Salma Hayek Beatriz at Dinner
Cast: Connie Britton, Chloe Sevigny, Salma Hayek, John Lithgow
Director: Miguel Arteta
Running Time: 82 minutes
Synopsis: At an elegant dinner party in a swanky hilltop home, conversation between a softspoken holistic healer and a hard-nosed businessman explodes into a bitter clash of cultures in Beatriz at Dinner, the latest provocative film from director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White. Exploring the widening gulf between the world's haves and havenots with fierce insight and unexpected humor, Beatriz at Dinner addresses contemporary controversies, from economic inequality and conservation to the necessity of simple human kindness.
Beatriz (Salma Hayek), a self-effacing and spiritual immigrant from Mexico, has spent her adult life caring for the sick while neglecting herself. When her car breaks down and she is stranded at a client's luxurious Newport Beach home overnight, her well-meaning employer Kathy (Connie Britton) insists she join them for a dinner party that evening. At an intimate and sumptuous celebration of her husband's latest business venture, Beatriz is introduced to Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), a ruthless billionaire real-estate developer. She listens uncomfortably while Doug brags about his aggressive business tactics, but when he boasts about shooting a rhino in Africa, she can no longer hold her tongue. As opposing worldviews collide over a dinner table, Beatriz's pent up outrage spills out in a way that surprises even herself
Beatriz at Dinner
Release Date: September 1st, 2017
About The Production
Beatriz at Dinner continues the longtime collaboration between director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White that began when they met through what White calls 'the codependent alumni network" of Wesleyan University. From their first feature together, 2000's surprisingly tender stalker comedy Chuck & Buck, to the indie favorite The Good Girl and acclaimed HBO series 'Enlightened," White and Arteta have explored the lives of vulnerable misfits with sympathy and respect.
White's most vividly drawn characters have always been outsiders by nature. In Beatriz at Dinner he has created two vastly different outliers " altruistic healer Beatriz and self-satisfied real-estate developer Doug Strutt " who represent opposite ends of the American spectrum. 'They stand for -winners' vs. -losers' if you will," says White. 'The rich vs. the poor, hunters vs. healers, male vs. female. I put two people with opposite beliefs in conflict in a very relatable and everyday type of situation " a dinner party. It begins as a comedy of manners and turns quickly into a battle of ideas with a great deal at stake."
The project began when White, an outspoken supporter of animal rights and a committed vegan, was outraged by the 2015 killing of Cecil the lion by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe. What, he wondered, would he do if he were ever to meet that man? He began to build a script around that idea.
Before he had a single scene on paper, White knew that his friend and colleague Arteta would be an ideal director for the project. 'I'm very particular about the people who interpret my writing," he says. 'Miguel is so respectful of the contribution of the writer. He has a humanistic impulse and comes at things from a heartfelt and hopeful place. My work can be read as satirical and acidic. His empathy enriches stories that in the hands of someone else could fall into a darker hole. I am always confident he'll get great performances and be protective of the script."
When White brought the idea to Arteta, he also suggested an actress they both had been wanting to work with to play Beatriz: Salma Hayek. 'Envisioning her in this role was very clever on Mike's part," says Arteta, who counts the actress as a good friend. 'She's a real animal lover and a very political person. She is also extremely empathic, like the character. It's a different kind of role for her and she loved the idea from the beginning."
Hayek and White sat down together for an initial meeting that convinced the actress that this was a role she was born to play. 'People have said this character is so different from the way they see me, but it's really the closest one to myself that I've ever played," she explains. 'The script was so original in a simple relatable way. Everybody's been to a dinner that goes crazy at some point in their lives."
After spending time with White and Arteta to discuss the film, the actress says she would have done whatever it took to work with them. During his initial meetings with Hayek, White didn't share much about the film's story and that was fine with her. 'I was already a huge fan," she says. 'We had such a great time talking that it didn't matter. He did spend some time picking my brain about the character. He asked a lot of questions and watched my body language for clues as to who Beatriz should be."
In the end, the script White came up with explored far more issues than hunting. One of the ideas Hayek shared with him is the profound sense of displacement felt by many immigrants. 'Beatriz grew up in poverty but she still dreams of the mangroves of her childhood," he says. 'They don't exist anymore but she can go back to them in her mind as a symbol of a young, innocent time when the world had not yet been plundered."
'Salma, in many ways, inspired the voice of Beatriz," he says. 'She is a deeply engaged and intelligent artist. And I wanted to write a fun character for her to play. The cliché is that Salma is -fiery,' so I liked the idea of her playing someone who is very compassionate but also subdued, a deeply intelligent and spiritual person who becomes more and more outraged by what she's hearing."
