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Salma Fresca! A chat with the wild, wild Ms. Hayek

By Patrick Macias
Though her curvy frame only stands at five-feet-two, Salma Hayek's talents cover almost every inch of the filmmaking landscape. On one hand, the half-Lebanese, Mexican-born actress is Hollywood's reigning Latina sex symbol, leaping off the covers of glamour magazines and starring in glossy blockbusters like Wild Wild West. On the other, she is actively involved with bringing less high-profile material to screens both small and large. For instance, her production company Ventanarosa (meaning 'pink window' in Spanish) helped to fund The Velocity of Gary, the new indie drama from Whole Wide World director Dan Ireland. Hayek herself stars in Velocity, playing a down-and-out donut shop worker in love with bisexual porn star Vincent D'Onofrio.

While Ventanarosa is prepping the long-awaited Frida Kahlo film (with Salma to star as the famed painter) for production, Salma is currently shooting in Shiny New Enemies -- starring Jeff Goldblum, Michael Rapaport, and Claudia Schiffer -- in Canada. We managed to catch the busy actress while she was dashing around the Ventanarosa's Hollywood offices doing the odd job or two.

Q: Salma, the world wants to know, what are you wearing?

Salma Hayek: I'm wearing right now this T-shirt that has short sleeves which are fluffy at the ends. And I'm wearing a black skirt below the knee. It's not very conservative though, because the T-shirt is tight.

Q: Velocity of Gary director Dan Ireland was quoted as saying that he could not have made this film without you. How did you get involved behind the scenes?

SH: Ventanarosa -- we got the money. It was very tough to raise the money for this film, even though it was so little it's a joke. Films with this kind of subject matter always have a struggle getting made. Making films is really hard, and if it has anything that's a little bit out of the mainstream, then it's really hard to get made. Especially when it is about a tragedy. There was a point when it looked like it wasn't going to ever get made. They started out by saying, "Can you donate your salary?" and I said, "Yes." Finally, I had to roll up my sleeves and get more money to complete it.

Q: I'm curious about the background for your [Velocity] character Mary Carmen. She seems to be the only major character without a world of trouble in her past.

SH: This is a character that at one point had a pretty normal life and this is why when she begins to break down she looks back and has to ask herself, how did she get there? She had put her whole past in denial. I pictured Mary Carmen as the sort of person who only lives in the present. She doesn't have any plans for the future. But she is forced to look at the past and start thinking of the future. It's not in the movie, but in rehearsals we did a whole thing about her mother dying and being left alone on the streets. For research, I went to some really bad places in the Bronx and hung around to get the atmosphere. I also went here in LA to a really bad donut shop at, like, four or five in the morning. Boy, did it stink in there! Everyone was drunk or on something.

Q: I've read that you feel that of all the characters you've ever played that Mary Carmen is the least like yourself. What are the points of similarity if any?

SH: For the part, I thought of myself as a child. She has that sense of fun. I still have it, maybe not as much as I used to, but nothing is too important and all you care about is just having fun. Also, we both love to entertain and to be the center of attention.

Q: Your singing and dancing Diana Ross imitation in Velocity is a show-stopper. Was pulling it off any harder than playing Carmen?

SH: No! It was easy! I watched a tape of her and studied what she did. I memorized it really fast and that was it. I really do love Diana Ross; I grew up listening to her records. I grew up in a little town in Mexico, so while we got the music, we never got the experience of watching her. I only knew what she looked like from my mom's albums covers. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" has got to be one of my favorite songs ever.

Q: Ok, favorite things time. What movies do you have on the home video shelf and watch over and over?

SH: Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, The Graduate, Gone with the Wind, Casablanca ... I know that sounds so common, but I really do have eclectic taste. [Bernardo] Bertolucci's The Conformist is one of my favorites. But then I also like A Star is Born with Barbra Streisand, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, A Clockwork Orange. I also like Frances with Jessica Lange and The World According to Garp.

Q: The media is buzzing right now over Latin performers and celebrities. Do you think this is real recognition and progress at last?

SH: It's hard to generalize. But in the film and television industry, I think people are definitely exaggerating. Jennifer Lopez and I have been the only two high-profile actresses with a Latin background for the last five years. So Hollywood cannot be so welcoming because someone else would have risen up by now, don't you think? I have to deal with the reality here, and no, they are not opening the doors. So I feel a little uncomfortable with myself being made an example to say, "Oh, look, we are so good to Latins, we're really into them now." I know the only reason that I haven't gotten many good parts is because I am Latin -- and they tell it to my face a lot of times. So it's a little bit hypocritical, especially when you look at the numbers on television. Last year the amount of Latins hired by the industry was higher than this year. I think it's finally beginning to change, and that's a great thing, but there is this big machine of propaganda right now about how hot Latins are and it's not true. It helps in the music business. But what kind of music are Latins singing? It's American pop with one or two words in Spanish. However, it will open doors in the long run, but the reality now is that many of my friends who are brilliant actors are out of a job while we are sitting here talking about how hot Latins are.

Q: Besides the Frida bio-pic, what else is in production at Ventanarosa?

SH: We are developing two TV shows right now. I can't really talk about the one for Telemundo because the management over there just changed and it's getting complicated. The other show will be about enlightened people, like saints or gods from different beliefs so visually it will be very rich. It's going to be really cool, well-shot, modern documentary-style, and expensive. We are trying to produce different versions in different languages. And of course we are doing Frida with Miramax, which is a very big deal.

Q: Any thoughts on the Salma action figures from Wild Wild West?

SH: Oh God, I haven't seen them! I forget about them. There's two: one at the toy stores and one at Burger King. It's weird. I feel insensitive to it. Maybe it will make the kids happy. I just hope they don't choke on them.

The Velocity of Gary (Not His Real Name) is currently playing in selected cities. Wild Wild West is in multiplexes nationwide.