Actress Eva Mendes takes a trip back to the late Eighties.
Oscar Watch 2008 Interview #3: Actress Eva Mendes
We Own the Night finds Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) turning his back on the family business. The popular manager of El Caribe, the legendary Russian-owned nightclub in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach, he has changed his last name and concealed his connection to a long line of distinguished New York cops. For Bobby, every night is a party, as he greets friends and customers or dances with his beautiful Puerto Rican girlfriend, Amada (Eva Mendes), in a haze of cigarette smoke and disco music.
But it's 1988, and New York City's drug trade is escalating. Bobby tries to keep a friendly distance from the Russian gangster who is operating out of the nightclub - a gangster who is being targeted by his brother, Joseph (Mark Wahlberg), an up-and-coming NYPD officer, and his father, Burt (Robert Duvall), the legendary deputy chief of police.
We Own the Night is one of the first major Oscar contenders of the year, and we recently caught up with actress Eva Mendes to discuss her award-worthy performance in the film. Candid as always, Mendes had a lot to say about her character and the film itself.
Here is our exclusive conversation:
I've never heard any negative press about you. Ever. I only ever hear the nicest, friendliest things about you.
Eva Mendes: Really? Yah! You know what that means? That means that something bad is coming soon! Noooooo! One thing I've been sure about in my career is that I don't want to get caught up in this celebrity obsession thing. So I live a pretty quiet life. I try to avoid all of the hot spots.
It's good to stay out of In Touch magazine.
Eva Mendes: It is, it is. Occasionally I will get in there for something I am wearing. That's fine with me, if I'm in the pages of "Who wore it better?" As long as they don't get personal.
That magazine comes to the house, and its so hard not to pick it up and flip through it
Eva Mendes: Oh, yeah. I know what you mean. Of course if it's around, you have to pick it up and check it out. See what is going on. Are you kidding me?
One of the things Joaquin Phoenix said, when I interviewed him earlier, was that you guys were doing this car chase scene in the rain and there were people off to the side of the road, yelling for you. Trying to get your attention.
Eva Mendes: They were? I don't remember that.
You don't? I was wondering if that's hard to concentrate on your acting when you have people that are screaming out your name the whole time?
Eva Mendes: I don't remember that happening. Maybe I was just so into the scene, that I completely blocked it out of my mind.
I thought it was weird that spectators could get that close to you guys while you were filming.
Eva Mendes: That's so funny, because I totally don't remember that. So, it obviously didn't effect me in the least bit. Nope. It was a really big scene, so I was just in it. I was locked in character. I was in the car, and I was hunched down for all of it. It was pretty intense.
Were you basing your look on anybody in particular for this film?
Eva Mendes: No, no. I just did some textbook research. I looked at pictures from that time period. I was really young in the 80s, so I didn't really go out to clubs. I was twelve in 1988, when the film takes place. I remembered the crimping of the hair. I had to do it. It's coming back. Wait...No, no, no. Jesus. It's not coming back. Not in my lifetime. It doesn't work for me. But it was kind of fun going back and doing the scrunchy thing. I didn't really base the look on anybody. No. I don't think.
I just saw someone rocking that hairdo. She obviously grew up in that time period, and I was wondering if she just kind of got stuck with that hair style.
Eva Mendes: She probably got stuck. It happens to the best of us. Some of us just get stuck. And I used to wing this part of my hair out. I would wing it out, and thought it looked really cool. I would spray it so it would stick straight up. I tried to do that a little bit in the movie, but not too much. What happened with this film, is that it is such an important film for me. Obviously, it's a very exciting, yet dramatic, film. I didn't want my hairstyle, because it was the 80s, to overwhelm anything. I could have gone crazier, but I didn't want this close-up on me, and to have these crazy bangs that were sticking straight up. You know what I mean? I didn't want it to be about the hairstyle. I wanted it to be about the character.
As you progress in your career, and your characters become more and more complex, is it hard to go back to the less complex roles. What are you looking for at this moment, career wise?
