The Grace and Glory of Salma Hayek

Goddess. Immigrant. Mother. Boss.

by Bridget Arsenault | March 13, 2017 3:25 pm

Even when she enters through the back door, you know Salma Hayek has arrived. We arrange to rendezvous on a chilly London afternoon in a corner suite of an unremarkable chain hotel. After climbing a set of metal exterior stairs to enter through the building’s rear, Hayek emerges on her own, no publicist in tow. The muted room, with its squeaky, not-quite-leather chairs and Ikea-esque art collection, quickly comes alive with Hayek’s character and charisma. At 5’2”, the actress—dressed simply in a caramel cashmere turtleneck and structured navy trousers— appears diminutive, but she is breathtakingly lovely and formidably present.

We jump right into it: to “B” or not to “B”—not the Shakespearean dilemma, the movie-star version. “I don’t believe in Botox because your face doesn’t move, and it’s something you have to do for the rest of your life, more and more every time,” Hayek says. “I don’t look at things short term; I think of longevity. Listen, if there was something you could do that would keep you looking good, I would do it. But I’m in love with my husband, and I want to look like a lovely lady when I’m 70. I want him to see me and think, ‘Okay, my girl is old now, but there’s still beauty there.’” 

If this is the new, unassisted face of 50 (Hayek reached the milestone in September), we should all be advocates of keeping it real. If only it were that easy. Hayek’s skin is smooth and glowing; then there are the angular cheekbones and perfectly geometric features—not to mention the otherworldly proportions, which could be passed on to the makers at Mattel. The only adornment Hayek is wearing are those rings: A five-carat oval-cut engagement rock, surrounded by trillion-cut diamonds, and a pavé wedding band, with a sparkle one imagines might be seen from space. 

Apart from being an actress, producer (of the hit TV show   Ugly Betty, as well as 2002’s Frida, for which she earned an Oscar nomination portraying the titular artist), mother, and businesswoman (she started her own beauty brand, Nuance, in 2011), Hayek is also the wife of a billionaire. In 2009, the Mexican powerhouse married François-Henri Pinault, the French CEO of luxury conglomerate Kering (a swelling multinational fashion company with brands like Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Stella McCartney in its portfolio). Two years before they wed, Hayek, at 41, gave birth to their daughter, Valentina. She and Pinault are obviously very much in love—Hayek tells me of her plans to wake at 4:00 am for a flight to Milan the next morning so she can sit alongside her husband at Gucci’s runway show.

A bit of basic math and it’s pretty obvious that Hayek doesn’t need to work. “[But] I like it, it’s fun. I also think my family likes it,” she says. “And I don’t have the pressure I had when I was younger.” In the year ahead, the actress has four films slated for release: The Hitman’s Bodyguard, How to be a Latin Lover, Drunk Parents, and Beatriz at Dinner—and they couldn’t be more different. “A lot of the time I choose the movies I do by convenience,” she explains. “I just take it one day at a time, I don’t do strategy. The most important thing in my life is my family, easily. I’ve never been away from my daughter for more than two weeks. Sometimes I do a movie [just] because I like the people.” That’s precisely why she signed on to How to be a Latin Lover, a clever comedy with a big, beating heart that features Rob Lowe, Raquel Welch, and Kristen Bell, as well as Hayek’s longtime friend, Eugenio Derbez, as an actor and producer. “I was so excited that Eugenio got his movie,” she says. “Nobody deserves it more than him.”

The actress has been number one and two at the box office with commercial fare like Grown Ups and Puss in Boots—to which she lends her voice, a lucrative instrument that proved its worth again in last year’s surprise animated hit Sausage Party (which brought in a meaty $97 million). In the movie, Hayek plays a lovelorn lesbian taco (yes, you read that right). “I love comedy,” she says. “It’s what I do best—I think it’s a musicality, a matter of timing.”

When Hayek got the call for The Hitman’s Bodyguard, a high-octane action blockbuster starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds, she admits she was surprised: “Now that I’m older, I don’t get [the sexy sidekick roles] as much,” she says. But it’s clear she hasn’t lost her appetite for them. “I did my own stunts. They said, ‘We have a stunt double, and some of the things are quite hard.’ And I said, ‘Well, let’s give it a try.’ And guess what? I can still kick really high! Mind you, the next morning I was full of bruises and I couldn’t move for two weeks but, man, did I show off that day!”

