Salma Hayek doesn’t so much enter a room as decant into it. When she appears in the doorway of the South Kensington Club, all conversation pauses as people take in the fact of the actress and her indomitable curves, today clad in head-to-toe-to-handbag Gucci. And then she starts talking about the menopause.
“They don’t tell you the things that can happen,” says Hayek, 49, shaking her head in feigned disbelief. “They send you this questionnaire: Are you losing your hair? Are your nose and your ears growing? Do you have facial hair growing? Are you gaining weight that you cannot get rid of? Are you shrinking? And then they ask, is your vagina dry? And my answer was, ‘If I’m bald, and my nose and my ears are huge, and I have a moustache and a beard, and I cannot lose the weight, and I’m even shorter than I’ve been my whole life, who cares if the vagina is dry? Nobody is gonna come near it!’”
Frank and uproarious, authoritative and sexy as hell: that’s Salma Hayek. With her honeyed rasp of a voice and direct gaze, she packs a commanding presence into a pin-up frame. Born in Mexico, Hayek launched her career in telenovelas before moving to Los Angeles to cross over into film. After landing lead roles in films, including Desperado and Fools Rush In, she spent nearly a decade campaigning to produce Frida. The 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic earned two Academy Awards and a Best Actress nomination for Hayek. Then she executive-produced Ugly Betty, started her own beauty brand (Nuance), and took her activism all the way to Congress. When she says, with a glint in her eye, “I’ve had to fight very hard for everything I have”, you believe her, and then wonder why anyone would be so foolish as to stand in her way.
For her latest project, Matteo Garrone’s dark fairy tale Tale Of Tales, Hayek plays a queen desperate for a child. A sorcerer tells her she must consume the heart of a sea monster to conceive and, in scenes of otherworldly beauty and strangeness, that’s what she does. Before the 2007 birth of Valentina, Hayek’s daughter with husband François-Henri Pinault, CEO of the Kering luxury fashion group, she experienced “that yearning, that longing and that pain”.
Hayek brings Valentina, now eight, along to work when she can and delights in her daughter’s curiosity. On the Red cover shoot, Valentina swoops and scampers among the stylists and photo assistants, intent on getting as close to her mother as possible between shots. “I try to be really present with her, and really listen to her, and make it up day by day,” Hayek says, “because they change so quickly.”
Off-screen and off the red carpet, Hayek revels in domestic routines. Tonight, she’s excited about that rarest of events in any working mum’s life: a date night. “Valentina has a sleepover and I’m having a surprise romantic dinner with my husband, to go discover somewhere new.”
She cooks most nights. Her latest invention: Thai chicken soup with added Serrano chilli. “I cannot just follow a recipe,” she says with a dismissive wave. “Everything has to be creative. I do not like to do it how it has always been done.” Amen to that. Here, she shares some more life lessons...
TREAT EVERYONE EQUALLY
“I come from a strange place. My town, Coatzacoalcos, was very rural, but 85% of Mexico’s oil refineries were there during the oil boom. A small group of families, including mine, had access to a much larger world. But it was a small town; you could have a huge mansion with a little shack right next to it. I went to a school that had all kinds of people. I played on the streets with everybody. My mother and father taught me to treat everyone absolutely the same. Don’t separate yourself by class. The most important thing you have to learn is to cherish your humanity and humility. If you detach judgement and just see people, your possibilities of connecting are much stronger.”
BLOCK OUT THE NAYSAYERS
“In Mexico they said, ‘You have no talent, you’re a spoiled brat, you’ll never make it as an actress here.’ I ended up doing telenovelas in Mexico and then went to the US because I wanted to do films. They said, ‘You’re Latina, you’re very limited, the parts don’t exist, you’ll never make it as an actress here.’ In both scenarios, I thought, ‘What an interesting challenge. This is wrong. It must be changed.’ I had conviction because I was completely clear that this was what I had to do.”
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS... AND BACK THEM UP
“When I was pitchingUgly Bettyto the US TV networks, I got rejected three times. But I knew I had bought the rights to something that was a phenomenon in the Latino community. It had already been produced in Colombia and Mexico and had worked every time. I went to an agency that represents sponsors with a case study demonstrating how this show could reach the Latino market, and they offered to pay for the whole thing. I went back to ABC with this information, and it was different. The first episode ofUgly Bettyhad 16 million viewers.”
