Salma Settles In

by Natasha Wolff | December 14, 2022 4:13 pm

A few years ago, Salma Hayek Pinault’s now-15-year-old daughter, Valentina, came home from school complaining that her mother hadn’t taught her about that elusive fashion item: the Hermès Birkin. She had to learn about it from her friends.

“How come you can’t be like the other moms?” Hayek Pinault recalls Valentina asking her at the time. “You’re just not cool and chic.”

Of course, when Salma Hayek Pinault shows up at the Spaniards Inn, a historic pub that appears in works by Bram Stoker and Charles Dickens and is not far from her home in Hampstead Heath, she’s the epitome of cool. Stepping out of a BMW, fashionably late and fierce, she comes in jeans and a Gucci jacket (her husband, Valentina’s father, is Kering CEO François-Henri Pinault), wearing no makeup, with a handsome driver in tow who’d fit in quite nicely with a crowd out of Kingsman.

But raising a teenager? That’s a different story. In that conversation, Hayek Pinault told her daughter that when Valentina was little, their friend and neighbor Charlotte Gainsbourg—whose mother, Jane Birkin, is the namesake of the covetable bag—would often carry and play with her. Isn’t that a lot cooler than knowing what a Birkin is?

Valentina asked her mom why she hadn’t told her earlier. Hayek Pinault felt that knowing about a Birkin at that age wasn’t necessary.

“I said, ‘I would never do that. You’re right, I’m not like other moms and I refuse,’” Hayek Pinault remembers, sipping on a late-afternoon cup of black coffee in a quiet corner of the pub. “We don’t talk a lot about brands at home with the family. It’s more about artistic expression.”

When she and her daughter are in the U.S., “we love going to Target,” Hayek Pinault adds. “It’s funny, because you end up spending a lot more than you thought you would.”

Still, with Kering owning such companies as Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, Hayek Pinault must have a pretty serious wardrobe. She admits she does, and she’s proud to chime in that Valentina “steals from my closet all the time. If she didn’t, I would feel beat down.”

She elaborates. “I want to be angry about not finding a thing or two in there because I know she took it,” Hayek Pinault admits of her daughter’s occasional ransacking. “I want to have that contradiction in my life. It’s a passage of age. It’s a connection. I might not be cool, but at least she must have liked one thing I had in there.”

When Hayek Pinault told her kids (Valentina, her stepdaughter Mathilde, 21, and two stepsons) she’d been cast in the sequel Magic Mike’s Last Dance, which would involve the actress in potentially provocative scenes with a negligibly clothed Channing Tatum, they didn’t blink. A racy still from the film shows the actress with her hand on Tatum’s abs.

“They know Channing. They know [his girlfriend] Zoë Kravitz. They know what Magic Mike is. They knew I was going to make it. They grew up with me doing this job, and their father is so cool about it and understands it so well, so there’s never been an issue,” Hayek Pinault says.

There was just one concern about the movie: “As long as you don’t have to do the cheesy dance,” Valentina said. “As long as you don’t have to do the Pony,” referring to an iconic dance Tatum does to Ginuwine’s song “Pony” in the first Magic Mike. “I said, ‘No, I don’t have to. Don’t worry about it.’ I’d read the script, and I knew I wasn’t doing the Pony.”

Pony or not, says Tatum, “the fact that Salma was interested in our story was a blessing. She’s an icon.”

Tatum might have second thoughts were he to look at the bio on Hayek Pinault’s Instagram account. Valentina, for one, thinks it’s the “cheesiest thing in the world.” Instead of, say, “actress, activist, bombshell, recent Lady Gaga co-star in House of Gucci,” it’s a description of the actress told in a series of nearly 100 emojis. These include a fist bump, a unicorn, a crystal ball, a whale, a bottle of Champagne, two glasses of Champagne, a lipstick, a kiss, a squid…and it goes on. It’s really quite remarkable and sweet and, yes, cheesy.

Hayek Pinault, who has 22 million followers on the platform but says she often forgets to post, laughs when it comes up. “I like a lot of things, and it’s too complicated to think of a way to describe myself in words,” she says. She explains that, as an actress, an artist and a mother, she’s certainly sensitive, “but what saves me a lot is myself and my sense of humor. I don’t want to try to be cool. I want to laugh.”

Friends, in particular appreciate that about her. “I love her open, hearty, unselfconscious laugh, her dancing with freedom and mirth, and her commitment to her growth, creatively and personally,” says her pal Ashley Judd, who met Hayek Pinault in 1995 and played opposite the actress in Frida. “ I love her devotion to female alliances and her connected way of knowing just about everyone, it seems, and how she brings people together.”

Hayek Pinault doesn’t just bring people together; she also does it with animals. As a gift to her husband, she gave him a pet rescue owl and named the bird “Kering.” Wait. Back up. Did he ask for an owl? She shakes her head no.

“But that was my way of having one,” Hayek Pinault says, with a wink. “She loves me.” (She means the owl.)

Having an owl named Kering can’t possibly beat having a husband who runs Kering. But, especially as Gucci has surged in popularity these last few years, there is a downside. People are always asking her for a discount.

