The Inside Scoop On Salma Hayek's Life And Career

Since bursting onto the Hollywood scene in the early 1990s, Salma Hayek has become one of the most ubiquitous female movie stars in the world. A former telenovela star in her native Mexico, Hayek quickly proved herself to be equally adept at comedy and drama, starring in a mind-boggling array of movies ranging from rom-coms ("Fools Rush In"), to action ("Desperado"), to horror ("From Dusk Till Dawn"), to comedy ("Grown Ups"), to even playing a superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ("Eternals")  — and let's not forget her passion project, portraying famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in the 2002 biopic "Frida."

Hayek's success, it should be pointed out, has not come without a lot of dedication and tenacity. "I've had to fight very, very hard for every silly small role," she revealed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, looking back at her career. Her success, in fact, has flown in the face of conventional wisdom. "When I started, everyone said there was no chance for a Mexican actress with an accent to have a career. Maybe a maid in a small part, because if it's a maid with a big part, the maid is blonde! Maybe the wife of a drug dealer with one line or just crying," she said. 

She long ago proved those naysayers wrong, and continues to reach new heights with each passing year. Keep on reading to get the inside scoop on Salma Hayek's life and career.

Her childhood dream was to be an Olympic gymnast

Long before Salma Hayek dreamed of Hollywood stardom, she had an entirely different goal in mind. "There was a road I didn't take, which haunted me for many years," Hayek revealed in an interview with OK!. "When I was very little, I was drafted for the Olympics in gymnastics." 

As Hayek explained during an appearance on "Live with Kelly and Ryan," she had no idea while living in a small town in Mexico that there even was such as thing as gymnastics. She recalled that watching Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci compete in the 1976 Olympics on television sparked her interest. "I fell in love with the sport, but there were no classes, nobody else was doing it, and I was teaching myself," she said. "And then I begged my father to take me to Mexico City to go to a gym." During that time, her talent proved impressive enough to receive an offer to train for Mexico's Olympic team — but she would have to go to boarding school in Mexico City, where she would practice six hours a day in addition to her regular school studies.

Given her young age, her father just couldn't support the idea of his nine-year-old daughter living in Mexico City, far from home. "I would have to be away from my family because it's in Mexico City, and my father said no," Hayek said. "My Olympic dream died there."

Her relentless pranks got Salma Hayek expelled from school

After moving on from gymnastics, young Salma Hayek found a whole new pastime with which to occupy her time: playing pranks. In fact, a profile of Hayek in Town and Country recounts that she was thrown out of a Catholic boarding school in New Orleans when she was 12, due to pranking her fellow students and the nuns who taught them. "I was ingenious," Hayek bragged of her cred as a practical joker, while insisting that there was never any malice behind her pranks. "I always had a sense of humor, but there was a naïveté in the naughtiness," she explained. 

Prior to her expulsion, Hayek recalled in a Q&A during The Wrap's Power of Women Breakfast, the most memorable prank she pulled was sneaking into the dorm during study break and setting all the girls' alarm clocks back by an entire hour. She recalled having to stifle her laughter at watching all her groggy classmates rushing to put on makeup and get ready, not realizing it was an hour earlier than they thought it was. As was often the case, Hayek was discovered to be the culprit and sentenced to detention.

"I would do crazy things in the detention, which was also fun," she confessed, "Because if you're creative, you're creative in everything you do. Otherwise life is unbearable."

Her first acting role was a 'horrible experience'

As an aspiring young actor in Mexico trying to break into show business, it didn't take long before Salma Hayek landed her first professional gig. "The very first thing I ever auditioned for was the role of Jasmine in a children's play of 'Aladdin' in Mexico. I was 18," she told W magazine. However, the reality of what the job actually entailed proved to be a wake-up call. "I had to sing, and I have stage fright," she explained. "It was a horrible experience — I got the job, but the work was a nightmare. I really suffered every day."

