Birth: September 2, 1968? in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico
Critics have hailed actress Salma Hayek for the forcefulness of her on-screen portrayals made during a relatively short time since her career began in the early 1990s. The Mexican-born actress has also become known for her sultry good looks. "Half peasant, half bombshell, Hayek is the raw stuff of daydreams, a mythical seductress with a figure so sublime it could make you bite a rock," enthused Interview writer Michael Atkinson. Hayek has also campaigned both behind the scenes and in the press to break down Hollywood barriers for Latino actors, and to revive a once-moribund Mexican film industry. Her activism prompted Time International to deem Hayek "a whirlwind moving through a macho industry, changing the way audiences view Mexico on both sides of the border."
Hayek was born in 1968 in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico. Her mother was an opera singer, and her father an oil executive; her heritage was part Latino and part Lebanese. Raised in a comfortable middle-class household, Hayek dreamed of a career on stage even as a child. She also yearned to see more of the United States, and asked her parents to send her to a Roman Catholic convent school in Louisiana at the age of 12. She was eventually expelled for being a chronic practical joker, but finished high school at the age of 16 and went on to study international relations at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. Yet Hayek was still drawn to the performing arts, and began auditioning and winning stage roles. Her talent brought her to the attention of Mexican television producers, and after a stint on the telenovela Nuevo Amenecer, she began appearing in the prime-time drama Teresa in 1989. Hayek became an instant celebrity in Mexico, earning a Novela award, Mexico's Emmy equivalent, for her first season.
Still, Hayek knew there was little opportunity for her beyond television in Mexico. Very few homegrown feature films were produced in the country at the time. "Mexicans mostly go see big American movies," she explained to Entertainment Weekly's Steve Daly. In 1991 Hayek moved to Los Angeles with two suitcases, and enrolled in a drama class. It was a struggle. "When I went to acting school, it was so depressing. Nobody could understand a word I said," she told the Houston Chronicle. Her funds dwindled, and she thought about returning to Mexico. But as she told the Chronicle, it would have been "selling out, giving up on your dream. I'm terribly prideful. I wasn't going to let them know that I made a mistake, that I wasted two years of my life coming back saying, 'You were right, I shouldn't have gone.'"
After a brief part in Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)--a well-received independent film from 1993 by director Alison Anders--Hayek turned down a biopic role as slain Tejano music star Selena. Her first genuine film experience came in an acclaimed Mexican work by Jorge Fons, El callejon de los milagros (Midaq Alley). Her English improved, and in Los Angeles she began winning small television roles. Director Robert Rodriguez saw Hayek on a talk show and contacted her. Having scored a hit with the low-budget El Mariachi, Rodriguez was casting his second feature film, Desperado. Hayek auditioned, but studio executives were wary. So Rodriguez put Hayek in a cable movie called Roadracers, which helped convince the studio that Hayek would shine on-screen.
In Desperado, Hayek appeared with Antonio Banderas, and earned effusive critical accolades. Entertainment Weekly writer Chris Nashawaty termed it a career-making role for Hayek, and noted that she "pulled off the impossible--namely, outsmoldering costar Antonio Banderas." She went on to appear in Rodriguez's next film, From Dusk Till Dawn, as a vampire who performs an infamous dance with a eleven-foot albino python. Hayek went on to appear in two little-seen and poorly reviewed films: 1997's Breaking Up, alongside a relatively unknown Russell Crowe, and Fools Rush In, a romantic comedy that cast her with Friends'; star Matthew Perry.
Despite lukewarm reviews, Fools Rush In marked a turning point in Hayek's career. "I was praying that I would get a part that I could work with," she told Daily News writer Bob Strauss, "that somebody would give me a chance to show that I could do all of these things besides dancing or being pretty--which I don't think that I am, but that's a whole different story." Proving such self-effacing comments erroneous, cosmetics giant Revlon signed Hayek to appear in advertisements that same year. She also launched her own production company, Ventanarosa, to acquire and develop properties for herself and other Latino actors. Hayek still encountered the occasional barrier. "Executives at the studios have a hard time giving me roles of smart women," she told In Style in 1998. "They ask how audiences can believe that someone from Mexico could be the editor of this fashion magazine," mentioning a role for which she auditioned and was rejected.
In 1999 Hayek and Ventanarosa inked a deal with Columbia Tri-Star Television and the Telemundo Spanish-language network, owned by Sony, to produce shows for both American and Latin American broadcast. As a producer, Hayek earned strong praise from director Barry Sonnenfeld, with whom she worked in Wild, Wild West. "Salma has tremendous perseverance," Sonnenfeld told Time International. "That's what a producer does--they make people do things they don't want to do."
Wild, Wild West and other American films in which Hayek appeared did well at Mexican box offices, and she continued to take the occasional Mexican film part. In 1999 she was cast in a small independent film, The Velocity of Gary, alongside Vincent D'Onofrio, and then played one of several fallen angels in Kevin Smith's Dogma. Next, she was tapped by director Mike Figgis for a role in Time Code, one of 2000's more unusual films. Hayek's character, enmeshed in a quarrelsome relationship with another woman, carried on one of four simultaneous plots, each of which progressed on screen in four separate quadrants. Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman praised the work, calling it "enthralling," and dismissed some of the press criticism which surrounded it. According to Gleiberman, "Time Code might better be described as a voyeur's delight. It gives you the dizzy sensation that you're seeing an erotically heightened soap opera of everyday life as taken in by the omniscient eye of a multi-channeled surveillance camera."
