Ask The Dust : An Interview with SALMA Hayek
SALMA HAYEK TALKS TOUGH AND ACTS WITH VULNERABILITY
Wow, can you believe it--Salma Hayek is turning 40 in September. Yet for her to do this interview while battling a cold, you would never believe she was hitting the big four zero, let alone be in her '30s.
By Brad Balfour
That's why, when you see her in her latest film, "Ask The Dust"--she plays this slightly damaged 20-something Mexican waitress, who dramatically strips down and rushes into cold ocean waves, nude and raw (witnessed by us and her male lover played by Colin Farrell)--it is almost breathtaking. Though she is a beautiful woman, she also appears as a beautiful "person" both in the film and in person. She seems almost too vulnerable and yet is strong and incredibly intelligent.
She has certainly proven to have these qualities in ample amounts; witness her previous work such as when she did "Frida;" her performance playing the tumultuous, emotionally pained artist garnered her a Best Actress Oscar nomination in 2003. Though she can do totally commercial films ["Wild Wild West," "After the Sunset"], she seems best suited for films like "Ask The Dust"--directed by the great 70-plus Robert Towne-- where she can shine, delving into an emotionally conflicted woman who struggles with the racism of the time while negotiating her way between two very difficult men, including Arturo Bandini (Farrell), a first-generation Italian hoping to land a writing career and a blue-eyed blonde.
Did you see yourself at the Oscars?
SH: Yes that was lovely.
You looked gorgeous presenting at the Oscars
SH: And I did that with this fever.
Robert Towne said that he first thought of you as the perfect person to do this role, yet when he first approached you nine years ago, you turned him down and said there was no way you could play a Mexican waitress, that you would be typecast and never get to do anything else. What changed?
SH: It's not just that. I didn't understand the character. I though they were mean. I thought, "If they love each why don't they just get together?" I was young. I didn't want to do the movie because I didn't understand the character. Eight years later I read the script and it hadn't changed much. What was so interesting was that I had changed so much. I loved it. I said, "Oh my God, what a jewel you have here." It's very hard to write love stories that are so intimate. They don't make them anymore. They make romantic comedies, but not so many stories that are about the complexity about human emotions. I think it takes a really good writer to explore that and it takes a lot of courage because everybody is going if you do it right everybody is going to see it in a completely different way. And it cannot please everyone, but that is the nature of a real relationship and you cannot explain it. It cannot be simplistic. It's rare to come across projects like this. It would take a writer like John Fante to write the book and a writer like Robert Towne to write the script. I feel fortunate that I came across this character.
Why do they treat each other the way they do--initially being so nasty to each other. Why don't they just get together?
SH: That would be the best-case scenario but everybody has a different opinion on this. What's interesting is that it will make you think, which is one of those reasons why it's nice to do films. I think we want to narrow [this] into a simplistic [situation] that everyone can understand. It's one of those cases where you fall in love with everything that you never wanted to fall in love with. It goes from that. You have to think of the time period, it's the depression in Los Angeles; it's the peak of racism. Someone who is so broken that the most she can hope for is for her children, that she doesn't have to have a better future, and [that would mean she has] to marry an American guy. [Bandini] is an Italian; now it's not as bad a Mexican, but it was pretty bad time to be an Italian. He falls in love with a woman who can't even read when it's his dream to be a writer. So it's the typical thing of "that's not what I was hoping for." Then it's the normal thing of being terrified to fall in love because it's very painful to fall in love and for it not to work. When you see that there is a relationship that has everything going against it, she's afraid.
It took courage for you to do this, with the sensuality and the nudity.
SH: Yes, it took a lot of courage to do this part but the nudity has a lot to do with the intimacy of the characters. I think the scene on the beach, which is an iconic scene from the book, is symbolic of how this woman is a free spirit, full of life, and full of passion, with a twisted sense of humor.
It wasn't easy to do the nude scene, were you asking for a shot whiskey to make it easier?
