Oprah: When you arrived in the United States from Mexico in 1991, how much English did you know?
Salma: Very, very little.
Oprah: Like what—"Good morning"?
Salma: You know what? I knew more when I was 12, because I came to school here [in Texas] for two years. Then I went away for ten years and didn't really practice. My English was limited to vacationing and not really engaging with Americans. I knew "shopping" and "eating" English—I could say "blue sweater," "crème brulée," and "Caesar salad"—so I came here thinking I spoke English.
Oprah: Just because you had been doing shopping English?
Salma: And because I thought I could understand the movies. I was reading the subtitles and thinking I was understanding more than I was. I thought I'd pick up the language again in three months. Then I came here and realized how truly limited my English was, and it was very scary. I soon realized it wasn't going to be hard to learn—it was going to be nearly impossible. My accent was horrible. In Mexico nobody says, "You speak English with a good accent." You either speak English or you don't: As long as you can communicate, no one cares. But the word accent became such a big word in my life. And they thought I was crazy in Mexico when I said, "I'm going to Hollywood." Nobody thought I could make it.
Oprah: What made you think you could make it?
Salma: I never questioned it.
Oprah: So you didn't question whether you could or couldn't—it just was?
Salma: I wanted to do films, and at that time in Mexico, a film industry didn't really exist. So where do you go to do movies? You go to the mecca. I also was afraid I was a very bad actress, because I'd become famous very fast and was making money for people. When you're making money, they're never going to tell you whether you're good or bad. They don't care. I knew that if I had any talent, this would kill it. I never wanted to be a famous bad actress! I had a panic that people would think, She's good only because everyone knows her.
Oprah: Girl, that's deep! Many would've settled for being a big fish in a not-so-small pond.
Salma: I felt guilty. I said, "These people adore me—but what am I giving them?" And I didn't know how good it was that everybody was watching soap operas in Mexico. My mother didn't even let me watch them, and I'm making one! I thought, "If they're going to love me, I want to give them something really good." I wanted to be good. I wanted to be better. And I said, "I'm going to the United States to study with Stella Adler and do movies because nobody here has done it and my passion is films." But I came here and I didn't speak English, I didn't have a green card, I didn't know I had to have an agent, I couldn't drive, I was dyslexic. And since I hadn't had to do anything on my own in Mexico, I was a spoiled brat!
Oprah: Well-to-do family?