In fact, she admitted on "The Late Show with David Letterman" (via Female First) that her stage fright was so extreme and so unexpected that she literally fled the stage. "It was time for me to get out on the stage and I ran with the Jasmine outfit out onto the street," she said. "I ran out of the theatre because the stage fright was so bad."

Despite the terror she went through playing a Disney princess, Hayek learned a valuable lesson from the experience: she was made for the screen, not the theater. "It didn't put me off acting," she told W magazine, "but it put me off stage acting."

Why she wore faux butterfly tattoos on the red carpet

Salma Hayek has lit up her fair share of red carpets over the years, proving herself to be quite the fashionista. It wasn't always that way, however. During the early years of her career, she told Vogue India, designers weren't exactly begging her to wear their designs on red carpets. "I'm Mexican. I'm also very short, which doesn't help with the weight and doesn't help with the design," she explained.

Rather than suffer and complain, Hayek decided to take matters into her own hands. "I took chances," she said. "I met someone at Hugo Boss, who was the only connection I had, so I wore man suits for a while." Looking back, she recalled one occasion, when designers were still giving her the cold shoulder, that led her to get extra creative. "Instead of giving me a complex and saying that I don't have the best dress or they don't know who I am ... I was like, I am fabulous," she explained. "I painted some butterfly tattoos on myself and I felt happy about myself." 

Looking back at her impromptu butterfly-tat look during an interview with InStyle, Hayek recalled feeling bold, unafraid and ready to take some risks in order to get herself known. "I was young, and passionate, and creative," she declared, adding, "Creativity is everything!"

The bonkers pet she got for her husband

Since 2009, Salma Hayek has been married (via Brides) to François-Henri Pinault, the billionaire owner of the luxury fashion brand Kering. "I make everything work for me, I married the owner of a fashion company," Hayek joked to Vogue India, referencing those early days when no designers wanted her to wear their clothing. "Now they have to make me the clothes. Karma for them," she added with a laugh. 

Given her husband's immense wealth, he's not an easy person to buy gifts for. This has led Hayek to dig into the deep well of creativity that's always nourished her, which certainly contributed to the out-there Valentine's Day present she gave him: a rescue owl. "[I] named her Kering because that's the name of his company and their symbol of the owl," Hayek told People. "And he was like, 'Well, thank you, but I know this is your own present for yourself.'"

Of course, taking care of unconventional pets is right on brand for Hayek. That was confirmed by her "Desperado" co-star Antonio Banderas, who revealed he'd once given her a pair of monkeys as a gift — something he's come to realize may not have been the best idea. "The monkeys drove her nuts for years," Banderas admitted with a laugh during an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" "Every time I see her, she reminds me of the monkeys."

She can't stop rescuing animals

Adopting a rescued owl certainly wasn't out of character for Salma Hayek. In fact, rescuing animals has become something of a sideline. "I pick up dogs from the street," Hayek said on "The Tonight Show." "Not even rescued from the shelter, I pick them up from the street." At the time of the interview, she was housing nine rescue dogs in her home, along with an assortment of other animals. That, however, was just the tip of the iceberg. "I had promised my husband I was going to stop because at the time I had 19 dogs, five parrots, I had alpacas, horses, cats..." she revealed on "The Graham Norton Show" (via Hola!). 

So how does her husband feel about Hayek turning their home into an animal sanctuary? Not great, apparently. "My husband has threatened me, 'Please, no more dogs,'" Hayek revealed. According to Hayek, she promised she would stop bringing stray animals into their home — particularly hamsters, noting that her spouse was not a fan.

Concerned about her husband's response to yet another puppy entering the house, Hayek hatched a cunning plan. "I was terrified how I would tell my husband so I came up with a brilliant idea of pretending I was having an affair, so when he found out about the dog and that I wasn't having an affair, he would feel better," she said while appearing on "The Graham Norton Show" (via Digital Spy).

How becoming a mom led to a Sudoku obsession

Salma Hayek became a first-time mother in 2007 when she and then-fiancé François-Henri Pinault welcomed daughter Valentina. The baby had a very healthy appetite, something that led Hayek to learn a whole new skill that she hadn't anticipated.

