Oprah and Salma Hayek
She outwitted the bombshell stereotype by producing and starring in the luminous Frida and then directing her own feature film. Now this gorgeous, audacious, and funny actress opens up about coming to Hollywood, defying expectations, and the creativity that comes from owning your own power.
Salma Hayek and I come from two very different worlds: She was born privileged in a small town in Mexico; I was raised poor in rural Mississippi. On the day we meet in a hilltop garden at the J. Paul Getty Museum—a picture-postcard version of Los Angeles stretched below us on a perfectly clear day—I'm as surprised as anyone that our connection is so instant. Who would've thought we would have so much in common? I've interviewed hundreds of people over the years, and never has a conversation resonated so strongly with me. Salma is one of the most passionate and unforgettable young women I've ever met.

You need only a few moments in Salma's presence to discover she's a woman set on defining herself—try to contain her in a box, and she'll lift off the lid, rise up, and just soar away every single time. What did she do when her family in Coatzacoalcos protested her leaving college to pursue an acting career? She told them acting was her destiny, then proceeded to become one of her country's biggest soap opera stars by age 22. And what happened after her fans laughed at her choice to leave Mexico in 1991 so she could edge her way into the Los Angeles film world? She got on a plane with more courage than her two suitcases could hold, and a year later, she'd overcome dyslexia to learn English and landed her first movie role (in Mi Vida Loca ). Then filmmaker Robert Rodriguez discovered her, and she won the lead in 1995's Desperado , putting herself on Hollywood's map. And what about all those predictions that her valiant dream to produce Frida would never be realized? After convincing a long list of colleagues to work for reduced pay—major talents such as Ashley Judd, Geoffrey Rush, and Edward Norton—Salma brought the passion of her lifetime to the big screen last year and garnered an Oscar nomination for her extraordinary performance. All that and she still found time to start her own company, Ventanarosa Productions, in 1998, with the intent of creating significant roles for Latin women. Her newest project, a television movie called The Maldonado Miracle , marks her directorial debut.

She's 36 now and carries the wisdom of each year in her soul. She's a woman who has paid attention to her life. During every moment of our conversation, I found myself wanting to high-five her! Her candor, her honesty, her boldness, her fire—it all made me want to be more truthful with myself. Her passion for life is positively infectious. Talk about going for it—this woman has got the "it" big-time!

Start reading Oprah's interview with Salma Hayek

Note: This interview appeared in the September 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

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?

Salma: Yes.

Oprah: As a dyslexic, could you even read a street sign?

Salma: "Turn left"? That alone was a blur.

Oprah: You would've been a danger to us all on the highway! So you literally got on a plane in Mexico and flew directly to Hollywood?

Salma: Packed two bags.

Oprah: Where did you live?

Salma: I was going to live in a hotel, but the night before I came, I ran into a girl I knew from Spain. I said, "What are you doing?" She said, "I'm living in Los Angeles." And I said, "Oh, I'm going to be living in Los Angeles starting tomorrow." So I stayed in her house for a couple days. I got my apartment as soon as I could, got my driver's license and a car.

Oprah: You could get your driver's license? Didn't you have to be able to read English to study and pass the test?

Salma: They give the test in Spanish—this is California. You'd be surprised how you can survive in this state without speaking a word of English.

Oprah: I bet you can.

Salma: I barely made it through the test—I got like, you know, a C.

Oprah: You can get away with a lot because you're cute.

Salma: Probably.

Oprah: I find it extraordinary that you came here knowing so little English. I have another friend who came from Nicaragua with $37 in her pocket and learned to speak English. It's like landing on Mars—is it not?

Salma: Yes! A lot seemed so shockingly absurd.

Oprah: Like?

Salma: To get a job, you need to have an agent—but to have an agent, you have to show them a video of a job. Everything to me was Martian. You know, I was so naive that I'd send the tape of my soap around, and I'd pick all the crying scenes. I thought all that crying would really impress them—waaa, waaa! People would look at me like I was an alien.

Oprah: Good crier, yes. Was there a time when you wanted to give up?

Salma: I certainly had my moments of desperation, of anger, of self-pity, of self-deprecation. Yet after a lot of struggling, I am finally working. I am beginning to make money. I am famous. And I say, "This is not what I wanted, either. It doesn't feel good, either." And I go, "Why?" Well, I am famous, doing movies that my agents want. People around me are saying, "This is what you need to do now so that you can get to do what you want later."

