With a billionaire husband and lovely daughter, as well as an expanding career Salma Hayek really is happy with her lot, writes Helen Barlow.
IN THE past few years Salma Hayek has been building her profile in the film industry beyond the sphere of acting. For instance, the 49-year-old has been the driving force behind Kering’s Women in Motion talks at the Cannes festival, where prominent women discuss their status in cinema. The talks are an initiative of Kering, an €11.5 billion luxury brand for which Hayek’s French husband, François-Henri Pinault, 54, is the CEO.
The trailblazing Mexican actress has been keen to discuss how the status of Latin women in Hollywood has improved, even if the situation is still far from ideal.
“I arrived in the US at a time when women were not looked at as women but as stereotypes,” recalls Hayek, who was a household name as a soap star back home.
“I was looked down on, but I didn’t get sad. I was just surprised by the level of ignorance.”
Even if she was Oscar-nominated for her portrayal as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in Julie Taymor’s Frida in 2003, Hayek has largely been cast as funny or over-the-top, as derived from her inimitable personae.
Her characterisation as a childless 17th century monarch in Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales certainly draws on her natural feistiness.
Tale of Tales comprises three separate dark fairy tales inspired by the 17th century collection of short stories compiled by Giambattista Basile. Each features different monarchs (Vincent Cassel and Toby Jones play the others) while Hayek’s Queen of Longtrellis is married to John C Reilly’s king.
The film’s most memorable image is of her Queen devouring the humungous heart of a sea monster that will enable her to conceive. All gooey with bits that look like intestines and blood and guts, the creation was more akin to red-sauced pasta given the nationality of the director.
“I was gagging, it looked like worms, and my daughter Valentina came to my rescue,” Hayek recalls with typical gusto. “She said it didn’t taste like spaghetti because it was soaked in all these different liquids. My teeth started to hurt because of the amount of sugar and then Valentina picked out this disgusting piece of goo and worked out it was marshmallow. But it didn’t taste like marshmallow any more.”
As is the way with fairy tales there is a trade-off for Hayek’s Queen, though the actress could relate to her desperation.
“Now I really understand the pain that comes from having the fear of not knowing if you’re ever going to have a child or not,” admits the adoring mum of eight-year-old Valentina, who clearly has inherited some of her mother’s energy.
While the pain of eating the heart was one thing, wearing exaggerated period dresses that almost needed a forklift was another. Hayek goes into great detail regarding how, for one scene, she had to trudge up a mountain with her 30-kilo dress in tow.
“We were trying not to get it ruined so I wore sweat pants for climbing. Then I had to get changed in front of everybody — this is not Hollywood, we don’t have a dressing room. Then they left me there for six hours. What if I want to go to the bathroom? Then it started to rain and I’m hiding in a little hole and there’s all this wind and I’m gonna fall down. It was really scary. You like to think it was all worth it — but then Matteo cut it out of the film!
“I definitely never like to complain to directors. But at times with Matteo I’d hesitate and I’d go, ‘Really?!’. There was not one easy day.”
Hayek admits her toughest scene ever though was her sexy dance with a live Burmese python in 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn directed by Robert Rodriguez (who a year earlier had provided her American breakthrough in Desperado) and Quentin Tarantino. She played a character named Santanico Pandemonium.
“That was pretty out there. Yes that tells you that I’d just do anything. That was a real snake. At least this is fake.”
She managed to escape injury on Frida, though exhausted herself raising the film’s finance in her role as producer. She wasn’t as lucky when she re-teamed with her buddy Rodriguez for a raunchy turn alongside Johnny Depp in 2003’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
“I have two herniated discs from when they threw me out of a building five floors down,” she moans. “I wasn’t wearing a harness because I was nearly naked.”
The daughter of Diana Jiménez Medina, an opera singer of Spanish heritage, and Sami Hayek Dominguez, an oil company executive of Lebanese ancestry (Salma is the Arabic word for safe), Hayek was raised in a wealthy, Catholic environment.
While the seeds of rebellion were already sewn when at age 12 she was sent home from a Louisiana boarding school after terrorising the nuns, her early career pairing with the filmmaking Club of Cool — besides Rodriguez and Tarantino she also worked with Kevin Smith on Dogma — announced her as a force to be reckoned with.
It perhaps came as no surprise that Hayek eventually married a billionaire businessman (Pinault is the fourth richest man in France) or that she would take producing by the horns like everything else. Though her venture into animation, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, where she credited herself as Salma Hayek- Pinault, was a disappointment.
As we sit on a Cannes terrace overlooking gazillionaire’s boats, with Madame Hayek-Pinault tucking her legs beneath her skintight faux snakeskin mini-dress, it feels like a lot of water has gone under the bridge since our chats in her younger years, when like her galpal Penelope Cruz, she dreamed of meeting her prince charming. Is her life like a fairy tale?
“It’s like a good fairy tale where I found the great prince who came and rescued me. One of the fears all women have is, ‘Am I going to find the right guy?’. I’m glad those days are over and I’m glad I found him.”
Ultimately she says that billionaires are normal people too. “They put different clothes on but they go to the bathroom the same way we all do. I sure hope so!”
The Hayek-Pinaults currently live mainly in London though spend time in Paris and at their house in the French countryside.
“I don’t know if we’ll stay in London; we may go back to Paris. My husband’s still paying the French tax — I would like to clarify that,” she says raising her deep voice.
“I’ve been working as a producer a long time and it doesn’t matter where you are. It’s always the same deal : I work at night when everyone wakes up in LA. I have not yet entered the European world as a producer. Maybe.”
Salma the businesswoman. A woman in motion indeed.
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