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Salma Hayek Pinault Interviewed By Best Friend and Cinema Legend Penélope Cruz

She might have felt displaced most of her life, but Salma Hayek Pinault is prouder than ever of being Arab. In conversation with best friend and cinema legend Penélope Cruz, she reveals how she rose to international fame, the blessings of motherhood, and that secret episode when their plane almost crashed…

Dress, Gucci; necklace, ring, Boucheron. Photo: Cuneyt Akeroglu

In the make-believe world of Hollywood, some stars shine with real sparkle. In Salma Hayek Pinault’s case, her realness is as solid as her acting career, which started back in 1988, and which saw her go on to earn leading roles in more than 80 movies, from blockbuster action stories to award-winning biopics. While we are used to seeing the actor fully glammed on the world’s most exciting red carpets and fashion show front rows – side by side with husband and Kering mogul François Henri Pinault – she looks equally cool as she turns on her Zoom to chat with her best friend of more than 20 years, Penélope Cruz. It’s morning in Los Angeles, and Hayek is wearing big glasses and no make-up, and is sipping a green juice. “Call me when you get to your friend’s house, and don’t forget to wear a jacket,” she says, interrupting the conversation to speak to her teenage daughter, Valentina, standing behind the computer screen. This is the real Salma Hayek Pinault: a cinema icon, but also a family woman.

Salma Hayek Pinault with her father, Sami Hayek Domínguez

Born in Mexico but the daughter of a Lebanese descendent father from Baabdat, Hayek is proud of her Arab origins, and fully committed to this cover shoot. While she wore brands such as Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, she was also excited and proud to showcase Lebanese designers Nicolas Jebran and Rami Kadi. “You grow up thinking you have a home you’ve never met, and it’s a strange sensation,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve been the same since I visited Lebanon.”

TikTok Exclusive: Watch Salma Hayek Pinault’s Complete Beauty Evolution Here

salma hayek penélope cruz

Salma Hayek Pinault and Penélope Cruz at the 2000 Academy Awards. Photo: Getty

Penélope Cruz What do you remember from the first time that we met? Did you know straight away that we were going to be friends for life?
Salma Hayek Pinault We had some connections through people we both knew. And you were dating one of my friends in Spain, and I had been watching your films. The Spanish press asked me who I would like to work with, and I said, Penélope Cruz. Your father watched one of the interviews and called you and you found my number and called me directly. We started talking and you were supposed to come to Los Angeles to do auditions and meet agents. We were starting out in our careers, and I said why don’t you just stay in my house? I can come and pick you up at the airport. I went to pick you up and I remember the first time I saw you, we smiled. And it’s been more than 20 years of a solid friendship. We clicked instantaneously. It felt like we had known each other for a lifetime.

Dress, Elie Saab; headband, Boucheron. Photo: Cuneyt Akeroglu

PC How did you first become interested in acting? Do you remember the first moment when you thought, “I want to do that.”?
SHP There are a couple of moments. When I was young, I saw the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Of course, it arrived in my little town in Mexico years after it came out in theaters. And I remember thinking, wait a minute, there is this universe where anything is possible… That’s the first thing that attracted me. When I was studying political science in Mexico City, I saw Cinema Paradiso, which made it clear to me that I had this love affair with film, and I realized I want to do that. I didn’t have anyone around me in acting. I graduated from high school at 15 and got into the best college in Mexico. I was doing well in school. But at 18, I dropped out – which my father was not excited about – and I started pursuing acting. He thought I was going to do it for a year or two and go back to school. Instead, I’m still here!

PC How did your family react when you started to become such an acclaimed actor?
SHP I think everybody was shocked. They were surprised. My father let me do it only because I was stubborn. I asked my father, do you believe in destiny? And he said yes. And I said I think my destiny is in film. And he was like, “What? There aren’t even any films in this country!” Everybody looked down on it, even my friends. They thought I was crazy. I think every step of the way, it’s been a surprise for everyone around me and sometimes for me, too. It always seems like something is impossible and then it happens. That’s the story of my life: A collection of impossible tasks.

