One cool kitty

One cool kitty

One cool kitty

First published in Celebrity Interviews

Salma Hayek is one of the feistiest women in Hollywood, a role she gladly plays up as Kitty Softpaws in Shrek spin-off Puss In Boots, which opens in cinemas on Friday, December 9. The Oscar-nominated Mexican starlet talks about making her animation debut opposite close friend Antonio Banderas and why she had to fight so hard for her career.

By Shereen Low.

If there was ever a poll to find a real-life superwoman, Salma Hayek could well win the title.

From her humble beginnings in Veracruz, Mexico, the 45-year-old has fought hard to get to where she is today - the most famous Latina starlet in Hollywood.

Not content with being an Oscar-nominated actress and award-winning producer, she's also a proud mother-of-one and contented wife to French billionaire and fashion chief Francois-Henri Pinault.

Yet her life, which she had built up so meticulously, could have come crashing down had it had not been for gut instinct.

While recording dialogue for her role in new animated movie Puss In Boots at a studio in Boston, a section of the wall suddenly collapsed.

"I was talking into the mic when all of a sudden, my instincts just told me to run. I didn't know why, but I said my line and then I ran," she recalls, her chocolate-brown eyes blazing.

"Seconds later, boom! The wall came down and crushed the chair I had been sitting on seconds ago. It sounds funny but it was really scary. I think it was like peripheral vision or foresight. If I had not run, it would have been very bad."

Hayek is relieved she can finally joke about the incident now. "After all the stunts I did - to die in the recording studio!" she adds, with a deep laugh.

As we sit in a London hotel, Hayek's fiery eyes, luscious locks and spicy Mexican accent all add to her aura of feistiness.

Dressed in dusky pink and revealing a generous amount of cleavage, it's clear why she was cast as sexy sirens in Desperado and Wild Wild West.

She plays with this sensuality as Kitty Softpaws, a rival to Antonio Banderas's Puss in the Shrek spin-off. And the character isn't miles away from her real-life self. "I am very independent, and I have a great sense of adventure," she says.

Puss In Boots marks Hayek's first foray into animation, but while some people may be quick to point to her four-year-old daughter Valentina as the reason for her decision, she denies this was the case.

"It couldn't have come at a better time because now I have my daughter. She loves it. It was important to do something my daughter could see, but if I didn't have a daughter, I would have still taken the film," she says.

"I've been wanting to do an animation for a long time. This is a great film with a fantastic character - this cat who steals the movie from Shrek, now he has his own movie. I was just so happy to be included and jump aboard that boat.

"Saying that, it's very exciting for my daughter to be on tour with us. She loves being around Antonio. She's in love with Puss."

In the film, Kitty and Puss start out as enemies and then team up for a heist to steal Jack's magic beans. But all the while, Kitty proves her mettle.

"I'm very proud to show this film to my daughter because Kitty isn't a typical fairytale character. It celebrates a woman who is strong and independent, and that's a very important message for children, both boys and girls," says Hayek.

While she now counts herself "an animation expert", her own early experiences with fairytales left her quite traumatised.

"More than inspire me, they sent me to the shrink," she deadpans. "I had a severe depression at the age of six because Bambi's mother dies. It affected me badly, it confronted me with death, so I'm still working on that one."

She then found herself disillusioned after watching Disney films featuring princesses like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.

"Those messed me up because they made you feel a prince was going to come and rescue you and that if you're cute, you don't have to do much in life, which is not true. I had to deal with that one for a long time," she says.

Things changed when she saw the 1971 version of Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder as the sweet-toothed creator.

"That was a redemption because somehow, something clicked in my brain. It made me want to be an actress because I realised there was a place in the world called films where you could go and you have no limitations. So you could say that Gene Wilder and Antonio Banderas changed my life."

Puss In Boots marks the sixth collaboration between Hayek and Banderas, who she first met on Robert Rodriguez's Desperado. They have remained firm friends since then.

"I was so excited to work with Antonio. We started together," she says. "After 18 years of knowing him, working together on all these movies, our relationship is so much fun. There's never a dull moment. Just when you think you're becoming bored of him, he becomes crazier."

There's no doubt their close friendship helped their on-screen chemistry. "Our characters bounce off each other. I know him so well, that even when we weren't together, I could hear what he would be saying," she says.

Hayek loved the relaxed atmosphere in the studio as she could work in pyjamas, not bother with make-up and record her role wherever she was in the world.

"I have worked with Antonio before where we had bruises, cuts, pain, damaged discs in my back and all kinds of things from the crazy stunts on Desperado. It was a miracle we survived!

"When you're 45, being able to have the animated cat jump around and do all the stunts instead was so cool."

Despite being diagnosed as dyslexic in her teens, Hayek's career has gone stellar since its humble beginnings on Mexican TV.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1991, she was soon offered the part in Desperado, which led to roles in From Dusk Till Dawn, Wild Wild West and Traffic. Her performance as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in 2002's Frida, which she also co-produced, won her an Oscar nomination for best actress.

She then branched out, becoming executive producer for award-winning TV series Ugly Betty, CEO of her own Latin-themed film production company, Ventanarosa, and launching her own cosmetics range in the US.

"I was never given any advice, and I did not have someone to influence me. There were no Mexican actresses working in movies on a worldwide stage, you know? You have to figure out where you want to go yourself," she says.

The secret to her superwoman success is being versatile. "At the end of the day, there is no strategy. You need to do the best you can with what you have."

Extra time - Felines on film :: Garfield: Jim Davis's famous cartoon strip made his movie debut in 2004's Garfield: The Movie, with Bill Murray as the puss with cat-titude.

:: Tom: Grey-haired Tom is normally seen with sidekick Jerry in the long-running cartoons, which began in 1940.

:: The Cheshire Cat: The cat with the big grin featured in Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, and was voiced by Stephen Fry in Tim Burton's 2010 version.

:: Hello Kitty: The Japanese cat, created by Sanrio, shows no sign of waning in popularity with even two officially-licensed theme parks.

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