Hayek's enthusiasm for the role inspired her to become even more involved in getting the film made, bringing in producer and financier Aaron L. Gilbert of Bron Studios, with whom she had worked on the comedy Drunk Parents. Both the script and the director's vision for it impressed Gilbert so much that he signed on immediately. 'Miguel spoke so eloquently about his vision for the film," he says. 'And I knew it would be an incredible role for Salma. The combination of the two was a one-two punch for us.
'Mike White had crafted a screenplay with wonderful humor and subtlety," he continues. 'He has a way with dialogue that I rarely see and a gift for authenticity in crazy situations. That makes the collision between Beatriz and this billionaire who pillages the world for his own benefit smart and exciting. This is a smaller film but it's huge in terms of themes and ideas."
Producer Pamela Koffler of acclaimed indie production company Killer Films was attracted to the way White's script fused believable characters, compelling ideas and complex themes with great storytelling. 'Mike understands that there are people in the world who are attuned to suffering," she says. 'They are put on earth to heal. That is the essence of Beatriz, but he created a character so fully realized that you never feel she is a symbol for something rather than a human being.
'No matter what he's writing about, Mike's work is emotionally and narratively accessible," Koffler adds. 'His characters are able to say and do things that are offbeat, unpredictable and unorthodox without seeming arch or unreal. He and Miguel have found a creative synergy that is unique. Their work together is tonally specific and idiosyncratic in such an interesting way that we couldn't say no."
Arteta believes he and White have complementary approaches to storytelling that add up to more than the sum of their parts. 'We are definitely an interesting duo," the director acknowledges. 'Mike is my favorite writer," says Arteta, 'He has a piercing eye into human nature. I try my best to respect his words and it's always a pleasure to see how actors bring them to life."
The collision course between the two opposing viewpoints will leave audiences having to choose sides for themselves, Arteta hopes. 'I love that about Mike's work. He is not really guiding what your response should be, but raising questions in a smart way. It would be very easy to dismiss Doug as crass and materialistic. But we all love our possessions, we all love a good life. There are two sides to human nature."
Party Of Seven
Transformed physically from a glamorous global screen icon to a dowdy massage therapist, Hayek delivers a tour-de-force performance, finding the strength and the vulnerability in a woman who feels the weight of the world's problems on her shoulders. Hayek and her character share several key qualities, according to the director: 'They both rescue all kinds of animals," he says. 'They both rely heavily on intuition, which played a big part in Salma's performance. I love when a performer can make the audience lean toward them. I think she did that beautifully."
As a holistic healer at a cancer center, Beatriz regularly treats terminally ill patients. Burnt out by a lifetime of caring for others, Beatriz's quiet dignity hides the fact that she has become overwhelmed by the emotional toll her work takes on her. 'If you are trying to heal and make this world better, imagine how beaten down you could become," says Arteta. 'Beatriz is unable to glide along the surface of life. The other characters are a menu of the ways in which we deny the awfulness of the world and ourselves. She will have nothing to do with denial, which makes her more vulnerable than most other people."
In portraying the character, Hayek says she focused on Beatriz's capacity for love and empathy. 'There's something incredibly pure about her," says the actress. 'Everything is meaningful. It's not that she doesn't have a sense of humor " she's not dense " but she is profound. While I feel like I have a lot of things in common with this character, in truth I think I was playing Mike."
Having worked with Hayek previously, Gilbert was aware of her prodigious talent, but even he was blown away by her performance. 'Salma is a powerhouse of an actress, but she doesn't often get an opportunity to showcase that," says the producer. 'She's obviously beautiful and charismatic, but she hasn't played many roles that have allowed her to roll up her sleeves and embody a woman like this. That proposition was exciting for her. It is really inspiring to see her become Beatriz with such bravado."
According to Koffler, Hayek's movie-star status and charisma brought an unexpected benefit. 'Beatriz is the outlier in this group and there's something about her magnetism that really works for this character. Salma has many of Beatriz's qualities " she's very dialed into people and feeling, with an implacable sense of justice that feels true to the character."
Hayek says Arteta explained his vision for her character more eloquently than any director she has worked with ever has. 'He told me that Beatriz's inner life had to be so complex that it would be mysterious to everyone around her. Even though we know the general things that she's thinking, it's not exactly clear what's going on in her head at any time. She feels deeply, but it could never show on my face. He was very strict about that. Sometimes, even though I wasn't moving a muscle, he would know exactly what I was thinking and we would have to start again."
To find the stillness the part required, Hayek made daily meditation a part of her preparation. 'The good news was I didn't have to do makeup, so I could use that time," she notes. 'I needed to get to a quiet space in my head for my body to move a certain way. Miguel encouraged me to do it. We even chose the music together for the meditation."