Dress, Nicolas Jebran. Photo: Cuneyt Akeroglu

PC When you first arrived in Hollywood, did you feel welcomed as a Latina and an Arab woman?
SHP Everybody laughed at me and looked at me like some kind of ridiculous person. But look who’s laughing now. To be honest, I was surprised. As a tourist coming to the US, in a privileged situation, I did not feel discrimination. We were staying in the nice hotels, going to the nice restaurants, so it was different. And then coming here to act, it was like cold water… My brother attended university here, so we could be together. But every time we traveled to the US from Mexico because our name was Arab, and we were coming from Mexico, immigration would pull us in a room for hours. They didn’t understand why we were Mexican and why we had these names.

PC Our work is full of ups and downs. Was there any moment when you thought of giving up?
SHP Many times. Since I was famous in Mexico, I could always go back but I am probably the proudest of not taking that easier road during the hard times. I wanted to do film, and so I protected my dream. It was more important for me to be true to myself than to be successful. I guess this is the key.

PC When you have these doubts, how do you build yourself up?
SHP Now I’m 57 years old, I have a lot of tools. Meditation is my go-to.

salma hayek penélope cruz

Salma Hayek Pinault and Penélope Cruz in Beverly Hills in 2023. Photo: Getty

PC Do you remember the time you asked me to do your hair and makeup for a premiere at your house without lights? At candlelight? I wasn’t that bad!
SHP You were amazing, of course I remember! Everybody was going to this cool event, but I didn’t feel like it. The electricity was out at my house, and I didn’t have a flashlight. And then you showed up and said you’re getting me out of here. And with candlelight, we were able to find pins and you did an updo hairstyle and we did makeup. Thank God I was young and beautiful! [Laughs]

TikTok Exclusive: Watch Salma Hayek Pinault Behind-the-Scenes of the May 2024 Cover Shoot

PC Those are the moments we’ll remember, of connection and friendship.
SHP A great part of my heritage that has been so helpful in my life as a Lebanese woman growing up in Mexico is the importance of community, friendship, and family. In Mexico, we were the outsiders. I’ve always been an immigrant my entire life, I don’t know another experience. I was born in Mexico, so I feel Mexican, but I grew up in a Lebanese community. When you are a Lebanese immigrant, there is a Lebanese community everywhere you go that will extend a hand.

salma hayek penélope cruz

Salma Hayek Pinault and Penélope Cruz in Hollywood in 2006. Photo: Getty

PC Speaking of connection and community – you and I were in a hairy situation on a plane once… What did you learn from the emergency landing we experienced?
SHP You’ve always had a fear of flying and you always give me instructions of what to do if you die in a crash! [Laughs] That day we were together on a flight and the plane had an emergency and had to land in the middle of nowhere in Mexico. I knew it was going to happen because I saw the flight attendant coming out of the cockpit and grabbing oxygen. So, I took your hands and said to you that we’re going to be OK. There is something wrong with the plane, but I need you to calm down. And I was so proud of you because I could see you struggling to calm yourself down. We could do a whole movie about this! And then you said something so beautiful that I will never forget. You said, “I thought maybe we were going to die. But we were going to die together. And we were going to be OK.”

Dress, Rami Kadi. Photo: Cuneyt Akeroglu

PC Do you remember when a producer told us both that we got the same part, but he didn’t know we were so close, and we were telling each other?
SHP Of course. It was hard for people to understand how two women, who on the outside would look like competition, were so close. And we still are! We never lie to each other. When it came to work, we always told each other what we were doing. And we said, OK, we want to get this movie, but if I’m not going to get it, I hope you do. It allowed us to navigate the hypocrisy and fakeness of Hollywood. There were some projects that you wanted more than me and I wanted other ones more than you. We were able to negotiate it. I always call you to work on a character because there is no one else in the world that could understand me better. We have gone through different stages of life together. Dating, trying to have a career, dreaming together, falling in love, getting married, having children. I have had a partner all along for all the stages in life. When I met François, you told me I sounded different when I talked about him. And the same with Javier [Bardem]. I don’t know if I could call you anything other than family.

