Eva Mendes came onto to the scene in 2000 and has steadily worked her way into huge blockbuster films with her oozing sex appeal, style and grace, but has also shown Hollywood she’s not just a pretty face with her impressive talent and determination to make it in the business. She co-stars in Columbia Pictures’ new crime-thriller We Own the Night, and ComingSoon.net talked to the sexy star about her new role as well as her upcoming projects, which include Will Eisner’s The Spirit, The Women and Cleaner.
ComingSoon.net: This must have been an irresistible character for you to agree to play.
Eva Mendes: Actually, I said no for a year because I’m a complete idiot and I have a no reflex that I’ve learned just doesn’t work for me. I said no… I’m trying to figure out what it is. I’ve paid a lot of money for therapy, I just don’t understand. It ends up being the things I loved the most in life and the best experiences I have I usually say no to at the beginning.
CS: No doesn’t always mean no.
Mendes: Well…(lots of laughter) that’s cute… that’s cute. At the moment I feel it. You know, there’s conviction it’s like, “no it’s not great.” I first read the script James Gray gave me and I thought, “you know I don’t want to play the girlfriend role.” I’ve been really selective in my career to play like independent women or women who have something to overcome of course, but to not be just the girlfriend ’cause you can fall into that hole so easily. Then he did a few re-writes. He was very persuasive and he just kept at it. He came back to me six months later and the role was a little better but I say like, “no, no, no” and then a year later he came back to me with a more enhanced role and then he said Joaquin Phoenix is definitely playing the role of Bobby and then I go “well, maybe.”
CS: Did the opening scene with Joaquin scare you?
Mendes: Yeah, yeah it definitely… scared is a good word. Yeah, it scared me.
CS: Was that in the first script they gave you?
Mendes: Yeah, and believe it or not that wasn’t one of the reasons I didn’t respond. I just felt like she was too much the girlfriend once the story started unraveling. But we worked on it together and we really came up with something that I thought was really special and real.
CS: It sounds like you know after five minutes if you want that or not. And then you give that person or that situation a chance and then you end up loving it?
Mendes: Exactly and I give it a chance and I read itand stuff then it’s like no. Actually I said no to “Hitch” and I was like I love Will but I want to be a serious actress. I don’t want to do a romantic comedy. I am an idiot. And of course, meeting Will was like one of the highlights of my career and meeting Jada and then that movie, working with Sony, it’s just so funny now.
CS: So now you say yes to everything quickly and then regret it.
Mendes: And then regret it, yeah. Now I have a whole new problem on my hands.
CS: Your character in this movie seems to evolve quite quickly from the first 20 minutes. I think a lot of us had a fixed idea of what this character was going to be like, then she ends up being a lot more self-possessed and articulate than we might have thought. Is that what your initial objections were to the character?
Mendes: A little bit, yeah. I definitely just wanted her to be a different person from when we first meet her. I understand that James wanted her to almost fizzle away in the film, because that’s much more heartbreaking and sad and it’s traumatic for him and stuff so when he thinks he sees me it’s not really me and blah, blah, blah. It was great for the drama, but I just definitely wanted her to evolve somehow. Even in the most minor way, I wanted her to have a journey.
CS: How would you describe that journey?
Mendes: She goes from being so completely in love with this person, and hanging on pretty much his almost every whim and just having him and almost like you know, she’s in her late 20’s yet it’s almost like a love that most of us experience when we’re very young like that 16/17-year-old love where you see a future with this person, you can’t live without this person, you live and breathe this person and I think what happens is she realizes that she does have this strength within her to go on without him and it’s a very mature decision because walking away from somebody that you’re still in love with is to me the hardest thing that one can do. Technically, they’re still in love. He didn’t do anything to her. It’s not like he’s beating her and she has no other choice but to walk away. That’s just a very adult and emotionally mature decision to make, to walk away from someone you’re still in love with just because it’s not right for you. That’s tough.
CS: How was it like working with Joaquin Phoenix?
Mendes: Unbelievable. He is for me my dream co-star in the sense that he was so there for me. He knew that this was my first real dramatic role and experience and him along with James made this the most frightening experience but the most safe as well. I know that sounds really weird but it was almost like I was pushed by both of them every day. I was emotionally just pushed and pushed but yet there was a safety net there, which was really beautiful because I’ve never quite had that experience before. And now I feel just kind of fortunate of course, but I’m kind of irritated at Joaquin because he’s messed it up for all my future co-stars, you know it’s like, “God why did it have to be so good, now I’m going to compare you to Joaquin.” Seriously he’s a dear friend of mine and when you do something for the first time and you have somebody there that’s really holding your hand through it, it’s an amazing feeling.
CS: Do you think you’re going to be even more selective?
Mendes: No, I probably won’t be doing “The Fast and Furious 4,” but I had such a great time doing the second one that actually I love those movies and they serve a purpose and those characters serve a purpose. I don’t think I could do just movies like this because I think they’d take a toll on me because I study religiously and I immerse myself so deeply into it that I feel I need to get stronger legs.
CS: Did they ask you to do “The Fast and Furious 4”?