Most importantly, says Arteta, Hayek trusted the material and gave herself over to the character. 'Her intelligence and empathy shine through at all times," he observes. 'I'm so grateful to her for having the courage to share things that she cares deeply about through this character. Salma got so much across with the simplest and most beautifully nuanced looks."
The film presents strong arguments on both sides of the debate between the values of Doug Strutt and Beatriz, says Hayek, who believes that allowing viewers to make up their own minds is crucial to the film's success. 'Audiences won't feel like they are being manipulated or preached to. I do hope it sparks conversation about connection and communication. America is filled with deep-seated and diverse views of life right now. What's important is that we are able to communicate and learn from each other. Both of these people are very clear in their point of view. Even if you believe that Doug is a bad guy, there will be other people who think he's in the right."
Kathy and Grant's party is a celebration of a huge new business deal masterminded by Doug, a notoriously successful and cold-blooded developer of high-end resorts and shopping centers. Veteran actor John Lithgow plays Doug with an unassailable confidence that makes him almost irresistible.
'What I appreciate about Doug is that he is a kind of philosopher king," says White. 'He lives by his own beliefs, as Beatriz does. The others at the party are not fully conscious of why they want what they want and do what they do. He and Beatriz could not be more different in their jobs and their values and their approaches to life, but they are similar in the strength of their convictions. That's why they make such powerful adversaries. Their conversation begins like a dance and quickly builds to a cage fight."
Lithgow brings a presence to the character that is as effortlessly seductive as his words are repellant. 'It was amazing to watch him become Doug during rehearsal," says Arteta. 'He makes it easy to understand views that I normally can't stomach. Every time I watch the film I find myself wondering if maybe he has a point."
White too admits he has moments when he almost buys into some of Doug's declarations. 'Miguel was smart to cast an actor so intelligent and dignified rather than a monstrous cretin," says the screenwriter. 'John brings a distinguished elegance and appeal that softens Doug. He gets the crassness, but fills it out with some dimensions that are not on the page."
Knowing that Arteta and White were involved and that Hayek would be playing Beatriz made accepting the role an easy decision for the actor. 'The character I play is wonderfully written and although the story was not nearly as timely when we started this project as it seems now, it dramatizes the gulf between rich and poor in an ingenious way," he says.
Arteta's encouragement to make Doug charming and affable was the right choice, Lithgow believes. 'It was too obvious for him to be unlikable. Miguel talked a lot to me about how much Doug loves his life. He is very comfortable with who he is, so he is not threatened or defensive with Beatriz. Doug is very appealing " if you're not completely on the other side of the fence. His attitude is, sure, you can have your opinions " but I'm successful and happy and you're not."
One piece of dialogue in particular has stuck with the actor. 'The most alarming lines in the movie are when he says something to Beatriz like, -Why do you have to be unhappy? The world is dying. We won't be around much longer. There's nothing we can do.' It's all the more terrifying because he delivers it with amiability and a generous spirit. Why not just relax and enjoy yourself? It's typical of Mike's subversive and almost perverse honesty."
Arteta has assembled a stellar supporting cast to play what he thinks of as 'a wonderful Greek chorus of performers" surrounding Hayek and Lithgow. 'All the characters are so beautifully written and beautifully played," he says. 'They don't have the strength of conviction that Beatriz and Doug have. They're more like us, which is part of the point of the movie. You may think you care, but you don't care completely. It's not possible for most of us. We can't live the wonderful lives that we live without there being some awful consequences that none of us want to think about."
As played by Connie Britton, Kathy, the party's hostess, evokes both sympathy and discomfort as her character tries to keep the evening from falling apart. 'Connie's character is the most in denial," says Arteta. 'She believes that she is a good person because she recycles. She cares about the people that work in her house. She's not like the Republicans next door. She is in this semi-delusional state that I think we all can relate to sometimes."
Britton's character is trapped in a bubble of privilege that prevents her from understanding that her relationship with Beatriz isn't really a friendship. 'She loves Beatriz, but she can't see it's a business transaction," says Koffler. 'You feel kind of bad for her. This evening undoes an entire history that Kathy thought she had. Connie brings a warm, idiosyncratic energy to what could have been a cartoony Real Housewife."
The actress never strikes a false note in the role, according to White. 'Connie was Miguel's choice from day one. He knew she would be the balance between worlds. She enjoys the trappings of the good life, but she needs to think of herself as fair-minded and inclusive. She is trying to walk the line between materialism and selflessness, but the way it plays out she has to take a side. I have to say, Kathy is the character I relate to the most."
