“Looking back, I realize how big of a risk it was to come to the U.S. in the first place. I could have stayed doing soaps in Mexico — I was doing really well there. But my dream was to do film.”

Salma Hayek
Credit: Salma Hayek in Gucci jacket and skirt. Faris earrings. Pomellato ring (index finger). Rings (ring finger) and heels, her own. Photo by Paul McLean/LGA Management

I shot my first InStyle cover when I was 29, in 1998. It’s very dear to me because I was the first Latina on a What’s Hot Now issue. What I remember most about my 20s is that I didn’t want to be 30. [laughs] In America they used to tell actresses they expired at 30. That’s why I was scared. Now I don’t care about getting older. When I turned 40 and then 50, I didn’t mind at all. I am just so happy that this cover exists as evidence that there was once a time when I could go braless! [laughs] That doesn’t happen anymore.

My second cover was the What’s Sexy Now! issue in September 2003. I was nominated for an Oscar for my performance in Frida at the time. I had to fight for eight years to get Frida off the ground. Nobody wanted to make a story about a Mexican Communist artist with one eyebrow. It was really hard. But I had a vision for it. And I’m proud that I produced it too. There was no “Oh, can I please have a credit?” No, no, no. I made that shit happen.

VIDEO: Salma Hayek Looks Back at Her InStyle Covers

In 2009 I got The Color Issue! It’s ironic. Some magazines in the early 2000s wouldn’t put me on their covers precisely because I was a woman of color. I was also 42. Remember that I was told I would expire at 30? Here I am, 42 years old and still on the cover of magazines. By then I had found the love of my life [French business mogul François-Henri Pinault], I had a child [Valentina], I had gotten a Golden Globe for producing Ugly Betty, and I had won a Daytime Emmy for directing The Maldonado Miracle. Life was great.

The next year I got the What’s Sexy Now! cover ... again. Seven years later, and I was still what’s sexy now! [laughs] That’s so exciting. This cover came out around the time I did Grown Ups with Adam Sandler. My entire career I had wanted to do comedy, but I couldn’t get hired to do it. Adam gave me my first shot. Now it’s part of what has kept me working. There’s nothing I enjoy more than comedy. I have a couple more comedies coming out soon.

My next InStyle cover was in 2012. I remember my friend Jada Pinkett Smith came to that shoot to ask me to direct a music video [“Nada Se Compara”] for her. I had directed the “Te Amo Corazón” video for Prince, who was also a dear friend, in 2005. But Jada’s idea was very difficult. She wanted me to focus on our work with sex trafficking when the song was a love song. Before the photo shoot was over, though, she convinced me to do it. And I was shooting it four days later.

I’ve been an activist for women for more than 25 years. A long time ago it was not a popular thing to do. It was hard to raise money or to get anything done. Things have changed a lot for women in Hollywood since then. We are still getting paid less than men by a lot. But it’s getting better little by little. Now, at 53, I’m getting to play the best parts of my life.

Looking back at my career, I realize how big of a risk it was to come to the United States in the first place and start again as an actress. I could have stayed doing soaps in Mexico — I was doing really well there. But my dream was to do film. And I’m a big risk-taker. I’ve learned that when you have clarity about what you really want in life and you commit to giving it your best, things usually work out for you in the end.

How I'd describe myself in three words:
In 1998: Excited, Grateful, Fearful
Today: Excited, Grateful, Fearless

Photographed by Paul McLean on June 11 in London. Styling: Nicky Yates for The Wall Group. Hair: Miguel Perez for The Wall Group. Makeup: Alesandra Macsim for Charlotte Tilbury. Manicure: Lucie Pickavance for Caren Co. Location: The Ned Hotel, London.