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.


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