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Salma Hayek Sheds Her Skin

Mexican actress looks beyond sexpot roles


The Mexican actress' screen time in that 1996 horror spoof written by Quentin Tarantino wasn't very long. But the brief role as a (literally) bloodsucking stripper sealed her image as a South of the Border sex symbol to Hayek's dismay.

"There was a lot of work behind those five minutes," says Hayek. "A lot. It might have just looked like I was dancing with a snake, but I think I really created a character."

If she sounds defensive, it's only because Hayek wants a chance to show off her gift for acting in roles that have little to do with her natural gifts.

She got the chance with "Fools Rush In," a romantic comedy that opened last week. While reviews were only lukewarm, Hayek heated up the screen as the Mexican-American cigarette girl whose one-night stand with Matthew Perry (TV's "Friends") has long-term repercussions.

"What interested me about the part was that I saw the possibility of playing a real woman," says Hayek. "This is a woman who makes a conscious choice. . . . It gave me the chance to show a range."

She admittedly doesn't get those opportunities often. A former soap opera star in Mexico, Hayek is still a Hollywood neophyte.

She was just window dressing as William Baldwin's chattering Latina girlfriend in 1995's "Fair Game" "Honestly, I needed the money" and played a hostage with a heart of gold in last year's forgettable "Fled."

At least Hayek can pick and choose roles at this point. "But I get 40 bad scripts and one sort of good one. I get a lot of 'incredibly beautiful woman' parts, the 'perfect dream woman' that's not necessarily a Latina which is good," says Hayek, who will next play Esmeralda in TNT's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

Spirit's willing, but . . . "It breaks my heart because there are some parts I know I would have the right spirit for, and I just don't get them because I have an accent."

After moving to Hollywood six years ago, Hayek worked with indie director Robert Rodriguez in a cable movie, "Roadracers," before making a sexy splash in 1995's "Desperado," also by Rodriguez.

"When I was in Mexico, I never had this sexy image. I was not a sex symbol or anything," says Hayek, adding that "Desperado's" infamous nude love scene has "haunted" her ever since.

While she does maintain a sense of humor about her "bombshell" tag "The first time I heard it, I thought bombshell meant they were saying something bad about my performance, like I bombed in a film" the girl can't help it. And she knows it.

Just a smidgen over 5 feet, Hayek, 28, is even more stunning in person than on screen. While she was being interviewed in a midtown restaurant recently, every eye in the room took in her compact curves, flawless olive skin, chestnut hair and penetrating dark eyes, courtesy of her Spanish-Lebanese roots.

"I think it's great that people find me sexy as long as they realize there is a lot more than just that," says Hayek, who was born in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico. "I am not this perfect, huge woman. Actually, I'm very short, and people, when they see me in these films, think I am a statue. That was an illusion created by Robert Rodriguez, and everybody bought it.

"I don't reject my sexuality," she adds, smiling slyly. "But I have been studying acting for 10 years. I can do a lot more than dance with a snake."