LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In the film "Beatriz At Dinner," Salma Hayek plays a masseuse who is invited to a dinner party after her car breaks down at her wealthy client's house. There she meets a powerful real estate developer played by John Lithgow who hunts big game in Africa for fun and has little time for political correctness.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BEATRIZ AT DINNER")
SALMA HAYEK: (As Beatriz) When I first came to the United States a long time ago...
JOHN LITHGOW: (As Doug Strutt) Did you come legally?
HAYEK: (As Beatriz) Yes.
LITHGOW: (As Doug Strutt) And how'd that work?
HAYEK: (As Beatriz) I had family here on my mother's side. And my grandmother died...
LITHGOW: (As Doug Strutt) And they're all citizens? Or...
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) God, Doug, what? You work for the INS? You're grilling her.
LITHGOW: (As Doug Strutt) I'm curious. A lot of people come here illegally. I was interested in how she did it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Over the hours that follow, the conflict escalates revealing the true nature of the guests. Hayek's performance has won rave reviews. She joined us to discuss the project and her career.
HAYEK: It's the first time I can tell you it really did land in my laptop (laughter). I was always a fan Miguel Arteta and Mike White. They did "Chuck & Buck," "The Good Girl," "Enlightened." And one good day, two weeks before my 49th birthday, they said we have a project that we have you in mind for. Mike has not written yet, but we'd would like for you to be a part of it. And I said, oh, that's great. What is it about? And Mike said, it's a dinner. I go, OK. And, you know, Lulu, I thought for sure I'm going to be cooking.
HAYEK: I'm just going to be a small role. And I said, what do I play? And he said, you know, a masseuse. And I said, all right, all right. Who else is in it, you know? And he said, so far only you. Two weeks later, the day of my birthday, I get an email from him that said happy birthday with a script.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've just mentioned two things - first of all, that this is the first thing that's really ever landed in your lap and, secondly, that you expected to be cooking. Even now, you feel that - that you would probably be cast as a cook, Salma Hayek?
HAYEK: I have had to fight very, very hard for every little mediocre part I ever got. But now it's very different, Lulu. I don't know why. You know, they told me, you'll never work. I got the work. Then they said, it's going to be over at 35. And I'm 50. Never have I had so many opportunities before. And I take so much pleasure in proving wrong (laughter). It's a great satisfaction.
And, you know, I have a friend - an Italian friend who's a brilliant actress - Valeria Golina. She's working a lot, too. And we're looking at each other one day and said, why are we working so much? And then she said, you know why? We don't have the Botox.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) You don't have Botox.
HAYEK: We don't have it. We don't look as hot like some other ones. But we're working on stuff because we can look like real people.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I saw you quoted that when you first arrived to act in America, they told you to go back to Mexico. You'll never be more than a maid in this country. Have you had to sort of pave your own way?
HAYEK: Yes. And also, there's all the battles I fought behind doors.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about those.
HAYEK: I don't know how much I want to talk about that. But I can tell you that I've threatened people - to sue them if they don't see me for a part because they're specifically saying that a Latino could never have the profession that the part had. And they said even if you're brilliant and the best in the world, you will never get the part. And I said, that's OK. I know that. I still have to come because there was one time when confusion, where they were offering me a part. And they said, it's not written Latina, but we will change it for her.
And then when I was coming in, they said, oh, no, no, that's not the part. Are you crazy? She would never play - I would - we would never think about her for that part because she's Mexican. And I said, you said that you would change it. Yeah, the bimbo not this professional. So I said, no, they have to see me now or I will sue because they were very, very racist. And so I went in. And they made me wait five hours. It was a long table with maybe six people.
They said, why would you humiliate yourself and waste our time and your time? Well, you already know you're not wanted. And then I said, but you know what? I am here. And I did such a brilliant audition. They were laughing and smirking at the beginning. When I finished, I was so proud because they looked at me completely different. And he said that was smart. I had no idea you were that good. I still want what I want. And it's Caucasian. But I have to give it to you. You surprised me.
Years later, that lovely man came back to me and said, I apologize. I made a mistake. You would have been better in that movie. And I thank you for exposing me to it. And so I have done a lot of battling that nobody knows. But you have to know your battles. I didn't sue them. I didn't scream at them. I did my best work. The way to shine the light on ignorance - it's not by violence or aggression. It's just by putting a light in the right place.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think, more generally, from being a Hispanic that also being an attractive woman makes it harder? When they used the word bimbo, like what you just said, I mean, is that also a stereotype that is difficult to shake?
HAYEK: All stereotypes are difficult to shake. But I used it. I used it. I turned the tortilla around on them (laughter).
HAYEK: Because at the time it was either a drug dealer wife or the maid or an extra in the supermarket. And they couldn't have accepted a lawyer. But they could accept a hot Latina. That was not who I am. But that's what, at this time, they could feel safe with. And then I did my own movie. That was "Frida." And it took me eight years to get it off the ground. And I did it myself.
And then I get little by little, they start changing their mind. If I had come here with everything landing on my lap, then you don't develop as far and as strongly as you can. Because of that, I know how to produce film, television. I know how to write. I know how to direct. I can do many things. And I can do them well.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's a hard road to have to battle that continually.
HAYEK: Oh, it's a hard road. I rather have a hard road into excellence than the easy road into mediocracy. And it's important that I say this if we have any Latinos or any immigrants listening to this. This is an invitation for us to wake up and be excellent at anything that we do.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Salma Hayek, thank you so much for joining us.
HAYEK: Bye-bye, Lulu.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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