Eva Mendes talks about her starring role in Last Night, avoiding typecasting, and playing down her looks
Eva Mendes hits her stride
"I'm a speed talker," says Eva Mendes as we sit in a Toronto hotel room to discuss her latest role in the relationship drama Last Night, which opens in the UAE today. The actress has had a long day promoting her new film and I'm her last interview before she has to ready herself for the world premiere of Massy Tadjedin's film.
Not that anyone would be able to tell that Mendes is exhausted - in the flesh she looks a lot younger than her 36 years and she operates on bundles of enthusiasm.
The film sees Mendes play one of the toughest characters to like on celluloid: the beautiful other woman. She plays sassy businesswoman Laura who takes a work trip with her colleague Michael Reed, played by the Avatar star Sam Worthington. The drama revolves around whether he will be unfaithful or not, especially as he knows that his wife Joanna (played by Keira Knightley) suspects something is amiss between the pair.
It's an intriguing role that is far from the glamorous love interest that she portrayed in Will Smith's Hitch, and her role as Nic Cage's belle in Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
One of the problems with being tagged as a beauty and acting as the face of marketing campaigns such as Revlon is that it's all too easy to be considered just a pretty face - so it's no surprise that Mendes jumped at the chance to play a more complex character whose appeal went beyond her looks.
"Well, at first I really responded to the script," the actress says of the role. "I thought it was a really intelligent, entertaining script that almost read like a play, which I thought was really cool. I loved all the characters and immediately felt connected to all of them and to their situation. My only trepidation with my character was that on paper she read as a seductress. So when I got together with my amazingly talented writer and director Massy Tadjedin, we spoke about how to play that character.
"I said it would be very boring and one-note for me just to play the other woman as a seductress, and she completely agreed. So what we started to do was strip this character."
The process of stripping down the character actually meant adding layers to the character to make her more likeable. The result is a character that feels real on screen and also demanded that Mendes play down her looks.
"I, of course, did all my internal work that I always do when preparing for a role," explains Mendes. "But what Massy and I did together were some more obvious things. I don't have any make up on in a couple of scenes in the film - like nothing in the first opening scene. I might have a little mascara on from end of day work and a little powder, but really there is nothing on my face for most of the film."
Mendes's hair was straightened and tucked behind her ears and in films where normally the actress would be expected to wear revealing clothing, she wears costumes that hide her mannequin frame. Glasses were also added. Of course it doesn't really work because even with no make-up the actress has an allure that is unmistakable.
This is a film that will arouse debate and also has that quality whereby the awkward situations that the characters find themselves in seem strangely familiar.
Mendes says: "It's one of those things where I think most moviegoers will connect to a little bit of each of the characters because we can all take some of our experiences and relate to these characters. I feel if you are of a certain age, then you will have had or known people who are these characters."
Films about relationships breaking down seem to be en vogue at the moment with the success of Blue Valentine. Yet Mendes doesn't feel there is anything new in filmmakers looking at the downside of romance: "There have always been films about the destruction of relationships I think; I don't think there are more lately. Crimes and Misdemeanors comes to mind, and Interiors."
The reason Mendes believes that films such as Last Night, We Don't Live Here Anymore and Kramer v. Kramer are so intriguing is because the arguments put forward give audiences much to chew on. She says: "Last Night is thought-provoking, it's one of those films you want to go and have a coffee and you want to talk about it. I felt that way when I first read the script, and that's what a lot of movies in that genre are like."
The actress seems to be getting better at choosing her roles. Her last two films before Last Night were Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and The Other Guys. Prior to that her CV is littered with more misses than hits since her debut in 1998 in Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror. Her big break was appearing in the mid-1990s music video Miami sung by Will Smith in his Fresh Prince days and her film career really took off after the release of Training Day in 2001.
In Antoine Fuqua's film, her character has a child with an LAPD detective played by the enigmatic Denzel Washington. It was playing a police officer in 2001's 2 Fast 2 Furious that she set the template of the sassy femme fatale that has defined her career thus far. Once Upon a Time in Mexico sees her play an agent assigned by Johnny Depp's CIA agent to tail a Mexican drug lord played by Willem Dafoe. However, after 2003's Hitch her career seemed to take a tail spin in roles in Guilty Hearts, The Wendell Baker Story and Cleaner.
In 2008 she made headlines for all the wrong reasons when she checked into a rehab clinic for substance abuse problems on the same day that she was announced as the face of Calvin Klein fragrances. However, Mendes seems to have made the most of her stay in the Cirque Lodge and revived her career both as a model and actress.
Now she is actively pursing even more ambitious roles. She reveals: "Julian Fellowes [who wrote the script for Gosford Park] just finished a script for me based on the relationship between Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis. We're looking for a director at the moment."
The film is titled Greek Fire, based on the book by Nicholas Gage, which the actress has said she has become obsessed with. She will play the celebrated soprano in a part that will surprisingly need no singing, as the focus will be on how Callas gave up everything for love.
It would be another step in an unexpected direction for the actress.
Last Night is released in the UAE today.