Arteta and Britton had worked together during the first season of 'American Horror Story," for which she earned an Emmy® nomination, and both looked forward to collaborating again. 'Connie jumped in fearlessly and made Kathy so real," the director says. 'Her passion is so earnest and true. She has a way of making you appreciate our craft every moment on set."
The dimension and complexity with which White imbued Kathy's limited worldview fascinated Britton. 'Kathy goes through life with blinders on," says the actress. 'She's somewhat greed-driven and yet she's a good-hearted person, or at least she's trying to be. It was really fun to navigate through her nature within the confines of the world in which she's living."
When Kathy and Grant's daughter recovered from a life-threatening bout with cancer, Kathy believed it was Beatriz's work that saved her child's life. 'That's a very special bond," Britton explains. 'But it is complicated by class issues. There's a sense that Kathy is doing Beatriz a favor. She has the ability to provide a lot for Beatriz in a way that is a little bit patronizing, but she's not aware of that."
As funny and sharp as White's writing is, Britton says, Arteta never allowed the actors to emphasize the comedy. 'When you are blessed with dialogue this hilarious and subtle and rich, you're tempted to run with it a little, but it can really go over the top if you do. Miguel would never let us do that and when I saw the movie, I was so grateful that he didn't. If those characters had been stereotypes, the story could easily be brushed off. They're all a little bit good and a little bit bad, which actually makes the social commentary more biting."
As Alex and Shannon, Doug's attorney and his equally ambitious wife, Jay Duplass and Chloë Sevigny provide a subtle and sly counterpoint as a young couple in awe of their surroundings and company.
'I wanted to write a couple of characters who are still striving," White says. 'They are outsiders to this kind of wealth and provide a different perspective. They were both so dialed into their characters. Jay is also a writer and director, so it was interesting to see him as an actor. And I think of Chloë as more actress-rebel-iconoclast than Orange County matron, so she was an inspired choice. All the credit for that casting goes to Miguel."
Alex is the nominal guest of honor at this party, having won a court battle on behalf of Doug's company, but, as Duplass points out, Doug is the real guest of honor wherever he goes. 'He is everything Alex wants to be. Alex is a climber. He has a power marriage. Their goals are to get rich and conquer the world, which they seem to be doing at the speed of light."
Arteta's insights into Alex helped sharpen and deepen Duplass' portrayal of a young man on the move. 'The thing he emphasized most was that we shouldn't worry about creating -theatrical' moments. He told us to just be our characters and keep it as subtle as possible. That turned out to be so important during the dinner party scenes when we sometimes did 15- to 20-minute takes."
Chloë Sevigny and Mike White first met in the 1990s as part of that era's burgeoning indie film movement. 'I was always totally enchanted by him and his twisted mind," the actress says. 'So when this came my way, I said, -sign me up!' It's so rare to come upon a piece of work that hits home at so many points like this one does. No matter how big or how small the part, I wanted to be involved in helping communicate what Mike and Miguel wanted to say."
As the up-and-comers in the room, says Sevigny, Alex and Shannon are just learning to navigate the world of wealth and power. 'It's intimidating to even be in the same room as Doug Strutt. We're still clawing our way up, trying to impress. Jay and Miguel and I talked a lot about ambition and trying not to make it be a bad word."
The actress admits to being occasionally star-struck by her colleagues in the film. 'It was great to be able to play off of other people that I respect and admire so much. Salma's so beautiful it's easy to just get lost in her face And Tami Taylor, Connie Britton's character on -Friday Night Lights,' is one of my favorite TV characters. I couldn't believe she was there. I'd always call her Connie Britton, never just Connie."
David Warshofsky plays Grant, Kathy's businessman husband. With an important deal on the table, he's not enthusiastic about welcoming Beatriz as an unanticipated guest at dinner. 'Grant is super driven, but I was interested in exploring a bit of ambivalence about what he's doing, even if it's buried way deep inside," the actor explains. 'On the surface, he's supportive and a bit of a glad hand and go-to guy. But in both his marriage and his job, he's been forced to accommodate. That duality was interesting to me."
Being able to explore a complicated social divide in an entertaining way was a challenge the actor enjoyed, he says. 'Grant is probably not someone I would side with in my personal life. The job was to make sure he didn't become a cartoon. Miguel wanted people to be able to relate to some of these uncomfortable situations and see themselves in these characters."
Amy Landecker, who plays Jeana, Doug's latest trophy wife, was cast at the suggestion of Duplass, her co-star on the award-winning series 'Transparent." 'The script was incredibly moving to read, but I didn't expect how funny it would be," she says. 'We were shooting right in the middle of the 2016 election and so many of the issues that arose in the campaign are perfectly played out in the relationship between Beatriz and Doug."