Oprah: Right.

Salma: And I say, "Well, this is not my dream, either. How scary!" After all this work. So what's my dream? I thought about this, and I wanted to do a different kind of movie. I wanted to have a voice, and it was okay if I wasn't going to be so famous or so rich. And this is one thing I learned: How do you recognize what's your true dream and what is the dream that you are dreaming for other people to love you?

Oprah: How?

Salma: The difference is very easy to understand. If you enjoy the process, it's your dream.

Oprah: Correct.

Salma: If you are enduring the process, just desperate for the result, it's somebody else's dream.

Oprah: You're absolutely brilliant!

Salma: I don't know how I figured this out, you know? I was miserable finding this out.

Oprah: What you're saying is so true. When I left Baltimore to go to Chicago, the whole talk show thing opened up for me. I had decided that I'm leaving no matter what because I've grown all I can grow here. I was an anchorwoman for the news, and it was a job that everybody else thought, "My God, you're an anchorwoman, you're making the money—what more do you want?" And I knew that if I didn't move from there, I would never grow to whatever the next possibility was.

Salma: And you didn't even know what that was yet.

Oprah: Yes—but I said, "I am getting out of here." And I was okay if I never had that again. There's a level of you that has to be okay no matter how things turn out, because the universe doesn't work with desperation.

Salma: It doesn't.

Oprah: If you're desperate, it means too much to you.

Salma: And that was me—I became desperate! I was doing everything I was told I had to do to get the things I wanted, and it wasn't happening. I was not getting this movie or that movie, and there was a lot of rejection.

Oprah: Weren't you once told that your accent would remind moviegoers of their housekeepers?

Salma: Yes!

Oprah: How did you stand there with a straight face and deal with that situation?

Salma: How can you be angry at someone who's so ignorant?

Oprah: I agree with you.

Salma: I don't feel anything but pity. I had never been discriminated against in my life; I was pretty and I was rich in Mexico. I'd tell the executives, "Arnold Schwarzenegger has an accent." They'd become so nervous because they had no answer for that. Arnold played mostly robots at the beginning of his career, and once the money started rolling in, all these directors and producers go deaf. They don't see the color, nothing. All the senses go. They just hear one sound: ka-ching!
Oprah: If Arnold were to lose that accent now, they'd say, "Get that accent back!"

Salma: If I make the money with the accent, then they like the accent. Even for the roles I landed in those days, I was underpaid. Others kept saying, "Don't take the money now, because this is your opportunity [to be seen]." But everyone else is making a big fee. I'd hear, "Because they paid the man, there's no money for the woman." How many times do you think I heard this? Over and over. Then I became a sex symbol. Now, how the hell did that happen? I don't exactly know the moment when it happened, but all of a sudden I'm a bombshell. The way I discovered this was I did Desperado. I had a very hard time with the love scene. I cried throughout the love scene. That's why you never see long pieces of the love scene—it's little pieces cut together. I'm crying most of the time so they have to take little pieces. It took eight hours instead of an hour. I nearly got fired.

Oprah: Why were you crying—you didn't want to do it?

Salma: Because I didn't want to be naked in front of a camera. The whole time, I'm thinking of my father and my brother.

Oprah: Which kinda ruins your characterization.

Salma: And then when the movie comes out, I read the first review. What do they say about me? "Salma Hayek is a bombshell." I had heard that when a movie does badly here, they say it bombs. So I'm crying. I think they're saying, "That terrible actress! It's a bomb! Salma Hayek is the worst part of the movie!" I called my friend and said, "The critics are destroying me!" She says, "No, they're saying you're very sexy." And then I look at all the reviews, and everybody said I was very sexy. So I'm very confused. I said, "I wonder if that's good or bad." I hear, "Yes, that's good." Then I do Fools Rush In, and I'm playing a pregnant woman. And they say I'm sexy again! I go, "But I'm pregnant!" I'm not even naked in this movie, and they still say I'm sexy. And then it became very depressing—I thought, "I guess I'm reduced to that now. That's all I am in the perception of these people."

