Interview: Eva Mendes

I’ll admit it right now—I had never seen Eva Mendes before We Own The Night, and based my opinion of her mostly on seeing her in tabloid pages and in Revlon ads: basically, she blended in with every other actress out there. With her tender performance in James Gray’s latest though, Mendes has proved herself as a true dramatic actress, and I’ll admit again: I kind of have a girl crush on her. She met an assembled group of reporters in an adorably retro black dress, and sitting two feet away from me, was actually the size of a normal human. And she’s funny. And she’s smart. Not to go all Maxim on you or anything, but wow, I was impressed. Mendes talked about her work in this film and her upcoming project The Women , as well as the friendship-creating potential of peekytoe crab.

You’re so wonderful in this film. What was it in particular that drew you to the script?

James Gray sent me the script and I said no for a year. I thought it was a great script, yet I thought the character needs work, and she’s a little victim-y, and she’s kind of a girlfriend role, and I don’t want to play a girlfriend role. He was so great because he was like, I totally understand what you’re saying, I’ll work on it, we’ll work on it together. […] I just loved his tenacity. […] It doesn’t happen that often when people fight for you and really want you even when you don’t want them. So I did it and I’ve got to tell you, it was the best experience I’ve had in my career. This is really my first drama. I did a small role in Training Day that was amazing for me, and really pivotal in my career. I was ready to quit acting. I was so bored, I was doing terrible cheesy horrible films and I was like what am I doing? Then I got to work with Denzel, and then it just happened. I was like, this is why I do this, for this connection, and to work opposite Denzel Washington. That really sparked me and ignited me. With this, just being so in it and going to a darker place and being so vulnerable. I really just enjoyed this experience so wholeheartedly.

You’re really not just a girlfriend role; it’s so pivotal to the film, and such a deep character. How much of that was in the script, and what did you do to add depth to the character?

James is a great, great writer. Joaquin and I, we were like, it’s not about the lines here, it’s about how we interact with each other, what we do between the lines, and how we react to one another. We would rehearse so much and come up with back story. You’ve got to feel like these people are really in love. It’s not just some girlfriend that you have for six months.

How easy or difficult was it for you to work on your relationship with Joaquin? In an earlier interview he said he was so shy.

He said he was shy? He just did a cha-cha dance on the Today Show this morning! He’s hysterical. He kind of is shy in a weird way. He’s quiet and subtle, but he has that crazy energy that I have as well. The performer in you has to come out. He was a dream to work with. Again, he loves rehearsing—I love rehearsing. He held my hand through it all. He’s been doing this since he was 7 or 8 years old.

As a Hispanic actress who was cast as a Hispanic character, do you want to be cast in other kinds of roles?

No, everything and anything! For me it’s about the material and about the role and about the people I’m working opposite. Even if you have a great script, but you’re working opposite some rinky-dink actor, you’re only going to be as good as him. That’s why I love working with the Duvalls of the world, the Denzels, the Will Smiths, the Joaquins, the Nic Cages. Automatically your game is up. Then it’s up to you, do I sink or swim? Are they going to swallow me whole or am I going to actually survive up there? But actually, I would love to play an Indian girl. I absolutely love India. I’ve never been, but I love people from India, and I have a feeling I’m going to love Bombay. I don’t know why, I just feel it. I have this fascination with India. I think I could look Indian. I just would love to. I think it’s a fascinating country, and the people are so intelligent.

Do you find it hard to find substantial roles? Absolutely. Let’s just start with this: there’s a lack of roles for women. Seriously, all the good stuff, and understandably so, goes to the Winslets and the Naomi Watts of the world, and the Cate Blanchetts. There is just such a lack of female roles. And then one of my best friends is a black actress, and oh my God. There is just such a lack there. [Lucy Liu] is a friend of mine and I’m just such a Lucy Liu supporter because I think she’s so good and so funny, she’s such a great actress. I’m so happy for her in her new show, but I want to see more Lucy Liu. I want to see more Asian girls, I want to see more Indian girls, I want to see more Latin girls, black girls. Then I try to analyze it and I go, well what can I do, right? Well, I can’t write. How do I help solve the problem? I guess that’s why a lot of women actresses turn to producing, because that’s one way we can not sit home and just complain about it with our girlfriends. We can go out there and be proactive about it.