Jeana is a pretty happy person and for good reason, Landecker says. 'She has a good marriage; she loves a powerful man and the lifestyle that goes with that. She doesn't judge him for his excesses and she meets him toe to toe. There is a lot of marital back-and-forth that could have been played more acerbically, but we chose to bring a jousting playfulness to the relationship. She has a good time giving her husband a hard time. And John's oddly attractive in this role. He has this swagger and confidence that is very sexy even when he's saying appalling things."
Arteta says he is blessed to have had such a pitch-perfect cast. 'As a group, they all understood the tone I wanted. The film required that the six guests be able to banter in a completely realistic way and John, Connie, David, Chloë, Amy and Jay became intimate teammates in creating that. They were always funny and real without ever crossing the line into satire."
On A Malibu Hilltop
Shot primarily in a mansion on the Malibu coast, Beatriz at Dinner captures the understated, expensive and utterly luxurious lifestyle of a super-elite group of Southern Californians. Arteta says that for him the house represents the perfect setting for Kathy and Grant's dinner party: aspirational but not over the top.
'We were very lucky to have a house that had all the elements we were looking for," says Arteta. 'It has an incredible view, but it's still relatable. There were lots of houses that were bigger and more garish. The spaces couldn't be too large, because when you're doing a dinner-party movie, you don't want things to feel too expansive. And even though it is home to some very wealthy people, there is something cozy about it. We wanted something tasteful that made people think, if I had the money, would I spend it this way?"
For Britton, being able to rehearse and shoot in a real house rather than on a set allowed her to feel more at home in the space. 'The house is supposed to be my house, so I got an opportunity to feel the reality of that," she says. 'The owners were actually still living there while we were shooting, so we got to know them."
With the help of director of photography Wyatt Garfield, the director composed clean, uncomplicated shots that lull the audience into a sense of false comfort before the fireworks begin. 'We wanted a slow burn to the delicious anxiety that keeps building," Arteta says. 'We took a very static, simple approach to the camera, moving it in a slow elegant way. The other important thing was to hold the close-ups in a very loving way. Wyatt and I wanted the light in the actors' eyes to be present without calling attention to itself. There's something tender about the way he held Salma's face in particular. It highlights the subtlety of her performance."
rteta was able to build in a few days of rehearsals for the actors on location before they began shooting. 'First we did a big table read, and then we blocked out the scenes," says Sevigny. 'That allowed Miguel to put together a game plan, which was important because we had so little time to shoot. There were lot of arguments about who should sit where during the dinner scene especially. Would they go with European etiquette versus America etiquette versus just what would happen naturally? And where does Salma's character sit? In the end, it's a lot of sitting around and talking, so Miguel had to figure out ways to make that dynamic."
Hayek's decidedly unglamorous wardrobe, unflattering hairstyle and makeup-free face help transform her into the self-effacing healer with little concern for outward appearances. Although she's dressed in her drab and shapeless work clothes, Beatriz turns down an offer from Kathy for a more appropriate outfit for the occasion.
Kathy's amiable but clueless gesture only emphasizes how out of place Beatriz is. As she hangs back during pre-dinner chatter by the pool, the other women's casual cattiness, gossip about reality television and unquestioning materialism seem to baffle her as much as her silence confuses them. And when she tries to join the men's conversation, she is mistaken for a servant.
'We wanted to make Salma look very different to accentuate the gap between her and the other guests," says Arteta. 'She is in stark contrast to the way the other women are dressed, in designer clothing and expensive jewelry. I was really happy with her wardrobe. It's a funny little outfit, isn't it? And her one concession to going to the party is to tuck her shirt in, which makes it somehow worse."
'Miguel was very clear about what I was wearing and how my hair should look," says Hayek. 'When I said, I didn't think I should wear any makeup, Miguel said, -thank God " I didn't know how to break it to you!' It was liberating to not be glamorous. There were no expectations about the way I looked. They also did everything to make me look even shorter. The other women are wearing heels and when we walked together, I was always on the lowest part of a slope."
At the time White began work on this script almost two years ago, he had no idea how prescient it would prove to be. 'If anything, the issues it covers have become even more relevant today," he says.
Arteta hopes the film will inspire people to think about why it is so hard to care for each other and the world. '-To me the, movie addresses something that we've been dealing with for the last 40 years. We've idealized greed and self-interest. We have lost touch with what is in our hearts and bred consumers instead. If you actually care about the world, there's no place for you in it. And the movie is lamenting that."
Beatriz at Dinner
Release Date: September 1st, 2017