SH: No you could not get a shot of whiskey because it was very dangerous, it was very, very cold. I actually had to take something special to keep my body warm. So did Colin. There were risks of hypothermia. Actually that's when we stopped; they would take our temperature every time. It was very complicated to shoot not to mention the waves. You have to be very precise and at the same time look very free and joyful while you are purple. Yes, it was a very complicated scene. Being naked it's never easy. But I've been diving since I was 12 and once we hit the water there was something calming for me about the water, I sort felt at home. And Colin was magnificent. He was very supportive. He never looked at my body and, I know this is shocking, but I was almost starting to worry. But he never took his eyes off of mine and he was a total gentleman. And he was fun and made it light. I never thought I'd say this, but I think that I couldn't have felt safer with anyone else. For some reason that was just the way he behaved in this movie. He was very good to me.
Would you elaborate on your rapport with Colin?
SH: It didn't start out like that to be honest with you. He had a long rehearsal. It was part of his process to see the interaction. I think I had my reservations about Colin as a man, and as an actor, I confess. Number one: have you ever heard of another actor that dedicates a month or month and a half to a movie for free? That alone…[was enough], but to be on time every day with the best disposition, willing to learn, to participate, and he was passionate about the work. Everybody talks about how passionate Colin Farrell is, but nobody mentions how passionate he actually is about the art, about learning, and being there. Some people are sort of there, but not there, not completely. Something really beautiful happened. He really won my respect. Our relationship worked so well because he was always respectful of me from the beginning. We trusted each other so we were free to try crazy stuff, make fun of each other, and surprise each other. I never knew what he was going to do and he never knew how I was gong to respond. So we were on our toes. I think that is what kept it fresh and created the good chemistry.
How often do you get those stereotypical scripts?
SH: Everyone has a different idea of what the stereotype is. I think the stereotype is when you take a group of people and you give them five characteristics and that's all you know. This part is unusual because number one, the film is based on a real woman. It was funny because I met John Fante's wife [Joyce] before she died, which was not Camilla; it was the woman she hated the most in her life. When she saw Colin, she melted, and when she saw me, she came to get me. She wanted to slap me. She started insulting me. "I hate you." So it's based on a real woman. It has some stereotypical characteristics and 50 more. She is fragile, afraid, and strong and has legitimate fears that we could all share.
How often to get scripts where you are supposed to play the hot Latina?
SH: That's not how I see this part. I haven't gotten any lately.
You mentioned that you were originally too young to understand the part. Do you feel very strange now that you're turning 40?
SH: I don't know what that means. I don't have this relationship with numbers that you guys have. I find it's more like when people go to jail, and [you get] your number, whatever whatever… I think people have that relationship with age. To me, it's another year. I couldn't care less. I don't feel the difference if it's number 22, or number 52. To me, every year is a gift of life filled with opportunities, secrets and things to discover with mystery. I don't differentiate one from the other. I never stop to think about the number. I sort of just take in the day to the best of my ability.
Besides your film work, you have your work with abused women.
SH: The work I do with domestic violence is separate from my career. I like it that way. I don't try to make movies about that because I think it takes away from the seriousness of the problem and it becomes a fantasy story. It makes light of it a little bit. I think it's a serious issue. Everyone is so concerned about the security in America. No one stops to say that women and children are not safe in their own home. One out every three women in America is a victim of domestic violence. We're so worried about terrorists, but the children, they are the future of the country, and are not safe in their own home. More should be done about it.
Are you interested in other activist efforts?
SH: I am not an activist I just want to participate in something I believe in.
Given your interest in directing [her debut was "Maldonado Miracle"], what did you learn from such a writer/director as Towne ["Chinatown," "Mission Impossible," "Personal Best"]?
SH: One of the things it made me think about is of all those women who have been an inspiration to a man, who were forming a mans life, who changed him, who made him create a work of art. I think of all those women who never got the credit for it. That in many times they never even knew it. Sometimes they died. Camilla dies thinking she everything she did she did wrong she never knew what she did for him… It made me think of how many all the geniuses in art and science had to have a Camilla in order to be inspired to have a contribution to society. Who are these Camillas? It makes me think of the name of the book, "Ask the Dust."
ASK THE DUST OPENS ON MARCH 10TH, 2006