salma hayek

Salma Hayek Never Expected To Get a Call From Marvel Before Eternals

The iconic actress plays Ajak in Chloé Zhao's superhero ensemble.
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Salma Hayek is a survivor. She’s survived decades of working in the relentlessly sexist and racist entertainment industry, she’s survived repeated harassment and threats from Harvey Weinstein, and most recently, she survived a dangerous case of COVID-19.

Now recuperating from the coronavirus, Hayek continues working, writing, producing, and creating opportunities for herself and those around her. And in just a few months, she’ll be starring as Ajak, the leader of a group of immortals in Chloé Zhao’s highly anticipated film Marvel’s Eternals. At 54, she’s blazing a new trail for actresses of a certain age within the MCU.

In an interview with Variety, Hayek discussed her role in Eternals, saying

“It never crossed my mind to be in a Marvel movie. I guess that I thought that boat had sailed, and it was an absolute shock. All of a sudden, I got a call: “They want to talk to you about a new franchise.” And I was like, “What?” And I said OK, but they don’t tell you any information until you’re on the call. It’s kind of hard to be an action hero if you’re Mexican. It’s really hard to be an action hero if you’re a Mexican and a woman. But to be an action hero, being Mexican, a woman, and my age, it felt like they were punking me. And then the worst part is that I was one of the first people they cast. I had to keep my mouth shut for so many months. I couldn’t tell a soul. And I couldn’t wait for the day that I could say it.”

Hayek came to the gender-swapped role knowing next to nothing about the character, and signed on without reading a script. “I knew the name of my character. But don’t look for it in the comics. When I did look at the comics, I was a man.”

 

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Hayek also discussed the diversity of Eternals, both in front of and behind the camera, saying,

“I think that there are people in power who have wanted this change for a long time. But it takes a lot of elements for it to happen. For example, [Marvel vice president of film production] Victoria Alonso, I cannot love this woman more. She is extraordinary. She was very supportive to all the cast. And when you talk to her, you can see that this was something meaningful to her for a long time. Even [Marvel chief] Kevin Feige was very proud of it. But I was terrified. They tell you you’re going to be in this movie, but they can’t give you a script, and you have to sign the contract. You have to negotiate and sign the contract, and you cannot tell anyone.”

Zhao shared an anecdote of working with Hayek on Eternals, describing a cold, difficult evening during the shoot. When all the actors returned to their trailers, Hayek stayed on set with Zhao. “I think she saw that I was overwhelmed, so she asked me to take a moment with her,” Zhao said. “She got me to sit by her and rest my head on her lap, and she put her earphones over my ears. It was some kind of calming musical soundscape. We just sat there quietly while the hectic scene went on around us. It was the five minutes I really needed in that moment. I remember thinking, this is what Ajak would do with her healing power if she sees one of her Eternals in trouble.”

The article is well worth reading in its entirety, especially for Hayek’s positive outlook on the future. After being denied so many opportunities, she believes that the cultural tide is shifting. In talking about her role in Eternals she said, “It was hard to believe, so when it happens to you it’s important that you pass it on and say, “Yes, it’s happening. It’s really, really happening,” adding that “When people see me, and not just girls, minorities or even short people — anybody — I want them to think even if things don’t look like they can happen, anything can happen. But I don’t want it to be based on you have to suffer a lot and then eventually it’s going to happen. I want it to be based on why not?”

(via Variety, image: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.