Salma Hayek stated, on more than one occasion, that she had to be hypnotized filming Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Down due to her ophidiophobia—an extreme, overwhelming fear of snakes. It’s a rather interesting thing to say, considering her brief but iconic performance in one of Tarantino’s most recognizable releases. You can check out her performance in the video above.
“Quentin told me, ‘Oh by the way you’re dancing with the snake.’ I said, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it. It’s my, my greatest fear’ and he said, ‘Well Madonna would do it. Yeah, I already talked to her and she’s willing to dance with the snake.’”Salma Hayek speaking with Yahoo Recall
The video above contains one of the most legendary scenes in cinematic history. However, there’s more to the whole scene than Salma Hayek’s show-stopping dance. According to Hayek herself, she protested dancing with the snake due to her overwhelming fear of snakes, but when Tarantino told her that Madonna was also interested in the part and didn’t have issues dancing with the python, Hayek pushed through her fear. She performed admirably, though, as she says, in a trance-like state, and still has little memory of actually filming the scene.
“And it was good because I had to overcome my greatest fear I had to go on trance to the dance and it was improvised, the dance is improvised because there was no choreographer, nothing because you cannot choreograph a snake.”Salma Hayek
The best thing about the scene is that neither the scene nor the dance was fully scripted. The script didn’t mention dancing with the snake, to which Hayek initially protested. But when she eventually accepted to perform, she came up with the entire choreography for the dance scene on the fly. Nearly the whole performance was essentially improvised because, according to Salma Hayek, it would be impossible to rehearse with a snake. Instead, she was instructed by the staff to “feel” the music for the scene.
As mentioned above, the scene originates from the original From Dusk Till Dawn film, which also gave George Clooney a first major leading role—propelling his career into outer space, and in a good way, too. In the movie, both Clooney and Tarantino’s characters are hiding at a bar, and at one point, Salma Hayek’s character, Santanico Pandemonium, enters the stage and starts dancing with a large Albino Burmese Python. The performance stops the entire bar dead in its tracks, but the scene goes on to reveal two things: Tarantino has a thing for feet, and the whole bar is full of vampires.
“Frankly, I really needed to pay the rent. In some cultures, the snake represented — I started doing research — your inner power. And my whole thing that I brainwashed myself into doing this was about dancing with my own inner power.”Salma Hayek
The movie was a massive success, and Salma Hayek’s iconic performance, though cut short several minutes after the dance scene, contributed to the movie’s success with the audience. From Dusk Till Down later spawned an entire franchise with both a sequel and a prequel, as well as a TV show that ran for three seasons — the latter two expanded the history of Salma Hayek’s character within the cinematic universe, and greatly expanded on the wider vampire mythology.
This isn’t the only time Salma Hayek overcame one of her biggest fears while preparing for a role. Hayek starred as Ajak in the Eternals, the superhero group’s appointed leader and healer. In the movie, when the group split up, Ajak went on to live in South Dakota on an isolated ranch. The scene in which Hayek rides on a horse seems really seamless on the screen, but it wasn’t so straightforward during filming due to Hayek’s phobia of horse riding—which is actually connected to an incident from her childhood.