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CANNES: Salma Hayek On Producing ‘Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet’ (Exclusive)

'I pulled it off through three years of not sleeping.'

Growing up in Mexico, Salma Hayek remembered seeing the “The Prophet,” the bestselling book of 26 prose poems by Kahlil Gibran, on her grandfather’s nightstand. “I was very close to him,” Hayek recalled. “And to me, when I see the cover, I cannot think of anyone else but him. There’s a very special meaning for me with the book.”

In 2011, when the project came across her producing desk, Hayek immediately remembered how special the story was to her. She signed on to turn the material, which was first published in 1923, into a 2D-animated movie. After countless conference calls and financing deals, a work-in-progress version of the film will screen tonight, during a festival presentation created for the project.

“Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,” which has a budget of $12 million, was a global effort in every way. Hayek recruited nine directors from around the world to animate and tell different vignettes from the book. She convinced “The Lion King” helmer Roger Allers to oversee the project and come up with an overarching narrative — about a young girl who befriends a poet in prison — to connect all the stories.

“I got the money without a script or director from various different places,” Hayek said in an interview with Variety prior to her Cannes premiere. The film was financed by the Doha Film Institute, Participant Media, MyGroup Lebanon, FFA Private Bank, Financiere Pinault and Code Red Prods. Wild Bunch is handling international sales at Cannes. Characters are voiced by Liam Neeson, John Krasinski, Quvenzhane Wallis and Hayek.

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“I pulled it off through three years of not sleeping, an ulcer, and I think I lost half my life,” Hayek joked. “It’s not been an easy ride. You know what? I’m patient with myself now.”

Hayek, who produced “Frida” and the U.S. TV series “Ugly Betty,” said she takes on that role when a project deeply connects with her. “I don’t get passionate about something unless I have a vision that nobody else sees clearly.”

It was Hayek’s idea, for example, to allow each director the space to create a unique story without any restrictions. “The more different they are, the better, because it’s a surprise,” Hayek said. “You don’t know where you’re going to go next. There’s such a freedom with the film.”

She thinks “The Prophet” will play to both children and adult audiences — her 6-year-old daughter, Valentina, was touched by an early version of the film. “It’s a right time to make a movie like this,” Hayek said. “It’s extraordinary that there is a Lebanese author who brought religions together, and talked about peace and death in such a beautiful way.”

She’s excited to finally share “The Prophet” with the world, even if it’s not done yet.

“I worked really hard,” Hayek said. “Since I don’t have a distributor, I’m organizing the party, the screening, what’s going to be shown — everything. Even the poster.”

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