Today, Salma Hayek is one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood, but that wasn’t always the case. After becoming a well-known telenovela star in Mexico, the actress gave it all up to move to Los Angeles and pursue her dreams. “I was very, very famous in Mexico, and in the States I was working as an extra,” she said in a recent interview with W. “People thought maybe I was running from the police. Why else would I leave everything I had to play a maid? I told them, ‘This industry is going to change. We are too strong of an economic force to be ignored forever.'” Of course, she was right. And now, Hayek is an Oscar-nominated actress, who recently starred in the critically acclaimed film Beatriz at Dinner. Here, Hayek opens up about her powerful performance as Beatriz, why she moved to Hollywood, and more playful topics like the stories of her first kiss and her best birthday party ever.
What was the very first thing you ever auditioned for?
The very first thing I ever auditioned for was the role of Jasmine in a children’s play of Aladdin in Mexico. I was 18. I had to sing, and I have stage fright. It was a horrible experience – I got the job, but the work was a nightmare. I really suffered every day.
But it didn’t put you off acting?
It didn’t put me off acting, but it put me off stage acting.
What was your first red carpet outfit?
When I first started out, I had no money for big dresses, and no connections, except with Hugo Boss. And so, they gave me a suit, so I went dressed up like a man. It was actually quite interesting. I looked good.
What was the first movie you auditioned for?
The first movie I did was a Mexican movie called El Callejón de los Milagros, and it was very low key, ’cause we got to go to Berlin, and got a special prize in there for it. The funny thing about doing that movie was that in Mexico at the time, ’cause this is a long time ago, there was no film industry. Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, they were there. They were my friends, but they were not making movies, and this is why we all came here.
I had a successful soap opera career in Mexico, but I left my fame and my comfort and I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to make films. I was very, very famous in Mexico, and in the States I was working as an extra. People thought maybe I was running from the police. Why else would I leave everything I had to play a maid? I told them, ‘This industry is going to change. We are too strong of an economic force to be ignored forever.”
Did you have to audition?
I had to audition many times for [director Robert Rodriguez]. And so I had to do a screen test many with Antonio Banderas. It was very exciting. I mean, they were testing, like, seven girls at the time, and I thought, “Well, I went in this solo for this movie, but if I don’t do it, at least I get to meet Antonio Banderas.”
And you got it?
And I got it.
What did you do when you got it? Were you super excited?
Yes, I was super excited, because I waited for, like, two years for that film. And then it came out. They didn’t pay me much, but I was, like, “I’m in a movie with Antonio Banderas. I’m a star now.” So, I started shopping, and spending all my money, because of course, the next movie’s gonna be millions. And it just, it doesn’t work that way.
And then you did From Dusk till Dawn right after? With the scene where you dance with a snake?
I did From Dusk till Dawn, but Robert didn’t tell me I had to dance with a snake, because he knew that it’s my greatest phobia ever. And so, I was really intimidated [for that scene], because all the other girls in the bar were professional strippers, and I mean, I worked on a mat in a store once when I was 17, but I never had to be a professional stripper, thank god.
So, I was nervous, because all the professionals were there, and there was no choreography. And then, about a month before we started shooting, he said, “By the way, you have to dance with a snake.”
But I’m very grateful to this horrible time, because I really needed the money at the time, and it was a great opportunity. I really didn’t like to be a coward, and not to do a part because of my fears, because the characters should not inherit my fears. So, I worked really hard to overcome my phobia. And then, when I saw that I couldn’t, I got really good at learning how to go into trance. Once I would go into trance, I would just like, I actually enjoyed it. Now, I wouldn’t wanna do it again, been there, done that, survived it, next.
I think the reason why people like this scene so much, there’s so many beautiful professional strippers dancers, dancing, but that’s why there was no choreography. You could not tell the snake what to do. So, I had to dance with the snake, and I was in trance, and part of my research when I would go into trance, it was with a purpose of dancing with my inner power, letting it come out, and not be afraid of it, and embrace it, and just let it go.
And so, I would go on trance, and we’d do the dance, and I would have to stay in trance, because it was very dangerous. That job, as small as it was, it’s one of the things I am the proudest of that I’ve ever done, because I got to dance with my greatest fear.
In your most recent film, Beatriz at Dinner, your character has a similar out of body experience, and goes into something like a trance. Tell me about the movie?
It came out in April. And it’s a really tiny movie, so we don’t have a lot of, like, the support of the studio, you know. And I think not enough people saw it, and I think it’s a very important film in the times that we live in. And I am so in awe of the talent of the writer, Mike White, which is such a brilliant script, and the director, Miguel Arteta, and I really would love for more people to discover this little jewel.
