Widely considered to be the first Mexican actress to become a major Hollywood movie star since Dolores Del Rio, Salma Hayek was a soap star in her native Mexico when she risked her career to come to L.A., where she struggled to be taken seriously. Her discovery by director Robert Rodriguez, who cast her in his 1995 film Desperado, gave Hayek her breakthrough.
The daughter of a Spanish mother and Lebanese father, Hayek was born in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico, on September 2, 1966. Raised in a devoutly Catholic family, she was sent to a Louisiana boarding school at the age of 12. After getting into trouble for terrorizing the nuns, Hayek returned to Mexico, but she was eventually sent to Houston, Texas, to live with her aunt, where she stayed until she was 17. She subsequently moved to Mexico City, where she studied International Relations as a university student, but, to the chagrin of her family, decided to drop out in order to pursue a career as an actress. Starting out in local theatre productions, she eventually moved to television and landed a starring role in the popular soap opera Teresa. The show's success made Hayek a celebrity in her native country, but, desiring something more, she shocked her fans by deciding to quit the show in order to pursue a career in L.A.
After taking a year to learn English and study acting with Stella Adler, Hayek got her first break when Allison Anders cast her in a supporting role in Mi Vida Loca (1993). The role allowed Hayek to obtain a Screen Actors Guild card, and after doing so, she continued to audition until she appeared on a Spanish-language cable access talk show that happened to count director Robert Rodriguez amongst its viewers. Rodriguez tracked Hayek down and promptly cast her in Desperado, his bigger-budget 1995 sequel to El Mariachi. The film, which also starred Antonio Banderas, succeeded in giving the actress her own plot on the Hollywood map, and Rodriguez again demonstrated his faith in her when he cast her in his next project, the vampire extravaganza From Dusk Till Dawn (1996).
Unfortunately for Hayek, the film, which also starred George Clooney, failed to do as well as expected, and Hayek's next few projects were similarly lackluster. The Faculty (1998), a teen thriller that cast Hayek as a teacher who turns into an alien, was an exception, and Kevin Smith's Dogma (1999), which featured her as a celestial muse, was fairly successful with critics and audiences. Also in 1999, Hayek had a starring role in what was to be her biggest film to date, Barry Sonnenfeld's Wild Wild West, which also starred Will Smith and Kevin Kline. Unfortunately for all involved, the film was a turkey. In 2000, Hayek could be seen in smaller, edgier ventures, including the independent comedy Chain of Fools, in which she played a centerfold-turned- cop, and Mike Figgis' experimental Time Code, which cast her as Jeanne Tripplehorn's lover. If these films ultimately didn't provide Hayek with a role that would draw attention to her genuine talent, this would soon change with the long awaited biography of tragic artist Frida Kahlo. With her role as the epnoymous character in Frida (2002), Hayek disappeared into her subject so convincingly that not only would she return to the good graces of critics, but earn an Oscar nomination as well.
Hayek would spend the coming years enjoying superstar status with everything from comedic turns on sitcoms like Ugly Betty (which she produced) and 30 Rock, to meaty roles in the dramatic thriller Savages, the class and race-based drama Beatriz at Dinner, and in the financial comedy-drama The Hummingbird Project.