Cannes always attracts the most glamorous people in the world. But the most adorable? This past week, the hands-down champ was Salma Hayek. The Mexican actress (and wife of billionaire François-Henri Pinault, owner of the luxury-goods conglomerate Kering) charmed the pants off the international press corps, with her candid remarks, earthy sense of humor, and frothy demeanor. Hayek was in town promoting “Tale of Tales,” Matteo Garrone’s fantasmagoric adaptation of three stories from Giambattista Basile’s 17th century fairy tale collection “The Pentamerone,” in which she eats the heart of a beast. Highlights from her roundtable discussion are below:
Eating that enormous sea serpent heart almost made her vomit.
“I was really gagging. It was very demanding and the Italians were very stressed, and Garrone does so many takes and there were so many prop hearts. He wanted the heart inside to look exactly like a heart, so it had all kinds of textures. My daughter Valentina was studying it and said, ‘I know what’s wrong: It’s a marshmallow but they’ve been soaking it in the sugar for so long that it’s become disgusting.’ Then she told me, ‘All you see is the front, so bite from the front and then pretend to bite from underneath and spit it out.’”
Her 7-year-old daughter Valentina is a budding director.
“Let me tell you something. She’s so good with the notes, it’s incredible. Since she was one, she’s been on sets, and she watches it over and over, she doesn’t get bored. She likes always to sit in front of the monitor and she likes to give me directions. And I always fight with her and I say, ‘You know what, you’re here as an observer. You’re not part of this movie. You sit down, you watch, you learn, you do not play director, you go away!’ Then she leaves, and I go, ‘Ugh, that was such a good note!’ And I do it. She’s older now, so I don’t want to take her so much anymore. It’s very important that she’s not an observer of my life, but she has her own life and the stability of school and her own things.”
She has a dangerously strong maternal side.
“Yes, I have a maybe pathological sense of motherhood. Not just with my daughter, I have a farm with rescue animals. I have nine rescue dogs—at some point there were 12—all from the streets. I just got one in Bulgaria where I was shooting last year. I didn’t know how I was going to tell my husband, because I swore to stop. And I thought: I know, I’m going to pretend I’m having an affair. And then when I tell him it’s a dog, he’s going to be so happy! So I called him and said, ‘I don’t even know how to say this to you. I’ve been so nervous about it. This shoot is so difficult, and I’ve been so lonely, and I just needed to feel some love and affection.’ And then he yelled, ‘Please don’t tell me you picked up another dog!'”
She had no idea Garrone would make her character so cold in “Tale of Tales.”
“He works exactly as a painter on the set. It’s very amazing. He has the sketch, which is the script, and then brings the actors. We’re just colors on his brushes. Every time is different, and you don’t know what direction you’re going to be taken physically or psychologically. When we shot it, there were so many scenes where I cry about my husband dying. I beg with tears, super dramatic, really hardcore drama. But we did these takes all very differently. And then I see the movie and she’s so cold!”
“Tales of Tales” is pretty feminist for a film based on a 17th century book.
“I think the movie talks about three important subjects for women, seen from the point of view of women. The three subjects are about the things that women fight to hold onto. The first one is our children: We fight to hold onto our children. The second one is our youth: We fight to hold onto our youth. The third one is our freedom: We fight for the right to our freedom. What’s extraordinary is that it was written so long ago, and it’s still contemporary because we are still struggling with these three issues.”
Her childhood was fairy-tale free.
“I never read one of those books. Never once. My grandmother, who was a frustrated writer, told me brilliant stories every night. They were magnificent. When I started reading books for my child, I felt very sad for my grandmother because she was a much better writer than all of these very famous accomplished men—but she never got a shot. I think this is where my love began for storytelling. She was not only a writer, she was a great storyteller. It also started my problem with sleeping at night, because instead of, like, a fast little book, she would go on and on—and I’d keep on asking questions. And then when it was over, I would stay up all night thinking about it because it was intense. And now I have a problem, because for me to go to sleep, I have to watch television or read a story.”
Her Lebanese bloodline—and a need to break the rules—drew her to produce the upcoming animated film “The Prophet.”
“There was a personal connection through my grandfather. I also liked the idea that there was an Arab writer, Lebanese, who wrote a book about philosophy that brought all religions together—many different creeds all over the world, and sold over 100 million copies. I liked the idea of making an animated film that broke all the rules. This has nine different kinds of animation in one film. It’s not just different short stories; it’s really one film where mixed poetry and filmmaking and music and philosophy and art create extraordinary art, because I had some of the best artists and animators in the world inside the field. So between my heritage and breaking all the rules and maybe doing something that is meaningful and has thought provoking content for children as well as for adults, I had this vision to do this crazy thing.”
She’s amazed by how different countries reinterpret her films.
“I find it fascinating when I go from country to country. It’s like an anthropological study. I remember going to Italy promoting ‘Puss in Boots,’ during the financial crisis, and the people asked me questions about ‘Puss in Boots’ that related to the economic crisis. And the Germans are fascinated with psychology. The questions were like, ‘When she goes to sleep at the end of the day, what do you think your cat character dreams of?’ I go with the flow, but I’m grateful because I learned something about kitties from the question myself!”
She sucks at Twitter.
“I don’t know what to puuuuut! In two months, I do ten. You have to give me some Twitting advice.”
What the future holds for her.
“I don’t know, but I will tell you this for sure. At one point I have a great future ahead of me. My true greatest passion is directing, but I’m not in a hurry. So I have something really special to look forward to in my 60s.”