"I'm really good at Sudoku," she revealed in an interview with W magazine, explaining how her baby's insatiable thirst for milk led her to become adept at the number-based puzzle game. "I breastfed for 14 months, and my god, that baby could not get enough all night," she explained. "So, while she was breastfeeding, it was boring. So, I started doing Sudoku, and I think I'm really good. I can do it sometimes, like in four minutes. So, the machine tells me I'm good at Sudoku, that's how I found out."

More than a decade later, when Valentina had grown to be a teenager, Hayek continued to keep her Sudoku skills strong. In January 2022, she took to Instagram to share a photo of herself playing Sudoku on a tablet, adding the caption, "Sudoku Sunday."

Why she feared the Pope would take away the medal he gave her

One of Salma Hayek's proudest moments came in 2016, when she, her husband, and her daughter visited the Vatican and met Pope Francis. Not only did she get to meet the pontiff, but he also presented Hayek with a medal. She and fellow celebs George Clooney and Richard Gere, according to The Hollywood Reporter, each received the Olive Medal of Peace for agreeing to act as ambassadors for the Scholas Occurrentes foundation, whose name translates to "schools that meet." The organization brings together 400,000 schools in 82 different nations, representing a vast variety of religions and cultures from around the globe. 

As Hayek later revealed during an appearance on "The Graham Norton Show," she was legitimately worried that the Pope would rescind the honor due to a racy photo she'd posted on social media featuring herself and another female Hollywood star. "I was very honored and excited to be receiving a medal from him but I was really nervous because I had just posted an Instagram of me staring at Susan Sarandon's boobs," she said, via Digital Spy, referencing a saucy 2016 Instagram post in which she and Sarandon compared cleavage. "I was so afraid he would see that picture and take away my medal!" Hayek admitted.

She once breastfed a baby that wasn't hers

One of the more unique moments in Salma Hayek's life came when she participated in a goodwill trip to the African nation of Sierra Leone in 2009. Chronicled on ABC's "Nightline," ABC News reported that the undisputed highlight of the broadcast was the moment when Hayek was filmed breastfeeding a child that was not her own

As it happened, Hayek was still breastfeeding her daughter Valentina, then a year old. Seeing a starving infant in dire need of food, Hayek decided to offer the baby her own milk. "The baby was perfectly healthy, but the mother did not have any milk," she told USA Today, via the New York Daily News. "He was very hungry — I was weaning my daughter Valentina, but I still had a lot of milk, so I breastfed the baby."

As she told "Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden, Hayek felt that when her daughter grew old enough to understand the situation fully, Valentina wouldn't have an issue with what had taken place. "Am I being disloyal to my child by giving her milk away?" Hayek said. "I actually think my baby would be very proud to share her milk. And when she grows up I'm going to make sure she continues to be a generous, caring person."

She launched her own successful production company

Salma Hayek is more than just an actor, movie star, and internationally recognized celebrity: she's also a bona fide mogul. That stems from her wildly successful film and television production company Ventanarosa, which she founded in 1997. As the years have passed, Ventanarosa has become a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. Among the projects Hayek's company has produced are the Frida Kahlo biopic "Frida" (in which Hayek also starred), the made-for-TV film "The Maldonado Miracle" (which Hayek directed), and the hit ABC comedy series "Ugly Betty." In 2020, Variety reported that the company entered a first-look deal with HBO Max. 

The following year, Deadline reported that the first project to result from that deal was "A Boob's Life," an adaptation of the book of the same name in which a woman's breasts begin talking to her. "We use breasts as a metaphor for the constant judgment women are submitted to, creating a collective sensation that no matter what we do we are never enough," Hayek said in an explanation of the show's unique premise. "In this show, we give the breast a voice that takes us through the life of a woman from a unique perspective that often we don't dare to see."

She takes great efforts to balance her family life

As a wife, mother, actor, producer, and all-around Hollywood mogul, Salma Hayek has an awful lot of plates that she needs to keep spinning. While it would be understandable that she might be overwhelmed by balancing all those various roles, she's actually put a lot of thought into how to go about doing that. 

