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Cast Interview 'In The Time Of The Butterflies'


TRANSCRIPTS-July 12, 2001

All TCA Press Tour transcripts are prepared immediately following press conferences. They are provided for your convenience and are not intended as a substitute for attendance at press conferences. Due to the speed with which these transcripts are prepared, complete accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

STEVE RUDIN: Our last panel of the afternoon is "In The Time Of The Butterflies. This film chronicles the true story of the Mirabal sisters, who became political dissidents called "Las Mariposas" - "The Butterflies" - and who were instrumental in the fight against dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo's regime in the Dominican Republic. They were brutally murdered as a result of their political activities and became the inspiration for the revolution which resulted in Trujillo's assassination in 1961. Based on a novel by Julia Alvarez, "In The Time Of The Butterflies" will air in the Fall. Let's look at a clip.

[CLIP SHOWN: "In The Time Of The Butterflies"]

RUDIN: Please welcome our star and executive producer, Salma Hayek, and her co-stars Edward James Olmos, Lumi Cavazos and Mia Maestro. [applause]

QUESTION: Miss Hayek, can you talk about how you became involved in this project and why it was so important for you to get it made?

SALMA HAYEK: Yes. I had read the book by Julia Alvarez, and Mike Medavoy from Phoenix Pictures and Helen Bartlett and Tony Bill, her husband, came to me a long time ago. They told me they wanted to do this. I read the script and I really liked the story. But, at the time, I was doing other things and I wasn't crazy at the time with the script but it haunted me for many years.
Then I started a production company called Ventanarosa. I asked myself what are the kind of projects that I want to do with it. This was specifically what I wanted to do with this company, this kind of project. So we got back together and we decided to do it together with Showtime. I was very, very passionate from the beginning about this story.

QUESTION: Did you want to star in it from the beginning? Did you want to be in it?

HAYEK: Yes, I wanted to star in it from the beginning. It's an amazing role. It's hard, I know you've heard it a thousand times, it's hard to find good roles for women. This is an amazing piece for women. It is a political drama but it is a political drama where the women are the protagonists. And, of course, the man is the antagonist. It was fascinating and I really wanted to play the role. Yes.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. One more. Did you bring these other actors in? Had you worked with them before on different things? Did you know them?

HAYEK: Yes, I knew them. I was a fan of all of them. And a friend of them, too. I had worked with Mia before in "Timecode," although I knew her from before and I think she's an extraordinary actress and she was perfect for the part. And Showtime was crazy about her, so it was perfect.
Lumi has been a friend of mine since "Like Water For Chocolate," and I've always been a fan of hers. We did a short film for a friend in Mexico together. I've always wanted to work with her again. But she actually auditioned for the part, for the director, although I had mentioned her name at Showtime. The director and the producer, Helen, called and they said she had them in tears with an amazing performance. So it all came down perfectly.
Of course, we all wanted Mr. Olmos for the part because of all the reasons, we all know his work very well. He was perfect for Trujillo.

QUESTION: Mr. Olmos, did Trujillo actually have that little Hitler-esque mustache or was that-- he really wore that?

EDWARD JAMES OLMOS: Yeah. It was shocking to understand the realities that were placed during that period of time. You had Mussolini, you had Stalin, you had Hirohito, you had Hitler, you had Trujillo, and you had Pinochet. You had quite a variety of dictators. And they all had to outdo themselves. He was the most flamboyant.
This is where the whole dictator, that "fascist dictator" cartoon, comes from. This is it. This is the guy who really wore all of the medals. He had suits made up for himself that were extraordinary. He had a hairdo. I mean, our hair alone was a fiasco in this film. It took us 12 hours in the chair before the shot, and then we did the shot and I was completely wiped out. It was very, very difficult.
Also, the character was one that once you started to learn about him, it was unbelievable. I knew a little bit about that situation but none of his here in this room really know anything about that situation. And the commitment of the United States government to sustain that behavior which is not known, either, by very many people.

HAYEK: He even wore makeup, Trujillo.

OLMOS: Yeah.

