Hayek lands a small part in a Mexican soap opera, or telenovela in Spanish, called Nuevo Amanecer (New Dawn). The following year, she lands the title role in the popular telenovela Teresa, which earns her star status in her native country.
Despite her immense popularity in Mexico and her limited fluency in English, an ambitious Hayek moves to L.A. to make it in Hollywood. "I kept thinking, 'I'm famous, but am I good?'" Hayek tells Movieline in 1997. After taking time off to study English and acting with noted teacher Stella Adler, she lands small parts in several sitcoms.
After traveling back to Mexico to star in the award-winning El Callejón de los Milagros ("The Alley of Miracles"), Hayek gets her big break in the U.S. starring opposite Antonio Banderas in the gun-slinging Robert Rodriguez drama Desperado. The role gains the actress a wide audience as well as a longtime friend in Rodriguez.
Hayek continues to raise her profile after landing the role of Santanico Pandemonium, a stripper in the vampire-thriller From Dusk Till Dawn, starring George Clooney, written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez.
Hayek makes PEOPLE's "50 Most Beautiful People" list. An honor she will receive again in 2003. Still, the actress admits to PEOPLE, "sometimes I look in the mirror and scream like the boy in Home Alone."
Hayek scores her first star billing when she pairs up with Friends' star Matthew Perry in the romantic comedy Fools Rush In. The movie grosses a modest $29.2 million in the U.S.
Hayek's beauty becomes an even more bankable commodity when the actress signs a lucrative contract to be a television and magazine spokeswoman for Revlon cosmetics. In 2004, Avon also signs her on for its relaunched makeup and perfume ad campaign.
Hayek, 33, begins dating actor Edward Norton, 30, after their chiropractor sets them up. "He's charming and a great companion for Hayek, because he doesn't try to compete with her," Hayek's pal, television producer Lucy Orozco, tells PEOPLE. The two split in 2003.
Hayek begins to land bigger, more mainstream roles. She costars in Will Smith's big-budget adventure Wild Wild West. Hayek is also cast in a supporting role in the Kevin Smith comedy Dogma, which premieres at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Hayek's Frida, the story of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, premieres. Hayek, who also coproduces the biopic, is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. "[Making a film] is not an easy task for anyone, let alone a Latin American woman who has an accent," her pal and Frida costar MÍa Maestro tells PEOPLE of Hayek, who spent eight years getting the film made. "But she doesn't see those things as an excuse; she uses them to empower her."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): AGENCIA MÉ XICO; DI CROLLALANZA ARALDO/SIPA; JOYCE RUDOLPH/DIMENSION FILMS; FOTO FANTASIES; CALVIN MOORE/KIKA PRESS; MURRAY CLOSE/WARNER BROS.; RUVEN AFANADOR