Was there an ethnicity written in the script for your character? Yes. She had to be Puerto Rican –it really showed that time. Robert Duvall’s character is a bigot. It really showed how I didn’t belong, and it contributed to Joaquin’s rebellion toward his family. It’s no accident he went for this little Puerto Rican girl.

It was just recently announced that Paz Vega will be in the cast of The Spirit. There will be definitely a Hispanic sense to it. Talk a little bit about the movie.

Yes! I’m so excited. […] I just read that Paz is going to do it, and I think that’s great. There’s no Hispanic theme, there’s no Latin theme. It just happens to be two actresses in it. I’m not playing her with an accent, and I’m sure Paz isn’t coming and playing a flamenco dancer or anything. That’s the beauty of it. We need more people like Frank Miller, and Lionsgate who’s doing the movie, we need people to be colorblind and think, if this is going to be a contemporary movie, guess what—people look like us. It’s not just in the big cities. […] People just think if it’s not in a big city that we don’t belong, that people that look like us aren’t around. I take it upon myself, not that I feel I know all this, but I look it up. I have to educate these people and go, you know what you guys, just be accurate. Yes, we do exist in those small towns. Absolutely. If you don’t want to go that way as an actress choice, then fantastic. I understand if you have another actor in mind. But if she’s just a secretary in an office and she’s an American girl, then why can’t a black girl play it? Why can’t an Indian girl play it, or an Asian girl, if it’s not specific to the script? I fight for that every day.

I interviewed Halle Berry, and she said the same thing. And the director Susanne Bier [of Things We Lost in the Fire] said she saw no color, she just saw a great actress. Fantastic. That’s the way it should be. My director in Ghost Rider did it as well. He was like ‘What about Eva Mendes?’ ‘Well, she doesn’t look like Roxanne Simpson in the comic book.’ It’s like, ‘Well, it takes place in Texas, and it’s contemporary. It’s not like I’m a Martian.’ We just need to open up. I don’t want to wear my ethnicity as a badge, because who wants that. And again, I understand if you don’t want to go with me as an actress choice. I just want to open up the minds of people.

What’s next for you? I just finished something called The Women. It’s really cool, it’s a remake of a George Cukor film, all women in the cast. I did the Joan Crawford role, so I’m going to get a lot of crap for that one when that comes out. In no way did I try to be her, or mimic what she did. It’s a modern take on The Women. It’s awesome, it’s me, it’s Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Jada Pinkett Smith, Debra Messing, Candace Bergen, Bette Midler [Ed note: the entire cast, as in the original, is female]—really fun. I had a great time doing that.

What was it like working with such talented actresses in The Women? It was really cool. I’ve got to tell you the funny part. I do We Own the Night, I’m pretty much the only girl in the movie. I go every day and there’s guys—I’m not complaining, I got Phoenix and Wahlberg there, and Duvall. I went to rehearsals and I didn’t really care, I didn’t look like a slob, but I would just go in my sweats and whatever, my little cap.

Cut to rehearsals for The Women. There’s all chicks, right? Everybody’s looking fine. We have our cutest little sundresses on, we have our little jewelry. The whole first 15 minutes of our rehearsal session, I was like ‘Jada! Where’d you get that scarf?’ and ‘Annette, where’d you get that necklace?’ It was so hysterical. Another confirmation [that] we dress for each other. […] But we were also there for each other. Like one night, we worked a whole night shift, and we were tired, tired. It was about five in the morning, and we had a couple hours left to go. And it was everybody’s close-up. You know, you start dragging, and everybody’s like ‘Eh.’ But the moment that camera went on somebody, like when it went on me, those women—it was Jada, Debra and Annette—those women were right there for me. They were my girls. They were even over-acting so I could bring it up. Then the camera would go off and they’d be like ‘Ooh, you look so beautiful, this is a beautiful shot.’ It was so gorgeous, you guys, because I was like, I know what you guys are doing, and I love you for it. It was like, they’re my sisters! They’ve got my back! Screw everybody that thinks we all get into a catfight when we’re all in the same together, just screw ‘em. That is not true. I felt that sisterly love, it was so beautiful. And the cameras went on them, and the same thing. We were all right there for each other.

