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Frida - Of all the things she was brave about, I admired the most her courage to be unique

Feature by: Jack Foley

SALMA Hayek was just 14-years-old when she first became fascinated by the artist, Frida Kahlo, one of the world’s most coveted female painters, who, since her death, has consistently smashed international auction records, and who achieved all that she did despite a lifetime of personal suffering and physical pain.

Speaking at a press conference in London, held to mark the UK release of Frida, she explained that Frida's 'courage' was one of the things that she found most inspiring, particularly when approaching the making of the movie.

"Of all the things she was brave about, I admired the most her courage to be unique," she explained. "Her paintings were not liked by many, but she never got influenced by people, and she never changed her style, whether people liked it or not.

"She had quite an unconventional relationship with Diego [Rivera], and I'm sure people felt he was not the best thing, but she did everything in life her own way - in the way she dressed, in the way she coped, in her house, everything about her was definitely unique, without caring at all about what anybody thought and without ever apologising.

"On the contrary, she celebrated some of the things that made her different; for example, her moustache, which she exaggerated in her paintings."

Frida Kahlo's life was changed irreversibly at the age of 18, when she was involved in a debilitating bus accident. She was found, half naked, among the wreckage, bathed in blood and gold dust, and impaled on a metal rod. Her spinal column, ribs, pelvis and collarbone were shattered, her right foot was crushed and her right leg, crippled years earlier by polio, was broken in a dozen places.

The metal rod which impaled her also caused a deep abdominal wound, leaving her unable to have children, and throughout her life, the injuries she suffered as a result of the accident constantly troubled her, meaning that she was forced to endure long periods in immobilizing plaster casts and corsets, traction and, at times, barbaric experimental operations.

Yet her spirit remained strong and, so long as she could continue her painting, Frida frequently rose above her predicament to triumph against adversity - living as colourful a life as many of her paintings.

And it was a story that Hayek wanted to honour, both as the actress portraying the artist, and as one of the producers of the film, which has subsequently been Oscar-nominated.

The film itself took many years to make, and was put together on a modest budget, but thanks to the tenacity and passion shown by both Hayek and director, Julie Taymor, as well as the connections they were able to call upon, the story of Frida is a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman.

But were there times when the actress felt that the film might never get made, and what kept her going throughout the production process?

"Conviction, you know? I think that when you truly believe in something, I'm willing to give my best fight," she explained. "If we had gone to these people and said, 'here's the best script that is out there, do you want to do it?', I wouldn't have learned all the things I've learned; I wouldn't have grown like I've grown.


"I know how to tell a story, I know how to put a movie together, I know where to find the money. I had to force myself to find the right director for the movie, because we went through many directors, and many possibilities.

"We could have done this movie way before. But I didn't want to settle for what was there, so it was my fault that it didn't get going before, also. I was my biggest obstacle.

"But I learnt so many things that I could not begin to tell you. So I feel very fortunate. Sometimes, it's very exhausing with people trying to be kind to me, saying 'you've suffered so much to get where you are; in a way, that's a position of 'oh you should like me now, I've earned it'. But I don't want to take that position; it's been a privilege to have the road that I've had."

Hayek went on to dismiss a suggestion, from one journalist, that one of the most fascinating things about the project was that she had beaten so many high-profile names (such as Madonna and Jennifer Lopez) to completing it.

She explained: "It's interesting for me that you find it fascinating that I beat other people. It was absolutely not a part of the actual amazing journey that I took to make it.

"What's amazing to me is that it got going at all. It's amazing to me that I was able to convince a studio to make it, that I was able to convince Julie Taymor, and all these big superstars to play small parts with no money and no perks.

"That we actually managed to put that script into the form that it ended up, because there were so many possibilities for this story, that was fascinating to me. As for other people wanting to play this part, I find it absolutely logical, because it is an amazing part, so why wouldn't other people make it?"

With that in mind, therefore, it is little wonder that Hayek is so pleased with the three Oscar nominations the film has received, particularly as the burden of expectation within Mexico, and among fans of Frida, had been mounting in the days prior to the nominees being released.

Asked whether she was excited about the prospect of the ceremony, she took a deep breath, sighed, and delivered one of her trademark smouldering smiles, before revealing: "Very, very, very excited, especially since we have three...

"I'm also very excited that other friends of mine are also nominated, friends like Renee Zellweger. And on this movie, for instance, Felipe Fernandez, who's the production designer on the movie, he's a very old friend, who I've known for 20 years.

"I thought a lot of people in the movie deserved a nomination; certainly, everyone that's nominated and, certainly, other people that didn't get nominated. But, it was such a tough year, that I was very scared, because there was so much buzz, and so much anticipation in Mexico, that I was really nervous. So actually, with the first nomination, my feeling was of relief, and all the others came, so..."

So, what next? Now that Hayek's dream project has been realised and applauded, what could replace this passion in the future (aside from the fact she has just finished directing her debut movie, which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January).

She merely laughs and says: "Watch it, for I can be very passionate about things that might not be as meaningful. I would not try to replace it. I had a dream about it, I thought about it, and now it's done, I will put it aside and have the courage to dream a new one.

"But I'm not going to compare anything else to what I set out to do with this one, I'll just enjoy whatever it is - which is one lesson I've learned from Senora Frida Kahlo...."

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