Salma Hayek Talks Working Motherhood and “Puss in Boots”

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Mexican beauty Salma Hayek is sultry and always surprising.

With a career including an Oscar win for Frida to a turn as the animated Kitty Softpaws in DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures’ Puss in Boots – which purred its way to a cool $33 million this past weekend – mom to three-year-old Valentina is taking everything life throws at her in practiced stride.

I had a chance to catch up with Salma during premiere week, mom-to-mom, and talked all things Puss, Antonio Banderas, and maintaining that elusive work/home balance that comes with working motherhood.

What do you love most about the movie?

There’s so many things that I love about it, but there is one character that doesn’t have any lines. It’s a cat, and he’s an extra and he’s in the background and I’m truly in love with him. All he does is say, “Ohhhh” but it’s the way he says it. I laugh so much. It’s like a running joking in my house. And every time somebody does it, I just laugh, I can’t help it. So, I’ve been totally upstaged in this film by an extra.

You’ve already made several films with Antonio Banderas and you two have such fantastic chemistry within your friendship. How did that play into the making of this movie?

I know him so well! Not only have I worked with him many times but he’s also a friend. Even when he was not in the room, I knew how he would say [a line], I could almost feel him as a ghost in the room doing his thing, but it was so much fun when we finally got to do it together.

I think we have great chemistry even as cast, and you can see it. I think it’s about the bickering and we do it as we like to, and this is part of our relationship in the movie, so it just worked out good. It’s very funny.

Now, you’ve done live action films and you’ve done animation. Do you prefer one over the other?

Well, they both have their charm in different ways. I really loved doing this movie because I have to say that people involved in the film – they were just so nice and accommodating. I don’t know how many countries and cities I actually worked on this movie from. You can go to any studio and via satellite, they direct to and tell you what to do. So we did a couple in Paris, we did in Boston, we did in L.A… it’s so convenient and easy. There was a relaxed atmosphere that helps you explore and I love the feeling. I love the adventure in it.

We also got to improvise, I got to work with Antonio together, my experience with this animation film has been really, really good.  I’m going to miss it. It has become part of my life, we’ve been doing it for three years. I was so proud to show it to my little daughter, but at the same time I’m an actress, you know, and sometimes even though it’s not as relaxed, it’s lovely to be called the character and just forget about everything else and just be that character while you’re shooting.

Tell me about Kitty Softpaws. What is she like?

She is sassy but she’s not sexy, I mean it could have been an easy place to go with as a cat, you know, but that’s not one of her qualities. She’s ingenious, she smart and she’s very coquettish and she uses her charms, but when you think of her, you don’t think of sexy and I think that’s also important for girls. She’s a strong woman that speaks her mind and that she’s very good at what she does, even though what she does is not something that’s very good.

And are you a pet lover?

Oh yes, you won’t believe this because you’re going to have a field day with me. I was under the habit of rescuing animals myself, not going to pick them up from the shelters but actually turning my house into a shelter.  And I also have a ranch, so my pets – I have as of right now five parrots, one cat without a tail that was rescued by one of my 10 dogs, four ducks, 20 chickens, five horses, two guinea pigs and four alpacas.

What should audiences expect from Puss in Boots?

Do not expect that you’re going to see anything like Shrek. We’re completely different. It has its own style, its own personality – the story is really sophisticated, it’s very cool. There’s a lot of laughter but there’s also a lot of adventure. You’re going to be surprised and enjoy the surprise.

Is it more difficult to get into character when doing voice work?

You know, that’s a great question. At the beginning, it was. You know why? They did not let you read the script and they hadn’t drawn anything yet. So I was completely in a panic, I just had one guy that said, ‘These are your lines and what’s happening.’

So, when I tell you that the movie is surprising, it was a surprise for me, too. I’m like, ‘Oh that’s what happened.’ I had my own version of the film in my head. However, somehow I got ahold of the character, and it was very easy for me once we created the character. I was able to improvise a lot. A lot of lines that I made up ended up in this film. It was hard at the beginning, then it became easy.

In terms of finding strong roles for women in Hollywood – are there enough choices at this point?

Well no, there are never enough choices, but I’ll tell you, I have a great win in this one. 