Photo: Cuneyt Akeroglu

PC Tell me about your bond with your daughter, 16-year-old Valentina.
SHP You are like an Arab mother. We have become a little bit obsessed with motherhood. It’s so important to me, God gave me this incredible blessing. It was not easy for me to have children. I was only able to have one and already that one was a miracle. Eventually, I ended up being blessed with four, including François’ three. It completely changed me. Nothing is more important than my family, my husband, my children, and my brother.

PC As someone in the spotlight, how do you keep things real and raise children in a down-to-earth way?
SHP I have something that helps me a lot: I forget that I’m in the spotlight. The important things in my life are about being a good human and that makes you forget about the image. I also have a great marriage and that helps a lot, because it gives stability even though our lives are big, and we are constantly on the move. My husband and I are natural people, and we are not materialistic. Our values are solid, and our heads are in the right place.

Salma Hayek Pinault with her husband, Kering CEO François-Henri Pinault Photo: Getty

PC Many people know that François is a powerful man in fashion, as he is the CEO of the Kering conglomerate. Did your relationship with him change your relationship with fashion?
SHP You were the fashionista, I didn’t care! I could do it, but I didn’t care. I still don’t. Some of my friends joke and ask, “How did you land this guy?” [Laughs] It did change my relationship with fashion because it gave me an insider’s view on a lot of the interesting parts of fashion, and understanding that this industry is a true form of art. It’s not just about going shopping, which I’m not a big fan of. I have a different appreciation for it, so now I enjoy it more.

TikTok Exclusive: Salma Hayek’s Complete Style Evolution

PC What are the most beautiful and meaningful things about your Arab heritage, especially during these times where so much is happening in the region?
SHP Our community has an almost unmatchable passion for life that is constantly tested. But we have a strong spirit that continues to strive and survive in endless sorrows and disappointments. It’s almost because you are confronted with death consistently, you value every little moment of life. It’s also a place where I draw strength from when I’m down. In the US, you see how easy it is to throw away food or how everything is pre-made. For us Arabs, to cook and eat together as a family is a blessing. I try to teach my kids simple things like that, about the blessings of small, precious moments.

Salma Hayek Pinault at a press confernence in Beirut. Photo: Getty

PC You visited Lebanon for the first time in 2015, when you co-produced an animated film based on The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. What was that like?
SHP I cried the entire time! I went to refugee camps, to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, to street food vendors, and to Gibran’s village… I ran into so many people in the street and felt so loved. My father, while he was with family and friends in a restaurant, suddenly began to cry too. We asked him if he was OK, and he just started singing the national anthem in Arabic. He had forgotten the language but remembered every word. You grow up thinking you have a home you’ve never met, and it’s a strange sensation. I don’t think I’ve been the same since I visited Lebanon.

PC Can you share your plans of being a director?
SHP Let’s see what happens! Let’s hope that one day I do it, but it is going to be the right way with the right project. It’s going to be something strange and original, not a typical movie. I have two projects right now but because they are original, it’s not easy to pull together. But I won’t settle for less.

Dress, Rami Kadi. Photo: Cuneyt Akeroglu

Watch Salma Hayek Pinault behind the scenes of the May 2024 cover shoot here.

Originally published in the May 2024 issue of Vogue Arabia

Style: Amine Jreissati
Fashion editor: Natalie Westernoff
Hair: Miguel Pérez
Makeup: Sofia Schwarzkopf-Tilbury
Nails: Kate Williamson
Digital technician: Alex Dow
Producer: Danson Productions
Photography assistant: Okus Milsom
Social media assistant: Tara Alsabban
Fashion assistant: Alexander Retnik 

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