Salma Hayek produced and voices a character in “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,” an animated film made from the celebrated Lebanese poet’s book of verse and philosophy. The Mexico-born actress and producer, who has long been outspoken on topics such as women’s rights and politics, chatted about the rising activism among women in Hollywood, the unexpected challenge of animation and her strategies for ignoring Donald Trump.
Why “The Prophet”?
I have a personal relationship with the book because it was on my grandfather’s side table as I was growing up. I was very close to my grandfather. He died when I was 6. When I was a little older I found the book in someone else’s house, I read it and to me it was as if my grandfather was telling me who he was. He stayed in my life through this book. My wish to make it into a film is that I believe there is not enough content for children that inspires them to think as individuals.
Why did you make it animated?
Because it’s limitless. For me the movie is about freedom and art. It was important that we got the animators from different parts of the world. The movie doesn’t have a country. Even the money came from all over. It started with the Princess of Qatar.... Then it was Lebanon, Participant [Media], we had someone from India and at the last minute when we were doing the contracts they wanted us to do the animation in their studios and it didn’t work out. But now I only had one week before the contract with the other people expired if I didn’t have all the money and I freaked out. My husband [French businessman François-Henri Pinault] heard me talking to the bank in Lebanon and he said, “I’d like to close the gap.” I said, “No, absolutely I refuse.” But he and my father-in-law convinced me.
More women in Hollywood are starting to speak up about gender issues, which I feel is something you’ve been doing for …
For about 30 years. That’s wonderful. That means there’s been an evolution. I’m very hopeful that it’s gonna change really fast, not because Hollywood cares about women but because we represent economically something that they need and that they neglected. Now they’re in trouble because they don’t even know what we want to see. I ask you, what is the type of movie that’s mainstream for men?
Comic book movies.
That’s not a genre. That’s one movie! What do we want to see? We’ve been so abandoned by this industry that I don’t think we even know. What is our big, exciting, movie experience? Nobody’s bothered to ask the question. That’s how I got “Ugly Betty” on the air. I showed the size of the Hispanic audience. I actually showed up in the studio with an ad buyer for Hispanic audiences. Then they said, “We get it.” Now the issue is there’s no writers, no directors, no producers for this audience. Because they’ve alienated them for so many years they didn’t grow in proportion to the audience.
I also think some young actresses are becoming aware of the disparity in their pay relative to their male costars.
They’re just becoming aware? It’s not exclusive to the movie industry at all. It’s the same in every industry. The only two industries where women get paid more than men are prostitution and pornography. We have to be so good to get noticed in any other way. We have to be three times as good as they are.
The little girl protagonist in your movie looks different from a typical female character in animation.
Nobody looks like a Disney princess in this one. The proportions. I’ll tell you a secret. From the beginning they drew me and Valentina, my daughter. It started with a real girl.
How old is Valentina?
She’s 7. She’s been suffering this film most of her life. I worked most nights. Producing animation, it’s hell. It’s a very long, tedious process where anything can go wrong at any moment and it’s a lot of money. At one point we were gonna shut down. The movie is $12 million. At some point we discovered that some people were not disclosing information.... I started getting suspicious and being inquisitive. We realized not even halfway through that we were over budget $8 million. They messed up and they were trying to cover up their steps with one lie after another to try to figure out a way to solve it. We had to invent a new form of animating. We did an experiment — the backgrounds are 2-D and the characters are 3-D. The film breaks every rule of cinema.
What did you think of Donald Trump’s comments about immigration?
It’s a very simple tactic for self-promotion. What’s sad is how easily people are manipulated. I’m not insulted because I cannot be insulted by stupidity. Everybody’s entitled to have uninformed opinions. Everybody’s entitled to be dumb. But I’m not dumb, so I see through the manipulation. We have something to learn from this. That is that the educated people or the people with great human values have to wake up, because they are under the illusion that most of this country is like them and sometimes they don’t even go to vote.
You’ve always been outspoken politically. Some actors are afraid of alienating people who disagree with them.
No, no, that was not my problem. At first I felt I shouldn’t get attention for that work [activism]. I thought I should only get attention for my work as an actress. But now I’m advocating just to say that we can be better than we are. Life is exhausting. Sometimes we fall into the river of life and it just takes us, and we don’t get to look around or swim or stop to drink it. By the time we realize it, we got to the end of it and it’s over. We should take control over it.
[At this point, Hayek’s daughter, Valentina, walks by. She is wearing a button that says “Fur Free Fur.”] Come here, mi amor. This is Valentina.
See, we already have an activist. She says to me, “Why do I have to go to sleep? Why do you guys get to have fun every night for longer than me?” She wrote me a letter saying, “Kids have rights too. Who’s gonna fight for the kids’ rights? How come you fight for women’s rights but no kids’ rights?” I think we are all born like that. We are all born with empathy. We learn to shove it away.