How Salma Hayek Came to Hollywood From Mexico Without Knowing Any English and Was Told She’d Only Ever Play Housekeeper Roles

“Wikipedia had my name as Salma Walderrama Hayek. I’ve never heard that word before in my life. I don’t even know if it’s an actual name or someone just made up a word,” that’s how Salma Hayek began one of her interviews. The actress is used to people not seeing her for who she is and saying things about her that never happened.

Ever since moving to Hollywood, it’s as if she’s been living two lives — her own and the one that other people have made up for her. But now, at 56, she can finally allow herself to play by her own rules. And it’s largely thanks to... Adam Sandler.

A promising start to her career

Before coming to Hollywood, Salma Hayek had already proven herself in her native Mexico. Her first role was in the series Un Nuevo Amanecer, released in 1988, for which she even received an award for “Best Debut.” But her real breakthrough was the main role in the telenovela Teresa, which made Hayek a Mexican superstar. However, this wasn’t enough for her, so she set off to America.

Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection / East News, Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection / East News

Like millions of other immigrants, Hayek arrived in the United States without a clear plan of what to do next. She barely knew the language and had no connections. The only thing she had was her huge desire to act in films: “I came here, and I didn’t speak English, I didn’t have a green card, I didn’t know I had to have an agent, I couldn’t drive, I was dyslexic. And since I hadn’t had to do anything on my own in Mexico, I was a spoiled brat!

In addition, it turned out that filming in her home country was very different from working in Hollywood. Salma first gave out, in her opinion, her best scenes from telenovelas to all the studios. In almost all of them, she could be seen crying. This is how the young actress tried to show her acting skills. But it didn’t lead to success. Hayek kept getting rejection after rejection. Moreover, most said that with such an accent, she’d be destined to only play housekeepers.

A different Salma

However, the hard work and constant auditions did bear fruit. Director Robert Rodriguez asked her to appear alongside Antonio Banderas in Desperado. In this movie, the actress had to portray a sultry hottie. But Salma flat-out refused to undress in front of the camera. The star recalls this work, which brought her fame in Hollywood, as terribly exhausting.

Hayek cemented her role as a hot Mexican after appearing in Tarantino’s From Dusk till Dawn. She played the iconic Santanico Pandemonium. After the film’s release, the actress was showered with offers. Someone else would have been happy, but Salma discovered that all these characters were exactly the same.

From then on, the image of the sultry beauty would follow the actress for many years. She would be called the most attractive woman in the world countless times. They would write about her: “Сurvier than a Fender Stratocaster guitar.” And yet, all these were echoes of the very role of Pandemonium, which bothered her far more than they attracted her.

Attempts to step away from the role imposed onto her

New Yorker Films / Courtesy Everett Collection / East News

Having made a name for herself in Hollywood, the actress started trying to step away from this image at some point. And, arguably, she found the best way to do this — starring in a film about Frida Kahlo, Frida (2002). The artist’s image has fascinated Salma since childhood. Moreover, this woman was entirely unlike any of the ones the star had previously played.

Hayek didn’t just agree to play the lead role, she became a producer of this movie. And the film lived up to even the boldest of the star’s expectations. It received a multitude of awards, including the Screen Actors Guild, the British Academy, and the Golden Globe. But most importantly, the role of Frida Kahlo made Hayek the first Mexican actress to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress.

This was where Salma Hayek’s new creative life was supposed to begin, as she showed the whole world what she was capable of as a professional. Unfortunately, “When I was nominated for an Oscar, the types of roles that people offered me did not change at all. I really struggled and thought that was going to change but no.” The actress faced the harsh reality of Hollywood: “They said, ‘You’re attractive, so you’re not allowed to have a sense of humor.’”

What does this have to do with Adam Sandler?

Tracy Bennett / Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection / East News

As the actress recalls, no matter how high she climbed the Olympus of Hollywood, some roles were still out of her reach: “Not only are you not allowed to be smart but you were not allowed to be funny in the 90s.” But Adam Sandler helped her realize her life-long dream. He invited her to join him on the set of the film Grown Ups. At the time, Salma was already over 40 years old.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection / East News, Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection / East News

Today, Salma Hayek finally gets to portray the characters she loves. Thanks to Sandler, she was able to show the world another facet of her talent, after which her filmography started filling up with films that had previously been untypical for her. And these weren’t just comedies. Her latest work includes Magic Mike’s Last Dance, in which the actress plays a middle-aged woman who falls in love with a young dancer.

© LANDMARK MEDIA / Alamy Stock Photo, Evan Agostini / Invision / East News

Superhero, fortune teller, a homeless woman — these are some of the actress’s latest characters. At 56, she seems to have a much wider choice of roles than she did at the peak of her career.

However, who’s to say that the peak has passed? Perhaps Salma Hayek is yet to experience it: “I’m at a place in my life where I don’t think my attractiveness is the only thing that’s appreciated anymore. But if it was, I wouldn’t care because I’ve built enough respect around me from the people that really matter that I feel seen beyond that.”

Preview photo credit Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection / East News, Evan Agostini / Invision / East News
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