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Salma Hayek Biography

Home > Actresses > H > Hayek, Salma > Biography

Birth Name: Salma Hayek
Born: 09/02/1966
Birth Place: Coastzacoalcos, Veracruz, MX

Born Salma Hayek Jimenez on Sept. 2, 1966, the actress was raised in the Mexican port city of Coatzacoalcos, Vera Cruz. Hayek's oil executive father was of Lebanese descent and her opera-singing mother of Spanish descent. With her exotic racial makeup, her distinctive looks were turning heads even when she was just, by her own words, a "flat girl." Hayek spent part of her childhood in the United States, including two years at a Catholic boarding school in Louisiana from which she was ejected and several teen years living with her aunt in Houston, TX. She returned to Mexico to attend Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, but eventually drifted away from her International Relations courses to pursue acting. In 1989, she won the hearts of her countrymen when she landed the title role of the comely bad girl protagonist on "Teresa," an extremely popular primetime telenovela. Fearing that Mexican audiences valued her looks more than her thespian skills, Hayek left Mexico at the height of her television fame in 1991 and headed for L.A. where she studied acting at the Stella Adler Studio and made a concerted effort to improve her English, which proved a challenge considering the actress' teen diagnosis of dyslexia. It was also upon her arrival that she famously cold-called the William Morris Agency for representation, asking to speak to the long-deceased William Morris, himself.

The newcomer began to make a dent in Hollywood in 1993, landing a recurring character role on "The Sinbad Show" (Fox, 1993-94), and a small supporting role in Allison Anders' well-regarded indie feature "Mi Vida Loca" (My Crazy Life) (1993) while eschewing stereotypical offers to play explosive mistresses and sexy maids. Up-and-coming writer-director Robert Rodriguez helped fuel her career when he cast her opposite Antonio Banderas in the stylish but violent cult favorite "Desperado" (1995), the sequel to Rodriquez' 1992 acclaimed low-budget marvel "El Mariachi." After the moderate box office hit and big Hollywood buzz, Hayek returned to Mexico to shoot the Spanish language art film "Midaq Alley/El Callejon de los Milagros" (1995). She had an unremarkable supporting role in Cindy Crawford's lambasted film debut "Fair Game" (1995), but Rodriguez continued to give Hayek her most interesting opportunities, with a cameo in his segment of the ill-conceived feature "Four Rooms" (1995) and a role as a blood-sucking snake-dancer in the Quentin Tarantino-scripted vampire outing, "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996), directed by Rodriguez.

While now known on the indie film circuit, Hayek had yet to truly go wide in a mainstream picture and was struggling to find a niche in Hollywood. Under the assumption that her drop-dead gorgeous looks might make sense in romantic pairings, she was cast opposite Matthew Perry in the underperforming romantic comedy "Fools Rush In" (1997). Playing a Mexican woman who hastily marries an American and then proceeds to fall in love with him, Hayek made a valiant effort, but critics and audiences were not impressed. She was next paired with Russell Crowe in "Breaking Up" (1997), a film about a couple who constantly separate and reconcile, which was deemed lackluster enough to be released directly to home video. She fared somewhat better as the fiery gypsy dancer Esmeralda to Mandy Patinkin's "The Hunchback" (1997) in the TNT TV-movie. In 1998, Hayek seemed positioned to become a huge name with her starring role as a coat check girl and aspiring singer in "54," a chronicle of the notorious 1970s New York discotheque. Eleventh hour re-shoots and changes to the love-triangle storyline cut Hayek's screen time short, and the resulting film proved to be a homogenized disappointment to audiences and critics alike.

While Hayek sought to be known primarily for her acting, her exotic looks and curvy figure continued to earn the most renown, and in 1998 she made a rather historic mark as one of the first Latinas signed as a spokesmodel for Revlon cosmetics. Hot on the heels of that honor, she finally enjoyed a blockbuster breakout with a leading role in "Wild Wild West" (1999), the sci-fi Western anchored by Will Smith. Her indie film street cred was tapped by director Kevin Smith, who cast her as a muse in his controversial ensemble comedy "Dogma" (1999), and the same year Hayek produced her first theatrical feature, a Spanish language adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' "El Coronel No Tiene Quien le Escriba" (1999) in which she also starred. Hayek played a Playboy model-turned-cop in the straight to video comic heist "Chain of Fools" (2000) but followed up with a commitment to more serious fare, taking a small role in Steven Soderbergh's acclaimed anti-drug drama "Traffic" (2000) and appearing as a sexually controlling actress in Mike Figgis' experimental multi-screen drama, "Timecode" (2000).

Hayek starred in and produced the Showtime feature "In the Time of Butterflies" (2001) and the following year, "Frida" (2002), her labor-of-love production about Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo, hit screens and cemented the producer and star's reputation as a serious talent. Reaction to the beautifully shot film - directed by avant garde auteur Julie Taymor and co-starring Alfred Molina as Kahlo's artist husband Diego Rivera - was mixed, but Hayek's passionate performance was roundly praised and she was finally able to transcend both her sex symbol status and the limits of her ethnicity to receive an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. She reunited with director Rodriguez first in a humorous cameo in his family film hit "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over" (2003) and then to reprise her role as Carolina in the successful third outing in his El Mariachi series, "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" (2003). The actress-turned-producer next turned director with "The Maldonado Miracle" (Showtime, 2003), earning a Daytime Emmy award for deftly handling the family film that addressed such delicate subjects as immigration and the existence of miracles. Returning to the big screen, Hayek demonstrated highly combustible chemistry with co-star Pierce Brosnan in the cliché caper comedy "After the Sunset" (2004).

The entertaining period adventure "Bandidas" (2006), co-starring Hayek and Penelope Cruz as gun-wielding turn-of-the-century Robin Hoodettes, never made it to theaters. The disappointing screen adaptation of John Fante's classic "Ask the Dust" (2007), where Hayek co-starred opposite Colin Farrell as the forbidden immigrant love of a Depression-era Los Angeles novelist, should have been shelved but hit a limited release long enough to rack up negative reviews. However Hayek's big screen missteps were overshadowed by enormous prime time success with "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 2006- ), an American adaptation of the popular Colombian telenovela "Betty La Fea" (RCN, 1999-2001) which was executive-produced and adapted for American audiences by Hayek. The hour-long comedy about a working class young woman (America Ferrara) navigating the sophisticated and catty world of a New York fashion magazine instantly captured the public's attention. Hayek's guest-starring appearances as the magazine's editor helped boost its first season ratings and earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.

Hayek's film acting career remained hit-or-miss, with a co-starring role as a real-life 1940s career criminal in "Lonely Hearts" (2007), barely hitting theaters despite generally positive reviews. The same year she was tapped by "Frida" director Julie Taymor to showcase her singing in the popular Beatles-based musical "Across the Sea" (2007), Hayek gave birth to a daughter in the fall, though by the following spring her engagement to French executive Francois-Henri Pinualt was called off. "Ugly Betty" was renewed again in 2008 with Hayek making a guest appearance on another popular female-helmed comedy, "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006-) and in 2009 she returned to film in an adaptation of a popular children's book series, "Cirque du Freak" (2009), in which she played a bearded woman in a traveling freak show.