Inside TIFF 2018: Salma Hayek Rules Wall Street in The Hummingbird Project

Salma Hayek’s new film, The Hummingbird Project, depicts the battle between two ambitious cousins and a high-frequency trading tycoon over the construction of a 1,000-mile long fibre optic line. She and director Kim Nguyen told Reader’s Digest Canada about the comedy-thriller at a TIFF 2018 roundtable hosted by RBC and Nespresso Canada, and presented by Deadline.

Salma HayekPhoto: Eric Charbonneau

Salma Hayek on The Hummingbird Project

Before her op-ed on Harvey Weinstein ran in the New York Times last December, Salma Hayek thought twice about publishing it. What strengthened her resolve, however, was realizing its potential to inspire and empower women around the world. Nine months later, she hopes her character in The Hummingbird Project will prove inspiring too.

The latest film by Canadian director Kim Nguyen, which held its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, sees the Oscar-nominated actress play a feared female Wall Street executive—a character rarely seen on the silver screen.

“For most people, [my character] is unusual, and that’s what’s wrong,” said Hayek at Coffee with Creators, a TIFF 2018 roundtable hosted by RBC and Nespresso Canada at RBC House, and presented by Deadline. “It shouldn’t be unusual [to see a woman] boss people around, have a very specific vision of something and have the passion to accomplish it.” (This is why women make the best bosses, according to science.)

In The Hummingbird Project, Hayek plays Eva Torres, a ruthless Wall Street tycoon who sets her sights on Vincent and Anton Zalesky (Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård), two former employees. The cousins plan to build a 1,000 mile-long fibre optic tunnel from Kansas to New York that will give them a one-millisecond edge on transactions at the New York Stock Exchange.

“For me, the movie is about obsession,” Hayek said. “My character’s obsession is people who think they’re smarter than her. Her obsession is about owning them.”

Like the similarly-themed The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street, the film was inspired by true events. In the case of The Hummingbird Project, Nguyen researched real-life stories of engineers, high-frequency traders and quantum physics experts who were trying to strike it big on Wall Street. In the original script, Hayek’s character was written for a man. It was a narrative choice Nguyen admits didn’t work.

“We felt there was an imbalance in the vibe of the film, and we switched quickly to a female character as the boss of the enterprise,” he said. “All of the visual look of her character comes from [Hayek]; she was always five steps ahead of me in relation to the nature of Eva.”

This isn’t the first time Hayek has played against type. In the 2012 crime thriller Savages, she received widespread acclaim for her turn as a drug cartel leader, and in her Academy Award-nominated role in 2002’s Frida, she portrayed the titular Mexican painter renowned for her depiction of the feminine experience.

“[My casting] wasn’t, ‘Oh, we need to bring some diversity into this film,’ because now this is the new trend, like a social campaign,” she said. “It’s what was right for the character. For my entire life, I’ve been surrounded by these kinds of strong women.”

Next, check out the strongest female literary characters of all time.