In Hollywood no one flinches at making movies about murder, global annihilation or zombie cannibalism, but one subject strikes fear into the hearts of producers and directors: menopause. So, when Salma Hayek was asked to reprise the role of Sonia, wife to a hit man (Samuel L. Jackson), in a film that focused on her story, she had one condition: Her character had to be on intimate terms with the hot flashes and mood swings known to women in their 40s and 50s.
“When I was going through menopause myself, I wondered, How come nobody talks about this in the movies?” says Hayek, 55, with a chuckle. The outspoken Latina star got her way. Her black-leather-clad, gun-toting badass in Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard cusses like a stevedore and wields a machine gun with one hand. But Sonia also grapples with the midlife issues of how a woman’s body changes with time and what that means. The film, last summer’s loud and raucous shoot-’em-up, is additionally, Hayek says, “a love story about staying in love, not just falling in love.” To put a finer point on it, she asks, “How do you adapt your love to the different versions of yourself as you go through time?”
Time has been kind to Hayek, but she has fought for everything she has attained. Her career, launched in Mexico and then established, in spite of challenges, in Hollywood, has brought her to a place where she can call the shots as an actress, producer and director. Speaking over Zoom from Los Angeles in July, she wears chunky black-framed glasses. Beneath her cascade of black hair, there is an openness about Hayek, an apparent comfort with who she is at this stage in her life: a wife, a mother, founder of her own production company and a skilled actor still in demand.
But then she came close to losing it all. Hayek revealed in May that she nearly died last year of COVID-19. She caught the disease early in the pandemic and spent seven weeks in isolation and long months recuperating. “It was very scary,” she says. Although it wasn’t the first time in Hayek’s life that she had contemplated her mortality, she explains that “this time it was different, just because it was a shared experience. I remember thinking about all the people who were going through the same thing at the same time.”
Hayek says she was grateful for the support of her family — husband François-Henri Pinault; daughter Valentina, 14; and stepchildren François, Mathilde and Augustin. “I realized that we are so fragile, not just as individuals but collectively. I was thinking more about the global experience than about my own personal mortality, because this is what a pandemic forces you to do.”
Enriched by different cultures
Hayek grew up in Veracruz, Mexico, the daughter of an opera singer with Spanish roots and an oil-company executive of Lebanese heritage. It was a privileged existence in many ways. “I grew up very enriched by different cultures, even within my own country,” she says. “And, obviously, within my own family.”