Salma Hayek makes no secret of the fact she felt great empathy for her latest incarnation, a woman pining to become pregnant in new fantasy-horror Tale Of Tales.
“My character is obsessed with being a mother. She’s having trouble having children and she’s deeply sad and lonely because of this, and I could empathise with her because I didn’t have my child until I was 41,” says the Mexican-born actress, who is mum to eight-year-old Valentina (her husband of seven years, billionaire businessman Francois-Henri Pinault, also has three other children).
“I understand the fear she was going through: is this going to be a possibility for me in my life or not?”
The movie’s directed by the acclaimed Italian film-maker Matteo Garrone, whose previous credits include The Embalmer, First Love and TV series Gomorrah, but Tale Of Tales marks his first English language film.
“Anything he proposed I would’ve done and I will do in the future. I feel so lucky I got to work with him,” says Hayek, in that melodic, husky voice.
“I have a lot of Italian friends who are actors and it was always the on-going joke that he usually gives the leading roles to real people, he doesn’t work with actors. It was everybody’s dream to work with Matteo, so they were very jealous!” adds the star, looking conservatively glamorous in a black cardigan over a dress strewn with small swans.
Her character, Queen of Longtrellis, is so determined to have a child that she follows the advice of a sorcerer and devours the heart of a sea monster.
“When I read that scene, I thought this is not even going to make it to the film,” recalls Hayek, laughing. “I don’t know how Matteo managed to do something that is so grotesque yet elegant at the same time, and emotional.
“Every take we would do, he would say, ‘OK, now I want you to do this with desperation, now with love. Do it with hope, with sadness’. I didn’t know there were so many ways to eat a heart.”
The film is inspired by the fairy tales of Giambattista Basile, an Italian academic, courtier and soldier whose work comprised more than 50 stories, weaving the sublime with the shocking, and influenced the Brothers Grimm.
“The book it was based on was written in the 17th century, but all the conflicts of the characters are very relevant today and Matteo just takes it to the grotesque and the unimaginable, both psychologically and visually,” continues Hayek.
Garrone, who also co-wrote the screenplay, has noted that choosing which tales to include, followed an “invisible thread”.
“It involves three stories about women, each at a different stage in life,” notes the 47-year-old director.
“But what struck us even more was the capacity of these tales to capture some contemporary obsessions: the powerful desire for youth and beauty, the obsession of a mother who would do anything to have a son, and the violence that a girl must deal with to become an adult.”
Hayek agrees: “It’s incredible that this author was writing about the obsession with keeping beauty and plastic surgery back then. All the conflicts for women are very relevant today. So even though it’s a period piece, it feels very modern.”
Given the actress’ flawless complexion, it would appear she’s found the secret to eternal youth. She looks 35 but turns 50 in September.
“I’m actually very excited about it,” she exclaims. “Turning 30 was kind of shocking. I really liked turning 40 and now I’m super-excited about turning 50.
“When I was younger, I thought it was scary – you think you’re done with your life by 50, but I’m very fulfilled with what I’ve done in 50 years.”
Raised in an affluent family in the oil rich coastal city of Coatzacoalcos, Hayek was sent to school in the US, before returning to Mexico to study at university.
In her early 20s, she was cast in the title role in the popular telenovela Teresa, eventually moving to Los Angeles to pursue her career in 1991.
Following bit parts, she landed her big break in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado, opposite Antonio Banderas, in 1995.
Rodriguez also cast Hayek in From Dusk Till Dawn, alongside George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino the following year – and she hasn’t stopped since, with over 60 acting credits to her name.
“I’m very happy. I feel so energetic and I’m very excited to discover that I still have so much curiosity and so many things to look forward to in my life.
“My life turned out to be better than I thought it was going to be when I was 20, so I think it’s a really exciting time,” states the star, who executive-produced the hit US TV series Ugly Betty and spent almost a decade bringing her passion project Frida to the big screen.
The biopic earned multiple award nods, including a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Hayek, who’s currently filming The Hitman’s Bodyguard, while two new movies, the adult animation Sausage Party and comedy Drunk Parents are in the offing.
She’s also looking to produce more – “we have something in development with Amazon, but let’s see if it makes it to the screen, because sometimes you develop and it doesn’t make it through” – but despite her success, it’s surprising to hear she doesn’t relish the process.
“I really don’t like producing,” Hayek reveals with a shrug. “But I think it’s important to do it, so I continue on that path.”
Tale Of Tales is in cinemas now.