Mike White (Enlightenment, School of Rock) is a very perceptive writer who understands that it’s much harder to change people’s convictions in real life than entertainment would lead you to believe. Watching his latest film, Beatriz at Dinner, directed by his frequent collaborator, Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl), it feels very much like a dinner discussion that many of us would like to have right now: with the opposite side of the political aisle. That goes for both Conservatives and Liberals because White’s film isn’t a wish-fulfillment tell off, it’s a fairly natural representation of the hubris that builds within a contained bubble and that a single puncture isn’t going to deflate anyone’s views outright. But it’s still a necessary act if we’re supposed to find some balance in this world.
Salma Hayek‘s Beatriz is a masseuse who primarily treats at a cancer ward but has an upscale client in a high-end gated California community. Cathy (Connie Britton), a wealthy housewife treats Beatriz like family because she assisted and uplifted their daughter through her treatments. Beatriz is invited to stay for a dinner after telling Cathy of her grief over her neighbor killing her goat because it was bleating too much. The dinner is a toast to Doug Stutts (John Lithgow), a real estate mogul whose most recent deal is about to make everyone else at the dinner even richer. Beatriz is an outsider not only through vocation and class but also race and she attempts to make her countering voice heard in a night that devolves into discomfort for everyone.
I recently got the chance to sit down with Hayek to talk about the film, which debuted at Sundance 2017, and how it continues to have conversational notes that directly reflect political moments happening this very moment, despite being written almost two years ago. Hayek also talks about the death of her dog, who was accidentally shot by a neighbor, and how that also happened after reading White’s script. In talking about Beatriz at Dinner, Hayek stressed that she does see the film as a bridge between many different viewpoints that our nation and world is now struggling with now.
COLLIDER: How was this project presented to you and how much input did you have on forming the script with Mike White, who said he specifically wrote it for you?
SALMA HAYEK: I’m friends with Mike and Miguel and I think they’re both brilliant, I’m a huge fan of both of them. One day they called me up and said let’s have dinner, but let’s have it really early, let’s start at 3 because we want to talk to you about something. They came over to my house and Mike was picking my brain, picking my brain, picking my brain, asking me more personal questions than ever before. Then he said they were working on a project that they wanted me to be a part of, so I asked what it was, and they said, “it’s a dinner.” And I said, “uh, huh, what else?” Mike said, “just a dinner” and he had that distinct Mike smile, like he’s hiding something. I said, “Okay, what would I play.” They told me that I’d play a masseuse. They mentioned other things but I did not know that what they were talking about would make the masseuse the lead of the film. I did not know that they were, you know, writing a movie for me. But two weeks after that it was my birthday and I got an email from Mike saying “happy birthday” with an attachment of the script. So I learned then. Whatever involvement I had with the script was involuntary, a friendly discussion while he was grabbing things, not with a notepad but just filing them away while picking my brain.
Was one of the things discussed that night the death of your dog, shot by a neighbor, and it becoming a goat for the movie? I should say, that I’ve also experienced what you’ve experienced, a neighbor shooting my dog.
HAYEK: [gasps] You too?
Yeah, I was younger, a teenager, but a neighbor shot our dog when it ran away and chased his sheep.
HAYEK: What state?
HAYEK: And it was considered all perfectly legal?
Yeah, he actually tried to sue us later for sheep trauma yielding less milk but that was thrown out. Was that experience, of a neighbor killing your dog, used for Beatriz? Because the death of Beatriz’s goat kinda changes her view of humanity, like who could possibly be able to do something like this?
HAYEK: That happened after Mike wrote the script.
HAYEK: Yeah, it’s really weird because Beatriz is a woman who believes in magic, a little bit, at least in energy and karma. Mike wrote this script before Trump won the Republican nomination but so many things that have happened in my life and in the world starting happening after I read this script. Trump wins the nomination and then my neighbor kills my dog and it all goes back to Beatriz for me. But the way the police and everyone around me behaved after my dog was shot I remember calling Miguel and sobbing and saying to him, “I am discovering a whole new America that makes me think that Trump is going to win.”
I haven’t posted for a week as I been mourning the death of my dog, Mozart who I personally delivered out of his mother’s womb. He was found dead in my ranch last Friday with a shot close to his heart. I am hoping that the Washington State authorities do justice to this wonderful dog whom in 9 years never bit or attacked anyone. He loved his territory and never strayed away…he was the most loving and loyal companion. He didn’t deserve a slow and painful death. #doglover #animalrights #dog #dogoftheday #rip #delivery #washingtonstateauthorities Hace una semana que no pongo nada ya que he estado de duelo por la muerte de mi perro Mozart. De quién fui la partera, lo encontramos el viernes pasado con un tiro cerca del corazón. Espero que las autoridades del estado de Washington le hagan justicia a este extraordinario perro que durante 9 años nunca mordió o atacó a nadie, adoraba su territorio y nunca se escapó. Era el compañero más leal y no se merecía una muerte lenta y dolorosa. #muerte #perro #justiciaporlosanimales
Later I got sent a picture by a friend of Trump’s sons with a dead leopard on a safari hunt; that poor majestic animal and that of course came back to Beatriz because John’s character shows photos and boasts about his safari trip while Beatriz is morning her own recent cruel reality. In the movie, Beatriz says, there’s a cancer that’s killing the Earth and if you think you can hide behind your gates because you’re powerful and rich, you’re wrong, it’ll all come to get you, too. And one of the things that I think about that statement is global warming and so Mike’s completely on point because last week we have Trump leaving the Paris Agreement. And I read all of this a year and a half ago. My birthday is in September, so this would have been September 2015 when I read it and one after another all of these things have happened in America and in my life that were in the script.
Mike is such a visionary that he saw one of the biggest problems that was happening all around the world—development, rich isolation, a lack of empathy for others—and he just wrote this little movie about conversations at dinner. It’s not just happening here, it’s happening everywhere. I saw something entirely new in the United States in just dealing with police and individuals when my dog died. And that’s very much what Mike did, take a small scale dinner to show the polarization of the world.