Eva, what are your favorite three films? Oh Jesus. Edward Scissorhands, The Bicycle Thief, and Scarface, and Anchorman. I’ve got to throw Anchorman in there. It’s a genius comedy.

You’ve said that comedies and action movies serve a purpose. Talk about the purpose of these fluff movies. The world is a really, really ugly place right now. If we can take people out of that ugliness for a couple of hours, and we can make you laugh, or we can make you think we’re stupid, or we can make you feel anything but pain and despair and depression because of the state that we’re in, because it’s a really depressing state. I’m an optimist, but I don’t see it getting better soon until it gets worse. So if we can take you away from that, I mean, fantastic.

Do you find it difficult to not take your characters home with you? Only on this movie. This one was a hard one. The scene where Joaquin and I fight in the hotel room, we really went at it. […] That was really hard. I went home, and I couldn’t wash that one off me. I think with the drama it’s a lot harder. Or maybe it’s just that you notice it more, because with a comedy, you’re home and you’re feeling—I’m probably still in it, but it’s a lighter kind of feel.

How was this shoot compared to a bigger-budget film like Ghost Rider? It was fun in a different way, but it wasn’t all fun and games. We always had to be in a certain headspace. I was always consulting James for my character and where she needs to be. It was different. Ghost Rider was the funnest. Literally we’d wrap and be like ‘Where are we going to go eat tonight?’ It was just a really fun ride. I love Mark Steven Johnson, the director. Me and him are like really, really tight friends. We bonded day one, over peekytoe crab. We met at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, to see if we got along and wanted to do the movie together. We were both really jet-lagged, we had both flown in that day or something like that. I opened up the menu and the first thing I saw was peekytoe crab. I look at him and go ‘What the fuck is peekytoe crab?’ and he said ‘I don’t know.’ We bonded over that. We were on the floor laughing.

Did you have it? No! I almost don’t want to find out. I love saying it though. Peekytoe crab, it’s ridiculous. Peekytoe!

Would you say comedies are your favorite vs. the dramas? I think it’s everything. I have so many different types to myself that I have to feed them all. I want to take advantage of the fact that I love doing comedy, and I love doing fantasy. I’m really excited about The Spirit, because it’s going to be Sin City style. I play a femme fatale who is so out of this world. And then The Women, that was such a fun comedy, and then this. I really like feeding myself with all these different things. I don’t think I just like one thing.

This is such a powerful role. Where do you find motivation for a role like that? It’s just about the people you work with and trusting them so you’re totally open and available, emotionally open and vulnerable. Again, with a co-star like Joaquin, he made me feel safe every day. But he would push me at the same time. Him and James, they knew they could push me, and they would push me, but it was like being pushed, but knowing there’s a safety net. They were always there for me, whether it was the intimate love scene at the beginning, whether it was the scene where we had to beat on each other. Whatever it was, whenever I had to go to that place, I had my boys there.

What does it take to survive Hollywood? How do you stay in such a great mood? I’ve had about 12 cups of coffee this morning… You know what. I go through my bouts. I’m an actress, I go through my little depressions and my self-loathing sometimes. But the way that I survive, is I don’t take anything they say seriously. Somebody just asked me how do you feel being Maxim’s number whatever, whatever number of the hottest girls in the whatever. I say, I take it like I take everything, every other compliment or every other dis in this industry. I take it with a grain of salt, and I say thank you, that’s so nice. I’m grateful, yet literally it goes away. If I base my self-esteem on being on that list, or being the hot young Hollywood, or the It Girl, if I base anything on that, then the moment I’m not that, I’m screwed. My self-esteem isn’t derived from what Hollywood thinks of me. Of course it’s nice to feel like people are appreciating your work, absolutely, but I don’t base how I feel about myself on reviews or what people write or tabloids or being on best-dressed or worst-dressed, that’s like the extra stuff. Not to say it doesn’t hurt your feelings sometimes, but it’s not where I base my self-esteem. I’ve got my mom to thank for that, and I’ve got a really great partner in my life, George, who I have to thank for that.

Is he in the business as well? Yeah he is. But it’s sad, because you see these girls, and you see them succumb to the pressures of being so thin. Whether it’s being thin or being blonde enough, having the boobs, having this, or being out there, walking the red carpet all the time—it’s sad, because it can really get a hold of you and have its way with you. And it always spits you out.

Katey Rich

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend