Salma Hayek in the pink
Mexican-US-Lebanese actress, director and producer Salma Hayek Pinault, full name Salma Valgarma Hayek Jiménez, usually known as Salma Hayek, was born in Coatzacoalcos, in the state of Veracruz, in Mexico. In the last few years, she has shown that she can move mountains.
Small in size but big on ambition, she has also gained a reputation for being sharp and funny, with a sense of humour as spicy as a bowlful of salsa. So without further ado, here it is, the interview where Salma Hayek reveals all!
Subscribers to Amazon Prime can currently see you in Bliss, a movie about a man who hits rock-bottom after getting divorced and being fired. Greg, the hero (played by Owen Wilson), falls in love with your character, Isabel, a mysterious street-sleeper who is convinced that the collapsing, polluted world around them is a computer simulation.
What was the biggest challenge during filming?
As an actress, I found it interesting to be playing two characters - a homeless woman who was living rough and a successful, attractive woman. For the role of the hobo, Mike Cahill, the director, wanted me to look pretty way-out. I needed to have a look that would make people stop and stare. We spent more time getting the make-up, outfit and hairstyle right for the woman on the fringes of society than we did for the woman with a comfortable lifestyle. (Laughs.)
Talking of outfits, I knew you had millions of Instagram followers, so I took a look at your page and saw the photo you recently posted of yourself in a red swimsuit. Wow! My first thought was "Salma looks fantastic! I can't believe she's 54."
I posted that photo just yesterday. It was taken right after I'd been showering outdoors. But it's not a recent photo. My daughter took it during the Christmas holidays. While I was showering, I was listening to a Lady Gaga song I'm wild about. By the way, she's a good friend of mine. Anyway, that day I felt great. It was raining yesterday, and when I happened on the photo on my phone, I thought, I have to post this on Instagram - it was such a glorious warm day when my daughter snapped me in that swimsuit. I've been very busy with work in the last few months, so time has just flown past, and I'd forgotten all about that photo.
What do you think when you look in the mirror?
I see a very familiar face - my own! Seriously, when I hear the word "sexy", I have very mixed feelings. It's an adjective I neither love nor hate. During the years when I was growing up, I thought sex was taboo - probably because I was very badly educated in an overly strict Catholic environment.
These days, I'm not ashamed to play the charm card. But through my acting roles, I try to say that a sexy woman isn't just window-dressing with nothing beyond the exterior. You can be sexy and highly intelligent, crazy sexy, sexy and wicked, sexy and complicated, and so on.
Remember the striptease in Tarantino's film From Dusk till Dawn? Some journalists wrote that all I did was shake my ass. They didn't know it tooks weeks of hard work to play that vampire queen and shoot that steamy five-minute dance.
During shooting, whenever my friends suggested going out, I would tell them I couldn't because I was working on my character. To which they would reply, "You're kidding us! You're only playing a stripper!" They didn't realize that the vampire queen's dance is primarily about power. It's a dance by a monster in a woman's body...
Salma Hayek Golden Globes Awards
It seems as if time has no grip on you…
What a nice, flattering remark! Thank you. The other day, my husband claimed I look much better now than ten years ago. He was looking at photos of me, and he said "You were pretty then, but now you're magnificent!" - meaning, "You've got better-looking since you married me!" I find it encouraging that nowadays we're not afraid of aging. You can be 50 and still look good, be full of energy and in good health and do lots of things. When I look around me, I realize there are no longer any taboos! You have people starting new careers and new hobbies at over 50 because they want to find things out, to explore, to emphasize different aspects of themselves as they get older and maybe because they are more enthusiastic about life. Medicine, science and diet have helped lessen the ravages of time a lot, so people feel less pressured.
Wild Wild West, which came out in 1998, is the film that brought you to the attention of mainstream audiences. But in that film, your character seems to be just a foil for Will Smith.
Now that people are campaigning for feminism and gender equality at all levels of society, with hindsight, do you feel a bit shamefaced for letting yourself be exploited?
When I accepted the role, I knew my character wouldn't stand out for her intelligence but for her physical attributes. I don't feel anyone pulled the wool over my eyes, though I would have liked to have a few more lines to say!
On the other hand, I think the type of woman I was playing was quite a faithful depiction of the kind of chick who hung out in the Wild West back then. Nineteenth-century America wasn't the America of today. I mean, the weaker sex were a silent minority who weren't often allowed to open their mouths! Cowboys back then were roughnecks who swilled beer and whisky all day long and patronized saloon whores.
