||Eva Mendes needed a stiff drink before embarking on one of the toughest scenes of her career in We Own The Night.
The actress was understandably anxious about filming the sexy, intimate opening sequence of this stylish thriller in which she plays the beautiful girlfriend of nightclub manager Bobby Green (played by Joaquin Phoenix). And that’s when director James Gray suggested that just this once, she might need something to calm her nerves.
“It was really difficult,” Mendes says of the scene. “In fact it was so hard that the director prepared a vodka and orange juice for me in the morning and believe me, I do not drink on the job, ever.
“Thank God that James shot it at the end of the film so I had a great rapport with Joaquin at that point. And I trusted them. I’ve certainly never shot anything as intimate before. It was really hard.
“I was actually crying because it was really hard for me to get there. And I told James and he said ‘How can I help you?’ And he was really patient. I said, “I guess there is just that little Catholic girl inside me that I didn’t know was still there.’
“And he goes ‘well, it’s time to tell her to go home because you are an artist now.’ And I think it was a combination of that and the Vodka. It was like ‘God, you are right. What am I doing? This is the job.’ It was a major moment of growth.
“But it was very difficult. If you have to hit somebody you fake it, you’re not really going to do it. But if somebody is fondling your private parts, there's no faking what you’re seeing on screen. You sit there and think ‘Oh my God, that’s really happening.’
“And you can’t get it out of your head. Like my dad can’t see this movie, my mum can’t see this movie! I’ve told them when they see it they have to get there 15 minutes late so they miss that scene.”
Set in the 1980s, We Own The Night is the story of two brothers, Bobby and Joseph (Mark Wahlberg) who end up on different sides of the law. Joseph has followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the New York police force and Bobby is the rebel who runs a hip nightclub awash with drugs and gangsters. Mendes plays Bobby’s sexy girlfriend, Amada.
When Bobby’s father (Duvall) asks him to help trap a Russian gangster who uses his club, at first he refuses but when his bother is shot, he finally has to decide which side he is on.
Mendes feels that We Own The Night marks a turning point in her career. She loved working with Gray and says that he pushed her to a new level of performance.
“I was doing rehearsals with Joaquin and James and I was feeling something I’d never felt before and I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s a drama and I found what I love, I’ve found my niche,” she says.
She was born in Miami, the youngest of four children, and the family moved to Los Angeles when she was two. Her father ran a meat distribution business and her mother, also called Eva, worked as an accountant for an aerospace company. Her parents divorced when she was tiny.
“My family love what I do and they are very protective, I couldn’t ask for a more supportive bunch. We are very flawed as a family, very dysfunctional, and yet we love each other and we have each other’s backs in all situations.”
After school, she was studying marketing at California State University but without any real sense of what she would do after graduation. Fate took over when a photographer she knew asked to take some shots of her and that led to work on commercials and, eventually, film roles.
She left college to concentrate on her new career and found herself an acting coach. Her major breakthrough came starring opposite Denzel Washington who delivered an Oscar winning performance in Training Day.
She starred with Washington again in Out of Time and her impressive CV also includes 2 Fast 2 Furious, Stuck on You, Hitch, The Wendell Baker Story and Ghost Rider. She recently finished filming The Cleaner with Ed Harris and Samuel L. Jackson and The Women with Annette Bening and Meg Ryan.
Q: The time we spoke was when you had just made Out of Time. How has life changed?
A: Well I’m enjoying acting now, which is a big difference. I think what was happening was I still didn’t understand ‘why me? Why am I getting this attention?’
But I knew I had to stick to it and that there was something in there but that I hadn’t found it yet. So I was kind of in a miserable place but I had to keep going and that there was light at the end of the tunnel in a weird way. And I’d tell myself ‘something will click…’
Q: And when did that happen?
A: Actually, when I was making We Own The Night. I was doing rehearsals with Joaquin and James and I was feeling something I’d never felt before and I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s a drama and I found what I love, I’ve found my niche. We were rehearsing and it felt really good, maybe it was because there wasn’t a camera. I remember the first day we shot was the scene when Joaquin and I were in bed and I gave him the necklace – it’s a very tender scene – and I’ve always been very aware of the camera which is a terrible thing for an actor but at the same time you have to make sure you don’t bump into it and you have to work with your props and not block yourself with other actors so it’s all part of the prop, but sometimes you are too aware.
Q: Why was it different this time?
A: With James, and I’m sure he did it on purpose, the camera was so far away and it was almost like it was in the dark and it just looked like the camera man and the cameraman weren’t even there and I literally forgot that it was there. And I literally forgot that it was there in such a way in that it was like ‘what just happened?’ Obviously when it came to a close up it was different but the master which established that entire scene, it was like I had never been so in it before, ever and I was like ’oh my God, this is cool.’ And like when he yelled cut I was like ‘oh my God, what just happened, was that really awful or really good? I don’t know. And that’s a great place to be. Everything changed for me on this movie and I feel really good about it.
Q: How difficult was the love scenes for you to do?
