Already a star in her own country, Mexican beauty Salma Hayek found herself "out of the running for every role except prostitutes and maids" when she arrived in the US to forge a career. "People would see my name and picture and would want to meet me, and then they would realise I was Mexican and send me away" she says. "When I would tell them my grandfather is Lebanese, they would say, 'Pretend you're Lebanese'. Not that it's okay to be Lebanese, but it's a little better than to be a Mexican."
Born on September 2, 1966, and raised in a conservative Catholic family by a Mexican opera singer mum and a Lebanese dad in the oil business, Salma was a self-proclaimed "spoiled brat" who dreamed of Hollywood fame while growing up in the town of Coatzacoalcos. Aged 12 she threatened to fail her classes if she wasn't allowed to go to the US, so her parents sent her to a Catholic school in Texas. After two years, however, her behaviour including pulling stunts like setting all the nuns' clocks back got her expelled and she completed her studies in her native Mexico.
Salma went on to study political science at the National University of Mexico before deciding to pursue her showbiz goals. In 1989, her second-ever TV role, playing Teresa in the number one soap opera of the same name, made her a national superstar overnight. She quit TV to tread the boards, but fans at the sold-out performances Salma's huge popularity meant producers had to seat people in the aisles wouldn't let her forget her soap opera past. "I said I was going back to theatre because it was a more healthy environment," she says. "But people would come to see me and they would bring big cardboards saying, 'I Love You, Teresa'."
Wanting more than celebrity, Salma left the theatre run in the middle of her contract to study with famed acting coach Stella Adler in Los Angeles. She struggled with her English, however a task compounded by her dyslexia and when she went on auditions, she says, "Everybody thought I was so out of my league," adding: "The people in Hollywood were the first ones to try and discourage me. 'Go back,' they said. 'You have no future here."
After an appearance in the 1993 indie flick Mi Vida Loca/My Crazy Life
Salma got her big break after El Mariachi
director Robert Rodriguez saw her on a Spanish-language chat show. Wanting her for a role in his upcoming flick Desperado,
he first cast her in RoadRacers,
a part that led co-star David Arquette to comment: "She moves like a Spanish Marilyn Monroe." Convinced of her screen presence, the director cast her in the 1995 breakthrough role alongside Antonio Banderas
, where the 5ft 2in beauty's sex appeal got her noticed in Tinseltown.
The Latina bombshell reinforced her sultry image by dancing with a python in Quentin Tarantino's From Dusk Till Dawn
and within two years she had signed a contract with Revlon, co-starred in disco flick 54
and teamed up with Sony to create TV programmes in Spanish and English. In 1999, she tried her hand at the big budget blockbuster, with a lead role alongside Will Smith
in Wild Wild West.
It was around that time that Salma, who once said, "I'll get married when I find a man who has more cojones
than I do", began dating Fight Club
actor Edward Norton
. "I am lucky to have found that one guy that I really got to make true love with, savouring him, learning the little things about him," she said of the two-time Oscar nominee in 2002. The pair parted company, however, in 2003 and Salma later found love with French businessman, François-Henri Pinault. Their daughter Valentina Paloma was born on September 20, 2007.
Despite the Academy Award buzz around 2002's Frida,
which she both starred in and produced and her upcoming directing debut with The Maldonado Miracle
, Salma still confronts discrimination. But after nearly a decade in the business, she's stood her ground to achieve success."A lot of people become what they have been told they are, but I don't and I never will," she says. "I'm the last one to set myself up as a role model of any kind, because I did things in a crazy way. I don't want anyone to imitate me, but it can be done. It can be done."