Studio Heads Once Told Salma Hayek Pinault She Would Never Be A Leading Lady

There's no denying that Salma Hayek Pinault is something of a movie star. With roles in incontestably huge films — like Marvel's "Eternals" and, more recently, "Puss In Boots: The Last Wish" — she's enjoyed a varied Hollywood career. But there was a time when the actor's success was far from guaranteed: though she was a bona fide soap opera star when she made the trek from Mexico to the U.S., so much of her innate talent was lost in translation. "I came here thinking I spoke English," Pinault told Oprah in 2003. "Then I came here and realized how truly limited my English was, and it was very scary."

Becoming fluent was nearly "impossible" for Pinault — and once she did overcome the language barrier and her own struggles with dyslexia, there was still the matter of her accent. Pinault was consistently typecast in the early days of her career, either as "the bombshell" or "the help." More often than not, she was sexualized; expected to downplay her intelligence in most of her roles. Naturally, Pinault had an ambition for more substantial stuff, but as she told Vanity Fair that same year, she was rarely considered as the lead:

"I had studio heads say to me, 'You could have been the biggest star in America, but you were born in the wrong country. You can never be a leading lady, because we can't take the risk of you opening your mouth and people thinking of their maids.'"

Fighting for Frida

Salma Hayek Pinault faced "a lot of rejection" in the '90s — even when it came to the roles executives wanted to see her in:

"I got to a point where I was whining all the time. I was miserable. I was desperate. I was going for movies in which I hated the script; I had no respect for the director. And of course I wouldn't get them. Of course not, because I didn't even want to go to the meeting, and I would force myself to go to the meeting and then hate myself every second of it."

Eventually, the actor decided she'd had enough. "I said, 'I'm going to start a company. I am going to create projects for me. I'm going to create projects for other Latin women.'" The first of those projects was "Frida," the 2002 biopic that brought Pinault out of the shadows. Pinault had been fighting to get the film made for nearly eight years. She fought against a modest budget, an abusive producer, and the gaggle of high profile actors — Madonna and Jennifer Lopez among them — that'd also been circling the role. The film went on to score major awards recognition, including a Best Actress nomination for Pinault at the Oscars, Golden Globes, and the BAFTAs. It also more than made up for its $15 million budget, earning a little over $50 million worldwide.

Portraying Frida Kahlo was the role of a lifetime for Pinault — and though it should have cemented her status as a leading lady, she still faced xenophobia and sexism as her career went on. It's been frustrating to watch, especially for her friends and co-stars, like "Frida" actor Alfred Molina. "If Salma were white and male, she'd be bigger than Harvey Weinstein," Molina said in 2003.

Staying power

Salma Hayek Pinault's accent would continue to trip up execs way into the 2010s, but the actor still found ways to play against their expectations. With the 2011 film "Puss In Boots," Pinault — and frequent co-star Antonio Banderas — finally found a role where her accent wouldn't be a problem. "The whole thing was so bizarre, because Antonio and I really struggle because of our accents," Pinault told Yahoo Entertainment in 2017. "Nobody wanted to hire us because of our accents. And in this case they hired us because of our voices, [because of] our accents."

Pinault's tenure in Hollywood has been defined by struggle — but she's always gotten the upper hand, even if it takes her years to do so. She was warned against doing comedy in the '90s, but eventually got the last laugh with roles in "Grown Ups" and "Like a Boss." Recently she fulfilled a lifelong dream by starring in "Eternals." It hasn't been easy, but the actor continues to defy the odds. Now, Pinault admits that she feels seen in a way she didn't before. "I'm at a place in my life where I don't think my sexuality is the only thing that's appreciated anymore," she told GQ Hype. "But if it was, I wouldn't care, because I've built enough respect around me from the people that really matter that I feel seen beyond that."