The diminutive Salma Hayek (5ft 2in tall) cuts a commanding figure as she
blows kisses from a vintage car sliding along the Croisette. A well turned-out
Englishman tags behind, filming her with his hand-held camera. The Mexican
temptress is in starlet mode. As she waves to the mass of breathless idiots
flanking her, a phalanx of beady-eyed, sweaty-faced paparazzi snap away,
recording the CNN-worthy news of a little Mexican film star in a bust-thrusting
lilac dress grabbing the limelight at the 52nd Cannes International Film Festival.
'Never seen anything like it,' says one old hand, 'only Elizabeth Taylor
generated this kind of insanity.' You can understand their enthusiasm -- any
film featuring the smouldering, cigar smoking ingenue from Desperado and
From Dusk Till Dawn is guaranteed to sell. She's the kind of pin-up fantasy
figure that the Internet fan-page was invented for.
'It's so crazy here,' she says. 'Someone's going to get run over. It's different
from LA where people are used to seeing stars. I've always been lucky in that
Marilyn Monroe way with fans -- even if the studios haven't been keen. This is
my third visit here as an actress and first as producer. But away from the fans,
I'm mainly here to sell.' It hadn't escaped our notice...
Aside from the interviews, business meetings and premieres during her
Cannes sojourn, there is the small matter of dealing with her 'stalker'. 'Oh my
God, he has been driving me insane with his camera. I have a starring role in his
private documentary about how crazy this place is. He's shooting it for himself,
but everything is a deal here, so someone has even tried to buy it. I love the
cameras so much I can't concentrate' she purrs, campishly. The stalker, by the
way, is none other than boyfriend and one-time The Hunchback co-star Edward
Atterton -- whom she courted while on set.
Cannes is the starting block for a summer that will see her race into the
media glare. This is going to be Hayek's year. The cult following she has
established through collaborations with Robert Rodriquez in Desperado and
The Faculty is set to expand to mainstream adoration as she turns up in four
new movies. As well as roles in Waiting For The Colonel and The Velocity Of
Gary, there are the high profile appearances in Kevin (Clerks) Smith's Dogma
alongside Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and in Barry Sonnenfeld's big-budget
comedy Wild Wild West, featuring the impressive triumvirate of Will Smith,
Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline. 'I play a temptress called Rita Escobar, and
although they made me audition for months, they ended up expanding my role
from two to 18 scenes,' enthuses Hayek proudly.
Gathering her silk wrap about her caramel dress, she settles down on the
terrace of the Grand Hotel, the definitive movie-star backdrop. 'I'm not into the
drug-addict look; I love glamour.' That film executives should now be grabbing
at her should come as no surprise, but it was not always thus. The creation of
Salma Hayek, international superstar, was a long time coming. 'I had some
tough times trying to establish myself as a film star. Hollywood is not great
with women and especially not Mexicans. I left the security of being a huge
name in Mexico as a TV star in the daytime soap Teresa to start all over again in
Los Angeles. I had to learn the language, do acting classes and take parts as an
extra. People asked me if I felt humiliated testing for small roles after being so
famous in my home country, but I said no.'
For a Mexican to come so far is a first this century. The history of Latin
success in Hollywood is chequered to say the least... First, Dolores Del Rio was
given a lease of life alongside Valentino and Roman Navarro in the silent
movies of the 20s. But her star waned when the talkies came in. In the 40s and
50s, there was Katie Jurado, who appeared in many of the John Wayne
Westerns. The saddest story of all was that of Lupe Velez, who was at one time
married to Gary Cooper. The B-movie Mexican spitfire committed suicide in
1942, following years struggling to find appropriate roles.
'The Mexican men were portrayed as mean men with gold teeth, while
Mexican actresses were always deployed as token figures in Westerns,' says
film historian David Parkinson, author of The History Of Film (Thames &
Hudson). 'It was forbidden for Hollywood to show cross-racial relationships, so
the Mexican actress ended up being the prostitute or the one who was shot
protecting the hero, who then left her behind so he could go off with the safer
option of the blonde stable hand.' In particular, it was audiences in the Deep
South who flinched at seeing non-white American women winding up with the
'And now we always play the maid, although it's getting better,' sighs Hayek.
'Mexicans are not the most welcome outsiders in America. I remember going to
audition for a sci-fi [film] and the studio being aghast at the idea of a Mexican in
space. One casting director even told me I should take advantage of my
Middle-Eastern sounding name and pretend I was Lebanese. The accent is the
What film makers don't mind casting her as is the sex goddess. 'I don't mind
playing sexy, but I am against characters being written as though there was
nothing else to them,' says Hayek. She served as an erotic entanglement for
Banderas in Desperado and as a snake charming vampire in From Dusk Till
Dawn. This is why she has, so far, aside from a forgettable romantic lead in
Fools Rush In, been penned off as totty fodder for men rather than a woman's
woman. 'I love being a woman, because you get to have a man. But I have a
following that sees me as sexy. It's fine until they put me on the Internet, naked
with some other woman's breasts superimposed, that upsets me. They ask me
rude questions like how big Banderas' penis was and what I'd do if I had a
penis for the day. But still...'