Every thing [Puss] does, I outsmart him, what he needs is a dream job.  How many times do you get a part where the female outsmarts [the male character] every time in every way? I’m always one step ahead and she’s actually a comprehensive character. I love her because she starts out one thing and she’s finishing out something else. It has an art. It has a dramatic art and I think that Kitty Softpaws is a great female character, one of the few wonderful ones that are out there.

Being a parent involves so much filtering in terms of the media our kids see. Will you share this movie with Valentina?

That’s a really a good question. I did a movie that I love as a grown up. It’s a family movie but I do have to monitor and censor – ‘You can only watch parts of it that are really funny…’ and I let her watch some parts, but I have to be really careful.

Even watching television, she’s going on three and she wants to watch all these teen movies. She has seen great stuff but all I find is that she’s got the attitude and imitating the way they talk.  So, even some stuff that seems that you’ve censored it still makes them want grow up faster, and so I have to really watch that, not to mention the radio. And you never really understand what that is, because everything changes when you have a child. So I’m very proud of this film. Very, very funny, it’s quite sophisticated. There’s a lot of adventure – I am proud for her to watch.

Tell me, what do you and Valentina like to do together?

Well, I am a crazy mother. I actually do dress up with her and we play cards. My daughter likes to play actress, which is not very convenient because sometimes I work the whole day and I just want to go home and be me.

I did four movies this year, and I know I have to come home and be the gardener or, I have even been a chair or a table. She loves to play different roles and she sort of a director in it, because she tells you what your name is, what is it about – you should be doing this and that. We love to dance together, we love to make little houses. I love to draw with her and she loves to read. 

We love to scare each other, oh my God, we really to love to scare each other. Thank God I have a healthy heart because she’s really getting good at it.  We love to sing together, too. And we cook together. I make her do chores all the time – she likes it. So, you know what she’s beginning to do? I am so proud of it, she sees that I’m very busy so she wakes up and she goes, ‘Mommy, how can I help you today?’

Let’s talk about the balance. Between your acting roles and motherhood, do you have a support network to help keep you in check?

Yes. The most important thing about the balance is that you cannot see it as equally balanced, because you have to understand that motherhood has to be your priority. It’s important work. You’ve got to have priorities and when it’s time to make a decision, it’s easier to make a decision if you understand your priority. So, for me, a way of keeping the balance, is understanding very well that that’s my priority.

I have a support team, but it’s never enough. Everybody would agree with me right? I really do believe that kids have to be raised by their parents. And so, it’s good to get some help but there’s got to also be a balance at a very high percentage over the parents taking care of their children and if you have that philosophy, then – even though you have a great support team, it’s not comfortable, like I never go on a trip and leave my child with a nanny. I’ve never done that in my life. She’s most of the time with me. I think that’s important.

I think that it’s also important for kids to feel that it’s you taking care of them. That’s because sometimes when I was very busy, I said of the most important quality time is for me to play a lot and do fun things and then I said, ‘Oh no, that’s not right.’ The most important thing is that she sees is I cook for her, that I give her the bath, that I brush her teeth… I think it’s important to combine those things – it’s a nice experience for a working mommy so far. 

What’s the best bit of parenting advice you learned from your parents?

I will give you one from my mother and I’ll be fair – I’ll give you one from my father.

My mother would tell me when I used say I was bored, ‘Only stupid people get bored. Smart people never get bored because they have a vast imagination and a brain that can always at all times can find something productive or exciting to do, or to think about, or to imagine.’ I think this is a beautiful concept and it really stuck with me for the rest of my life.

And for my father, he taught me so many things, but the first one that comes to my head that really stuck with me was when my father said to me, ‘You are my princess. I will do everything in my power to give you the best education, to give you love, to give you everything you need.’

My father was the kind of father that would… like if there’s nowhere to sit in the theater, he would stand with me on his shoulders for the two hours. He said, ‘I’m going to do everything for you, but you have to promise me that you will never let anyone else treat you less than that, you will never stand for it, and that you have to treat all the people the same.’ And this has meant so much in my life.

I think it’s important to teach children not only to treat everybody well, but also to stand up for themselves, kindly in not a bully way but kindly. And that’s it.

Photo credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

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