Salma Hayek Reflects on ‘Desperado’ Casting: ‘Studio Wanted Cameron Diaz as a Mexican’

Robert Rodriguez wanted to cast Hayek, but the studio forced her to go through the audition process.
Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

This year’s 25th anniversary of Robert Rodriguez’s “Desperado” means it’s also the 25th anniversary of Salma Hayek getting her breakthrough Hollywood role. Hayek was already a major star in Mexico in the early 1990s thanks to her role on the hugely popular telenovela “Teresa.” In an interview with Elle this week, the Oscar-nominated actress reflected on making the jump to Hollywood and the casting process that ensued for “Desperado.”

Hayek got on Rodriguez’s radar after he watched a 1992 interview between the actress and Univision talk show host Paul Rodriguez in which she expressed a desire to increase Latinx representation in Hollywood. Asked by the host why she would risk her career by heading to Hollywood, where it was rare for Latina actresses to be cast in high profile roles, Hayek responded, “I’m going to change it. It’s not normal.” That was enough for Robert Rodriguez to offer Hayek the “Desperado” role of Mexican bookstore owner Carolina.

Despite being Rodriguez’s choice for the role, the studio behind the film (Sony-backed Colombia Pictures) forced the actress to audition as she was an unproven talent in Hollywood. The actress says she was one of many other Latina actresses the studio made audition for “Desperado.” The studio’s interest in landing a high profile actress also exposed the racism within Hollywood that Hayek aimed to get rid of with the role.

“I remember Cameron Diaz was huge at the time and her last name was Diaz, so they said she can be Mexican,” Hayek said. “She was part of the list, and I had to audition again…I’m telling you, the studio wanted Cameron Diaz as a Mexican.”

While the Cameron Diaz incident was an eye-opener (her father’s family is Cuban, not Mexican), Hayek said that just getting in the door for a “Desperado” audition was a big improvement for Hollywood at the time. The actress noted the audition process for “The House of Spirits,” the 1993 film adaptation of Isabel Allende’s novel.

“I begged for an audition. They wouldn’t even give me an audition,” Hayek said. “I was like, ‘Just hear me read.’ And this is for a Latino role. They were not hiring Latinos for Latino roles. They were not hiring Latinos period — unless it was the maid or the prostitute. And that part was not a maid or a prostitute.”

Rodriguez ultimately cast Hayek in “Desperado” and her role catapulted her to Hollywood stardom. Read more about the making of “Desperado” on Elle’s website.

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