The prominence of an actor doesn’t simply transform once they reach Hollywood prominence, though it does certainly shift. What would be wrong to suggest is that the career of Salma Hayek switched on a dime following her role in Julie Taymor’s Frida, with the actor enjoying superstar fame in her native Mexico long before the release of the film. Though for her sheer rise in industry stock, Frida would undoubtedly become Salma Hayek’s most definitive film role.
Growing up in Mexico, at age 12, Hayek opted to attend the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, where she would build her passion for the arts. It wasn’t until age 23, however, that she would land the title role in the successful Mexican television series, Teresa, making her a star in her native country. Moving to Los Angeles in 1991 to pursue a career in Hollywood, Hayek would go on to star in El Callejón de los Milagros and Robert Rodriguez’s Mi vida loca, but progress was slow.
Rodriguez’s co-producer and then-wife, Elizabeth Avellan, would then hand Hayek one of her most important roles opposite Antonio Banderas in 1995’s Desperado, which was quickly followed by a cameo role as a vampire queen in From Dusk till Dawn alongside Quentin Tarantino. This was all the ammunition that Hayek needed to fuel a push into Hollywood as she worked to establish her name among the elite.
This led to roles opposite Friends star Matthew Perry in Fools Rush In, as well as Will Smith in the comedy Wild Wild West as Hayek’s prominence was quickly growing. By the turn of the 21st century, she was still looking for her big starring role, however, and following roles opposite Benicio del Toro in Traffic as well as in the 2001 film In the Time of the Butterflies, her breakthrough would come in the form of Frida.
Co-produced by Salma Hayek herself, Frida detailed the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, a queer, disabled, revolutionary painter whose extraordinary life has made her a national icon. Appearing alongside Alfred Molina, Valeria Golino, Ashley Judd, Edward Norton, Geoffrey Rush and Antonio Banderas, Hayek delivers a truly spellbinding performance in the titular role. Speaking to The Book, however, Hayek detailed her initial dislike of Frida Kahlo’s story, noting: “At that age I did not like her work … I found it ugly and grotesque. But something intrigued me, and the more I learned, the more I started to appreciate her work. There was a lot of passion and depth. Some people see only pain, but I also see irony and humour”.
To play Frida Kahlo became a personal mission for Salma Hayek, seeing the role as the perfect opportunity to merge her native roots with her newfound fame in Hollywood, and as a result, the actor received a Best Actress nomination at the 75th Academy Awards, becoming the first Mexican actress nominated in that category. Perfectly embodying the energy and passion of the classic Mexican painter, Salma Hayek ushered her dream project into fruition and catapulted her own international fame into the stratosphere.
It’s an ode to the ambition, creativity and spirit of Salma Hayek that she was able to construct the film together and architect her own cinematic success with her most celebrated film role to date.