She knew that Antonio Banderas would be running his hands, his lips, and his tiny boot spurs over her naked thighs the next morning. But Salma Hayek, holed up in a hotel near Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, where most of Desperado was filmed, wasn't quite ready for her close-up. To prep for the big love scene, she'd arranged a bit of room-service depilation. She wound up with the wax job from hell.
''I was screaming from the pain,'' the Mexican-born actress recounts between giggles, luxuriating over her words in an accent that comes across as part Sonia Braga, part Ricky Ricardo. ''These three girls were supposed to be from the best manicure place in the town. It turned out they never waxed a leg before. They only had waxed mustaches.'' Two agonizing hours of hair ripping ensued, but did she so much as grimace when she shot her moment of amor? ''I couldn't let it interfere with my performance,'' purrs Hayek. ''That's all that matters.''
Here's a woman willing to pull up any and all roots for the sake of a big-time American movie career. Hayek, in her mid-20s, could easily have stayed comfy in Mexico, where a solid TV future beckoned once she became an instant star in 1989 in Teresa, a prime-time soap. But the actress longed to make films and didn't see much future in Mexico's impoverished cinema scene. ''Mexicans mostly go see big American movies,'' she declares.
In 1991, Hayek schlepped to L.A. with two suitcases ''like a hippie.'' She improved her English while studying Shakespeare at Stella Adler (she can still summon great swatches of Romeo and Juliet). While landing roles on The Sinbad Show and Dream On, Hayek guested on a Latino talk show when director Robert Rodriguez happened to be channel-surfing. She knocked his finger right off his remote.
''The studio wanted a blond for Desperado,'' says Rodriguez. ''I thought we should have a Latin star play a Latin heroine.'' Now Hayek jokes that Rodriguez has grown rather possessive of her talents: ''Robert would like me to do his movies and no one else's. He tells me, 'Don't go to that audition.''' Too bad for Rodriguez. She's now earning praise for her role as a doomed prostitute in El Callejón de los Milagros, an award-winning Mexican epic directed by Jorge Fons. Next month she teams with Russell Crowe in the drama Breaking Up. But that doesn't mean Hayek has left Rodriguez in the dust. In December she'll appear as a scantily clad vampire in his Tarantino-scripted From Dusk Till Dawn. A major highlight, she promises, will be the moment she digs a spike heel into the chest of ER's George Clooney, who plays a besotted robber. ''I tell him, 'You will eat bugs, you will be my slave,''' she squeals. Salma Hayek is definitely stepping up in the world.