Our final edition to the Sundance: London interviews that we were so lucky to get is an in-depth chat with legendary Filmmaker Miguel Arteta, Director of Beatriz At Dinner. Over the course of our chat, we discuss in great length the cultural issues that many in the world are facing, the Manchester terror attacks, Brexit and President Trump and how he knew Salma Hayek would be perfect for the role of Beatriz. It was an absolute joy to sit down with Miguel Arteta and I hope you enjoy our final instalment of our interviews at Sundance: London
Beatriz At Dinner– Director Miugel Arteta
Simon: Firstly, Miguel, welcome to London!
Miguel Arteta: Thank you.
S: When did you get into London and how are you finding the UK so far?
MA: Me and my wife, who’s British, from Manchester, her parents and her brother and sister are coming to the screening tonight so for me it is particularly very exciting to be here today. We live in Los Angeles but we’re really happy to have the family travel to London to see the movie.
S: Yeah, I imagine. Especially with everything that’s happened in the last 10 days or so in Manchester it must be so nice for you all to be together in the UK.
MA: It is. It’s very tragic. You know, she’s a Mancunian and the spirit of that city is something I’ve learned to love and it seems like a particularly resilient place. They’ve had terrorist attacks before that have changed the shape of the city but…you know, I’m glad the Sundance Film Festival London wasn’t cancelled because the movies that they put out are truthful, they’re personal, they’re thoughtful and I think that if there is something that we need to be at this time, then it’s thoughtful.
S: Yeah, I completely agree. So, moving onto Beatriz At Dinner. It’s fantastic.
MA: Oh, thank you.
S: It’s really awkward, it’s sad, but it’s also really funny! But I also found it difficult to watch.
MA: Thank you, was it the building of the tension?
S: For me it was the building of the tension, coupled with John Lithgow’s performance.
MA: Mmm, yes, he’s a brilliant actor isn’t he?
S: He is, he’s a brute in this film.
MA: Well, what’s amazing about John Lithgow’s performance in this film is that he doesn’t play him as an evil man. He’s having the time of his life! And if you went to this dinner party and you just judged who was having a good time, you’d want to hang out with him. He’s so jolly with his wife and he has such a strength and conviction and with his belief system, he is totally at peace. I think he sleeps like a baby and he played that beautifully.
S: Yeah, absolutely. In terms of Directing, was this one of those films where you had an immediate idea of what you wanted the film to be or were you constantly reassessing it?
MA: Well you know, this is a particular case because we were working from a Mike White script and he’s a brilliant, brilliant writer that has a lot to say and so there is very little improvisation when working on a Mike White script because it is already so beautifully written. We did three days of rehearsals that Mike came to and he actually tailored the parts to our cast so by the time we started, everyone kind of knew what they were doing and the brilliance of these performers is that they just ate up his dialogue and made it sound like something very truthful. But I think there’s a lot of truth to these characters and I think that, that is the strength of the script and I think that when the actors read the script they were all like ‘Wow, this all so real!’
S: Yeah and I think that speaks volumes for the script and it also speaks volumes for the film because it’s incredibly natural and it’s beautifully made and it’s really, really great film.
MA: Thank you so much Simon. I really appreciate it and I’m really proud of it. We had a young cinematographer that I met at Sundance where I was teaching last year. He’s very young, his name is Wyatt Garfield and he shot this movie called Mediterranea with another Sundance alumni about Moroccan immigrants that went to Italy and it’s one of the best movies I have seen about being an outsider and Beatriz At Dinner is really another film about what it’s like to be an immigrant in the United States and I thought he was the perfect person to shoot the film. The way he holds the close-ups of Salma is done so beautifully and I’m really proud of it.
S: On the subjects of immigrants in America. As painful as it is to admit, this film is incredibly true to life at the minute and it’s worrying that the cultural issues in the film are not only happening but they’re being spearheaded by the man in charge at the White House.
MA: You know, you would have to ask Mike but I think a lot of the movie was inspired by that dentist who killed Cecil the Lion and then Donald Trump announced his tendency and said those awful things about Mexicans and so it’s definitely inspired by a lot of the outrage that was going on at the time. We never thought in a million years that Donald Trump would get elected when we were making the movie and the fact that he did elected then maybe our movie will feel more relevant is very little consolation to the fact that he got elected. I think we’re just in dire straights because of it. It’s not just America, I think, it’s a world-wide tragedy.
S: I almost feel bad asking this, but, do you think that because he’s since been elected, has this made the film more interesting for people to come and see it?
MA: I think it might because people are thinking about the divisions in the world and it’s not just in America because as you know, here in Britain, it’s the same thing…
S: Oh yeah, we’re not exactly Saints here either.
MA: And similarly in America, the majority of Americans do not want Donald Trump and the majority of British people don’t want Brexit! And yet, here we are. It kind of was a slap in the face to change the image of who we are. I imagine that’s the same for Britain right?
S: Speaking from my point of view, it sort of goes against everything that I’ve ever been brought up in. It was amazing to grow up in the Britain that I grew up in but I have no idea what it’s going to be like for future generations.
MA: Well that’s the thing both Donald Trump and Brexit didn’t offer an image of what they were promising, it’s almost like the greatest con on Earth! I’m very concerned for Britain, I don’t know if there is a vision of what it will look like. I think we need to go back to a cultural revolution and for me, Beatriz At Dinner, a lot of what it’s about is how the loveliest time on the Earth in the 60’s and 70’s where there was a lot more awareness and caring and empathy for all people has been methodically murdered over the last four decades to the point where someone who talks in such a derogatory way about women can become the President of the United States! That would be unimaginable in the 60’s and 70’s and we have allowed capitalism to degrade our values and honestly, I hope the movie just makes you think about what your priorities are.
S: It must be amazing to have the chance to make something like that, to be able say ‘no, take a step back’, because the most important person at that dinner party is the one with the least money and the one that we should all strive to be like and not these monsters who are sat at the other end of the table, essentially eliminating races.
MA: Yeah, it is a great honour to be able to do that and you know, Mike White, has delivered Salma and me such a great gift. But it was very hard to make, you’re making a movie about a Latina that may have a bleak ending, it was nearly impossible to get the money!
S: Yeah I can imagine. One final question, what was it like working with Salma Hayek? She’s incredible isn’t she?
MA: Oh, Salma Hayek is incredible. One of the things I wanted to get out of this movie is to see her brilliance in the part. She really plays this so thoughtfully and with such intelligence, it’s the intelligence in her eyes that really attracted me to her because I wanted Beatriz to be immediately formidable by her intelligence and I told her ‘You don’t have to do anything because that intelligence is there!’ and she was lovely, she trusted it. She’s an animal activist in real life and she’s not pushing any of that agenda, she’s just…being. She’s doing my favourite kind of acting, not acting. She’s just there. And I hope people can appreciate what she did.
I can’t believe that our coverage of Sundance: London is over. It’s been the most incredible way to spend a week and I hope that festival-goers and cinema fans have found our coverage helpful and interesting. For more information on Sundance Film Festival and to get a glimpse of their amazing work, click here