Other small roles followed, mostly on television, but it was an appearance on a Spanish-language cable-access talk show that led to Hayek's big breakthrough. While in the process of planning a sequel to his wildly successful debut film, El Mariachi, Mexican-American director Robert Rodriguez happened to tune in to Hayek's talk show appearance during a fit of late-night channel surfing. Mesmerized by the lovely and engaging actress, Rodriguez wasted no time tracking her down, and soon secured her interest in tackling the female lead in his soon-to-be-produced big-studio debut, Desperado. Rodriguez's financial backers initially resisted his choice of Hayek, but the director won them over by showcasing her in his made-for-cable installment of Showtime's Rebel Highway series, Roadracers. A solid commercial success, Desperado also garnered Hayek rave reviews for her show-stopping, saliva-inducing performance. Despite the fact she was disappointingly underrepresented in her next two outings, in the limp thrillers Fair Game and Fled, Hayek's performances nevertheless provided much-needed zip for both projects, and 1997 found her nicely romantically matched in both Fools Rush In and TNT's adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in which she portrayed Esmerelda to Mandy Patinkin's Quasimodo.

Hayek's film agenda continues to offer a steady diet of roles: She followed her turn in the disco redux 54 with an appearance alongside Will Smith and Kevin Kline in Wild Wild West, and co-starred with Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Rock, Linda Fiorentino, and Alan Rickman in Kevin Smith's Dogma. Through her Ventanarosa production company, she co-produced The Velocity of Gary, an offbeat romantic comedy which teamed her with Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio, and another of her co-productions, the Mexican feature No One Writes to the Colonel, was recently in competition at Cannes. Hayek is currently filming the biopic Frida, in which she tackles a much-coveted portrayal of painter Frida Kahlo.

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