THE START: After soap-opera success in native Mexico, Hayek (of Lebanese and Mexican heritage) journeyed to Los Angeles in hopes of making it in the big leagues. After venting her frustrations at being limited to small and type-cast roles as a Latina woman during a Spanish-language talk show, director Robert Rodriguez and his producer/wife Elizabeth Avellan became smitten with Hayek and cast her opposite Antonio Banderas in "Desperado" after a series of auditions. She cried during the entire eight-hour shoot of her and Banderas' erotic love scene in the movie, and while explaining this to James Lipton in "Inside The Actors Studio" (below), she credits the editing for making the scene work. The tears paid off, as the role kickstarted her American career; she'd work with Rodriguez again in "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996) with George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino and "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" (2003) opposite Banderas and Johnny Depp.
BIGGEST ASSET: Fiery and feisty, she's got smarts and attitude to match her bombshell-status sex appeal.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: "Frida" (2002), a passion project eight years in the making, is the crowning achievement of Hayek's career. It is no coincidence that her best performance came from working with director Julie Taymor. It earned Hayek Oscar and Golden Globe nominations (she lost both to Nicole Kidman for "The Hours"). Many other nominations have been bestowed upon her; unfortunately among them are Worst Supporting Actress Razzie noms for "Dogma" and "Wild Wild West." Her trio of films with Rodriguez also rank among her best, but her top earners include "Puss in Boots," "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over," "Grown Ups" and "Wild Wild West." Hayek has been ranked twice in People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World list, had a Revlon beauty endorsement, and has a beauty line that sells at CVS. She also appeared in Burger King commercials earlier this year.
MISFIRES: While she's kept up her box office profile, Hayek has mostly served in mainstream supporting roles. As a leading lady, she's worked opposite some great leading men -- Russell Crowe in "Breaking Up" (1997), Pierce Brosnan in "After the Sunset" (2004), Colin Farrell in "Ask the Dusk" (2006) and Jared Leto in "Lonely Hearts" (2006) -- but they all turned out rotten. So did 1997's "Fools Rush In" with Matthew Perry, but Hayek oozed charisma. She's well suited to comedy, where her obvious good looks and sex appeal aren't the only cards to play. The co-star who has brought out the best of Hayek's comedic side is "Bandidas"' Penelope Cruz. Hayek delivered a strong performance in this year's "Americano," but was trapped by a confused script and the cliches that come with playing a stripper. We can thank Oliver Stone for finally casting her as a fierce, domineering matriarch in "Savages," but unfortunately the movie is more laughable than serious.
CAREER ADVICE: Salma, we suspect you're better than you've been allowed to be. We'll take your performance in "Savages" as proof that you're hungry for another chance at an Oscar, but be careful which vehicles you choose to get you there.