Do you have a social media adviser or team?
No one tells me what photos to post online! Sometimes people tell me I do things all wrong on my Instagram account - for instance, I don't always use the same colour palette for photos and don't stick to a particular visual presentation. I don't take any notice of them, because I can't bear rules and regulations! I detest them. I prefer to let myself be guided by instinct. It must work, because you noticed that photo! (Laughs.)
Speaking of rules, I've heard you were expelled from a convent school because you were incapable of obeying the rules. Is that true?
No! I left of my own accord. But the sisters must have been delighted, because they were pretty much going berserk. I was driving them nuts. I must have been about thirteen or fourteen. The food they served us was so disgusting that one day when the Mother Superior's back was turned, I put tequila in the soup. It tasted a whole lot better! My big thing was eating packets of Rice Krispies and giant pizzas - foods that weren't allowed on the school premises.
For quite a long while, you kept a low profile - or at least, you gave the impression you were taking a step back from your career - before bursting back onto the scene with lots of acting and producing projects. Is there any particular reason why you're making a comeback? Is it because your daughter is older now, and you want to reclaim a particular form of independence?
My daughter is really supportive. She's delighted to have a mom who works. You know, Valentina is a teenager now! But I don't think that's the reason. I think it's mainly that I have more opportunities than before. And maybe also because I've never been so creative! Sometimes I have so many ideas buzzing round my head that I can't get to sleep. One example is Monarca, which I've just produced with my business partner Jose Tamez. José and I were among the first people to produce content for Latinos and the Latino market. At the time no one would listen to us. They told us it was a stupid idea, that we'd screw up, etc.! Now people say we were pioneers, and everyone who missed the boat regrets it! In any case, if Hollywood hadn't given me parts that came up to my expectations - roles that really fit my personality, I would have given myself a helping hand via my production company! [Ed.: Ventanarosa, which is Spanish for "pink window"] When I have a dream, I go all out for it.
Monarca is a Mexican family saga and one of the family's businesses makes tequila. What kind of relationship do you have with tequila?
Pretty healthy - for the moment, at least! (Laughs.) I love it. Drinking tequila makes me happy. It's made from a plant that is beneficial to health. [Ed.: Agave, the plant used to make tequila, Mexico's signature alcoholic drink, contains a substance that may prevent diabetes and osteoporosis.] So it's natural. Still, I don't overdo it. A few years back, my speciality was soup with tequila. I used to serve it at the start of a meal. A quarter of an hour later, everyone would be under the table. After that, I could serve my guests anything, edible or not. No one noticed if dishes were burnt or undercooked, too salty or not salty enough.
What is the most successful dish you've ever cooked?
A very long time, I grilled a pig myself for New Year's Day. It was so big it wouldn't go in the oven, and there were 75 of us round the table. Everyone had second helpings, except my then boyfriend - I think seeing me eat the pig's ears put him off a bit.
Three decades ago, in 1991, you crossed the Rio Grande with two suitcases and headed for Hollywood. What was it like?
The first obstacle to overcome was the language, and it was a big one. I spoke hardly any English. When I asked where such and such a street was, Americans couldn't understand me. To make matters worse, in Los Angeles a huge number of streets have Spanish-sounding names, and when I used the correct Spanish pronunciation, rolling the "R"s, people stared at me as if I was an extra-terrestrial who'd just stepped out of a UFO. I'm proud of my career. For years, Hollywood confined Latino actresses to roles such as cleaning women, waitresses and nannies. One time I even met a producer who told me flat that I would never play an astronaut because rednecks wouldn't be able to hack the idea of a Mexican woman orbiting the Earth above their heads! Along with other actresses with the same ethnic origins, we've broken those barriers. We've smashed the ceiling of prejudice and proved that we can do more than make guacamole and roll tortillas!
What is the film you're most proud of?
Frida. I was fourteen and living in Coatzacoalcos, the city in Mexico where I was born, when a friend showed me some photos of Frida's pictures. I don't mind admitting I didn't like them at all. But the weird thing was, despite my aversion, I couldn't get her disturbing images out of my head. I was so intrigued that I decided to find out more about the artist's life and works. I became more and more fascinated. I fell in love with her to the point of actual obsession!
I was hell-bent on portraying this woman who was a symbol of so much, come what may. If I hadn't succeeded, I think I really would have gone mad. Frida alienated me, haunted me, took over every cell of my body, of my whole being, one by one. It took eight years of grind before I could finally bring her to life on the big screen. I didn't want to make just another movie, but to do justice to her artistic output and her bravery. She was a great lady who had the courage to be her unique self in an era when women weren't allowed to do that.
But you succeeded. That shows you're a fighter!
In Hollywood, it's already difficult enough to produce films about artists, so you can picture what kind of reception I got, turning up speaking barely two words of mangled English, with plans for a film whose plot chiefly revolved around the love story between a hairy Mexican Communist female artist and an obese man! People laughed in my face! They asked me if I hadn't been overdoing the tequila! (Laughs.) Especially as in the Mecca of movie-making, the Hitchcock type is still seen as the be-all and end-all. Some producers have very limited powers of imagination, and for a long while, they couldn't get their heads around the idea of a heroine who wasn't a tall, pale-skinned, blue-eyed blonde.
Has your career suffered as a result?
When I started out, people tended to confine me to a particular range because of my looks and accent - despite the fact that Ingrid Bergman had an accent too!
I'm fully aware that there are lots of roles I'll never be offered because I don't speak English like Nicole Kidman. I'm sure Juliette Binoche comes up against the language barrier too, except that it's cool to be French in the USA!
You've always been a passionate advocate of women's causes. Do you think Hollywood does enough for women, and in particular aspiring female film directors?
For decades, the industry didn't give women much of an opportunity to direct, quite simply because the Hollywood studios were run by white males. As a result, would-be female film directors' creative and professional growth was stunted and they didn't get the chance to show what they were capable of. We can't expect to things to change radically overnight. Still, I think there are far more opportunities for women directors nowadays. But we have to be patient. We won't suddenly see changes, because in the past we haven't succeeded in letting women speak and listening to what they have to say. But let's stay positive. I've noticed that there are now as many women as men studying to become directors in film schools, whereas before they were in a minority. In some schools, there are even more female than male students! So we're on the right track!
Salma Hayek interview in Blush Dream magazine
I imagine you watched more TV than usual during the lockdown. I'm going to ask a question that might seem odd: I'd like to know where you watch television, in what situations, with whom, and so on?
TV is very much present in our home. We have a big living-room and we watch television programmes as a family, sometimes even while we're having dinner. But what I love doing is channel-hopping live TV from my bed, with my husband next to me. We really enjoy talking about programmes together and commenting on news items, documentaries and reports. Sometimes we get so involved in the discussion that one of us ends up saying, "Now shut up! I missed what they were saying." Then we grab the remote and "rewind" to where we stopped listening. (Laughs.) We don't just sit there side by side, watching TV in total silence. And we love making jokes and kidding each other.
What about when François-Henri is away from home?
When my husband's away, something really strange happens. I watch TV with someone who says nothing - the ideal partner!
My pet owl. (Laughs.) When my husband's away, I invite her into my bedroom. Sometimes I play Sudoku on my iPad at the same time as watching TV. My owl seems to love technology: she's got into the habit of perching on my iPad. She uses it as a launching pad when she flies onto the TV. She flies backwards and forwards between the two. Sometimes she just flies round the bedroom. Sometimes she lands on my head and watches television with me. Sometimes she sits on top of the TV and observes me with her big round eyes. Maybe she likes the TV because it gives off warmth or vibrations. Anyway, it depends on her mood. Believe me, I have a lot of fun watching TV with my owl.
What are her favourite programmes, if it's not indiscreet to ask?
She doesn't care. She watches whatever's on. My husband is much more picky - but less than he used to be. We watch all kinds of programmes. François-Henri likes action - stuff that's fast-moving rather than leisurely. I like action sometimes. In fact, I'm not difficult. I'll watch anything.
What's the owl's name?
Kering, like my husband's consortium! I knew François-Henri liked owls. The group's logo is even an owl - a stylized owl. I pretended I was giving him the owl so he would match his company, but as it turned out, she was a present to myself! (Laughs.)
Salma Hayek et François Pinault
Apart from your relationship with your pet owl, all owls have big watchful eyes so they can spot everything that moves. Maybe that's why Kering, with its owl's eyes, seems to know about all the latest trends and new products. I can't help wondering what your bathroom looks like. You seem to have all the Gucci cosmetics anyone could possibly want. When you want a perfume that's made by Kering, do you call François-Henri to ask for a discount?
