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Salma Hayek Improvised Her "From Dusk Till Dawn" Striptease: "They Just Threw Me on the Stage"

The actor faced a serious fear of snakes to dance with one in the 1996 horror movie.

Few things sound more intimidating than dancing on stage in a bikini and in front of an entire film crew while holding a snake, but Salma Hayek managed to get through it just fine. In 1996, the actor appeared in the movie From Dusk Till Dawn as a vampire stripper named Santánico Pandemonium. She was already a star in Mexico, but the action-horror film premiered just as Hayek was breaking out in the U.S.

In a new interview with British GQ, Hayek revealed that she was given no choreography for the scene, which meant that she had to do some research and come up with her moves herself—and all while managing her very real fear of the snake around her shoulders. Read on to see what she had to say about the terrifying job.

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Hayek wasn't given much direction.

Salma Hayek in "From Dusk Till Dawn"
Miramax Films

In From Dusk Till Dawn, Santánico is a stripper at a bar that George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino's characters visit. And they soon learn that everyone working in the bar is a vampire. In one scene, Santánico performs while wearing a cape, then removes it and dances in a bikini while carrying a python.

"They just kind of threw me on the stage with the snake, put the music on and said, 'Hey, dance!'" Hayek told GQ. Director Robert Rodriguez told her that there wasn't any choreography to learn, but that she could do her own research at a strip club.

"I was feeling insecure [and] just wanted to get through it," the 56-year-old star explained. "It was a really small part but to my surprise people really remember that moment."

She told someone was waiting in the wings for her role.

Salma Hayek at the 1997 Independent Spirit Awards
Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In 2017, Hayek told Yahoo! that writer Tarantino informed her that another star would have to take her part if she was too scared to film the scene.

"Quentin told me, 'Oh, by the way, you're dancing with a snake.' I said, 'I can't do that, I can't do that. It's my greatest fear.' He said, well, Madonna will do it, I already talked to her, and she's willing to dance with the snake.'"

Hayek said she was cast in the film after appearing briefly as a stripper in one of Rodriguez's other projects as a favor to him. Then, Tarantino wrote the From Dusk Till Dawn role for her. "Where, of course, he makes me dance only for him," the actor said of the part of the performance where she gets up close with Tarantino's character. "George Clooney was like, 'How come she doesn't look at us?' [Quentin said], 'Because I'm the writer,'" she recalled.

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She had to go into a "trance" to get through the scene.

Salma Hayek at the LACMA Art+Film Gala in 2022
Tinseltown / Shutterstock

Hayek chose to face her fear, though she's admitted that she disassociated during the scene.

"It was good because I had to overcome my greatest fear," the Magic Mike's Last Dance star told Yahoo!. "I had to go [into a] trance to do the dance. And it was improvised. The dance is improvised. And there was no choreographer, nothing. Because you cannot choreograph the snake, we don't know what she's going to do!"

The snake was not in the script.

Salma Hayek at the GQ Men of the Year Awards 2022
Fred Duval / Shutterstock

In an interview with E! News in 2021, Hayek shared one of the ways she got into a state of mind to be able to dance with the snake.

"I have a phobia," she said. "It was not on the script. I agreed to the movie and then, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino decided that the dance is with the snake on me."

The actor said she decided to go through with it because "frankly, [she] really needed to pay the rent."

Hayek did some research—and not just at a strip club—that helped her through it. "In some cultures, the snake represented—I started doing research—your inner power," she explained. "And my whole thing that I brainwashed myself into doing this was about dancing with my own inner power."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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