"Sometimes the hardest things to balance is motherhood with marriage," she told People. Husbands, she admitted, don't always make achieving that balance any easier, but that didn't necessarily apply to her own spouse. "I married the right guy," she declared. "That is probably the most important thing. We support each other in everything we do. We want the other one to strive. Makes you happy when the other one strives." Meanwhile, because they both have such busy careers, when they do have the opportunity to spend time together alone, they try to make it count. "We don't have a very strong social life," she explained. "Because we really like to spend time together."

Of all her many roles, Hayek finds motherhood to be the most challenging. "Being a mother is more exhausting than working," she admitted in an interview with The Guardian, "And sometimes I push myself too hard and burn myself out." 

She's come to terms with her dyslexia

Even Salma Hayek's most ardent fans might be surprised to know that she's dyslexic. In fact, it's something she didn't come to realize about herself until she was an adult. She explained in an interview with WebMD that her overall ability to learn fast led to her dyslexia going undiagnosed throughout her school years. "I skipped years without studying too much," she said. "[The dyslexia] doesn't bother me now."

When she moved to Los Angeles from her native Mexico, abandoning a successful career as a telenovela star to roll the dice for a chance at Hollywood stardom, the biggest challenge she faced was that she couldn't speak English. However, the same learning abilities that led to her dyslexia remaining hidden throughout her childhood also allowed her to learn the language quickly. 

One aspect of her dyslexia is that she tends to read slowly and methodically, something she admitted has actually been helpful from an acting perspective. "Some people read really fast, but you'll ask them questions about the script and they'll forget. I take a long time to read a script, but I read it only once. I directed a movie, and I never brought the script to the set," she said. In fact, she told Dujour, "I don't think people with dyslexia should think it's an impediment." 

She was close friends with Prince

When rock icon Prince died from an accidental overdose in 2016 at age 57, among the many stars to pay tribute was Salma Hayek. Hayek, in fact, was not just a fan, but also a good friend. In June 2020, on what would have been the musician's 60th birthday, she shared a photo of herself with Prince via Instagram. "I miss our two hour conversations on the phone more than ever and every time I watch the news I wonder what he would think, what song would he write," she wrote in the caption. 

Hayek directed Prince's music video for "Te Amo Corazon," an experience she reminisced about during an interview with W magazine conducted shortly after Prince's death. "He was so, so supportive of me," she said of their friendship, noting that he would often encourage her to return to directing after making her debut behind the camera with the 2003 TV movie "The Maldonado Miracle," for which she won a daytime Emmy. 

"Then one day, he said, 'Okay, today's the day. You have to do this song for me,'" she recalled, admitting she was initially hesitant due to his well-documented reputation as a control freak. "So I said, 'If I'm going to do this, you have to listen to what I say. What if we're fighting ...'" she continued. "And he said, 'No, we're going to choose the thing and do the thing.' So I said, 'Okay, let's go have fun.'" 

She believes her London house is haunted

Give that Salma Hayek is an A-list movie star married to a billionaire CEO, it shouldn't be surprising to learn that she and husband François-Henri Pinault live in homes situated in various locales throughout the world. One of these abodes, reported the Evening Standard, is a posh rental in London whose previous tenant was Canadian pop star Justin Bieber. In addition to such luxurious amenities as an indoor swimming pool, tennis court, cinema, and wine cellar, the home has another unique characteristic: it's haunted — or, she explained during a 2021 appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," it used to be. 

According to Hayek, members of her staff were becoming seriously freaked out by the apparently paranormal phenomena they were witnessing. "I didn't see this, but some bodyguard didn't want to work there anymore because the piano played by itself," she said. "Lights go on and off. The doors and the windows open and close. I've seen some of it. A lot of other people in the house have seen it." 

To allay their fears, she hired a professional ghostbuster to cleanse the home of whatever spirits had been haunting it. "I said look, I'm gonna bring somebody," she said, adding pragmatically, "Even if it's not true, at least they might psychologically think it's over."