Oprah: That's so interesting to me. I've never been a bombshell or even had the possibility of being a bombshell, but I know people whose whole life is spent trying to maintain the bombshell image—even people who aren't close, who are just a little "ombshell" without the b. So that wasn't exciting for you?

Salma: It was not my plan, and it was not exciting.

Oprah: Not even for a moment had you thought, "Oh, I'm a bombshell"?

Salma: It's good to be sexy, but when that's all they can see—no.

Oprah: Because then you're right back where you were in Mexico.

Salma: In Mexico I was not sexy.

Oprah: You weren't sexy?

Salma: Nobody saw me as sexy. I was just famous. I was Teresa, the soap star. I wasn't even me. I was a character. But in some ways, it's the same deal. The perception of you is one thing. You're this famous person, and now you're this famous person who's a bombshell. So all of a sudden, that's the only way I get jobs. So I have to become the part. And they're telling you this is the way to do it. One director actually said to me, "I want to hear you talk dumber and faster."

Oprah: Dumber?

Salma: He thought it was funny for the girl to be dumb. I finally said, "That's it, man—I can't do this anymore." I'd go to meetings during the filming of a movie, and the directors would ask, "What do you think of the script?" I'd say, "It has a lot of problems." They were confused. That's not what they wanted from me.

Oprah: Because they didn't expect you to have an opinion?

Salma: And certainly not an opinion that made sense. So I was not very popular. At one point I said, "I don't want to do this—it's not my dream." And so I said, "I'm going to start a company. I am going to create projects for me. I'm going to create projects for other Latin women." Because I got to a point where I was whining all the time. I was miserable. I was desperate. I was going for movies in which I hated the script, I had no respect for the director. And of course I wouldn't get them. Of course not, because I didn't even want to go to the meeting, and I would force myself to go to the meeting and then hate myself every second of it. Because why am I kissing the ass of this guy? He's so dumb. I don't know what to talk about.... I was altogether very miserable.

I had an acting teacher who once told me that you could never really create from comfort. To do well as an actress, you have to push yourself to the edge. When you're comfortable, you're still on your ass. Sometimes we sit on our ass even with things we don't like. The whining, the crying, the becoming the victim, the this-town-doesn't-like-me-because-I'm-Mexican—it could've all made me say, "That's it—racism takes care of all my problems."

Oprah: You can use that one forever.

Salma: I think that's why it's harder for us to succeed, because we have a beautiful, comfortable crutch. It's right there, available.

Oprah: Yes, I agree. But you absolutely shifted the paradigm by saying, "If there are no roles for Latin women, I'll create 'em."

Salma: Yes. And I had been already trying to do Frida, but I would sit on my sorrows because it was so difficult. But now I was learning new things. And so I thought, "This is what I want to do. I want to do one movie that if I die the next day, I know I left one thing in this world that I was very proud of, that other people can see, that meant something to me, that had my voice." Because God forbid I die tomorrow, I'm the bombshell for the rest of my existence.

Oprah: Yes.

Salma: Then I became very angry. I said, "I have become what they decided I am. When did I fall in this trap?" Somebody decided I was this, and I became that. And I said, I'm going to change it now. I'm going to define myself. So I decided to change the way I approached my work, and that meant that even my sentimental relationships changed. I eventually decided to create projects for myself and other Latin women. I decided I had to change everything so completely.

Oprah: You're lucky this happened to you. I talk to a lot of women on my show, and often at about age 39 or 40, they think, "My God, I have become what everybody else wanted me to be." I meet women every day who are never going to be in anybody's movie, but they're in their own life movie saying the exact same thing you've said: "This wasn't my dream. How did I get here?" You start acting based upon others' definition of who you are, and you just take that role in life and end up with the kids, the house. Then you feel a sense of guilt and resentment because you never wanted that. But a lot of women don't want to feel that because they think, "Well what does this mean now for my children? I love my children, I want my family. But what happened to me?"

Salma: Yes. And you have to be able to walk away from a relationship when it's time to walk away—and you have to teach your children this. It's the best way to love your children, because then they'll learn this from you—that you had the courage to walk away from a relationship when you were unhappy. You have to do what you have to do. And the children have to understand it. I think we have to teach this to our boys and our girls when they are young—11, 12. They need to understand that you got in a situation when you were too young, when you didn't understand what you wanted, and because you listened to everyone else. Your children may not listen to you—so you also have to be brave enough to respect their dreams.