Hayek is resigned to being 'sultry sexy Salma Hayek' and is grateful that
Rodriguez could draw such attention to her. Her forerunners weren't even
allowed to be sexy. 'The early Mexican actresses were mainly regarded as glam
rather than sexy. Especially since they were often token religious figures,'
explains Parkinson. 'The Mexican didn't fit in with the stereotypical idea of
beauty,' adds Leslie Felperin, deputy editor of Sight & Sound magazine and an
outspoken commentator on the portrayal of women in Hollywood. 'Grace Kelly
was the pure, white American ideal and Gwyneth Paltrow, although Jewish,
continues that tradition today.'
Whatever. It would be disingenuous to suggest Mexican actresses still suffer
to the same degree. Firstly, independent film makers (of which Rodriguez is
key) have allowed American cinema to become more cosmopolitan. Secondly,
there is now a huge Hispanic audience (in LA, predicted to outnumber that of
indigenous Los Angelenos by the year 2030) to establish stars like Hayek. In
any case, Hayek's rise is not one of triumph over adversity: 'I though I was a
princess, I lived in a castle and my father was a king. I wore tiaras; I was born
Born in the south-eastern Mexican town of Coatzacoalcos in 1969, her father,
Sami, was of Lebanese descent, and made his fortune in the oil industry. Her
mother, Diana, had a passion for singing. 'She was a talent scout and for ten
years was involved in giving scholarships, a place to live and classes for
aspirant singers. But she had nothing to do with my career.'
Hayek has one brother to whom she is very close. 'He gets so protective
when fans follow me. He would be the one who punched someone while my
boyfriend would hear the other side of the story first.' The siblings spent their
childhood going on water-skiing jaunts and riding their own horses.
Her grandmother is a fortune teller and, although Salma holds no truck with
superstitious stuff, she was forced to eat her words when her grandmother's
predictions came true. 'Usually she goes on about me getting married (groan),
but she was responsible for pushing me to re-audition for Wild Wild West. She
was convinced I would get it and, without her, I don't think I would have
bothered.' Hayek paints a cosy picture of familial life, replete with emotional
phone calls, lovely dinners ... you know the sort of scene. 'I don't do the
Hollywood thing, although I see Renee Zellwegger and Ashley Judd when
they're in town. George Clooney is a friend. I prefer cooking dinner or playing
Hayek was studying for a degree in international relations and drama at a
university in Mexico City when she got her first taste of acting, in an amateur
production of Aladdin. 'I'd always wanted to be an actress. When I left school to
pursue it, my parents didn't take it lightly. My friends thought it was the
tackiest thing they'd ever heard.' She was spotted by a producer who cast her in
the soap which led her into the TV limelight. Rodriguez was later to see her on
The Paul Rodriguez Show and start her on a path to fame.
Hayek alludes to a troubled time in her early 20s, 'being confused and
insecure' for a couple of years. She claims she didn't have a boyfriend for five
years. 'I am very different with Edward -- I am very fragile with him, whereas I
am extremely strong out there in business.' She is tough to the point of being a
self-proclaimed 'control freak'. 'I am not sentimental, and even if you say
something that should make me cry I can convince you you are wrong.'
But the Latin tag can still upset her. '[Actress/singer Jennifer] Lopez isn't
Mexican, she grew up in New York. She is a wonderful actress, but she doesn't
have the same handicap as me because she can turn the Latin thing on as, and
when, it is appropriate. It is more difficult for us actresses with the accent,' says
Hayek. But Leslie Felperin is quick to dismiss this: 'Salma won't thank me for
saying it, but she has no disadvantage compared to Lopez. She is articulate in
both languages and, if anyone is at fault, it's her agent, not Hollywood. In the
roles she's done she's been great -- she has got so much charisma -- but she has
done some shitty films.'
What's significantly different this year is that her roles are good. In Dogma,
she plays an angel who inspires artistic geniuses. God lets her come down to
earth to be an author and then she gets writer's block. The film is rumoured to
be so controversial -- what with foul-mouthed apostles, a discussion of whether
Joseph and Mary had sex -- that Hayek (who is Catholic) is expected to be
embroiled in hot water with the Church. 'I'm not a good Catholic girl. I'm
fascinated by the dark side of human behaviour because we all have it.
Aside from her on-going commitments with H&M, the clothing chain which
has put Johnny Depp and Patricia Arquette into their campaigns ('I didn't have a
movie and I though I might never work again so I took the campaign') and as
spokesperson for Revlon, she is to defy expectations by taking on her most
feminist project to date, a biography of painter Frida Kahlo. 'I am not a rebel but
I like to go against what people expect of me. This is a pet subject I could talk
about all day. Kahlo lived life as an art-form. She was a controversial feminist, a
bisexual, a fighter and a communist and yet had all the qualities of a traditional
Mexican woman. Her body was broken but her soul was indestructible.'
After this, there is the business of producing seven shows for TV ('I hope to
make Latin actors part of the universe') and a role as a police officer in a
comedy with Jeff Goldblum called Shiny New Enemies. 'I've always wanted to
do more comedy, but they never seem to give comic parts to the pretty girls.'
She is magnanimous about all the hype currently surrounding her. 'Let's see
what happens. I just hope I am an inspiration to anyone who has been told, "No,
you can't do that" and has been laughed at for having a dream...'