Oscar-nominated actress and activist Salma Hayek believes in the power of women—in particular, the power of Democratic White House hopeful Hillary Clinton, the candidate she believes is best suited to run America come November.
“Because she’s a woman she’s always been in the shadows operating under the rules of men, and she’s navigated beautifully in it,” Hayek told The Daily Beast from London on Tuesday. “We have not seen her full potential yet.”
Women rule the baroque fantasyscape of Hayek’s latest film Tale of Tales, a surreal tapestry of intertwining fables from Italian director Matteo Garrone also starring Vincent Cassel and Toby Jones. In it, Hayek and John C. Reilly play royals driven to drastic measures when they cannot conceive—a premise based on Italian poet Giambattista Basile’s collection of 17th-century fairy tales.
When a necromancer promises a life in return for a life, Hayek’s queen agrees at any cost. She sends her husband to the depths of the ocean to hunt a sea monster whose heart, cooked by a virgin, will grant her greatest wish: a child. And as Hayek’s tragic tale gives way to two more twisted stories of female longing, disappointment, and desire—one tracking a neighboring king’s obsession with a flea that leads him to marry off his only daughter to an ogre, the third following two crones tempted by the promise of eternal youth—the Pasolini-esque threads of Garrone’s English language debut weave a thoroughly modern examination of what it means, and perhaps always has meant, to be a woman.
“What’s fascinating is that it’s based on a book that was written in the 1600s, three stories seen from the point of view of women,” Hayek mused. “Already that is very modern because as you know, it’s not very often that they do movies from the point of view of women! And they talk about concerns that women still have today, and that are very important in our lives—motherhood, and the fear of not becoming a mother, and the fear of losing your children when you are one.
“The other [story] talks about marrying a monster and trying to escape it,” she continued. “And the third talks about obsession with youth—no, it really talks about the obsession with being loved. The necessity that women have of feeling loved by a man, and how they become desperate when they realize the only way they can be loved is if they are young and beautiful.”
She pauses. “This is a very big problem,” said Hayek. “Inventing a form of plastic surgery in the 1600s! And it’s still so contemporary today. It takes all those fears that we have and takes them into horror. But [Garrone] does horror in such an elegant way.”
Striking visuals abound in the gorgeous Tale of Tales, which was shot on location in the Italian countryside and premiered in competition in Cannes last year. But no single image is as powerful as the determination, grief, and desperation on Hayek’s face as her queen sits at the head of a long table, ravenously devouring the bloody heart of a sea monster.
“It was disgusting and it tasted really, really bad,” she laughed. “They would not tell me what was in it! But I will tell you what was fascinating: When I read the script it said, ‘And the queen eats the heart of the sea monster’—devours the heart of the sea monster. I thought, Oh my god, this is going to be grotesque.”
Nine very long takes later, Hayek had a new appreciation for the scene that would become emblematic of the film, plastered across its posters amidst haunting phantasmagorias of iconic images and sumptuous scenery. “Each take, [Garrone] would come and say, ‘Every bite on this take, you are hopeful. You are hopeful for what this is going to bring for you. Be tender with it, because all your dreams can come true. You’ve lost so much for this, but this can give it to you.’ So I did that. Then, ‘You are desperate! Try to eat as much as you can—you are in a state of anxiety!’ The next take: ‘You are sad, because you are afraid that it might not happen, because it’s gone to waste, because you are so fragile.’”
“It was so interesting,” said Hayek. “I remember I was crying.” She paused. “I did not know there were so many ways to eat a heart.”
After an eclectic 2015 that included a starring role in the Iran-set drama Septembers of Shiraz, Hayek follows Tale of Tales with a voice role in the raunchy animated Seth Rogen comedy Sausage Party. She recently wrapped filming on comedy Drunk Parents, in which she and Alec Baldwin star as wealthy parents who send their daughter off to college only to discover they’re suddenly broke, and panic. “I love my character,” said Hayek. “She starts out really stuck up and starts falling apart really, really grotesquely.”
But while she moves from one film project to the next, Hayek has been keenly keeping tabs on the run-up to the election. As one of Hollywood’s most prominent Latinas, she’s been watching the 2016 presidential race closely, from Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s incendiary early attacks on Hispanics and immigrants through his continued theatrics on the campaign trail. Earlier in the day, hours before we spoke, the Frida star and native Mexican couldn’t resist taking Trump to task on Twitter over his 7/11 flub.
“This election has been an eye-opener, because there are a lot of things about America that were not as palpable as before that have come out in this election. There’s a lot more racism than we have ever acknowledged before, in this country of freedom,” noted Hayek, who is officially endorsing Clinton’s campaign. “But there are also a lot more people that want equality and care about the environment, and care about education and health and equal pay for men and women, and no discrimination—the absolute opposite.”
Trump, for one, has become much more of a reality than the reality show model she used to describe his campaign tactics last fall. “America is in trouble,” she told The Daily Beast in September. “We have to take this very seriously. This is not a reality show. America is not a reality show. This is not a popularity contest. This is not Miss America or Miss Universe.”
As voters in New York flocked to the polls, granting Hillary a decisive win, Hayek appealed to her fellow Democrats who are splitting the party between #TeamBernie and #TeamHillary. “I think that because there’s been so much publicity in this election process, people have chosen characters without maybe not really thinking about what this candidate would be like as a president—for real. But it’s what they want their friends to see as their identity,” she warned.
“I am all for the environment,” she explained. “[My position] is maybe closer to what Bernie says. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for Bernie, because you have to vote for what is best for America—not what I’m going to show my friends I voted for. You have to take a lot more things into consideration. If somebody is dehydrated and you give them lots of water, you kill them. We have been operating in a system for way too long. If you want to change the system you have to bring somebody that is different who understands the system.”
Hayek, who threw her support behind Latinos for Hillary last October, describes Clinton’s gender as a strength in a field dominated by men. “Men are too passionate and their egos are too stubborn,” she said. “She is levelheaded. She is kind. She has a heart. She’s human. She’s smart. But nothing brings her down. They’ve been trying to put this woman down for 30 years. She’s indestructible. She gets up with grace. And she gets things done with grace—not bullying.
“And the thing is, she doesn’t oversell a fantastic dream,” added Hayek. “I think she tells you what she thinks can be done, and I think she will surprise us by doing much more than that. I think the things she’s saying aren’t only to catch votes. Everyone else is trying to catch the votes.
“Maybe it’s not as exciting, but it’s very dangerous right now to put the American army in the hands of the wrong people,” she concluded. “Either one extreme, or the other. These are not times to be messing around. I live in Europe and I tell you, it’s very, very dangerous. The only person that is truly respected by all the other countries is her. When they ask all of these people, ‘How would you deal with ISIS?’ I listen to them respond, and I tremble—except for when she talks.”