Salma Hayek is somewhat in shock at the idea she is becoming an action star at the age of 54.
The actress was already a household name in Mexico because of telenovelas when she first broke out in Hollywood in Desperado in 1995, and has since been nominated for an Oscar for her turn as Frida Kahlo in the 2002 film Frida, and had roles in films such as Savages, Grown Ups and Puss In Boots.
But she was amazed when she was told the sequel to the 2017 action comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard, in which she only appeared for a couple of minutes, would put her at the centre of the frame, going toe-to-toe with Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson.
“I was super surprised,” she admits frankly. “Especially because there were all these things that I did in my career where I was the favourite character or one of the favourite characters and I never had a call back, not just for another film, but not even the studio would call me for another movie. They would call me, super shocked, and say, ‘Oh, my God, they loved you’, but then they wouldn’t offer me anything.
“So when the first the movie came out they told me ‘Oh, my God, they loved you.’ And even my manager said, ‘Yeah, we get that all the time, it makes no difference.’ And all of a sudden, here we are.”
In The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard she reprises her role as the infamous international con artist Sonia Kincaid, the volatile wife of Jackson’s deadly hitman Darius Kincaid. While the first film was essentially a two-hander between Reynolds, as the bodyguard of the title, and Jackson, the sequel expands the deadly duo to a trio as they get in over their heads in a sinister global plot. But the capers are also accompanied by Sonia’s growing desire to become a mother, despite the fact she is facing menopause.
“I do think women are valued in a different way now than they were before,” Hayek says. “I was very lucky to have a director that really did something about it, that went with it. And I was also extra lucky because I was included in the process of the second movie and I thought that was very generous, but also very smart, because the problem with action films is it’s mostly men who do them.
“And for my first film I was invited to participate in the creation of the character and now I was also invited to participate in the creation of the character in her involvement in that universe. And I was heard. Of course there were some things that they were like, ‘Really? Are you sure we should go in this direction? It’s an action comedy, is dealing with menopause something that people are going to find funny or interesting?’
“But they listened. They went with it and I think we managed to do a character that, even though she is an action character, she’s still very much a woman. It’s not like a woman trying to be a man, she isn’t trying to be a man at all.”
Putting a woman facing menopause in the centre of an action caper felt quietly revolutionary, but also gave Hayek the chance to team Sonia’s surging hormones with her itchy trigger-finger.
“I think it’s going to be really liberating because out of all the changes we have accomplished for women, the stigma that is maybe the slowest one to change is the discrimination of age. And so as an homage to that, my character goes ballistic every time somebody is disrespectful about it.
That is like a freedom, because sometimes we’re not on top of it, but we’re not allowed to get angry about it, but Sonia is.”
And this isn’t the only action film she has in the works. Later this year she will make a foray into the world of superheroes, playing the leader of a group of immortals living on earth in the Marvel film Eternals, starring opposite Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden and Kit Harington.
This will be followed by a turn in the drama House Of Gucci, the eagerly anticipated film starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver, in which Hayek plays a clairvoyant who was convicted of helping Patrizia Reggiani orchestrate the killing of her ex-husband Maurizio Gucci, an heir to the Gucci fashion empire.
In a way, Hayek, who is married to Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault, with whom she shares daughter Valentina, 13, is having the kind of career in her 50s that she thought she would have 25 years ago, after her star-making turn in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado, opposite Antonio Banderas.
“The trend was, if you were in a movie that had a specific genre, and it was successful, then they would encapsulate you into that genre for your career. That is normally what happened, but I was not encapsulated much into anything because there were just not that many opportunities and so it didn’t happen that way.
“At the time there were not a lot of parts for women. It happened a little bit, I did Wild Wild West [with Will Smith], always a damsel, but it was more the damsel in distress that sometimes has to fight a little bit here and there, just a little bit.
At that time there were not many action movies with strong females being your own heroes. But it is incredibly surprising that it’s happening now.”
Does this put paid to the idea that work dries up for women when they reach her time of life? “I don’t think I can attribute it just to the change [in Hollywood] because I know a lot of really brilliant actresses, some younger than me, and it’s not happening to them. It’s a real phenomenon, and I kind of attribute it to the fact nothing in my life has ever been normal.
“So that goes for the good and the bad. I’ve had a really strange life, so weird things happened to me, for good and for bad, but in this case for good. It really is pretty strange, but I just love it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is in cinemas from June 18.