DON'T BE AFRAID TO FIGHT
“I’ve had to fight very hard for everything I have, but I’m a good strategist. Instead of getting angry, I take the information and find a solution. You have to learn to listen to your instincts. Especially women; we are programmed to diminish our own instincts and vision. You have to be able to block everybody else’s voice so that you can find your own. And then have the curiosity to learn about anything that will support your instinct. Really go and research. And then have the stamina and the stomach to go fight for it.”
TAKE THE LONG VIEW
“When I think about how hard I worked to bringFridato life, for nearly 10 years, I’m in awe. Some of my strong opposers at the time, people who thought it was crazy, later on in life have become incredible allies. From the outside you don’t see how huge the struggle was, but the people inside know that I did it on my own. Sometimes you don’t get the respect in the moment. But you have to believe in karma, and think long-term. It teaches you to remember, when you get down, that everything is possible.”
OWN YOUR FAILURES
“I only succeed 2% of the time. You don’t see the millions of times I have failed trying. First rule of life: you have to always learn from your failures. Embrace them. I worked four years onThe Prophet, a film I am so proud of, that I thought was going to inspire people, and it’s the biggest failure I’ve ever had. We couldn’t even get distribution. And it’s the thing that I am most proud of that I ever did. I’m proud of my failures, because I did them with conviction.”
EMBRACE UNEXPECTED BLESSINGS
“I had a child late in life. InTale Of Tales, I identified with my character’s desperate desire to have a child, and maybe feeling that you could never be happy or complete, that your life is not complete, without this. I’ve had that yearning, that longing, and that pain… I always wanted to have a lot of children, and I was not able to. My body, as a miracle, had one. The huge blessing I’ve had is that my husband has three other children. So I have four. And they are all so different."
TEACH YOUR KIDS TO BE PRESENT
“I try to be with Valentina as much as possible, even when I’m working. She was with me on the cover shoot and she felt like a participant – she wasn’t just sitting there on the iPad. This is so important. You have to drag children into participating in life. It takes a lot of work and mummies are very tired because most of us work and life is exhausting, especially if you are an older mom like me, but you have to make the effort. And if you have a smart child, it’s harder. Now it’s so easy to just entertain them (with a screen), and you don’t have to go through the complaining for an hour about dragging them places.Drag them, and make them a part of your life. It’s about the human connection, and the things they can learn from participating in life. Otherwise, isolation starts to happen.”
STOP THE BLAME GAME
“When there is a conflict, people waste time and energy trying to find out who to blame. It’s easy to ask whose fault it was instead of putting heads together to see what can you learn from it and how can you fix it. Trying to find who to blame – even if you know immediately whose fault it was – is extremely destructive in a relationship. The person with the fault will have a lot of guilt or shame, or feel attacked. Everybody loses.”
KEEP ROMANCE ALIVE
“Sex is not the key to a happy marriage, but it’s a side effect. Although not every day! If it’s every day, it loses its charm. It’s so important to maintain your chemistry. You have to continue to laugh, explore, have fun with each other, and have romance. A good marriage, full of love, is my biggest accomplishment. Home is where my husband is. He is home. Everything outside of the family nucleus is an adventure that you’re living together.”
TO BE SEXY, FEEL SEXY
“Even though I struggle every moment with my own judgement of my body, I’m in touch with myself. I try to be really aware of every muscle. It is sexy. Sexuality, what other people see in you, is enjoying your body. Involve your senses in your life, and you will become sexy. Dance, and not to look good. If you dance terribly, still dance. I’m a diver, and I think this is the most sensual thing. It’s liberating to move in the water, to float, to observe things that you cannot control, to be in touch with your breathing. I find that sexy. It might in the moment not look sexy, but this interaction with life makes you sexy. And even if you’re on a diet, enjoy your food – please! It’s a very Latin point of view.”
“I am happiest when I am creating. Oh, that gives me such pleasure! I think every woman is a creative being and a lot of women don’t get to be happy because they don’t have a creative outlet. Or women waste time obsessing about fashion, or their weight, or their children, which is all about image. We were born to create. Even if you don’t think you have the talent in you, imagination and creativity is a very strong part of being a woman, and you have to find a way to explore it. I’ll tell you why: we are the creators of life.”
REJECT THE GOAL OF PERFECT HAPPINESS
“Happiness cannot be perfect. Perfection is a mirage. If you have a vision of perfection, when you take the road to get there, if you learn in the road, then when you arrive you will see it’s not perfection. Perfection can damage beauty, it can damage art, it can damage growth. Happiness cannot have this title of perfection.”
Tale Of Tales is released nationwide on 17th June. Watch the trailer below