Oprah: Oh, boy, that's brilliant! Aren't you glad you now know this?

Salma: I think everybody knows this. We have an uncomfortable feeling for situations we are in, but we don't understand why we are uncomfortable. And then we want to know what would be the other option.

Oprah: Got you! You are mature beyond your years, wouldn't you say?

Salma: I don't know. Maybe. You don't know what happened in my years!

Oprah: I would say you're a person who has been a great observer of your life.

Salma: I've learned from others' lives, too.

Oprah: What is your dream for yourself now?

Salma: I dream of having kids.

Oprah: What do you think makes a relationship work?

Salma: What works in a relationship of very public people is not making the relationship public—keeping it as personal as it can be. It's the only way it is real. I am suspicious of those who have to let the world know how much they love each other. It's a little sad when you have to brag about how much you love someone. That kind of declaration doesn't always reflect the moment of truth between two people who care deeply for each other. When that truth is there, you don't need others to know it. And when somebody truly loves you, you don't even need him or her to be affectionate. Affection is fantastic, but it doesn't necessarily mean there's love—and the public display of affection is often just a show. When you open a door for others to have an opinion on your relationship, it can be dangerous. Find what you need, not what everyone else wants for you.

Women have been taught that in order to have a place in the world, an identity, they must marry and have children. If that's the life you truly want, great. But for many women, marriage is only about needing the world to know that someone desires them enough to say, "Here's a contract to prove that I love you and will commit to you for the rest of my life." For these women, no contract equals no validation—and, thus, no reason for existing.

Oprah: Halle-lu-jah! You're so right!

Salma: It's nice to have a relationship, but women have become addicted. You can have a relationship with God. With nature. With dogs. With yourself. And yes, you can also have a relationship with a man, but if it's going to be a shitty one, it's better to have a relationship with your flowers. I know so many lonely women who are married! You have to know the worth of your existence regardless of a man, regardless of an emotional love affair, even regardless of a career. Why should these things validate you as a human being?

Oprah: You're clearly a woman who has defined your own humanity. Was there a specific moment when you said, "I'm now going to decide who I am"?

Salma: It wasn't a moment, it was a process. And every day, I define myself. I know who I am today. I don't promise you anything for tomorrow—we can have an interview that's completely different!

And you know what else? I am grateful to the bombshell because if it hadn't gotten me where it had gotten me, I wouldn't be where I am today. But this bombshell thing; it's old now. It served me. And I got out of it in time to keep from serving it. I used to think, "I can't wait until 35, when people think I'm too old to be a bombshell." Maybe I'll get the good parts. But it wouldn't have happened that way.

Oprah: You would've just been an old bombshell. People would say, "She used to be Salma Hayek!"

Salma: Just because your boobs are saggy doesn't mean you get great roles. You're disposable.

Oprah: But you knew that all along, right?

Salma: I didn't. I was naive enough to believe that there'd always be a lot of work for me. That's why, as important as it is for the producers to pay more attention to female roles, it's more important for us to take control over this situation and define who we are. Because if they just give us the parts, it's their point of view of who we are. What's important is that we define who we are and don't wait for the men to give us the roles.

Oprah: That's so powerful.

Salma: I'm very lucky I didn't have it easy, because I've learned so much from having to figure out everything on my own and create things for myself. Now I can teach what I've learned to the next generation. I'm not just going to be the pretty face that disappears. I've learned how to produce, to direct, to write. I'm not disposable so easily anymore. When I am 60, I can keep directing. I have the potential to really, truly have a voice that makes a difference.

Oprah: You used your voice to bring the world Frida. What did it feel like to be recognized with an Oscar nomination?

Salma: It was great to be nominated, but I was happy when the whole thing was over. Very tiring! The parties, the makeup, the hair. I just wanted to stay home and read or watch TV.

Oprah: Did you think you'd win?

Salma: I didn't know. I said to myself, "Why not?" It could be me just as well as it could be anyone else. Except for an award in Germany [the Golden Camera award for best international actress], I hadn't yet won any of the awards for which I was nominated [British Academy Film and Television Award, Chicago Film Critics Award, Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award], so I thought, "Maybe this is the one I'll get." I wanted to win it for one specific reason—to send the Oscar to the Frida Kahlo House in Mexico, where Frida herself once lived. It's going to bring a tear to my eye now. I wanted every Mexican who walked into that museum to remember that what motivated me to make this movie, to dream this dream, had everything to do with where I came from—and I didn't stop dreaming until I finished the film. But the dream was the movie, not the Oscar. But I figured the Oscar would be a good reminder, for Mexico, you know?

