Salma Hayek Says She Was Denied 2 Lead Roles Because She's Mexican

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Salma Hayek
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for AFI

Salma Hayek is looking back at her Hollywood career -- specifically, how being a Mexican woman has affected it. The 54-year-old actress covers the latest issue of Variety, and talks about how far she has come.

Hayek has two big roles in both director Chloé Zhao's Eternals and The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard, the sequel to the 2017 hit The Hitman's Bodyguard. Hayek is now the star of the sequel after appearing for just a few minutes in the first film and stealing the show. Hayek says she never could have imagined starring in an action movie playing a woman facing menopause, and reveals she didn't even get to audition for action roles earlier in her career.

"We tried really hard. I said, 'I know I can do drama, but what about romantic comedies and action comedies?'" she recalls. "For them, it was like, 'Oh, no, she's just like a sexy Mexican.' ... I remember there were two big comedies I auditioned for the lead. Afterwards, the directors told me that I was the best audition and that I was better than who they cast and that they regretted it. But at the time, they knew the studios wouldn't have gone for a Mexican as the lead."

"I got a lot of satisfaction with them coming to me and telling me because I thought it was very courageous of them," she continues. "And I thought it changed something. It changed something in them. It made [me think that] maybe the next generation or the next girl that comes in was going to get a better shot because of it."

Hayek says that at the time, nobody looked at her value.

"If you are a woman and you are in a movie that is very successful and they say you are their favorite character, they will still give all credits of the box office to the guy," she says. "They don't count who you're bringing into the theaters. In my case, I was already a very big star in my country. I was bringing the Latino market into the theaters. I know some of the studios knew that. But they didn't want to accept the value of the Latino market at the time."

"Even when I did Frida, it was an art-house film that had a successful box office," she adds, referring to her critically acclaimed 2002 film. "But they ignored it. I still didn't get the leads. Yes, I thought I was going be an action star. That's how I started. But at some point at a certain age, I was sure it was never going to happen because it didn't when it made sense. Now that it doesn't make any sense, it's all happening."

Hayek is similarly amazed at now being part of the Marvel universe with Eternals.

"It's kind of hard to be an action hero if you're Mexican," she notes. "It's really hard to be an action hero if you're a Mexican and a woman. But to be an action hero, being Mexican, a woman, and my age, it felt like they were punking me."

These days, Hayek wants to inspire other women to dream big.

"I'm in a great place now, but I have experienced suffering," she shares. "I choose not to talk about it because I like to stay positive. When people see me, and not just girls, minorities or even short people -- anybody -- I want them to think even if things don't look like they can happen, anything can happen. But I don't want it to be based on you have to suffer a lot and then eventually it's going to happen. I want it to be based on why not?"

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