HAYEK: Yeah, he wore makeup.

QUESTION: This is for everyone on the panel, in the back here, just from the brief clips that we saw, this is very, very emotional just sitting here and watching it for three minutes and forty seconds, I can't imagine the emotional ride that you guys were on while making this. Can you talk a little bit about that?

MIA MAESTRO: It was actually very, very emotional just portraying the life of this sister. My character, Maria Teresa, was killed when she was 24 years old. Everyone of our characters, they left kids. They were mothers. I think they left eight kids among the three of them when they died.
There is one remaining sister played by Pilar Padilla in the film. She is still alive and she came to the location and we got to talk to her. Our kids, Minerva's kids, and Maria Teresa's daughter came. It was really tough because it's tough to play a person that really existed. But if you have the responsibility of portraying them, in the best way as possible - I don't know how to explain it. There is such drama involved in this story, and you have the responsibility of playing a real person, but then you want to play it right. You want to, in a way, not betray it. It was very, very hard. For me, I think it was one of the hardest characters that I've ever played.

HAYEK: I think for me the most emotional moment was when they had just taken our father away, and I had to go and take the picture of Trujillo and bang it against the chair. Right before I'm about to do this scene, the remaining sister and my daughter and Maria Teresa's daughter walked in and said, "Oh, hi." They were very happy. "Hi, very nice to meet you." And they were hugging me. I'm shaking because I know I have to do the scene.
Then they went and they sat down, and they didn't know what we were shooting. Then they saw it happen; I did the scene. When I looked at them, they were all crying. It just hit me that, as much as we care -- for us it was fiction -- these people were reliving something that was a tremendous tragedy in their family. So it was very touching.

LUMI CAVAZOS: It was hard to play this character. We had a lot of very dramatic scenes. I remember the last scene of the movie, for example, when we finished that day, I was exhausted because it was a very dramatic scene and very hard.

HAYEK: Lumi cried for like ten hours that day. She just didn't stop.

CAVAZOS: And another take. And another take. I was exhausted. I couldn't even eat or anything. I just went to bed and woke up the next morning. And then there was another scene where I am holding a baby and the militia arrives and takes our husbands away. I was very moved because this baby was very scared. We were trying not to scare him too much. But it was hard because it was so real.

HAYEK: All the kids were terrified.

MAESTRO: It's not only playing the story of these three sisters. In a way, I feel that Trujillo's dictatorship is not very well known in the world. So, I felt we had such a responsibility of portraying what this country had been through all over that period. I don't know how many years it was, it was like

HAYEK: Thirty.

OLMOS: Thirty.

MAESTRO: Thirty years of this man leading this country and owning the country and just having everyone scared. You couldn't do absolutely anything because he owned everyone, and everyone was killed. So, I felt it was the perfect time to let people know what happened in this country and to make that story public.

QUESTION: Right here in front, a little bit to your left, for Salma. Will there be a Spanish language version of this film? Or could there be translated? It might have a great appeal for the Hispanics in the United States.

HAYEK: Yes, I think it would. But maybe later. At this time, I really think that Showtime is the perfect place for this movie because it is important for us to tell the movie. I think this the place not only where it will get seen the most - because with a political drama, if you release it as a feature, it becomes more of an art house film. But I think that a lot of people will get to discover this fascinating story and will be moved and will be angered by it.
Plus I was very thankful to Showtime because they were just as passionate - I mean I know they make a lot of films - but for us it felt like Showtime was just as passionate and commited to make this film as the producers were. Helen was with this project for about five-six years, that is, Helen and Tony. It was great to see a company that was as excited as we were.
I don't know what's going to happen later, but for now because it's a Showtime movie, it's only in English and it's only for Showtime.

QUESTION: Eddie, you've been very vocal over the years in your description of television as being a great wasteland as far as Latinos' participation. And over the last year or so, we've seen projects like the series "Resurrection Boulevard," "The Brothers Garcia," Mia starring last year co-starring in the Arturo Sandoval story, you starring in the NBC series, "The Judge," and now PBS - hooray -- finally picking up the series "An American Family." Do you think that Latinos have now emerged finally or is there a long way to go?