Mendes: No, they’re not. And I love Neil Moritz, we’re really good friends and stuff so I was just trying to be funny there but it’s more like I love fluff films and stuff like that so it’s not now you’re going to get the serious Eva Mendes. No, I love all of it and I think that’s the fun of being an actor and I think that’s something amazing that a Julianne Moore does very well or a Kate Winslet, so hopefully I can just keep kind of doing different [things].
CS: Did you go to the Studio 54 people and talk to some of the women?
Mendes: Actually what happened was I’m going to drop this name, I’ll pick it up later-I’m friends with Ian Schragger and his family and he’s a lovely man. So what we did is because of that whole world and stuff, Joaquin and I went out with Ian and Ian was very gracious with giving us all these stories and just letting us know how it was really running and that was really interesting actually.
CS: I’ve just seen the DVD of “Knocked Up” and your interview on there – Eva Mendes playing herself and not the most sensitive.
Mendes: No, well it’s always a joke. You don’t really play yourself, when you play yourself it’s boring. Otherwise it just would have been nice and so the point was I’d just go in and we’d …I’m kind of blanking on the director… like my favorite.
Mendes: Apatow, geez like hello! I’m dying to work with Apatow. He called me in and he’s like “ok, you’ve got to really give her a lot of crap, keep telling her no matter where the conversation goes.” It was like all ad lib but he’s like, “keep telling her she’s fat, keep telling her she’s big. Just keep at her, keep at her.” I was like “ok… cool, cool, cool.” So we went at it. It was fun.
CS: Are you sad it was cut because it’s a killer scene and you’re great in it?
Mendes: I’m an actress. I’m sad it was cut, but I understood it. But I was like “oh.”
CS: Are you signing on for anything prior to the strike? Or are you going to take some time off?
Mendes: I don’t know. I definitely don’t want to get caught up in that state that a lot of people are in. I don’t like acting out of fear or paranoia that you’re not going to work so you better get something in because what if it’s not the right thing? So, if something great comes up after “The Spirit,” fantastic.
CS: I think the last time I spoke to you, you were developing your own material.
Mendes: I have a few options on books and I have a couple of scripts and I have to tell you, I thought acting was tough. Being a producer and trying to get something off the ground is heartbreakingly excruciating. It’s the worst. It’s even worse than acting because you feel so passionate about these projects and you go in and you’re selling them. You’re selling something that you love and when the studio doesn’t see it or they don’t get it, you’re just like, “oh my God, what am I going to do?” So it’s like I want to take out a loan and finance it myself but that’s like death. Everybody tells you do not do that. So I’m just kind of learning trial by error and all I know is I have an incredible amount of passion for these certain projects but it’s heartbreaking. When I work with someone like Diane English, it’s both inspiring and daunting because she’s had this script. She’s had “The Women” for 12 years-she’s been trying to get it done. Meg Ryan’s been attached for eight years, so I’m like you know this is not going to work because the point is for me to play theses roles. If we wait 12 years I’m not going to be able to play them and I’d have to cast someone else in it.
CS: The scene in this movie where you go to visit with your boyfriend’s family for the first time, you’re not really accepted and kind of an awkward experience. In your own life was there ever any instance where you were dating someone and either for ethnic reasons or whatever reasons that somebody might have been prejudiced against you?
Mendes: I experienced it when I was younger with a lot of the moms. The dads always liked me. The dad’s were always cool with me. The moms were a little iffy. The moms were like well maybe you know? But to be honest, I’ve experienced it a couple of times but once they gave me a chance they knew that I was, you know.
CS: The prejudice that kind of…
Mendes: Yeah, I think like back in high school absolutely when it wasn’t as cool to be “Latin” you know what I mean? I think a couple of times, yeah definitely.
CS: I have to confess that I was a bit shocked by the sex scene in this movie. Were you asked to tone it down or shoot it in a different way?
Mendes: You know that’s not my job. I would never do that ever, ever step on a director’s toes. It was nerve wracking but it’s just part of the thing. If my character didn’t go to deeply emotional places and then that’s all I was there for was the sex-I would not have done it. I wouldn’t have done the movie, but because it was a journey and because we saw so many different sides of her, I felt this was an accurate portrayal of this person and of their relationship. I understood that this is James’ opening scene and it sets the tone for the entire movie. Was I scared out of my wits? Absolutely. I was really nervous that morning. I was frightened but you just do it. It was very intimate as well.
CS: Has your mom seen the scene?
Mendes: Absolutely not. I have instructed all of my family that they must show up 15 minutes late. That’s it. I told them. Thank God it’s the first scene. I told my dad. I said, “Dad, Poppy you cannot be there on time. Nobody can.” It’s a tough one. I understand. It premiered in Cannes and I’m sitting there in the audience and I was like. “oh my God, no that’s me. Oh my God, oh my God. That’s me. That’s my boob, that’s my boob.” So you literally, as you know, I want to be this actress and this thing, it’s still me up there and it’s nerve wracking so I’m sure it is for my family but you know what, that’s what you have to do.
CS: Did you have concerns about the nudity itself?
