Monday, Aug. 22, 2005

Salma Hayek

When you have a body with curves more dangerous than a racetrack's and a face that stops traffic, you learn to love the public eye. But Salma Hayek has never been content to be a mere lens magnet. She plays the show-biz game like a true scrimmager, dodging, scrambling and tackling much bigger obstacles. Consider first her arrival in the U.S., in 1990 at age 23; already an enormous star in her homeland of Mexico, she had to return to the bottom of the filmic food chain in L.A. After director Robert Rodriguez saw her on TV and cast her in 1995's Desperado, she began to win roles in mainstream, if not always successful, films like Fools Rush In and Wild Wild West. Just 12 years after she arrived, Hayek produced and starred in her dream project, a biopic of fellow Mexican Frida Kahlo, a film that had stymied several richer, more famous and much taller women, not to mention studio executives, for years. But a passion project is just a brave, slightly quixotic thing to do, unless it makes a handsome profit (as Frida did) and gets nominated for six Academy Awards (as Frida did — winning two). Directing came next; Hayek's Maldonado Miracle, about how a bleeding statue changes a town, aired on Showtime in 2003. At this stage, she could be sitting by the pool, fending off the scripts, invitations and free frocks, but with Hayek, 38, nothing is show business as usual. She took Penélope Cruz, a putative rival, under her wing when the Spanish actress arrived in Hollywood. She's trying to send more film productions Mexico's way to build up the industry there. And she's also developing two new U.S. films and two TV shows, plus writing a script for Jamie Foxx. Hayek may have been noticed for her body, but she's known for her body of work.