Opinion | Sexy, goofy — blisteringly intelligent — Salma Hayek’s earned Hollywood, Gucci and words of inspiration

I get a kick out of Salma Hayek.

I always have.

I like her spirit. I like her va va voom. I like her particular brand of goof, belied by a blistering intelligence — something I have been thinking about as she travelled the publicity trail, recently, for her part in the new movie “House of Gucci,” and also received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, just days ago. I defer, always, to what Oprah said about her during a particularly expansive interview with the actress on her show, early on her career, when she called her the smartest celeb she had ever met (I never forgot that), and something Oprah reinforced when she wrote, in O Magazine, “she’s 36 now and carries the wisdom of each year in her soul. She’s a woman who has paid attention to her life.”

Even when Hayek was still in her “sexy Latin girl” phase — preserved in a honey-pot of Hollywood typecasting during the 1990s — I remember thinking: she is one of those women who is going to be even more fabulous, and fabulously wise, when she is older (much like the vibe I have long had re: Sharon Stone, who I think gets more interesting as she ages, and will be positively diva-licious when she hits her 70s and 80s!).

So, anyway, this has been the lens through which I’ve peered at Salma: the Lebanese-Mexican actress who graduated from high school at 15, who then grabbed fame early in her native Mexico as a breakout star in a telenovela, and later left it all at the height of it to try and make it to L.A., even though she barely spoke the language. Parts came flooding in after she was cast in Robert Rodriguez’s “Desperado,” putting her on a certain track (see, again, that “sexy Latin girl” thing), but then really showed her grit when she set up her own production company (later, bringing “Ugly Betty” to the airwaves) and pulling off her 2002 passion project, “Frida” (both star and producer of), about her idol, Frida Kahlo.

The biopic brought her an Oscar nom, and while she has never stopped working, it was her metamorphosis, next, in her private life, that truly fascinated: she made it in America, wed one of France’s richest men (and, indeed, the world’s) François-Henri Pinault. The man who is the chairman and chief executive of Kering, which owns some of the biggest luxury brands in the world, including Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen … and, well, Gucci.

Yup … as in “House of.” For all the hoopla we have seen around Lady Gaga in the new Ridley Scott flick, a film that reads like “Dynasty” meets “The Godfather” — a “trashtacular” telling of fashion and murder and betrayal, as some have called it — it has gone somewhat under-reported that Salma is in a movie which the Gucci family itself has universally condemned, but is about a company that her own husband now owns (the family lost control in the 90s!). A soap opera unto itself.

In the movie, for the record: Hayek plays Giuseppina “Pina” Auriemma, who was the psychic friend of Patrizia Reggiani. The latter, played by Gaga, was infamously tried and convicted of orchestrating the assassination of Maurizio Gucci, her ex-husband and former head of Gucci, a.k.a. the grandson of company founder Guccio Gucci.

“Gucci is not supporting the movie, but it is not not supporting the movie either,” a fashion insider in New York told me the other day, summing up the m.o. that the mega-fashion brand seems to have been taking. Keeping an arm’s length, in some ways (it would appear unseemly given the lurid history of Gucci), but also very aware that you cannot buy this kind of publicity (not since “The Devil Wears Prada” has a fashion brand had this kind of free publicity, no matter the reviews of the film!).

I have been reading the tea leaves, and this is what I have decoded: Gucci did give Ridley access to its archives, for the purposes of wardrobe and props. Moreover, it did post about the movie, at least once, putting up an image from the shoot on its Instagram, last year, when the movie was filming outside the Gucci flagship, in Rome, on Via dei Condotti. Also this: Gaga herself wore Gucci to the London premiere of the film (although, notably, she has not reserved herself to the brand, having also turned up in Versace and Armani Prive during other PR whistle-stops!).

Then there is Jared Leto, also in the movie playing another Gucci heir, Paolo. Leto is a long-time Gucci ambassador, some might remember — although he did go out of his way to tell me Gucci, the brand, is not involved with Gucci, the movie, when I interviewed him a few months back.

But it is the Salma connection that is the biggest curiosity. In an interview with ExtraTV recently, she confirmed that her husband did give her “insight” into the story — and company — and also clarified some questions that Gaga had passed on via Salma.

Starring in not just one, but two, big movies right now (the 55-year-old also is in the Marvel film “Eternals”), Hayek took one for the team when she cinched her star this week, in Hollywood, as I mentioned. At the ceremony to unveil the honour, it was a family affair: Pinault on hand to fete his wife; their teenage daughter, Valentina, also there to cheer her on. House of Gucci, indeed.

Speaking at the event — while relating some stories of the racism she encountered when trying to break into the industry as a young woman, including here on Hollywood Boulevard, where she was once threatened with a knife — Hayek told the crowd: “Find something to love, because the one thing that I stayed for was for the love of cinema,” she said.

“Try to be better. Try to find the joy in what you do,” she went on. “Work hard. Prepare. Don’t care what anybody says. But most importantly, don’t listen to yourself when you bring yourself down.”

Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance contributing columnist covering culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani

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