Mendes: No, no, no. I am very un-American in that way only. I love being American but in that one way when it comes to nudity I feel like if you’re emotionally nude for a movie and you’re saying you’re not going to do nudity, I just feel like that’s a contradiction and that’s a bit hypocritical. I give 150% of myself and now what’s interesting is I’d rather be nude and be true to the scene and the character than be scantily clad for no reason if that makes any sense. I think it’s actually more grotesque to be parading around in a film in skimpy clothes for no reason than to actually be true and authentic and have your breasts exposed or something, so I have a difference of opinion.
CS: Can you talk about “The Women” and “The Spirit”?
Mendes: Yeah. I just wrapped “The Women” and it was fantastic. A great experience. I did the role that Miss Joan Crawford played back in the day. I know I’m going to get a lot of s**t for that one. I’m ready for it. No way did I try to copy what she did. I’m not that stupid but I definitely took it on as my own and I had a great, great time. Annette Benning’s in the film, who’s just unbelievable.
CS: Did you make a point of not seeing the original?
Mendes: No, no I saw the original years ago and then I saw it again actually because I think it’s a great movie. We obviously modernized it. Diane English did a great re-write and the ladies and I all got together and made sure that we modernized it. We made it relevant to today and the issues we face as women today. So yeah that was exciting.
CS: One of the great things in that movie is the dialogue. Did you change a lot of the dialogue?
Mendes: Yeah, you have to. I know. There are certain lines that Diane kept but in order to just make it watchable-even when you watch “The Women” now it’s amazing but it’s hard to understand in this day and age with even some of the stuff, so it had to be changed, unfortunately. It’s just a modern day version, where in no way is it trying to compete. It’s just a great film to make in this day and age.
CS: What about “The Spirit”? Are you Sand Sarif?
Mendes: I’m Sand Sarif. I start that in just a couple weeks.
CS: Wow, so what’s the preliminaries for that? Have you been reading the old comic strips?
Mendes: Yeah, I have some. Frank Miller gave me some of the old comics and I’m excited because I’ve never actually played like the real femme fatal and this woman is just so… she’d eat you for breakfast. I know, it’s kind of fun.
CS: What about the visual look of a character like that?
Eva Mendes: Right now we’re thinking kind of a very old meets new Rita Hayworth-ish kind of hair. We have a 40’s feel to some of the outfits and stuff but obviously modernize it. Frank Miller’s lovely insanity so it will be a nice little mix. That’s what we’re thinking now and that could always change once we’re there. It usually does.
CS: Will you be a red-head?
Mendes: I’m going a little red, but not red-red. I tried red a few years ago and, oh actually for “2 Fast 2 Furious” I thought I would do red just to be fun. The worst idea I ever had. Me and Neil were like yeah, that’s not going to work. I was like yeah, I know it’s not working, so we’re not going fully red but we’re doing a little hint of it.
CS: Are there any of the cast members that you’re excited to work with on “The Spirit”?
Mendes: Yeah, I’m really excited to work with Gabriel Macht. I think he’s exciting and new and I saw him in “A Love Song for Bobby Long,” and I thought he was lovely. I was like, “why doesn’t this guy work more” and then he was in “The Spirit” and I was like, “oh, cool.” Then Scarlett Johanssen, who she’s also going to be in it and the funny part is I did one of my first jobs about eight or nine years ago with Scarlett, one of my first acting jobs and she was like 14 years old, 15 years old and she ran circles around me. I was like this little girl is going to be such a star because she was just like telling me how it is. She was telling me about the business and I was a lot older than her and I just loved it. You’re so cool.
CS: What was that?
Mendes: We don’t really need to know what that was. It was called “My Brother the Pig.” It’s kind of genius though because I play her live-in babysitter. This college girl that comes in and lives with the family and I take care of like her but my main responsibility is her little brother who I guess was like seven or something like that. And through happenstance I don’t even know, I turn him into a pig accidentally and then we have to go back to Mexico to find my grandmother who knows how to reverse it. I’m not joking. I am so serious about that.
CS: Career defining performance?
Mendes: Oh yes, yes, yes.
CS: Can you talk a little bit about working with Samuel L. Jackson and Ed Harris in “Cleaner”?
Mendes: Oh yeah. “Cleaner” was a dark, dark movie. It was a really great experience. You know Sam’s fantastic. My mom’s a very, very old school woman and she doesn’t ask to come to set ever anything like that. We were in Shreveport, Louisiana and my mom was like, “I might have to come visit you.” She’s been in love with Ed Harris for so long. I’m like mom, ‘I hear you.” He’s quite the dream and just such a great actor. That was a cool experience. It was just kind of dark, the role was dark so I think about it and I’m like oof. It was a very dark place.
CS: Could you talk about your character in the film?
Mendes: I play a woman who’s just recently lost her husband and she’s trying to find out what exactly happened to him. Yeah, I’m sorry I’m not making it sound that interesting. It’s actually a really interesting film and Renny Harlin… he did an amazing job. It was just one of those things that I had to go to a kind of dark place and just the subject matter was ugh so as you can see I’m trying to avoid it. I’m trying to avoid talking about it.
We Own the Night opens in theaters on Friday, October 12.