Salma Hayek has produced her fair share of projects for both film and TV — among them 2002’s Frida and the ABC series Ugly Betty — but her newest endeavor can be considered her most ambitious to date. For starters,The Prophet tackles unusual source material, bringing to life Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran’s famous book of philosophical essays. The animated movie was made sans the support of a major studio, and its pared-down animation makes it a big departure from the splashier style of standard summer fare. The film follows a spirited young girl (voiced by Quvenzhané Wallis) who embarks on an epic journey with her mother (Hayek) and exiled artist Mustafa (Liam Neeson).
Hayek spoke to EW about the lessons she learned while making The Prophet, her daughter’s reaction to the film, and what she considers the greatest difference between her work as a movie star versus mega-watt producer.
EW: You’ve been outspoken about how you were introduced to The Prophet by your grandfather, who was of Lebanese descent. But why make this movie now?
SALMA HAYEK: We started this film four and a half years ago, and there were many reasons … One of them was because I think it’s important that people remember there’s an Arab-American writer that wrote a book that has touched so many people. It’s sold more than 120 million copies around the world and it has influenced the lives of people of all religions and creeds, ages, colors, and backgrounds. And I think that’s relevant today. It was relevant when we started, but now that it’s out there, it’s even more relevant. I also think it’s important that we are exposed to material that reminds us of the beauty of our humanity. I think we feel a lot, but we don’t really spend enough time to go into a place inside of us that’s not about thinking or feeling but that is about being pure.
By now, you must know the themes of the book inside out. Is there a particular lesson or metaphor that has emerged as the most relevant or important to you?
The message to me from the film that I didn’t get as much from the book is that we are spirits. And that nothing can contain you, not even your own body. That we have the possibility to be free and feel free no matter what the circumstances are. And that makes you fearless. It gives you strength to do things you believe in.
What did your daughter say the first time she saw The Prophet?
Well, she was resentful of the film for years, because it’s taken more than half of her life. Her mom was taken away and busy and stressed out because there were a lot of problems. I was working from home in Europe every night, because everyone [in the U.S.] was working during the day. So she was very resentful of the film. I didn’t think she would like the movie, but she was actually quite moved by it and surprised by it. She was so inspired that after we walked out, she wrote a beautiful poem.
This movie has a pretty fantastic cast. You voice a character, as do Liam Neeson, Quvenzhané Wallis, John Krasinski, Frank Langella and Alfred Molina. Did any unique challenges present crop up during the casting process?
Everything has been a nightmare except for the casting. The casting was kind of easy. We were very lucky. This book has touched the lives of everyone involved in it. And everybody that worked on this film did it for love, because I can guarantee you there was no money. [Laughs] And there’s no budget for advertising or marketing. But I think the theme and goodwill behind it will generate a kind of magic.
The film has already been released in Lebanon. What has the reception been like?
We beat [Avengers: Age of Ultron] in its second week in Lebanon. We came out at the same time. I was recently in Venice and about five people from Lebanon stopped me and they all said the same thing. They said “The spirit of the country changed after this movie arrived.” And that’s pretty major.
What is the biggest difference between Salma the producer and Salma, the movie star?
Well, Salma the producer works a lot more for a lot less. [Laughs] I think it’s much easier just to show up and act, but sometimes it’s not as rewarding. I like to do things that go beyond your limitations as a human being, especially as a producer. This movie is the perfect example because its art is created from drawing, poetry, and music. It’s completely free. Not a single person contained its message. There’s a sense of freedom that comes from saying something and not being limited by who you are in your body, but to do be able to do something that says who you are beyond your body.
What does the next stage of your career look like?
Well, I’m very happy with my life, so it’s not going to look very different. I take the opportunities as they come, but I am going to not do another big project because I do want to spend time with my family. I do have other projects I’m developing with my production company, and I have a film for next year that’s very, very important to me.
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet will open in limited release in New York and Los Angeles on Aug. 7 before expanding nationwide on Aug. 21.