animation or 3D forced perspective sets because Frida's style is very naïve but sophisticated at the same time so I didn't want slick Hollywood effects. And what Salma said is true, we are very proud of this film because our team did it from their talent...But I wanted to answer your question about Salma because Salma is really the only person who could play this part, it was her movie, she got the rights to the paintings and it was good that it took eight years because at the time Salma was too young to play the part, she needed to go through the hardship of getting this movie made to make her feel a bit of what Frida would have felt.
Salma, in putting the movie together, you met closed doors all the time, what kept you going?
SALMA HAYEK: It was conviction...and I am grateful for those closed doors today. If everything had been easy I wouldn't have learned all the things I've learned. I now know how to tell a story, how to put a movie together, where to get the money, how to find the right director. We could have done this movie way before but I didn't want to settle for what was then.
Somewhere along that road though there must have been low points, did you ever feel like it would never happen?
SALMA HAYEK: Oh, yes. Many times. And I think it was better that way than for it to be something I would not be proud of.
But now that it's done, what will replace that passion?
SALMA HAYEK: You underestimate my passion. [Laughter] I can be passionate about things that might not be as meaningful but I will not try to replace it. When your dream is done, you put it aside and have the courage to dream a new one. I'm not about to compare anything else I'm about to do with this one, I will enjoy whatever that is and that is one lesson I learned from Senora Frida Kahlo.
Were you surprised at how good a painter you were?
SALMA HAYEK: I don't know if I'm any good but I am so much better than I thought I was.
JULIE TAYMOR: She's better than Alfred Molina, I'll tell you that...[laughter]
SALMA HAYEK:: It's just that I really didn't think I could. I don't think I'm talented, I was just more capable than I thought...
Were any of the paintings in the film yours?
SALMA HAYEK: Some of them, yeah. The one in the bed. Oh, no, not the originals but I did paint in the movie, the one in the mirror...
JULIE TAYMOR: She's painting but we had to make copies of the actual paintings.
The script had a number of contributors, including Edward Norton, was there much left of Garcia's original?
JULIA TAYMOR: The screenplay that I read had Rodrigo Garcia's name on it. What he contributed to the script after many drafts probably Salma knows better than I do because I came in after. It was a good enough screenplay that I was interested. There were many things that weren't in that screenplay that Salma then suggested and, since she had a connection, we considered Edward Norton but at first I thought it was too close for comfort but then she looked at my crew and thought they were too close to me. So we talked about these collaborators that we believe in and I met with Edward and he talked about the missing quotients and to me Edward absolutely deserves credit. He really upped the level of the sophistication of the politics, the language of the characters and did a wonderful job of reshaping the final draft. And I want to add that Salma herself is responsible for a lot of the dialogue in this movie because she's a phenomenal improviser.
SALMA HAYEK: Rodrigo Garcia, in my opinion, was the one that could find a voice that was the best, being Mexican. Unfortunately he was directing a movie by the time Julie came on board and Julie had a very specific vision so the story was transformed and we needed a writer to adapt it to what she saw so Edward came on board. Also, towards the end it was very long, the last chapter, and Edward summarised that.
Salma, as Frida ages and becomes weaker, when she is lying on her deathbed, was it hard to be sexy then? [Laughter]
SALMA HAYEK: I'll tell you what I think about sexy, about sensuality because it has a lot to do with this movie. Some people think that looking one way, or being skinny, or dressing smart or whatever, that all these things are sexy, but I think that what's sensual, those people who are sexy, are the people who enjoy life with all their senses. Of course Frida had one leg shorter than the other, one eyebrow, buck teeth and Diego I'm not even going to start to describe him, but they really enjoyed every moment. These were really sensual characters. They had a lot of lovers too so they must have had something for all these people to want to sleep with them.
What was the hardest aspect of the film, the hardest scene for you to do?
SALMA HAYEK: People always think it's the emotional scenes but there was one moment in one scene where I could not say the line. No matter what Julie said, I just could not say the line right.
JULE TAYMOR: It was a line about walking up three flights of stairs, with no money etcetera. Now Salma's English is exemplary but she was tired and she had real difficulty with this line.
SALMA HAYEK: I just couldn't say the line, it didn't sound right.
JULIE TAYMOR: But if that was the most difficult thing that Salma found then we were in heaven!
SALMA HAYEK: Some of the emotional scenes I was afraid of but they just happened. The hospital scene we did many times...
JULIE TAYMORE: That was technical though, we shot at many angles, many takes. There were some scenes that were a real pressure. The overhead shot after the accident with the handrail through her body and the blood and glass, gold leaf and she has to play dead and she's lying on this cold stage floor - that was tough. And the body casts too, when Salma was first in the body cast she was, like, "My God, I can't believe this woman spent so long in a body cast..."
How were you inspired by Frida, when did the inspiration come?
SALMA HAYEK: It started really young when I was about 14. She was so courageous and inspiring but of all the things she was brave about was that she never changed her style. She did everything in life her own way; the way she dressed, cooked, the way she lived, it was always without caring what anybody thought and without ever apologising. On the contrary she's celebrating. And she exaggerates all these things in her paintings.
Julie, she's acted, she's produced, how do you think Salma would be as a director?
JIULIE TAYMOR: Well, I haven't seen her directorial debut yet but I think she has an incredible attention to detail, she has a fantastic rapport with crew, she's not a diva. She's a storyteller. Not always politically correct but I think she's an incredibly capable woman.