Beatriz at Dinner, a hit at January’s Sundance Film Festival, reveals Hayek in a completely new light—literally. “At some point, [director Miguel] Arteta has the camera on my face for a long period of time. I thought people might find it boring: I had no makeup and it was badly lit on purpose. But I felt liberated to look ugly—imagine the freedom. You don’t have to spend time in hair and makeup. If you didn’t sleep the night before, you don’t have to mask it. It was so lovely. I would never have gotten the role of Beatriz if I had done something to my face,” says Hayek, who notes aging gracefully does have its benefits. “Sometimes with age, you get better characters. I love to play the mother, and I’ll be excited to play the grandmother. How boring to play that [sexy] part for the rest of my life. I think I’d shoot myself.”

An astute film with contemporary relevance, Beatriz at Dinner follows Hayek, as a Los Angeles–based massage therapist who unexpectedly finds herself at a wealthy client’s supper party, seated next to an unconscionable property tycoon. Sound familiar? Variety calls it “the first dramatic comedy for the Age of Trump.”`

Although Hayek now lives with her family in London (they relocated from Paris in 2014), she is of Mexican heritage and has spent much of her life in the U.S.—including a brief period as an illegal immigrant in the ’90s, when her  visa expired. (She’s since become a naturalized citizen). The actress has some thoughts on the country’s new president: “What do the supporters see? Every day the lies are being explained with facts, and then he says the press lied, and it’s like a parallel universe of disinformation. I find it really interesting how he constantly accuses people of the things he does. Crooked Hillary—he’s not crooked?!” Hayek says, her voice rising as she answers her own question: “Liar! He kept saying she was one, but then he was lying all the time. It’s terrifying.” (In the run up to last November’s election, Hayek revealed a previous spat with Trump who, after allegedly soliciting the actress’s former boyfriend for her phone number, asked her out and was rebuked. Somehow, the news wound up in the National Enquirer, which reported Trump wouldn’t date Hayek because she’s “too short.”) 

Hers is not a rags to riches story; rather, Hayek has built her career on a foundation of hard work. She was raised by a cultured family in the coastal town of Coatzacoalcos, Mexico; her father worked in the oil business and her mother was an opera singer. Creativity coursed through their children—Hayek’s brother is now a furniture designer—and the actress cites the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as an early inspiration. At 24, despite speaking little English, she left behind a career in Mexican telenovelas to try her luck in Los Angeles—and discovered she has dyslexia. A lesser force might have moved back home, but Hayek explains, “I’ve managed to find my way around it. Sometimes we make a bigger deal of our problems than they really are. So it’s good to talk about it. I don’t think people with dyslexia should think it’s an impediment. I read a script and it takes me double, maybe triple, the time of everyone else, but I only read it once and you can ask me anything.”

What’s next for an accomplished woman who loves the challenge of learning new things? “I’m going to direct,” Hayek says. “I did once, for Showtime’s The Maldonado Miracle. It’s very hard for a woman to be supported in that world, and to get her movies made, but [paradoxically] I think some of the things that made it easy for me had a lot to do with being a woman.” 

Hayek won an Emmy for the project. But she did no publicity; she didn’t even appear at the awards ceremony to collect her prize. “My agent told me, ‘Let’s keep it quiet, they won’t hire you as an actress again,’” she says. “And it was true. It was just after Frida, and I didn’t work for three years—the longest I’ve gone without working.” But now she’s older, wiser, fiercer, and has nothing to lose. Hayek recalls something Showtime’s former programming chief, Jerry Offsay, said after he attended a couple of meetings about projects she was producing. “‘You know, you’re not really a producer; you might not even be an actress,’ he said. ‘You’re a director—your brain is wired like a director’s.’ This is who I really am, ” she declares.  

As the mother of a nine-year-old daughter, Hayek thinks a great deal about how to convey the state of the world today. “You have to balance presenting it realistically, but because my daughter is extremely curious, you have to be careful about the amount of information,” she says. “You have to raise honorable, responsible human beings. At the same time, you have to keep them hopeful for the future.” Hope, hard work, and a certain well-honed fearlessness in the face of life’s vicissitudes have served the actress well thus far: “I stay hopeful because I believe the best teacher in the world is your mistakes,” she says. “Maybe we will learn a lot from what is happening. I really do think things have to go a little bit south for people to come together and bounce back in a better way. This is how I see it.” And at that, our time is up. The goddess has spoken. 

Written by Bridget Arsenault
Photographed by Clare Sykes
Video by Mary Rozzi
Styled by Illustration by
Lorna McGee

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