Can I say the word badass?” asks the actress Salma Hayek respectfully. She looks prim in a sunny yellow pussy-bow blouse, with a vase of pink roses behind her at home in north London. “I hope that is not a bad word. I am getting cast in action films where my character is just as badass as the guys and doing all my own stunts. I couldn’t get that type of role in my twenties or thirties so women have come a long way. It just might not feel like it at times because we have come from so far back and there is still work to do.”
Hayek, 54, is warm company, giving thoughtful answers about everything from how she hopes for another snow day to her charity work with women. She has devastating first-hand experience of the insidiously sexist and abusive underbelly of her industry. As she made her way from a teenaged Mexican soap-star to Hollywood, she admired Harvey Weinstein and when she started working with him it was, she has said, “a dream come true”. But collaborating with him on the 2002 film Frida soon became torture — she has alleged that she repeatedly turned down his demands for sex and claims that he was violent.
How does she feel, nearly a year since he was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault? “The amazing thing is that I thought I had healed,” she says. “And then everything came out again and I realised I didn’t heal, I repressed and I coped, I adjusted, I went on, so there was a layer of healing because it didn’t stop me from growing. But it was very painful for a long time. I didn’t know there were so many other women affected and that it went so deep. It was very shocking. But the fact that we [took action] together made it really healing.” Now she says she has “moved on”. “I lived with that for long enough and I detach myself from it now.”
We have met to talk about her latest film, Bliss, which comes out tomorrow. It’s a surreal sci-fi story where Hayek plays Isabel, a mysterious woman who rescues Owen Wilson’s character Greg and transports him to a utopian alternate reality.
But first, she tells me how excited she is to be speaking to a new person. “I have been doing this for 30 years and, don’t take this the wrong way, sometimes I don’t want to do hours of interviews. But lockdown meant I was excited about this press junket because I got my hair done and they made me look pretty and I get to see all these new faces on screen. It is fun, like when I was starting out.”
She is in awe of her husband, businessman François-Henri Pinault, for getting dressed for work every day. He is chief executive of Kering, who own luxury brands including Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent (where Hayek’s blouse is from), and have had to adapt to the pandemic, although shares are at last up again.
“I guess it [has been stressful],” she says. “But he is inspiring. He wakes up at exactly the same time every day, showers and gets dressed exactly like how he usually does, works all day, exercises, has dinner and plays with us. I was like, ‘Why are you waking up so early and dressing up?’ I told him to just wear sweatpants but he said he likes his routine and it is respectful to dress up.”
Their daughter Valentina, 13, has finally mastered homeschooling, to Hayek’s relief. It is reassuring that even Hollywood stars wrangle with this. “In March my daughter was really struggling with the homeschooling and when we went back into lockdown I thought, ‘Oh please not again.’ I am terrible with technology, I felt like a bad mother because if you are not good at technology you cannot help your children. At some points I felt so lost, there are a thousand emails that it is hard to understand and the schedule would change every day but she sorted it all out and now she loves it.”
That’s left Hayek with more time for work. “I am lucky because a lot of people have stopped working during Covid but I have been busy non-stop,” she says. Bliss was made just before lockdown, in summer 2019.
“It is a bold movie,” says Hayek. “One of the many things the director Mike Cahill said was that he wanted me to play the character like she was an addictive drug. That was intriguing.
“I liked that the characters go to two very different worlds, one perfect, one ugly, and it can be interpreted in different ways — do you need the ugly world so that you can appreciate beauty and bliss because you have the dark world to compare it to?” After a month of lockdown, I tell her that the idea of escaping particularly appeals.
“The film is very relevant to the times we are living in,” she says. “It is about appreciating the things we took for granted, like going out for dinner and walking on the street and being able to see people’s faces, not being afraid of them if they sneeze anywhere near you as if they could kill you.”
Next up, Hayek is in two more action films — The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, with Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson, which is due to be released in summer, and Marvel film Eternals, alongside Angelina Jolie and Kit Harington. She also has a production company, Ventanarosa, and is producing her Netflix show Monarca, which was postponed because of the pandemic, and another show called Santa Evita.
Then there is her charity work — Hayek co-founded global women’s charity Chime For Change in 2013 with Beyoncé and also works with Girl Effect. “Domestic violence was a big deal during the pandemic,” she says. “I would also like to do more work with refugees. There is not a lot of information about how they are doing at the moment.
“I never have breaks,” she continues. “Between the charitable foundation work, the family, my animals — I have like 30 I have rescued.” So she’s pretty busy then? She smiles and nods, adding, on a relatable note: “Not to mention that there is so much to watch on television right now.”
Bliss is on Amazon Prime from Friday. Read our critic’s verdict here