The velocity of Salma
BY Anne Stockwell
November 26 2002 12:00 AM ET
Why is Frida Kahlo a lesbian hero?
For the same reason that she is a hero to a lot of smart
women: because she had the courage to be unique. She
had the courage to be who she was and to not apologize
for it. She never tried to please anybody’s
fantasy of who she should be. Not society, not religion, not
her family, not her friends. Not with her art. They
didn’t like her art—she didn’t
change it. She was herself, at any price. And she was
bold about it.
Her images can be hard to look at.
She would take her art and just throw it at your
face to see what you would do with it. Either take it
or leave it. And most people left it. And you know
what? She didn’t care. She didn’t care.
The one conventional thing in her life that she did
was marriage, and that was the most unconventional
Frida was less than crazy about America. She called it
“Gringolandia” and wrote about the
perils of seeking fame here. Do you like Gringolandia
any better than she did?
[Laughs warily] I like America. Some
things I like. Politically, where America is today, I
am not very happy. I have a different philosophy. But
this country has been very good to me, and I’m very
grateful for it.
What do Americans underestimate about Mexico?
I think Americans see the rest of the world as the world
is portrayed in Disneyland’s Small World
ride—a bunch of people dressed one way, one
language—and they don’t have a lot of
curiosity to go any deeper than that. I think what
happened after September 11 changed that. They started
to wonder, Well, why don’t they like us?
We’re not liked? They didn’t
What are Americans going to find out about Mexico once
they’ve gotten curious?
I think the rest of the world will find out
about Mexico that at [Frida Kahlo’s] time in
history—and this is one of the reasons why it was so
important for me to tell this story—Mexico was the
nucleus of sophisticated minds that were kicked out of
their countries because they were threatening. And
they found a refuge in this place. It was very
bohemian. Frida lived [during] one of the best times in
Mexico. So everywhere else she went, even though she
appreciated and learned from those experiences and
liked a lot of them, she missed that. She missed the
depth and the texture and the warmth of this country that
she adored so deeply.
Diego Luna plays your boyfriend in Frida. This past
summer, in Y Tu Mamá También, he
and Gael García Bernal were lying on twin diving
boards masturbating and chanting your name.
I’ve known Diego since he was a little
boy. I know Gael. I know his mother. You see,
they’re all my friends; [Y Tu Mamá
director] Alfonso Cuarón is my best friend. So
they told me they were going to do that. [Shrugs
and smiles] I said, “I’m
So how was it playing a love scene with Diego in Frida?
On-screen you always wore Frida’s unibrow, but not
really her mustache. Did you feel the mustache was
going too far?
She didn’t have that big of a mustache when she
was younger. You can’t see it, and in the
paintings she exaggerated it. Toward the end, when she
got older [leans over conspiratorially], her mustache
grew. And she kept exaggerating in the paintings, but the
She exaggerated the mustache?
I think the eyebrow and the mustache—this is a
personal interpretation—are symbolic to Frida
of her freedom. The eyebrow, in a couple of paintings,
she made a bird out of it, a symbol of freedom. She
didn’t try to pluck them to be like everyone else. It
is the freedom of one’s acceptance for who one
is. And I think the mustache was her acceptance for
her male part. And how she celebrates it! She celebrates
that part of herself.
How did Chavela Vargas get involved in this movie?
I love Chavela. I love Chavela with all my heart.
She is an extraordinary woman.
I’ve heard about her for years. I could not
believe I was seeing her.
See, I have always been a fan of Chavela. I think her
voice is so full of sentiment and has so many colors
in it, and is so real and so raw. And it was weird,
because one day Julie [Taymor] calls me up, at a very
early stage. We didn’t have the script. Julie had
just come on board. And she said to me, “We
have to have this woman in the movie. There is a woman
called Chavela Vargas.” I go, “You’re
kidding me.” “And she has the most
extraordinary voice—” I go, “Julie! I
love Chavela! Chavela was Frida’s
lover!” And she couldn’t believe it, and said,
“We have to have her, we have to have
her!” And so we contacted her, because I had
some friends that knew her.
We had a wonderful evening, this dinner at a
friend of mine’s house. And she sang to me the
song she used to sing to Frida. [Leans over,
laughing] And I asked her, “What kind of
underwear did she wear? Did she wear
underwear?” And I asked her all this sort of
So did Frida wear underwear?
[Laughs] She did, yeah. Not always.
So in a way, you really met Frida.
Chavela would look at me and say, “You are
Frida. You have the same kind of spirit.” And
we became very good friends, Chavela and I.
This is not the first time you’ve made a film
dealing with the gay experience. In The
Velocity of Gary you dressed up as Diana Ross
and did your own version of a drag queen.
Yeah, I’ve been a drag queen. That was so
Tell me how you decided to produce that movie.
The only reason I became a producer in the movie is
because they ran into so many problems, and I jumped
in and solved them, from getting the money to, like,
locations and technical problems and disputes between
people to getting more money to getting the
That movie was about alternative families, gay families—
I don’t want to say that’s a gay family. I
don’t think it’s a gay family.
It’s people who don’t have a family and go and
find a family on the street for different reasons.
Because my character was not gay, but they were a
Let’s talk about Time Code. This film was a
technical first. Four threads of one story, shot
by four digital cameras, each following the actors
without cuts. Audiences saw all four cameras streaming
at the same time and “assembled” the
story in their own minds.
That was an amazing experience. I just directed
my first film [The Maldonado Miracle, for
Showtime], and I can tell you that that experience was
Because I had to direct myself in the segment and have
an eye in and out and actually work with the
cameraman. Mike [Figgis, Time Code’s
writer and director] was doing the camera somewhere else.
There were problems that would come up, and you had to
improvise. So you had to think as a director, and an
actor, and an editor. Because we were not going to
edit this movie.