When Salma Hayek came to the States, she faced a lot of rejection. “I was rejected over and over, and everybody told me, ‘You will never make it in this town. You’re Mexican, you have an accent,’” she says. Nevertheless, she persisted, and with 2002’s “Frida,” Hayek became the first and only Mexican woman to be nominated in the lead actress category — and the iconic painter remains her biggest artistic inspiration. “I learned that this woman woke up every morning with pain,” says Hayek, who shows an empathetic side in “Beatriz at Dinner.” “[Frida Kahlo] had so many things going against her, and yet she found a will to say, ‘I am my best work of art.’”

Hayek’s first time presenting at the Oscars was a milestone. “Not everybody wanted to give a dress to the new Mexican girl, and I couldn’t afford one, so I was very lucky that Giorgio Armani offered,” says Hayek, who topped the look with a tiara from Cartier. “My publicist begged me: ‘You’re going to be the laughing stock of the town. People don’t wear tiaras!’” But Hayek held her ground — and it paid off. “They became trendy!” she says. “And I got a call from Mick Jagger who said, ‘I loved your look — I loved the tiara,’ and I was very pleased with myself for just doing my own thing.”

The year of her “Frida” nomination is Hayek’s favorite — despite a dress mishap. The day before, she did a final fitting of a sequin Narciso Rodriguez design that’d been embroidered in India. “I bent down to pick up something,” Hayek recalls, “and it ripped right in the middle of my ass!” She set out to find another dress— though they were all taken. “So I was really good friends with another girl that was nominated, Renee Zellweger,” she says. “And this dress was one of her choices that was rejected by her.” That the comfy Carolina Herrera gown came from Zellweger made it even more special: “It felt like a bonding with the other nominee, and I was very happy with my dress.”

Hayek worked with Prada the year she presented with close friend Penelope Cruz. “We think alike, and we have a lot of weird coincidences,” she says. To avoid wearing a similar outfit, the two conferred first on the phone. “So we put all this effort into what we were wearing. … We show up at the Oscars, and we’re wearing the same hair!” Afterward, Hayek went to a party at Prince’s place. “He said, ‘OK, that’s my favorite dress you ever wore.’” she says. “ So I have a special place in my heart for this one.”

“I was not supposed to go to L.A. for this Oscars,” says Hayek, who changed her plans to honor Jeffrey Katzenberg. “So I had like a day again to pick an outfit, and I was so sick.” She’d tried on this dress for a recent occasion, only it hadn’t fit. Optimistically, she tried it again. “And again, it didn’t fit me,” she says. “And I said, ‘Can you redo it in two days?’ And the genius team at Alexander McQueen just made it happen.”

Hayek didn’t originally think this second McQueen dress was spectacular enough. “And then when I tried it on, I loved the femininity and simplicity of it.” Whereas she’d previously sought to make a statement, this move toward simplicity is how she’d define her journey. “I guess I’ve had a good run at using my imagination to do so many things,” she says. “I don’t need to express it solely on the red carpet.”