Next, Hayek trumped both Madonna and Jennifer Lopez to gain the title role in Frida, the long-awaited biopic of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Thirty-odd years after her 1954 death, Kahlo had emerged as both a feminist and a Latina icon. Her career was overshadowed by that of her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, but in the 1980s her paintings began to increase in value as art historians came to recognize her unique vision. The story offered any actress a career-making performance.
Hayek recalled seeing her first reproduction of the artist's work--known for its confessional, realist strain--in the home of a friend when she was a teenager. "And I went, Blech! That's disgusting. Horrible, gory, ugly, blech! And then I would go back and say, Hey, show me that picture by that artist who is so horrible," she told Vogue writer Sarah Kerr. "I was intrigued, and little by little I was enchanted, to the point where I absolutely loved her art. It started then." Hayek's strong features bore a slight resemblance to Kahlo's, and she began carrying around Polaroid photos of herself in traditional Mexican dress, which Kahlo favored, to show to producers who might be interested in a Kahlo project. After one audition, as she told Kerr, producers told her she was too young to play the part. "But I was so upset, and in my anger and naiveté I told them, 'Well, this film isn't going to happen until I'm ready to play her. '"
Hayek's remark made in pique turned out to be prophetic. One film on the artist's life was originally planned for HBO in 1994, but then the rights were acquired by Trimark. Hayek auditioned for the role, but as she told In Style, "they said that they didn't want to do it with a non-Mexican, but they didn't think any Mexican had a big enough name to do it." Hayek's acclaimed appearances in a range of films during this period helped win her the role, but Trimark had committed only $2 million to the film. "They were passionate about it, but we could never have made this movie for that amount," Hayek recalled in an interview with Los Angeles Times journalist Dana Calvo. "Then they said about $4 million, but it still wasn't enough. I was afraid that it wasn't going to be like the movie I knew it could be. I said, 'I'm going to star in it, I'd like to be a producer as well.... I just want to make sure it gets made right.' But they never imagined how involved I would be in the process."
Trimark eventually passed on the Frida property and Miramax acquired it. The screenplay was similarly beleaguered. It underwent numerous rewrites, but Hayek was able to lure some big names to co-star in the production. Banderas, Ashley Judd, and Ed Norton appeared, and agreed to work for union-scale wages to cut costs. Alfred Molina was cast as Rivera. As a co-producer, Hayek had to convince Dolores Olmedo Patino, a formidable Mexican woman then in her nineties who controlled the Kahlo estate, to grant filmmakers permission to use the images. Olmedo had been one of Rivera's models and mistresses. Hayek met with others who had known Kahlo, in an attempt to learn more about this complex woman.
Hayek even began painting to prepare for the role, and was surprised to learn she had some faculty for it. Molina commended her talents as both actress and co-producer. "I'm sure she feels it keenly, but what makes her such a wonderful person to work with is that she wears that mantle very, very lightly--and she doesn't expect you to share any of the weight," Molina told Vogue. "What she's done with this project--if she were a white man in America, she'd be as big as Harvey Weinstein by now. Because she's got the balls; she's got the energy; she's got the taste." Frida was slated for release in October of 2002.
In 2001 Hayek wrote an article for Time International about Latinos in the film industry. Many Mexican-trained directors, she pointed out, leave to pursue careers in Hollywood. State controls on ticket prices and an ineffectual distribution system meant that just nine feature films were made in her country in 1998. But Hayek had new hopes for a revival: she noted that the government had recently enacted a film-industry protection bill, and earmarked $13.5 million to finance new films by Mexican writers and directors. "There is no doubt in my mind that, a decade after I left, a new dawn seems finally on the horizon for Mexico's cinema," Hayek wrote. "For those of us who have been waiting, working and hoping for most of our adult lives, it's an exciting day indeed."
In 2006, Hayek was executive producer of an ABC sitcom, Ugly Betty. The show, based on a Colombian show, Yo Soy Betty, la Fea (I Am Betty, the Ugly), tells the story of Betty Suarez, an executive assistant who is pleasantly plump and terribly unfashionable. As Hayek told Nicole Porter in Backstage.com, the show was actually intended to be "sarcastic. We're making fun of the people who would think [normal is] ugly." The intent of the show went along with one of Hayek's passions: demanding more respect for women. In an interview in Redbook, Hayek told Alisa Valdez-Rodriguez that "The way women have been devalued throughout history is very disturbing... I demand more respect for who we are."
Summing up her ambitions for the future, Hayek told Valdez-Rodriguez that although she was already a producer, she wanted to be "a much better producer. Then I want to direct again. Then I want to write... [I want to have] the absolute vision of what's in my head go through me, through the entire process, until I can touch it and smell it and see it."
Born Salma Hayek-Jiminez on September 2, 1968 (one source cites 1966), in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico; daughter of Sami Hayek Domingues (an oil company executive) and Diana Hayek (an opera singer) Education: Attended the Universidad Iberoamericana, mid-1980s. Addresses: Agent-- William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
TV Novela Award, best actress, for Teresa, 1998; Silver Ariel Award nomination, best actress, Mexican Academy Awards, and four international awards, all all for El Callejon de los milagros, 1995; chosen one of the fifty most beautiful people in the world, People Magazine, 1996; Nosotros Golden Eagle Award, for best actress in film, 1998; Blockbuster Entertainment Award, best supporting actress in an action film, for Wild Wild West, 1999.
Began career in Mexico on the stage and in television; appeared in television commercials for Revlon; first feature film appearance as Gata in Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life), 1993; also appeared in Desperado, 1995; From Dusk till Dawn, 1996; Fools Rush In, 1997; 54, 1998; The Faculty, 1998; Dogma, 1999; Wild Wild West, 1999; Timecode, 2000, and Frida, 2002.
Contemporary Hispanic Biography. Vol. 2. Gale, 2002.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale. 2007.