Oprah: I so understand. What are you excited about now?

Salma: I'm remodeling my bathroom—and I can't begin to tell you how much joy that brings me.

Oprah: Yes, you can—you're talking to the right woman! I'm doing mine, too. I just found this stone from an old castle in Italy, and it was laid out the way it's going to be laid on my bathroom floor. The other day I was just standing there going, "Who has walked on this stone?" And I was picturing myself walking around the bathroom, in the tub, getting out on the stone, with my towels here and my chaise there. And I'm telling you, this is what matters.

Salma: At night I wake up and think, "What color will make me feel better when I soak in the bathtub for an hour?" I want everyone who's dreaming of a glamorous life to know that I'd trade a good bath any day for the heels, the hair, the makeup, the tight dresses, the photographs, the small talk.

Oprah: My favorite thing in life is a good bath!

Salma: We have to keep remodeling because we keep evolving. And of course my house really belongs to my dogs, so when I redecorate, I have to think of them.

Oprah: I actually have a dog room.

Salma: I'm not that rich, but maybe one day. My brother is a brilliant furniture designer, and he says, "For those dogs, I need to make you marble seats." My dogs are that mischievous!

Oprah: I have a dog that followed me home, and he's like 10 years old now. I said, "You don't know how lucky you are!" How many dogs do you have?

Salma: Two girls—I picked them up from the street in Mexico City, where they were so sick that they had no hair. Now I'm getting a third.

Oprah: It'll be hard to take in another girl—girl dogs don't accept other girl dogs.

Salma: Isn't it sad? In our world, women also don't support other women enough—how often do we really work together to make a difference? We are sometimes so vicious toward one another. We want to be independent women, but we really don't know who we are as women. It's about us taking control, because we tend to just blame. We complain about the world, but we are still not loving toward other women.

Oprah: Oh, it's so true! Did you ever feel threatened by other Latin actresses?

Salma: Because there was no industry or parts for Latin women when I came here, there was really no competitiveness. Jennifer Lopez and I were the first, and I think Jennifer was my partner at the beginning. I think it was important for others to see two of us, because maybe then we could be thought of as a social phenomenon. Because she doesn't have a foreign accent, Jennifer tried out for parts I couldn't get. There are now others with accents—Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas—but mind you, Antonio and Penélope are from Europe, not Mexico. It's only now that the taboo on Mexicans is lifting as Americans realize we're a little bit more than migrant workers. I hear some Latinos say, "Oh, no, no, no, the cliché that we are gang members, that's so bad—we have to show everyone that we're family people." Hello? That's another cliché! It's getting yourself out of one box to put yourself in another. The way to fight a cliché is not by creating another one. What breaks the cliché is the emergence of strong individuals. That's the way to say, "You don't really know us—so when you look at me, or when you look at my sister, just be completely open for whatever. You have no clue who we are!" Here people don't know what box to put me in to. I'm not from the Bronx, I'm not from East L.A., so they don't know how to take me or what to call me!

Oprah: I'd call you the smartest 36-year-old I've ever met. I know you're now directing your own television movie, The Maldonado Miracle. What was it like to direct for the first time?

Salma: I loved it—and before I decided to direct, everybody tried to scare me by saying how difficult it would be. I have recipes more difficult than directing! Haven't you directed a movie?

Oprah: No.

Salma: It's time! Women represent only 10 percent of all directors.

Oprah: So it didn't frighten you at all?

Salma: A little beforehand, because everyone said how tormented directors can be. I've never enjoyed something so much in my life!

Oprah: Does anything frighten you, Salma?

Salma: Ignorance in certain places frightens me. The political situation of the world frightens me. Political anger around the globe frightens me. The lack of love in the world frightens me. Violence frightens me.

Oprah: You are really good! What else is next for you?

Salma: I want to direct a movie in Mexico, in Spanish. The story is about how when we're really young, our dreams are colorful and big and abstract and interesting and imaginative. As the realities of life hit, our dreams become so common.

