The velocity of Salma

Fresh from her fierce on-screen turn as bisexual painter Frida Kahlo, Salma Hayek talks about kissing Ashley Judd, seducing Saffron Burrows, and sharing intimate secrets with Frida’s real-life lesbian love

BY Anne Stockwell

November 26 2002 1:00 AM ET

Appearances being
what they are, you might mistake Salma Hayek for your
basic gorgeous wind-up movie star. You would soon regret
that. The arresting 36-year-old Mexican actor-producer
is a passionate filmmaker with equal parts brains and
cojones. Want convincing? Go see Frida,
which opened in theaters across America in November.
Having waged and won an epic battle to produce the
film, Hayek throws herself into her performance as Frida
Kahlo, the defiant bisexual Mexican artist beloved of gay
women and of enduring spirits everywhere.

“Salma is
one of the most phenomenal women I know,” says
director Julie Taymor, who collaborated with Hayek to
bring Kahlo’s almost unbelievably colorful
world to life. “She deserves so many kudos for her
bravery in this movie, not just for baring her soul
and her body in an unusual way but also for hanging on
to [the project].”

Hayek also hung
on to the project’s true meaning. While some critics
have faulted Frida for softening its
heroine’s harder edges, lesbian and gay
audiences have been cheering the movie’s frank
depiction of her love for women. According to Taymor, the
film’s most popular scene is the sexy tango
between Hayek and Ashley Judd as Kahlo’s friend
(some sources say lover), photographer Tina Modotti.

Frida also offers a truly lesbian legend:
83-year-old singer Chavela Vargas, who was a lover of
Kahlo’s in real life. Vargas plays Death,
singing in a man’s suit in a barroom with a
bottle of mescal. Gloriously androgynous, her voice pure
gravel, Vargas jolts the film from reenactment into
the dimension where Kahlo truly lived.

Because of her
many ills, history tends to remember Kahlo as a victim.
Actually, she was a hell-raiser, as is Hayek. Like Kahlo,
Hayek is of mixed heritage; she’s the daughter
of a Lebanese-born businessman and a Mexican opera
singer. Like Kahlo, Hayek defied family expectations to
seek her remarkable destiny. Discovered after dropping out
of university in Mexico City, Hayek almost overnight
became Mexico’s most popular television star
thanks to her leading role in the telenovela (soap
opera) Teresa.

But Hayek chose
to leave the security of Spanish-language TV and head for
Hollywood. She spent years paying her dues in U.S. movies,
steaming up the scenery in such boy bonanzas as
Desperado, Fled, and Wild, Wild West
and playing fetchingly opposite Matthew Perry in the 1997
romantic comedy Fools Rush In.

All along,
though, Hayek showed a distinct preference for the quirky
(say, Kevin Smith’s Dogma) and even the queer.
In the 1998 indie feature The Velocity of Gary,
Hayek played a woman jockeying for position with the
other man in her bisexual lover’s life. In
2000’s much-admired Time Code, an
ambitious digital project by Mike Figgis, Hayek played
the duplicitous mistress of a studio executive (Jeanne
Tripplehorn), stepping out on the side with a drug-addled
director (Stellan Skarsgård).

On a warm day at
an elegant Los Angeles hotel, I’m conducted upstairs
and ushered into a room where Salma Hayek sits alone
at a table by the wall. On this press junket weekend,
we have 45 minutes and not a minute more. A clock
ticks. We begin.

I went to Frida expecting to see just a hint that she was
bisexual. A kiss, a meaningful look between two
women. I was pleasantly surprised.

I’m so happy you say that because I think
we did very little. I was very concerned that we did
not do enough. It was a tricky thing because we had to
focus on the love story between her and Diego.

I’m surprised you’re saying this.
I know that Frida had very meaningful
relationships with women—meaningful
relationships with women. It’s not that she had
only sexual affairs with women. Especially toward the end of
her life, she fell in love with a couple of women.

Who were they?

Ay. Dios mío. I’m not going to remember
the names. I’m terrible with names. I can tell
you, like, some anecdotes. For example, when Frida had
the accident, one of the reasons she didn’t go back
to school—and this is told to me by Martha
Zamora, a historian who specializes in Frida Kahlo and
has written a couple of books on her—because she was
caught having an affair with the librarian, who was a
woman. And it was a big scandal. She was so young, you
know.

She had a boyfriend then, right?
Yes, which was Alejandro Gomez Arias, and Alejandro
went, “Frida, I can’t believe you did
this to me. Why did you do it?” She was never
apologetic. She said, “Well, that’s just who I
am. I love you, I love you to death, I
will love you for 10 lives. But that’s who I
am.”

Tags: Commentary

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