Salma Hayek: Big roles still elusive as hot year continues with 'The Hitman's Bodyguard'

·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
Salma Hayek in “The Hitman's Bodyguard.” (Lionsgate)
Salma Hayek in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.” (Lionsgate)

Two years ago, Salma Hayek bemoaned her status with major Hollywood studios, telling the Associated Press, “I think they don’t want me, but I don’t really care.”

Since getting that gripe off her chest, however, there’s no denying Hayek has had a helluva run. The 50-year-old Mexican actress was one of the biggest surprises of the R-rated animated hit Sausage Party, voicing a taco who spoke almost exclusively in sexual innuendo (“I didn’t know I had it in me,” Hayek told us recently.)

Then 2017 started. At Sundance in January, Hayek received her best reviews since her Oscar-nominated turn in Frida with Beatriz at Dinner, a Trump-era immigration debate wrapped in a dinner party ensemble drama. In April, she appeared in the comedy How to Be a Latin Lover, which took down Tom Hanks’s The Circle at the box office. And this month, she manages to steal some of the best moments from rival scene-chewers Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson in the new action-comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

In other words, Hayek has been working at a Sam Jackson-esque pace. “It feels like I every day I’m promoting something,” she told Yahoo Movies at — where else? — a Los Angeles press day for Hitman’s Bodyguard, which stars Reynolds as “an executive protection agent” assigned to transport a notorious marksman (Jackson) to The Hague to testify against a genocidal Belarusian leader (Gary Oldman). “The good news is that at least I’m proud of the things I’m promoting because it can get exhausting. Sometimes I get confused. I remember at some point I was in New York doing something for Latin Lover but then we were getting ready to do something for Beatriz, and I was like, ‘OK, which character am I talking about?'”

That doesn’t mean the major studios are suddenly knocking down her door. Of her three releases this year, Beatriz was independently produced before being acquired by the distributor Roadside Attractions at Sundance, and both Latin Lover and Bodyguard are from the mid-major studio Lionsgate. The opportunities came about organically, too: Beatriz came to fruition a after a collaboration with director Miguel Arteta (whom Hayek worked with on Ugly Betty) was passed on by a studio, and Latin Lover came from Hayek’s 20-year relationship with writer-star Eugenio Derbez (Instructions Not Included). “All of these people are people I’ve worked with before,” she said. “It’s not like all of a sudden people I didn’t know started calling me or people that didn’t call me before started calling me — no.”

Salma Hayek, left, and Samuel L. Jackson in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.” (Jack English/Lionsgate via AP)
Salma Hayek, left, and Samuel L. Jackson in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.” (Jack English/Lionsgate via AP)

For Bodyguard, Hayek had a previous connection to one of its producers — and one of its stars’ other halves. “I’m really good friends with Ryan’s wife [Blake Lively], so Ryan was like, ‘You have to come do this!'” Hayek explained. Her scenes were shot in London, where the actress resides with her business-tycoon husband, François-Henri Pinault. “But what really attracted me to it is that I love Sam Jackson, I love the script, I really like the director [Patrick Hughes], and they kind of gave me carte blanche to do whatever I wanted with the part.”

What Hayek does with the part is a thing of beauty. The actress goes against type as Sonia Kincaid, the incarcerated wife of Jackson’s Darius Kincaid. Sonia is a sardonic, steely-eyed, sailor-mouthed firebrand who regularly berates her stone-cold killer of a husband and makes her cellmate stand facing a corner like she’s under the trance of Blair Witch.

In a nice countermeasure to Hollywood’s nasty habit of whitewashing; the Kincaids were originally written to be Irish before Jackson and Hayek were cast.

“He’s always cool and relaxed, and doesn’t engage in any of the drama,” Hayek said about working with her on-screen husband. “He’s really easy to work with and very pleasant to be around. [He] has no temper” — unlike his character, who drops an inordinate number of the actor’s trademark “muthaf–kas.” Asked if Jackson drops them casually behind the scenes as well, Hayek cracked: “I think you have to pay him a lot of money now to get him to say that. I think he saves it for when the cash comes in.”

Hayek gets in on the action, and the profanity, in Bodyguard, which makes sense: She’s in the prolific “Sam Jackson period” of her life.

As for whether the roles will become more prominent, Hayek might just have to write them herself. It took her eight years to get Frida off the ground. And she has another passion project she’s now writing (and wants to direct) that has been simmering in her head for 13 years. “You will see,” she teases vaguely when asked if she can say anything about it.

We do know it’s one she won’t get confused about promoting.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard opens Friday.

Watch our full Role Recall interview with Salma Hayek:

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