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Frida - Julie Taymor Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

FRIDA director, Julie Taymor, spoke of the challenges of making the Oscar-nominated movie and her deep respect for its star and producer, Salma Hayek, during a recent press conference in London. Here's what she had to say....

Q. Why did you want to do the lyrics for the song at the end of the film, which has proved such a potent part of the story of Frida?
A. By the end of the film, all of the songs have been in Spanish, which we deliberately kept in Spanish, without subtitles, because the power of the language, the musicality of the language, was so beautiful, that we didn't want people having to read and separate what they were hearing from the characters.
So Elliot [Goldenthal], the composer, and I got to the end and I said, 'you know what? Let's throw the audience which doesn't speak Spanish a bone', and now that the film is over, see if we can encapsulate the film and move on with the end title song with lyrics that people can listen to finally.
But we wanted to do it in Spanish and English, so I thought about other people writing the lyrics, but, in a way, I knew what the movie was about, I've lived the movie, and we start from the burning bed and move on.
Lila Downs, a great local Brazilian singer, agreed to sing the part and becomes the spirit of Frida with the Spanish singing, and she is the spark and the flame, and it just naturally fell in that Elliot and I, who are collaborators in many more ways than one, decided to create the song together. So we're very delighted that the music actually comes out of the movie.
That was the other thing, nobody was interested in an end title pop song tacked on to the end of the movie for marketing. We wanted the singers that we thought were the right singers, and we wanted the song to be a part of the movie.

Q. How did you go about deciding on the look of the film?
A. Well, we're doing a film about a painter, so you better try and come up to the level of the painter, if you can. I had terrific collaborators in Felipe Fernandez, the production designer, and Rodrigo Prieto, the director of photography, and Julie Weiss, the costume designer.
You start from Frida Kahlo, you start from the colours of her paintings, and the detail of her work. But then if you just travel to Mexico and you visit the Blue House, it's that blue, it's that green, it's that red; if you look at Frida Kahlo's dresses, they are red and yellow and you're not accentuating the colourfulness of Mexico, that is Mexico.
Then I wanted to add these paintings that come alive, so that it would step out of the biography, or normal biopic style, and in doing that, again, I was trying to take Frida Kahlo's paintings, and show how her imagination would come to these ideas; they are self-portraits, after all, so you can find where in her life they actually happened, like chapter headings and chapter endings; or the moment where the most potent emotional thing should happen, how does she see it?
She's kind of going from the exterior, in the storytelling, to the interior of her imagination. In that, we decided to use collage, which is in Frida and Diego's style, and sometimes that was because we had no budget, but it was a better choice anyway; sometimes I used animation, puppet animation, you know, hand-painted animation, or computer, because Frida's style is very naive, and very sophisticated at the same time, so I didn't want big Hollywood effects.
We didn't have the money, but I didn't want them anyway, and what Salma said is true, we are very proud of this film, with all these nominations in these categories, because this means that our team did it from their talent; we didn't have the budget, this is a $12 million film, that takes place in three decades, goes to Paris, New York, Mexico, and it's a feat because we, through her wonderful connections, and my friends as well, put together a team.

On Salma Hayek's suitability for the role...
A. She is really the only one who should play this part, so I have another feeling about the answer to this question. It was her movie, and she's got the rights to the paintings. I really think that it was meant to be for Salma and it's good she took eight years, because Salma was too young to play it before; she needed to go through the tenacity and hardship of getting this movie made, and maybe feel a little bit of what Frida Kahlo was going through.

Julie Taymor on the development of the screenplay...
A. The screenplay that I was sent had Rodrigo Garcia's name on it. It was a good enough screenplay that I was interested. What was missing were the paintings, there were many things that weren't in that screenplay that then Salma suggested, as there was very little money and she had a connection. When I first considered Edward Norton, I thought 'too close for comfort', but then she looked at the composer and probably thought the same thing.
We both have these collaborators that we believe in and I met with Edward and we talked about what I felt, and he felt, were the missing quotients; what wasn't there and what needed to be shaped, and what needed sharper language.
To me, Edward absolutely deserves credit, I know what he did, we spent two months working on this film together, I did an enormous amount of research again, and he really upped the level of the sophistication of the politics, of the language of the characters.
I also want to add that Salma, herself, is responsible for a lot of the dialogue in this movie, because she is a phenomenal improviser. One of the things that we did in rehearsals, was to just open up the material. It was a wonderful experience working with Salma on a one-on-one before we shot, because we could really go into, 'what would you say when you come up against this infertility issue, or infidelity issue?' So there is an uncredited amount of Salma in here as well; but Edward did a wonderful job of reshaping the final draft.

On Salma Hayek as a director...
Well, I haven't seen the film she just directed, but I've heard she's very good. But honestly? I think she has an incredible attention to detail, she has a fantastic rapport with her crew, she's not a diva, even when we were there and she was the centre of attention, and she's such a good storyteller.
I think, probably, she can do whatever she wants to do. She's not always politically correct, and it might be hard to get her to meet a president, but I think that she's an incredibly capable woman. She was the draw for me when I met her, this personality, this woman, as much as the content and the material.
I think that there is so much that Salma can do, and I'm looking forward to seeing her directorial debut, which, I think, just opened at Sundance last month.

 

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