Oprah: They shrink. And you know why your idea is so fascinating? Because many people reading this will realize their own dreams have shrunk.

Salma: Yes. To dream big doesn't necessarily mean to imagine becoming the biggest movie star in the world. Dreaming big is about taking the simplest thing in life and enjoying it—and seeing it as the biggest thing that can possibly exist.

Oprah: Which is exactly why you enjoy decorating your bathroom.

Salma: Exactly. I work in an industry that is the first to kill this ability because everything is so celebrity oriented. I am part of a cancer. In my world, you have to be so beautiful, so skinny, so rich, so famous—and I don't believe you really have to be any of those things. You simply have to be who you are.

Oprah: Isn't that easy for you to say when you're beautiful?

Salma: Yes, I'm beautiful—

Oprah: I love it that you own that! Over the years, I've talked to beautiful women who say, "Oh, you should see my thighs!"

Salma: Well, I do have thighs and a butt. I have cellulite. I fight with it every day. I don't exercise, I eat pork, and I love my red wine. But, yes, I am beautiful and famous—and yet the things I like about myself have nothing to do with that, because I don't use wealth and beauty to define myself. People think I'm more beautiful than I am because they see me on magazine covers—but go to nearly any town, and you'd find prettier women. And though I'm well known now, I might not be famous one day—but I'd still be happy. I do have money, but I could be richer. I just don't want to pay the price some are willing to pay to have more money. I live in a small house. I'm not the glamour girl who wears makeup every day. I live a wonderful life, and I lack for nothing. Maybe that does make it easier for me to say, "Be who you are"—but I always tell people they shouldn't be too impressed with wealth and fame. They shouldn't worship it. I am in this machine, but I haven't completely given my soul to it.

Oprah: You're dead-on! I'm so disheartened by the culture's celebrity craze.

Salma: The whole society is obsessed.

Oprah: When you are a celebrity, you can't say that without sounding like you're complaining.

Salma: I'm not complaining—I'm just saying, "Don't be too impressed with me. Don't try to dress like me or wear your hair like mine. Find your own style. Don't spend your savings trying to be someone else. You're not more important, smarter, or prettier because you wear a designer dress." I only wear the expensive clothes because I get them free and I'm too lazy to go out and look for my own. I, a rich girl from Mexico, came here with designer clothes. And one day when I was starving in an apartment in Los Angeles, I looked at my Chanel blouses and said, "If only I could pay the rent with one of these."

Oprah: Can't eat 'em and can't trade 'em!

Salma: In those days, the rag I used to dry my dishes was more useful. Now many who start in this business come to me for advice and ask, "How do I get started?" And I have to say, "I honestly have no idea." I think it's a bunch of accidents that happen to you and somehow you survive them and take advantage of them and something magical happens—and you have an agent.

Oprah: It's no accident. In a city filled with screenwriters-by-night and aspiring actresses, I know your success is connected to your passion and the energy it creates. There are some people who have that passion so strongly that the entire universe cannot deny it.

Salma: Yes. But I'm going to tell you something: I think there's an element to that passion that I always leave out and that I have recently learned to understand, and it has helped me a lot.

Oprah: What?

Salma: I was okay if it didn't happen.

Oprah: Absolutely.

Salma: I didn't realize this before. As long as I knew that I did my very, very best, I was okay. I was so okay that when I made the transition from Mexico to Los Angeles, I said to myself, "I have something now. Is it what I want? No." I was making money, I was an actress, and I was famous. It looked like it's what I wanted, but it was not. And I was wise enough to recognize it. It's what others would think that I'd want, and sometimes that makes you feel it's good enough.

Oprah: Yes.

Salma: To be able to brag a lot on life—that's everybody's dream.

Oprah: That's right.

Salma: But is it your dream? And it wasn't my dream. And so I said that I'm going to leave it. This means I go there, and maybe it doesn't happen. And I am trading this, which looks like it's great, for this nothing that could be something.

Oprah: Absolutely!

Salma: And then I was excited about the possibility of the adventure of the nothingness that could be anything. I was excited about being brave about it and saying, "What I left didn't grab me by the balls." I can look at this and say, "Bye-bye, I don't need you! I am fine without you!" And if nothing happened, I could live with the not settling—because I knew I was going to like myself for making the decision to just go for it.


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