Salma Hayek had quite the career in Mexican film before she broke out on the Hollywood scene with Robert Rodriguez’s 1995 Desperado, an action movie starring Antonio Banderas and then relatively unknown Hayek. It was Rodriguez’s project, however, that marked Hayek’s first time shooting a sex scene (which the project hadn’t originally mentioned when she signed up for the role). Opening up about her experience on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, Hayek now admits that the experience was “really, really hard” for her. And while she doesn’t blame her co-star or director for going through with it, we kind of do — especially since this isn’t the first story like Hayek’s we’ve heard from other actresses.
Hayek started talking about her on-set experience shooting Desperado‘s love scene with a telling comment: “Oh God,” she says. “I’m going to be in trouble.” Then she dives in.
“The love scene was not in the script. It was demanded by the studio when they saw the chemistry. And I had a really, really hard time with it,” she says. “I had never done anything like that so when we were going to start shooting, I started to sob, saying ‘I don’t know that I can do it. I don’t know that I can do it. I’m afraid. I’m afraid.'”
Director Rodriguez was the one to “discover” Hayek and champion her onto the American film scene — so despite her close friendship with both Rodriguez and his wife Elizabeth, there was a pressure to perform and prove her success in this new sphere.
“I was not letting go of the towel,” she said. “They would try to make me laugh and take it off for two seconds and then I would start crying again. But we got through it. We did the best with what we could do at the time.”
While Hayek remembers being “embarrassed” about her crying at the time, she admits she still can’t see the scene and remember anything but the unpleasantness of that day — and we’re thinking it’s Banderas and Rodriguez who should be embarrassed for not having taken a moment, read the room, and opted to call it. Sure, that may have been the studio’s call: and if they were the ones telling a shaking, sobbing Salma Hayek that she needed to drop the towel, we’re perfectly happy to hold them responsible too.
The towel detail in particular recalls a 2019 revelation from Emilia Clarke on this same podcast, describing her experience on the Game of Thrones set shooting naked scenes as Daenerys Targaryen.
“I’ve had fights on set before where I’m like, ‘No, the sheet stays up,’” Clarke said at the time.”And they’re like, ‘You don’t wanna disappoint your Game of Thrones fans.’ And I’m like, ‘F*** you.’”
Yes, Emilia! But Clarke only got to the point where she could say “f**k you” because of the times that she didn’t, the times when she held her tongue and suffered and hoped she would one day have enough power to say “no.” In Desperado and certainly in Game of Thrones, showing a naked woman was not the artistic key holding the piece together. It was an artistic choice, and one that favored an audience’s (or director’s, or producer’s) reliable interest in nudity over the sense of safety of the women contracted to play the role.
Hopefully, the rise in women behind the camera as well as in front of it will lead to an organic drop in women emerging from sets feeling anywhere from embarrassed to terrorized, as so many seem to describe their experiences on male sets (take Keira Knightley’s recent decree that she won’t film sex scenes with men on set anymore). But it’s absolutely shameful that a film would need a female director for someone on set to step in and say, hey, stop badgering this crying woman into taking her clothes off. It’s not behavior we’d accept anywhere else; we shouldn’t really accept it on film sets either.
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Before you go, click here to see actors who have spoken out about pressure to get naked for a role.