Inspired by the celebrated fairy tales by Giambattista Basile, Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales is an epic tale that weaves the beautiful with the grotesque. In the film, Queen Longtrellis (Salma Hayek) trades her husband’s life to have a long yearned for child, two mysterious sister provoke the passion of the King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel), and the King of Highhills’ (Toby Jones) obsession with a giant flea leads to heartbreak for his young daughter.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Salma Hayek talked about how Tale of Tales was brought to her, her perspective on her character, having to devour a giant bloody heart, and working with Matteo Garrone. She also talked about the next film she’s shooting, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and playing the crazy wife of Samuel L. Jackson, along with how she ended up voicing a naughty taco in the R-rated animated feature Sausage Party.
Collider: This is a very cool movie!
SALMA HAYEK: Thank you! It’s a very cool movie. I really like this one.
How was this project brought to your attention and how was it presented to you?
HAYEK: It was a fairy tale, the way it came to me. I knew about Matteo Garrone’s films, and I was a huge fan. He’s a giant in Europe. He’s super respected. He never works with actors, though. He usually just works with real people and a few actors, but never huge stars. Normally, he likes to work with real people, and he’s famous for that. All of my Italian actor friends are like, “He’s the best director and he doesn’t want to work with me!” And one day, I was in L.A. and my phone wrong. There was no caller ID and usually I don’t pick it up, but for some reason, I picked it up. He said, “Hello, this is Matteo Garrone. I am an Italian director. May I please speak to Salma Hayek?” I said, “Yeah, that’s me.” He said, “Oh, hi, Salma. Listen, I am an Italian director and I am preparing my next film. I would love for you to be in it.” I thought it was a dream.
I was really shocked because I was not warned that someone gave my number to Matteo Garrone and that he would be calling me. It was out of the blue! I was nervous. I said, “What is it about?” And he said, “Well, it’s based on a book in the 1700s. It’s these three stories, seen from the point of view of three different women.” I said, “And what do I play?” And he said, “You play a Queen in the 1700s.” I swear to you, I’ve always been bummed out, before this movie, because I love period pieces. I watch all of those BBC period pieces and every movie. I love period pieces, especially from all of the European and Russian authors. It all happens in Europe, all of the classics. And I was so secretly sad because I thought I would never wear one of those dresses or be in one of those castles, playing a part. The Mexicans were on another continent, wearing something very different. When he told me, “You play a Queen,” I could not believe my luck. He said, “I don’t know if this will interest you. I’m going to send you the script, and you read it and see what you think. I’m going to give you my number.” I really felt like screaming and saying, “Dude, you had me at hello.” But I didn’t know him very well, so I said, “Yes, send it to me.”
You’ve said that you didn’t realize that you were the villain in the movie until you saw the finished product, and that you thought this woman was much more likeable than what we see now. When you saw the finished film, how did your perspective on the character change?
HAYEK: In reality, when you are preparing a part, I don’t judge my character. You can’t. In this case, I really got into it. I had to make sense of the way that she thinks. For me, this boy is stealing my child and I cannot understand why my child wants to get away from me to go be with this boy. I sacrificed so much for this child and waited so long that I felt that love so strongly. When you see the rest of the story, you realize that maybe I went too far. Maybe I was suffocating him. It’s funny because I have not played that many villains. I did play another mother like that in Savages, but it was different. She knew she was doing something wrong and that, one day, she might pay for it. But, the Queen didn’t. All the Queen did was love.
There are so many strange, surreal, absurdist and carnivalesque things in this film. That image of you devouring that big, bloody heart is the first time we realize that this might not be the kind of movie that we’re used to seeing. What was it like to not only shoot that scene, but to watch it?
HAYEK: I never get to express it because everybody asks me, “What did it taste like?,” but what was mind-blowing for me about it was that, when I read it in the script, I thought, “How disgusting! Now we are just going into the grotesque. How do you shoot that?” When I read it, I was disturbed, but I said, “It’s Matteo Garrone, so we’ll see.” Then, the castle had so many colors. He wanted a specific dress, a specific chair, and my chair a certain way. I sat at the table and he framed it in a way where you only see white and black. He shot it in a way where, even though there’s movement, the frame didn’t change that much. When you see it, it’s so elegant, but imagine reading it on the page. It was, “She devours the heart.” But then, somehow, he made the gore elegant. I said, “How do I eat this?” He said, “You eat it with sadness. Then, you do it with desperation and anger. Then, each bite, you’re terrified. Then, you’re hopeful. Every time you chew, you are praying that it works.”
We did nine takes, and I would have never imagined that I would really get into eating the heart. It was really disgusting, but I was really focused on what she was feeling. And then, he chose one. There were so many varieties and so many ways that I ate that disgusting thing that they brought me. And it was so emotional when I was doing it. I think I was crying during one of the takes, and I didn’t think about crying. It gives you a window into Matteo’s genius. Everybody just sees me eating the heart. When I read it on paper, I said, “That won’t even make it to the film.” It’s so iconic. Everybody talks about it.
Have you started shooting The Hitman’s Bodyguard yet, or is that the next project that you’re going to be doing?
HAYEK: Next week.
What drew you to that and the character that you’re going to be playing?
HAYEK: She is so funny and tough. She is quite a force of nature. It’s a very, very unique character. I read it and thought, “How am I going to do this?!” I was convinced by the producer, who has worked with me before, and Ryan [Reynolds], who’s a very good friend because I’m still very close to (his wife) Blake [Lively], and the director that I could do it. It was so different when I read it. It was a crazy Irish woman, and they said, “We know you can make it into a Spanish woman and go to town with it.” So, I started working with the director on how I would translate that, with an explosive temperament and what kind of things she would say. It was so much fun doing that. I was nervous, at the beginning, because she was Irish and I didn’t know if they wanted to change that. But they said, “Yes, you are perfect. You can do this.” I had a good support team that pushed me to the limit, and now I’m so excited. I am the wife of Sam Jackson, and we’re both insane.
You also voiced a character for the R-rated animated movie Sausage Party. How did Seth Rogen convince you to do that?
HAYEK: I don’t know how they got me! I swear to god, I don’t know. I think I was hypnotized. I remember being shocked, and then, I was recording it. I don’t know how they got me on board, but I’ll tell you, I am one naughty, naughty taco. She is a bad girl, in a different way. I know I’ll never play another one like that, for sure. I saw the trailer and my husband said, “Oh, my god, this is hardcore!” I said, “No, baby, that’s the kindergarten version. Brace yourself!” It’s the naughtiest thing I’ve ever done. I never thought I’d ever say some of those things out loud. But, I had a lot of fun working with Seth. It’s a different kind of crazy.
Tale of Tales is in theaters and on VOD on April 22nd.