“Oh, my God, it’s a problem. It’s crazy,” Hayek Pinault says, while acknowledging that it is not the worst problem to have. “But it happens much more than you would think. I’ve had situations where a doctor I’ve seen for a long time brings it up. I’ve had journalists ask me for it. My daughter gets asked for it at school.”

Hayek Pinault says she understands the urge. “I would want it, too,” she says. But she makes a point to not interfere with her husband’s business. “I wouldn’t do that to him,” she explains. “I don’t want to be in a position of who I give it to and who I don’t. I feel so mortified and uncomfortable, and I don’t want these people to feel like they’re not appreciated. So I stay out of it. I don’t give Gucci discounts.”

The family lives in London because that’s where Valentina goes to school, and Pinault has offices in London and Paris. “I need green. I need nature,” she says. “I love this area. I like the plants. I like the good oxygen. I like to go walk in the park.”

Still, time zone-wise, it’s a full nine hours later than Hollywood, which means she has to do the “double shift.” She has a full day in London, which involves working on her philanthropic causes, among other things, but at 5 p.m. London time, Los Angeles starts to wake up and she shifts focus to her acting and producing projects. There are phone calls until midnight, she says; Hayek Pinault doesn’t use a computer or email (except for her daughter’s school communications).

“I’m either working or tired,” she says. Add in the fact that she enjoys spending time with her husband and family, and “that sometimes makes you very reclusive.”

Living in London also gives her a sense of freedom to do what she wants. “I don’t feel like I have to wear this or be this or do this movie. I don’t need to belong to a box,” she explains. “I like to do whatever I want to do.”

(One thing she does not want to do is theater. “I throw up. I get panic attacks.” She got her start playing Jasmine in a production of the story of Aladdin in Mexico. In rehearsals, everything was great. The first time she had an actual performance, which included being carried out from the wings on a bed, “I saw the audience, I jumped out and I started throwing up.”)

Besides the latest Magic Mike in February, directed by Steven Soderbergh, who also directed the actress in Traffic, she reprises her vocal role as Kitty Softpaws this holiday season opposite her friend Antonio Banderas in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, a decade after the original. Then there’s Without Blood, a drama about a war-torn country based on the 2002 novel by Alessandro Baricco, opposite Mexican actor Demián Bichir. Though the film does not yet have a release date, it’s particularly notable because it was directed by Angelina Jolie, with whom Hayek Pinault became friends while making the Marvel movie The Eternals.

“I’ve never met anyone in my life that was more different than the public image,” Hayek Pinault says of Jolie. “She cares about people. She’s very present. She’s very empathetic. No fakeness. And, oh, God, she could have made this movie with anyone in the world. I didn’t want to play the character; I was really scared of the character. She suffers the entire movie. But I did want her to direct me. So of course I said yes.”

Sure, they share tips on how to be Hollywood moms, but making Without Blood took their relationship to the next level. “We are closer than ever,” Hayek Pinault says. “For both of us it was an amazing, life-changing experience.”

“Really,” Hayek Pinault adds, “It made me fall in love deeper and stronger with being an actress.”

Another experience she had on a film set this year was also particularly empowering. Hayek Pinault won’t name the movie, but when she walked on set, “I started sobbing.” That’s because she looked around and noticed that 80 percent of the people in key positions were women, including the director of photography, the camera operator and the whole sound department.

“I don’t know how long I’ve done this, but it was the first time I’ve seen that in 30 years or more,” she explains. “I waited my entire life for that moment.”

Hayek Pinault has, of course, been on the forefront of advocating for women, and not just in Hollywood. One of the most public situations was a moving and terrifying essay she wrote in 2017 for the New York Times, in which she described the struggles and hurdles of making 2002’s Frida Kahlo biopic Frida under the oppressive and sadistic hand of Harvey Weinstein.

“It took me months and months to write, and I wrote it myself. But I’ve never read it since,” she says. The Times chose the piece to include in its Pulitzer Prize submission packet in 2018. “And we won,” Hayek Pinault says. “That’s really nice for a dyslexic Mexican with questionable English.”

In the article, Hayek Pinault describes how she felt it was her duty to bring Frida Kahlo’s story to the screen. She had to see the project, directed by Julie Taymor, to fruition. “And I was very, very strong in front of [Weinstein]. I stood up. I knew that was the only way,” she recalls. “Harvey was scary, but I think he was also attracted to people not letting him walk over them.”

They had plenty of professional fights, she says, “but I never really got to tell him everything I thought about him—I just kept it all smooth. I never went and said, ‘You know what? You really hurt me.’ You don’t do that to an aggressor because you lose. They see you break and you’re done.”

The thing is, she concedes, “my story is not that special. I put it in the right words, but it happens in every walk of life.”

Frida ended up being nominated for six Oscars, including for Best Actress. It won two (Best Original Score and Best Makeup), though not with any help from Miramax, which was pushing Chicago and Gangs of New York at the time.

When the film was released, Hayek Pinault says, “I didn’t feel supported. I thought, We have so much to offer as women, and why does it have to be so hard?” Two decades later, the industry has made great strides towards representation and inclusivity, but “art needs to be courageous. We need to go to new places.”

Does she feel supported now by her peers? “Yes, now I do. But I’m 56. It took a while.”

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