Just in case you didn’t already hate Salma Hayek for being beautiful and brainy and bodacious, here’s another reason: Even when she’s suffering from a bad cold and fever that force her to be interviewed while lying on a hotel-room couch, Hayek still looks glamorous enough to be walking the red carpet.

Stuffy nose and scratchy throat notwithstanding, at least she’s no longer exhibiting early symptoms of cubagoodingitis, the dreaded Hollywood disease that causes some Oscar-nominated actors to suddenly start making bad script choices.

Hayek scored a Best Actress nod for the 2002 biopic Frida. Since then, she’s had cameos in such forgettable fluff as Spy Kids 3-D and Once Upon a Time in Mexico and co-starred in the lightweight 2004 heist movie After the Sunset, opposite Pierce Brosnan.

But Hayek’s latest film boasts an impressive literary and Hollywood pedigree. In Ask the Dust, based on the book by cult novelist John Fante, the actress shares the screen with Colin Farrell in a doomed love story written and is directed by Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne.

Against a backdrop of Depression-era bigotry toward Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles, Hayek is Camilla Lopez, a fiery waitress who falls for a struggling Italian-American writer played by Farrell.

“It’s very hard for me to find characters that are so complex,” says Hayek. “But she inspires me because she’s a survivor and she’s so strong and so feisty.

Hayek says the role meant so much to her that she was willing to do a full-frontal, albeit brief, nude scene in which both she and Farrell go starkers on a beach at night.

“I don’t want to do nudity just for the sake of doing nudity,” says Hayek.

“But this is an iconic part of the story [from] the book. It’s important because it represents [Camilla’s] spirit, which is very free, and yet she lives in a world where she’s very repressed by the circumstances. So [the nudity is] almost symbolic for who she is.”

While doing the scene may have been difficult – “For one thing, it was very cold when we filmed in the water” – she says working with the notorious bad-boy actor was a breeze.

“Colin was wonderful,” recalls Hayek. “I went into this project worried about his reputation. I didn’t know if he was good enough for the part, I didn’t know if he was going to be a flake, know his lines, be there on time or take his work seriously. So I had my reservations – and I was wrong.”

“He was committed and generous,” says Hayek. “Slowly, he won me over. He was very respectful of me as a woman and an actress.”

It took a while, but Hayek was earning respect from Hollywood even before she made a unibrow sexy in Frida – which she also produced.

The actress was a huge telenovela star in Mexico when she suddenly moved to L.A. in the early ‘90s in a bid to break into films.

Limited by a thick accent and no connections, she jumped back and forth from Mexican films to small roles in sitcoms, until director Robert Rodriguez cast her in 1995’s South-of-the-Border shoot-‘em-up Desperado. But Hayek’s career really took off after a small but oh-so-memorable part in another Rodriguez film, From Dusk Till Dawn.

Hayek started adding hyphens to her resume when she produced and starred in the 2001 Showtime movie In the Time of the Butterflies. She made her directorial debut with The Maldonado Miracle in 2003. Though she’s always up for a challenge as an actress, Hayek’s passion is working behind the camera.

“I do love directing,” says Hayek. “I’m picky with it. I’m writing something now that God knows how long it is going to take me to finish, and God knows if it’s going to be good enough for me to direct. But I’m trying, because in order to direct I am going into writing. So let’s see how this experiment turns out.”

Beautiful, bodacious and brainy, no doubt.

© 2006, New York Daily News.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Ask the Dust is currently in theatres.