(Laughs.) No way! It would be totally unromantic. Choosing a perfume is something really sensual and personal. Honestly, can you see me calling my beloved to ask for a discount? Especially as I'll be wearing the perfume for him - to please him. That's not at all the way I operate, darling! But you're right, I have lots of cosmetics around the house. I accumulate more than I actually use. Like all women, I'll buy a product thinking "This one will really work!", then forget it in my cupboard or my make-up bag. I'm very busy nowadays. These days I don't have time to be obsessed with what I put on my face or what colour eyeshadow I use! When I was young, it was another story. But then, that was all I had to do! So yes, I have lots of cosmetics, but they're not all Gucci. I generally like natural, organic products. For instance, I love sprinkling drops of sweet-scented oil on my face. And when I need something from Gucci, I automatically get a discount. I don't need to make a phone-call. They know it's me as soon as I walk into the shop! (Laughs.)
What was your first reaction when billionaire François-Henri Pinault proposed to you? How did you feel about going to live in Paris?
I told him, “I'm not sure I can live in Paris. I don't see myself dropping my whole life to become someone I don't know, and can't figure out or imagine!” (Laughs.) "What's more, I've been working for 40 years. I've worked hard to get where I am." I was a bit scared at the thought of spending the rest of my life with the same man and I told him so. So then François said, “I understand. If you like, you can come for a day and stay longer if you feel comfortable.” I didn't see it coming, but I was in Paris more and more, and after two or three months, I was spending more time in France than anywhere else. When someone asked where I lived, I'd say, "Los Angeles" - until I realized that I was spending eleven months of the year in Paris! I think François knew exactly what he was doing! (Laughs.)
When you're in love, how do you feel inside?
I feel a kind of fluttering in my stomach, like little butterflies. Plus I have a feeling of inner peace. But there was a period in my life when I associated the word "love" with danger! Like everyone, I suppose, I sometimes made bad choices in love…
In the Pinault household, what language do you speak to your daughter?
I speak to her in Spanish and her father speaks to her in French.
Who decides on the interior decoration in your home, François-Henri or you?
I have an eye for style and I like houses to be comfortable, warm and colourful, but I have to admit my husband is much better at interior decoration than I am. We don't hire interior decorators - the two of us decide on the decoration together. We never argue about it - and that's a good thing, because I often hear that decoration can practically lead to divorce in some couples!
You meet a lot of famous people. Is there one that has had a big emotional impact on you?
Yes, the gymnast Nadia Comaneci. I come from a small town in Mexico where we didn't know gymastics even existed. No one had ever heard of gymnastics, the beam, asymmetric bars, floor exercises and so on. When I saw what Nadia was capable of doing with her body and her steely determination, I persuaded my father to take me to Mexico City to learn gymnastics for two months in the summer. There was no other option. There were no lessons, no teachers and no equipment where I lived. While I was there, I worked so hard that an Olympic coach noticed me. I was nine! They would have paid for a place for me to live and I would have done six hours of gymnastics per day and only a few hours of school work. The coach clearly had big plans for me, but my father refused. He thought I wouldn't have had a normal childhood. But mainly I think he couldn't bear for me to leave home at the age of nine. I don't hold it against him. Without that experience – after all, I was alone in Mexico City for several weeks – I would never have been brave enough to leave my home town to try and live out my dream of working in movies and travelling the world! It taught me how to go outside my comfort zone.
What kind of tourist are you?
Certainly not the kind that arrives in a luxury hotel in a foreign country and orders a hamburger and French fries! When I visit a place I don't know, I never go by what the guidebooks say. I love hanging out in little shops in the hinterland, away from the main shopping streets aimed at suckers looking for souvenirs. As regards food, I like going to local eateries where you're served with just a smile and no fuss rather than clichéd restaurants. Most foreigners don't like to be adventurous and take risks with cuisine, but I dive in.
Do you talk to local people too?
Of course! Like I said before, I'm not the kind to stay holed up in my hotel room watching CNN! When I go to a foreign country, I start trying to acclimatize from the moment I arrive. And interacting with local people is the best way to do that. I remember one time on a safari in South Africa, I was with people who lived in huts and – miraculously – didn't have TV, so the name Salma Hayek meant nothing to them. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. They were totally natural and unpretentious. There was absolutely nothing showy or superficial about them. They didn't know me, but they allowed me inside their huts and even let me dance with them. When I remember that day, I still find it really moving.
Ms Hayek was interviewed by Frank Rousseau, our USA correspondent.