OLMOS: We haven't moved; we've gone backwards. We were 3% of the images that were performing last year; this year we're less than 2%. So you figure it out. Even with everything that you just said, we constitute 2% of the images that are portrayed on television. It's a disaster. It's a disaster that's going to have an impact on every single one of our lives.
Because there's so many of us here and there's so many more of us coming and there's so much fear because there's no knowledge of us. We're a vanquished people for most people. We're the guys that lost this part of the hemisphere.
So, it's a real tragedy that's happening. And we try like crazy to let the air out of the balloon with things like this. I've got to tell you everybody that had anything to do with this on any level, Salma, everybody should be given a lot of thanks.
Because, again, you're dealing with a reality that's not known by us. Our children know nothing about this. You may know a little bit if you're over the age of 50 because maybe you were around in '55 and '56 when the guy was hailed as one of the richest men in the world. He had $800 million cash in 1955. Cash. He owned 80% of all real estate and all utilities on the island. I mean, come on. This guy - and we backed him, the United States government was backing him because he was stopping Communism from spreading. Here was a Fascist, anti-Communist, anti-Cuban, but yet at the same time was killing tens of thousands of his people, it was really, really a difficult.
And, yes, to answer your question, this is a real strong time. We could make a big difference by just allowing images to become part of the system so that everybody looks like everybody. You know, like there's a lot of Caucasians, there's a lot of Africans, there's a lot of indigenous and Asians and Latinos on the air. Ho hum. Let's look at this. And it's no big deal. I really hate the fact that we have to ghettoize our films. Just like we have to ghettoize our situations at the college level.
I mean to have to take Chicano studies to understand anything to do with Mexican-Americans. You have to take African-American studies or Asian studies and there at the corner of the building. If you're in Economics or if you're an architect, you'll never step in that part of the building. So you'll know very little about the culture. And that's the sin. Because we've ghettoized it.

QUESTION: Salma, I agree with Eddie, but I would like to commend Showtime because Showtime has done "Resurrection Boulevard."


QUESTION: They've done the Arturo Sandoval story and done this. And that is something that the networks should really start looking at because it's the cable stations that are going out there and doing the important work. The stories that are going to teach our kids all of that history, and not only our kids, but your kids and everyone here. But my question is something else. I know you shot this in Mexico, right?

HAYEK: Right.

QUESTION: And I know you also shot "Frieda" in Mexico.

HAYEK: That's right. And also "Once Upon A Time In Mexico," which I finished last night.
Right, right, with Robert Rodriguez. So, can you tell us how it is to work down there? Did shooting there add or detract from the story? Also working with crews, did you hire local people? And are any of these co-productions with Mexico?

HAYEK: Okay, I think Mexico is going through a very exciting time right now. A couple of years ago, there were only eight or nine movies produced in Mexico. This year they're doing 40. I have to mention eight or nine movies, but six of them were really good movies. Something is happening there. There is a new generation of filmmakers in Mexico and the industry is growing very rapidly. Therefore, we have a bunch of talent that was not utilized before that is emerging and growing and becoming really, really good.
So I think that out of the countries where this could have been shot, Mexico is the one that looked like the Dominican Republic. We shot in Vera Cruz -- which is where I come from - and we had the people that could make it, could give it the production value that the movie has. The cinematographer was Mexican, the production designer was Mexican. A lot of really talented people. So, yes, we hired Mexicans and I really think it added to the production value.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question? Did you really explore the U.S. involvement or the support of Trujillo?


QUESTION: And it comes out very clearly in the movie?

OLMOS: Oh, no. No, it doesn't. It does in respect to that we hit it, we hit it right on the head. But it's another story. It's completely different. This is a tragedy that when you meet people of the Dominican culture, you say "the Mirabal sisters," and there are tears and passion and pride of these women. They caused the downfall of this man. I mean, this man was very powerful. He wasn't scheduled to be taken out quite so quickly. But with this disaster that he did, it became his Achilles heel and that was it. It was over for him.

