“Honestly, at one point I wasn’t going to do the first movie,” Salma Hayek said of 2017′s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and her role as Samuel L. Jackson’s paramour and a woman who knows her way around an action scene and a one-liner. Ultimately, it was co-star Ryan Reynolds who was able to win her over with a promise to shape the character to her liking: “Ryan said, ‘Come on, it’ll be fun. Even if I don’t have scenes with you I’ll help you come up with something, you won’t regret it.’ And so it was true, they gave me a lot of freedom with the character.”
Now the trio of Hayek, Jackson and Reynolds are reunited for the sequel, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” with Hayek’s role beefed up significantly. And again, she was given a certain amount of say in the character. “For me it was important that we didn’t change her age. In action films, the men are allowed to age, but this is one of the few times where you’re seeing a middle age woman as a lead in an action film. It’s not a common thing, but I got my way.”
Hayek’s career highlights are pop cultural touchstones, including films like “Desperado” and the biopic “Frida” (for which she was Oscar-nominated) and TV comedies including “30 Rock” and “Ugly Betty.”
When asked to share a worst moment in her career, she said: “I’ll tell you a story about when I was starting out and I had a big opportunity playing a role opposite Matthew Perry in a movie called ‘Fools Rush In.’” The 1997 rom-com is about a one-night stand that leads to a pregnancy and a long-term relationship.
My worst moment …
“This movie was a great breakthrough because there were no Latina lead roles (in Hollywood), so this was like a diamond. Something so hard to find. And it meant the world to me. Matthew at the time was on ‘Friends,’ which was such a hit and I was so lucky to be playing opposite him.
“The director (Andy Tennant) was really happy with my work. I always like to really create my characters and propose a lot of ideas and jokes and lines — I’ve always been like that — and he was generous and let me do my thing. So I was feeling great about myself.
“So one day we were shooting at the Grand Canyon and there was a lot of heat — it was super hot — and I was very tired. And I am very highly dyslexic. I think I was also probably dehydrated, and so the dyslexia hit me. It was a very important scene where I had a lot of lines. And what happened was so incredibly terrifying, because I didn’t forget my lines, I just never said them in the right order.
“I don’t even remember what the scene was about, I was so traumatized. I think I was saying something about hot dogs, but it was a really meaningful scene with a lot of lines about us staying in Las Vegas instead of him going back to New York. The hot dogs were from Gray’s Papaya, that was the name of the restaurant, and they were his favorite — now I’m remembering, because we had to eat some of the hot dog — and I couldn’t even say ‘Gray’s Papaya hot dogs,’ I would say, ‘Papaya hot dog Gray’s.’ I was doing that with all my lines. Just mixing everything up.
“And the pressure was mounting, with one, two, three, four, five takes. Also for Matthew, I was feeling so bad because it was really hot. Ten takes. Eleven takes. Now I want to cry and I’m worried that someone is going to get heat stroke.
“(For some context:) I was already traumatized by the challenge of everybody (in Hollywood) criticizing my accent and saying, ‘You’ll never make it in this town because you have an accent.’ So I already had a thing with that. Now they’re discovering that I have this dyslexia. And now I’m discovering that there is a certain circumstance of stress and heat and dehydration — at that point I didn’t know what it was — where my brain is not there for me. Where I cannot count on it. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot get through it. And I’m disappointing the director and I’m disappointing the producer and I’m disappointing my co-star, who I’m putting in danger because of the heat.
“I just couldn’t get through the scene. The director and everybody was supportive, but I really did kind of destroy the day. And poor Matthew, he’s so white on top of it and we were out in the sun.
“I was trying to hold it together and not break down, but no matter how I tried to stay focused I just couldn’t put the words in order. I would say the words, they just didn’t make any sense. I knew my lines, it’s not that I didn’t study my lines. But my mouth wouldn’t say them in the right order.
“I remember in this moment thinking: I have to find another profession. If this ever happens again, I can’t be an actress. And I was just starting out in my career, so the pressure was terrible. At one point I was feeling like I was going to faint and everything went black.
“Eventually, we found a way to do it where I would just focus on the scenes in pieces.”
Did the experience shake her confidence?
“This could have marked me forever. And I already have stage fright.
“The next day, I drank a lot of liquids and I was fine. But I know that this could strike again. And it did many, many years later. Not to that extent. But I was really tired and I had to say a lot of technical words and I struggled mixing them. This was on a movie called ‘The Hummingbird Project’ (from 2018, about financial trading and the stock market) and I was very tired and jet-lagged.
“But I was more mature this time. And at the end of the day, the lines were too technical they didn’t even use half of that scene, but we got through it and I was proud of myself. Even though I was traumatized by that first time, this second time I experienced it with more maturity and I was able to overcome it and get through it.”
The takeaway …
“You should never ever give up on yourself. And there is nothing we cannot overcome.
“The fear of disappointing people was probably what struck me harder than the sun. In that moment, feeling that I was disappointing people made it worse.
“But with time, with experience, with a different life and a lot of things behind me, the second time it happened I just said: ‘OK, I’ll get through this.’ And I did!”