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Strictly Salma

Mexican-born actor and current Revlon model Salma Hayek smoulders as a disco queen in this summer's '70's redux lick, 54. Hustle, anyone?

By Johanne Schneller / Transcipt for by Patrick Hamilton

This woman wiggles. She shimmers while sitting still. On a recent Letterman appearance, she practically wriggled out of her chair and left her clothes behind. (He practically passed out.) When people cast Salma Hayek in movies, as they are doing with increasing frequency, they inevitably ask her to dance. So I she slithered with an albino python in From Dusk to Dawn, shimmied in the kitchen as Mathew Perry sighed in Fools Rush In, whirled around Paris in The Hunchback (a made-for-cable retelling of Victor Hugo's classic) and did a candlelit horizontal waltz with Antonio Banderas in Desperado (it's your call as to who was the luckier).

Even over the phone, my hair stands on end from Hayek's static electricity. "What are you doing?" I ask. "Eating a bowl of cereal," she says managing to sound smokey while smacking her lips. "I'm sorry, but I'm really busy today."

In her latest film 54 - about the white-hot dance club Studio 54 and the glare it burned into late -'70s New York nights before imploding into a black hole - Hayek not only gets down, she boogie-oogie-oogies as Anita, the coat-check girl with an Afro wig, an inch of eyeliner and a dream: to be a famous singer.

To play Anita, Hayek read books, watched movies, listened to music and studied photos from Studio 54's hey-day. "When you look at the faces, they were 20, 30-year old people who had expression of a child," she says. "I think [Studio 54] was about selling dream to ordinary people of being a start for a night. People wanted to feel free and feel loved and feel good. There were doing drugs and thinking, 'We can just be promiscuous.' More than thinking of it as decadent, I think of it as innocent. It's pretty naive to think that you can live like that and not have any consequences. They thought they could hold on to youth by doing that.

54 was shot mostly in Toronto and features Mike Myers as club co-owner Steve Rubell (who died from liver ailments in 1989) and Neve Campbell ("I gotta say, for being a Canadian, she's a hell of a salsa dancer," Hayek says) as a soap opera starlet. During her month-long stay in Toronto, she palled around with Campbell and actor Mia Kirshner (Exotica), whom she met in her hotel. "And I also worked with Mathew Perry, so I'm into the Canadian Scene," Hayek Laughs. "The only one I'm missing is Jim Carrey."

She thought Toronto was dull at first, "but then I found out about the strip bars. There was one strip bar for girls where men take all their clothes off. And according to some people, who went, the men had erections! Do you know about this place? I think it has a double life, Toronto. A secret life."

When Studio 54 was cooking, Hayek, 29, was growing pin Coatzacoalcos, a small city in Veracruz, Mexico. If she wasn't running wild with friends, hitting the beach, water-skiing on the river or exploring the swamps where her father hunted ducks, she was lying on her bed staring at "a picture in a Mexican magazine of Brooke Shields and Michael Jackson dancing in this discotheque that they said was the heart of the world, and oh, I wished I could go."

At age 12, she convinced her parents to send her as far as Louisiana, to a Catholic boarding school, but was kicked out the same year for playing practical jokes-like setting all the girls' alarm clocks two hours early. "We were 13, it was an all-girls' school, and they would wake up an hour [early] to put rollers in their hair and put on makeup. It was very annoying because they would wake me up. I just needed to get up five minutes before class to jump in my clothes. I barely even did anything to my hair. So I decided to do it to them." Hmmm. A girl who looks like Hayek dissing the other girls' beauty regimens-I'm sure they loved that.

What makes a man beautiful to Hayek is where he give s her freedom. Her current boyfriend, Hunchback costar Edward Atterton (who left his native England to live with Hayek in L.A. - and who is beautiful however one defines it0. "trusts me 100 percent. And it's wonderful. I've had jealous boyfriends before. I don't even remember when it was flattering. It's really horrible. But now I can be myself.

Which, for Hayek, means taking extra-long baths and showers ("you have to drag me out"). And eating. "I loooove to eat," she purrs. "anything that's terrible for you and very fattening. I love bread, cheese, desserts - I love it all. Except for onions. I don't eat onions." Pity the poor onions. You can almost hear them cry.