The difference between this kind of preparation work and the one From Dusk till Dawn is that at some point, Beatriz has to dance not with her inner power, but with her most hidden and darkest anger. She’s gonna love, accept, and be present, no matter what, and she’s going to give everything of her to heal, because she works with mainly cancer patients, and she’s a masseuse, and she does a lot of alternative healing. It was a very interesting experience. So instead of spending time in hair and makeup, I would meditate, and go to a place where I think Beatriz would go. She has to get herself to a place where she feels everything, and it’s okay.
You’re usually so glamorous, but in the film you’re very dressed down. What was that like?
One of the great adventures I had in this movie was the possibility of being completely free from the pressure of being beautiful or looking good or dressing well. I don’t really put a lot of makeup in my everyday life. So, that part was not so much. It was the bad clothes. It was the bad hair. I was excited. And I was cold, so I had a lot of clothes underneath it, ’cause I was sick for most of it. It was such a beautiful sensation to get rid of the expectations of myself and other people of a certain image of beauty. And Beatriz gave me this great gift, to take a vacation from the pressure of looking good. Although I do have to say, they did light me very badly on purpose.
Now, to more playful questions. Do you have any secret skills?
I’m really good at Sudoku.
How did you learn that you were really good at Sudoku?
Because I breastfed for 14 months, and my god, that baby could not get enough all night, I didn’t sleep for like a year. So, while she was breastfeeding, it was boring. So, I started doing Sudoku, and I think I’m really good. I can do it sometimes, like in four minutes. So, the machine tells me I’m good at Sudoku, that’s how I found out. Also, I love scuba diving. I’m a good diver. I’ve been diving since I was 10. I’m 51. I’ve been diving for 41 years.
What was your favorite movie growing up?
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Where was your first kiss?
Oh my god, my first kiss was in by this river, beautiful river in Coatzacoalcos where I come from, where we used to go waterskiing. But I was the last of my friends to kiss. I was 15-years-old, and I had this boyfriend for [a few] months, and I wouldn’t kiss him, and he was a little bit older than me, and he said, “If you don’t kiss me by the month three, I’m gonna break up with you, because this is ridiculous.”
But I was so scared that I wasn’t gonna know how, and so I started doing a survey with all my friends. One of them said, “You don’t open your mouth. You just go like this, but with the mouth closed.” The other one said, “No, no, no, no, that’s not good. You have to open your mouth, stick your tongue in his mouth, and then the one round to the right, and then one round to the left.”
Then the other one said, “No, no. You wait for him to stick his tongue in your mouth, and you kind of suck with it.” I was so nervous, and I talked to another friend and she said, “Just don’t think about it. Just close your eyes, and make sure that your mouth tastes good.”
So, the day that the deadline was coming, and I came up with this idea to start putting honey on my lips at night. So, maybe, it would absorb it, and if he sucked hard enough on my lips, he’d taste it. And so, even if I was not good at kissing, at least I tasted good.
So, I did this, he kissed me. I was a natural. I mean, if I had known how little I would have had to worry, and I forgot even that I did this survey. I liked it. I did not want to separate forever.
When we finally separated, I got embarrassed again, and I didn’t know what to say, so I just said, nervously, “What did it taste like?” And, of course, he says, “Honey,” ’cause that’s the cliche.
So, I went on to put the honey on my lips, and I had ants come at night in my room, and bite my face. So, please, girls, do not do the honey on your lips if you’re gonna kiss for the first time. The aftermath of the honey went really bad.
What’s your favorite birthday you’ve ever had?
Oh, I have some good birthdays. When I turned 50, my husband [François-Henri Pinault] made me a beautiful birthday party with all my friends from all over the world. I was actually shooting Beatriz at Dinner, and when I arrived to the set there was this mariachi band for me. Then at night, we all went to this party that my husband threw for me, but what was very special about it was the cake.
I had the most amazing wedding ever. It was incredible, and everything was perfect, except the cake. The cake was hideous. It was a modernistic spaceship with balls and weird stuff. Didn’t look even like a cake at all. It didn’t even have anything to do with a wedding. It was some kind of sci-fi installation in pieces, and I sobbed. And there was not really anything to cut. I think I took one of the balls and threw it. I just wanted them to take it away and hide it.
It was delicious, but really ugly. And so, when I went on my honeymoon, in the night, I was sleeping, and I would wake up in a panic, and he would go, “What happened? What happened?” “The cake. The cake.”
For years, I complained about the cake. So, on my 50th birthday, my husband make the most beautiful wedding cake, exactly how I wanted, made the porcelain couple. It was so gorgeous. It was flown in, I don’t know from where. It was a perfect wedding cake that I never had. So, we had a wedding cake for my 50th birthday, and he gave me the most beautiful speech. That was the best part of it.
Watch: Salma Hayek Explores ASMR with Whispers, Tostadas, and a Paintbrush