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Salma Hayek's 'Bliss' Is A Mind-Bending Science Fiction Adventure

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

If there's no sweet without sour, no joy without sorrow, then what's it like in a world in which climate change isn't a worry, and a lush universal income has done away with poverty? Well, in the new movie "Bliss", star scientist Isabel Clemens, played by Salma Hayek, creates a simulation of the not-so-great times in order to give people perspective on their daily lives. But the lines between the simulation and the real world blur. And Hayek and her co-star Owen Wilson need to separate the two. I'm so pleased to have Salma Hayek join me now. Welcome to the program.

SALMA HAYEK: Hello, Lulu. I'm so happy to be here talking to you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is a pleasure to have you. Tell us about your character in "Bliss."

HAYEK: So there is Isabel the scientist in the bliss world. And then there is the simulation Isabel that is afraid of nothing except one thing - that she's afraid in both worlds - losing your soulmate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that, of course - that soulmate is played by Owen Wilson. Tell me about when you first read this script because it is a bit of a mind-bender. It is one of those films that sort of bends reality and plays with people's perceptions of, you know, what might be around them.

HAYEK: Yes. Before reading the script, I talked a lot with the director. And one thing that really intrigued me was that all this sci-fi stuff can be replaced by the viewer into a story of addiction.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh.

HAYEK: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK, now I'm curious how that is true.

HAYEK: They could be just two people that use substances to escape the reality - which, in both cases, it's not good - and to create their own little world where they're not only addicted to the substances, but they are addicted to each other.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The underlying theme, though, is sort of about making the most of what you have, whether that's a lot or a little. Why did you think that was an important story to tell?

HAYEK: It's extremely important, especially - it's funny 'cause I did it before coronavirus. And then after we finished it, we went into lockdown. And you start realizing that the world that you were living in, that you thought was an ugly world - it was bliss, in some ways. And you start appreciating all the things that were so simple - and we got so used to it - and that you no longer have. Hugging a friend, going to the cinema - we started appreciating a lot of things - even for kids - because I have some, and they hated school. They hated school. They hated school until they cannot go to school anymore. Now, all they want is to go to school.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: My daughter's the same.

HAYEK: So I think that this is one of the many and important themes that are in the movie. And another one that I found very interesting that I appreciated more with the lockdown is that in this movie, one of the characters, Greg, and the audience are always wondering what's real and what's not real. And we're living in a time where I don't think we've ever asked this question - what's the truth? - as many times as lately.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And fear, which I think is something that plays on in this film. I mean, there's a lot of fear about what this reality is. As you mentioned, this is a very difficult time. People are going through things that the world hasn't experienced in over a hundred years. And so people are looking for answers in all sorts of different places.

HAYEK: I am hopeful that deep inside - whatever you think - maybe there is an instinct that it's time to reinvent ourselves. And always when there are big changes in conscience - it's messy at the beginning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But that's why I wonder where your optimism comes from because seeing what's happened with the virus and how divisive it's been - people not even wanting to wear masks - how then do you feel that we might be at the beginning of a bigger consciousness and that you feel optimistic about where things are going?

HAYEK: I feel optimistic because it would be a stupid choice not to be. That doesn't mean I'm not realistic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fair enough.

HAYEK: What is the smart choice - to be completely pessimistic? No. The smart choice is to be hopeful and look for ways to survive. Why am I hopeful? I am by nature a survivor. I have to stay realistic, sharp, present and react in the moment and see, what is it that I can do? So even if it's not true, just by maybe the possibility, just in case, wear the mask - just in case.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This feels like a good public service message from Salma Hayek.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're also starring in "Eternals", which has an exclamation point that I'm inadequately expressing. It's, of course, a Marvel superhero movie. And I'm just going to be plain here about asking you - you are a 54-year-old woman in today's Hollywood, and you ended up in this movie. And what do you think that means for other women actors?

HAYEK: Oh, power to middle-aged women. I am a 54-year-old woman who is Mexican and Arab. I mean, I never got this opportunity when I was young. I think it's fantastic. When I tried on the superhero - silly, for me - you know, I'm not used to this. It was not even my dream, you know, to be a superhero. But when I put it on...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The superhero outfit?

HAYEK: Yeah. It really moved me. I felt something not because I was playing a superhero but because I realized what it represented for any minority, for any ethnicity, for any woman of my age. And I felt, like, inside this, like, warm feeling. And in my head, I kind of said, yes, girls - we're doing it, you know? It's happening.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You cite that you are, of course, Latina and also of Arab descent. This is also a time, though, when women might be more well-represented, but Latinos are not, still. I mean, in the Golden Globes nominations, there were not as many Latinos nominated for awards. What needs to happen, do you think, specifically for Latinos to be better represented in not only - I guess not only in the cinema, but also in media generally?

HAYEK: Lulu, we might not be represented as we want. But I came to the States 30 years ago, and in comparison to the perception that there was when I arrived - where I was told over and over and over, this is an insane thing you want to do. It will never happen. Nobody's going to cast you in an important or leading role - no matter how good you are. It doesn't matter if you're the best actress in the world - this was told to me - or the most beautiful. The minute you open your mouth, you will remind them of their maid.

And so now, you might see that there's only a couple of Latinos that are nominated in the Golden Globes - it's true. But we have to be patient - why? Because there was a gap for such a long time that we are not developed. We don't have enough writers. They're not experienced enough. This is going to take some time because of the behind the cameras. People didn't have those jobs, so they did something else. They didn't pursue them. So they didn't exercise the craft enough to have the experience to be a showrunner. But the new generations - a lot of new ones - you will really see it in two years, three years, four years. That's when you're going to start seeing it - it takes time. Rome was not made in one day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Salma Hayek's new movie is "Bliss." It's out on Amazon this week. Thank you very much. Muchisima gracias.

HAYEK: Gracias, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL'S "THE DEPARTURE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.