Toronto: Salma Hayek Says Adapting 'The Prophet' Was a "Miracle"

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
'The Prophet'

The actress-producer on the challenges of bringing Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran's work to the big screen

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Salma Hayek spent four years working to bring an animated adaptation of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, first published in 1923, to the big screen. The Prophet tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a young, mischievous girl and an imprisoned poet. Hayek not only produces but voices a role in the movie, the making of which she calls a "miracle." She talked to THR about the process.

What is it like to attend the Toronto Film Festival as a producer rather than an actress for your film?

Well, I am so excited to bring this film to Toronto. I think it is one of the best festivals in the world right now. They gave us a very big theater and they are trying to focus on youth. They are organizing an event for youth right before the screening, and I am very proud to be able to bring a film that has a message, that is uplifting, that treats young people with intelligence, that makes them think in beautiful ways. The film itself is a very unique experience: Watching the film there is a story, and within the story there are moments where you come out of the film to be with yourself for a minute and then you go back to the film. And I am very excited to go to the Toronto Film Festival, but I am even more excited that they are supporting the film in this way and they want to bring it to the youth.

How hard was it to bring The Prophet to the big screen?

This film has been a miracle that we actually got it done. To take a philosophy book and make it accessible to the whole family and entertaining and not pretentious or preachy, making it in animation and with such a small budget, to be able to be innovative visually in animation today when there is so much of it has been a huge, huge challenge. All this from Paris, while everyone else was on this side of the world. It was many, many nights of not sleeping. Many, many nights for almost four years now, it has completely consumed my life. It has been really, really difficult, but it has been worth it because regardless of what happens, what the destiny of the film, I know that I made something special and that I am really, really proud of it.

I know this project is meaningful to you but given your Lebanese heritage, how is it especially important to you?

Because of my Lebanese heritage I am also very proud to bring into film a book that has been read by many different generations. It has sold more than 100 million copies around the world and I think it is because Kahlil Gibran, the writer, this book specifically, it’s not religious and it’s not political. So I think that it is lovely that there is someone from this region of the world that can write something that is spiritual, that is uplifting, that includes all religions, all kinds of backgrounds and many different generations. I read the book when I was 18, and some of the poems were more important to me about maybe love, and then of course for now on children — and you go back to the book and you find different things in different periods of your life. And I think in a time like today it is so precious to be able to bring a film to the world that reminds us that you cannot be imprisoned by your body or by anything else, that we are spirits. There is just so many messages. For example, on children — I remember this every day when I am with my child — it says: "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself."

You said it was four years of work. How would you describe your experience as a producer? It sounds like you were very, very involved in every aspect of this.

Yes. I think I took a huge risk because it was my idea to make it one story and introduce in this story a simple story that children can follow, but that is about many things. And [to] introduce the poems within it, and each poem is the point of view of a little girl that is listening to a poem. And each one of them is completely different — it’s done by a completely different artist; it's never been done before and it was my idea. And it was so hard to convince people that this could work. Because when you do something new it's always scary. It was very scary for me — but I really believed in it. A lot of the things that gave us the most obstacles at the end are the things that are giving us the most satisfaction. But it needed, as a producer, a lot of work every step of the way because we were trying something new. I got so much help from so many friends: Damien Rice wrote the most beautiful songs — two of them; Lisa Hannigan; Glen Hanson; Gabriele Yared  who is also Lebanese, who did the score; the cast, the amazing cast; the animation with such little money. There was not one aspect of it that was easy.