QUESTION: Mr. Olmos, given your disdain for the character, how and where did you find the humanity to play him?

OLMOS: Ugh. You know, like anything else, he had a mother, he had a father and you just have to start with that and move just forward. I'm not kidding you. If you were playing Hitler, you'd have to go the same route.

QUESTION: Oh, I know that and I am wondering in this particular case

OLMOS: Oh, yeah, it was ugly. Salma had done - you see I came in really late - I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity. I don't quite know why I came in so late, but it's okay. I'm glad I got there. I never asked. "How come I'm coming in so late?" But, it didn't matter, Salma. I loved it. I was glad you invited me to the party.

HAYEK: We put the movie together like this. [snaps fingers]

OLMOS: And then you forgot Trujillo, and then-

HAYEK: No, like in four weeks.

OLMOS: Oh, Trujillo. No. They did. They put it together very quickly.

HAYEK: Really fast.

OLMOS: That was the idea and they came to me. Salma called me and Tony called me and they were very adamant.

HAYEK: And everybody.

OLMOS: Yeah, everybody started calling me. It was something that I really knew a lot about. I had been working on "The Assassination" which is a movie now that is being done by other people. But, I had been working on "The Assassination" for four years which is the story of the assassination of Trujillo. It had the Mirabal situation, but it was really the people who killed him rather than the story of the life. And so I had been studying it for a long time.
But it was very difficult. This guy was not a happy camper. This guy was, arguably, the worst dictator on the planet at the time. How do you like that one? Arguably. People would say Hitler. No, no. Stalin. He killed 26 million Russians. But Hirohito killed 60 million Chinese and Koreans. Who's the worst? This guy killed 30,000 with a population of only a million.

HAYEK: Thirty thousand for sure.

OLMOS: For sure 30,000. And he killed 15,000 Haitians in, like, a three-week period there. It was just ugly. I mean, the guy had no qualms about it. That was the era. Just wipe them out, it doesn't matter.
Yeah, it was hard.

RUDIN: We have time for one more question.

QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Olmos, you mention the Latino image in front of the camera, could you give us some comments on the positions behind the scenes, executive positions. Is there representation there to make sure that this image is being furthered? We have Miss Hayek executive producing this project but could you comment on the representation of Latino executives?

OLMOS: In the industry?


OLMOS: Oh, it's non-existent. People of color do not fair very well in our industry. And at the hierarchy, it gets to be really limited. No, this is a male-dominated, European-American-ish type of industry that has a problem that, if they don't start to deal with it, will eventually erupt into what happened here in '92. Ninety-two was not a mistake. Ninety-two was not an accident. Ninety-two was a complete, unadulterated attack on what has been happening in the United States of America. We are the strongest culture in the world because we are the most diverse on the planet. And we don't celebrate it in our art forms. When you don't do that then people kind of like don't even know about themselves.

HAYEK: I would like -

RUDIN: Sure, go ahead Salma

HAYEK: I would like to add to something about three questions ago about do we focus on the Americans and their relationship with Trujillo. I want to say that the focus of the film, although it's based in this time, it's less political, more human. It is a story about four, but really three, sisters that were girls from a farm, that had dreams like every other girl - they want to get married, they want to have children - and at one point in their life, they make a choice that is very dramatic. They make a choice to change things in their country and make them better for their children. That didn't stop them from being housewives and mothers. They were girls. They were not tough revolutionists. They were girls that wanted to make a difference. And this is why the story is so moving.
But I do want to say that although it is a story about the Dominican Republic, one of the things that made me smile when I was thinking about doing it, is that the first people who understood this story and were moved by it were Americans, Helen Bartlett and Tony Bill. They were incredibly touched by it. It made me realize that this was a universal story that was about my people by that was going to embraced by everybody. I hope this is what the movie does because it's a story about courage and it's a story about dignity. I think this is something that we can all relate to.

RUDIN: I'd like to thank the panel for coming today, very much.


This concludes our presentation for today. On behalf of Mr. Offsay and Mr. Levine and all of Showtime, we thank you for joining us.

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