A: It was really difficult. In fact it was so hard that the director prepared a vodka and orange juice for me in the morning and believe me, I do not drink on the job, ever.
Q: Did you drink it?
A: Yes, I downed it in one. Thank God that James shot it at the end of the film so I had a great rapport with Joaquin at that point. And I trusted them. I’ve certainly never shot anything as intimate before. It was really hard. I was actually crying because it was really hard for me to get there. And I told James and he said ‘How can I help you?’ And he was really patient. I said, “I guess there is just that little Catholic girl inside me that I didn’t know was still there.’ And he goes ‘well, it’s time to tell her to go home because you are an artist now.’ And I think it was a combination of that and the Vodka. It was like ‘God, you are right. What am I doing? This is the job.’ It was a major moment of growth “But it was very difficult. If you have to hit somebody you fake it, you’re not really going to do it. But if somebody is fondling your private parts, there's no faking what you’re seeing on screen. You sit there and think ‘Oh my God, that’s really happening.’ And you can’t get it out of your head. Like my dad can’t see this movie, my mum can’t see this movie! I’ve told them when they see it they have to get there 15 minutes late so they miss that scene.
Q: What was Joaquin like to work with?
A: Well when Joaquin commits, he commits. He’s amazing. Honestly, he’s my favourite. He pushed me and challenged me in ways that I wouldn’t have been ready for before. But he’s my dream co-star. If every other movie was with him and James I’d be a happy girl. I really mean that, too, because they really took care of me and as goofy as he seems, Joaquin really commits on the day and you are there and you’d better hang with him or else you’re going down. It’s always about the work and that’s what I liked about working with him, everything is about the work. And we just never derailed from that.
Q: And how was it working with James Gray?
A: He’s actually very sweet. I knew he was a big action director and I was thinking I was going to meet this big old macho man. And it was like Uh-oh. But he is very softly spoken, very sweet. He was very eager to make a good independent film, as I was. Because I’ve just finished The Cleaner and I’ve been bitten by the drama bug (laughs).
Q: How did you first start acting?
A: It was first year of college, I was young and I wanted to go into maybe like art history, I was like ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ and then I met a manager and he said ‘why don’t you get some head shots and I’ll send you up for commercials’ because you know, I live in LA so it was all right there. And I thought I would make some quick money over the summer but I never got a commercial and I was at auditions all the time, I was like ‘this is terrible.’ but he did end up sending me up for a film. I was like ‘but I’ve never done a film’ and he said ‘look, just go along and see what happens.’ and it was Children of the Corn 5. Need I say more? No, OK. Number five! It was a terrible B level thriller horror movie and I went up for it and I ended up getting it which was so crazy and I did it and I ended up being really awful, but I got bitten by the bug and I was like “OK, I found something I want to pursue and that challenges me’ so I quit school and started acting. So it happened like that. But it wasn’t something that happened overnight and I always say if I wrote an autobiography right now it would be called “kicking and Screaming’ because I feel like I was kicking and screaming the whole way, but still doing the hard work though, that was the interesting part, I’m not sure why I make it so hard for myself.
Q: You’re the face of Revlon.
A: Yes I am and I enjoy it because it is such a great company to be a part of. I just went to the 14th Revlon Run Walk, we do research for women’s cancer, breast and ovarian, and that makes me feel really great, because it’s not just about cosmetics, there’s some substance to it.
Q: Is it fair to say that you’re not out and about at every party and premier? You don’t seem to court publicity.
A: I don’t think of myself as a celebrity, I think of myself as an actress, which is why I don’t need to go to the parties. If I go to a party I always go to one that means something to me or that is business. Like my own premiere or supporting a friend. I don’t go down Roberts Boulevard (a very popular street in Beverley Hills). Usually if you open up any tabloid magazine you’ll see all those girls walking down Roberts Boulevard and you can buy those things anywhere else, but the paparazzi hangs out there and so you gets all these girls in LA wanting to have their picture taken and be in magazines. But I stay away from those areas and that’s why you don’t see me out dining with my boyfriend. Because that’s ridiculous that there are paparazzi hiding in the bushes taking photos of you. So I don’t ask for it and I don’t stumble out of clubs at 4 o’clock in the morning. I get properly drunk at my own home (laughter).
Q: Do you feel that there are enough good roles for Latin American actresses?
A: There’s something like 40 million Latin people in America and when you see films we are not fairly represented and that’s frustrating. Yes, there are gardeners and maids but there are also bankers and college graduates and professors. So it’s all about representation and I don’t think we’re there quite yet but it is getting a little better. And I’m OK with playing a gardener or a maid because that’s is accurate in a lot of places. But I also want to play the banker and the college graduate and the professor. So it’s about fair representation and I don’t think we’re there at all.
Q: How do you stay in shape?
A: I work out five days a week and sometimes six or maybe I do a little hiking at the weekends. But I work out so that I can be healthy and so that I can eat everything that I want. I just had a plate of French fries. So I’m constantly bargaining with myself and saying, ‘Right you had a plate of French Fries, so you’ll be adding 30 minutes to the treadmill!’ Also I love dessert and I’m not giving that up!