Eva Mendes: I am looking for complexity in general. I just want to dig deeper, whether if it's in a comedy or in a quirky, dark film. A dark comedy. Something really romantic. I just need complexity. I need to get a little deeper now that I'm ready to do it.
Speaking of that, and this is a little off the topic of this movie., but you worked with Robert Rodriguez on Once Upon A Time In Mexico. Did he ever approach you about starring in Barbarella? Because I heard that, at one time, he was considering both you and Jennifer Lopez for the role. But now he's going with his current girlfriend Rose McGowan.
Eva Mendes: No, he never called me about that. I haven't even heard about the movie. They are remaking Barbarella? That's interesting. Hmm?
Now, back onto the subject of the movie at hand, what did you take away from your experience working with actors like Mark Walberg and Joaquin Phoenix?
Eva Mendes: I learned that I have to be on my game, so I better do my homework. Ten fold. The only way for me to be totally prepared on those shooting days is to be overly prepared. So that I know it backwards and forwards. So if they throw something at me, I am right there. I have to shoot it right back.
Did you identify with this character at all? Maybe her background?
Eva Mendes: Yeah, sure. I identified on a lot of levels with her. I find that I work best that way. The closer I can be to the character, the better for me. The more I have in common with her, and the more I can personalize her through myself. That's the way I work right now. That could always change.
Did you guys ever discuss if the character was making the right decision at the end, or if you guys should move in another direction with it?
Eva Mendes: It was set in the script like that. I had a really good discussion with James Gray, the director. I said, "Like every good break-up, there is always that last 'lets see if we can make it work' thing." But James told me, "No." He said that this was more like a Greek tragedy. You know what I mean? That's what the story is, and it had to be the way James wanted it to be. We all had to remain true to the story. But, with my character, as my voice, I had to fight that a little bit. I said, "She'd want to come back." You know what I mean? I realized that what I was doing was trying to keep my character alive. So that she could survive in this, instead of just fizzling out. That was me personally bleeding in with my character. It is a little complicated. I fought for her until the end. That was just the way it worked out.
I thought one of the coolest scenes, early on, was when you guys were on the staircase. And they have that moment of silence at the 11th hour. Is that foreshadowing for your two characters? It's a very quiet moment, and that church bell sort of marks the beginning of your decent into this journey. And you guys aren't going to make it out together. Was that intentional?
Eva Mendes: That is really cool that you picked up on that. I didn't even think about that until just now, to be honest. But that is really great.
So, you didn't even realize that when you were shooting it?
Eva Mendes: Not at the time. Actually, that was all Joaquin. We were supposed to be exiting the place. And he grabbed me and pulled me near him. I thought that was such a genius choice to make. We only did it once, so that was my natural reaction to him. That was my character's reaction to his character. But that is really great that you noticed that.
Joaquin also gave a little insight into that opening sex scene. To me, it seemed like a more up-close and personal sex scene than we are normally accustomed to seeing. He said that it was a really cold, sterile environment. And that there were carpenters hanging up in the rafters, watching from high above. How was shooting that scene for you? Was it uncomfortable?.
Eva Mendes: Yeah. It's uncomfortable, but you got to do it. The fight scene for me was even more uncomfortable. Yelling at him, and hitting him made for one of the worst days ever. We had to go really, really dark. And really ugly. I was really hitting him, and it was awful. Sometimes, you just have to go to those places where you are not comfortable. That's what actors do. And very early on you have to choose what kind of actor you are. You have to say that you are an actor who will do nudity. Or you wont do it. That's great if it works for you. I think it's a bit of a cop out. I honestly do. I'm not saying that everyone should do nudity. I'm saying that you've got to be able to go to those places, no matter how dark they may be. That's the reason you guys want to see us. One of the reasons you want to see us up there, is because you want to be able to relate to us. You want to relate to what we are going through. It's that human connection, to relate. We all have those intimate moments. We all have those ugly moments. We all hit, we all cry, we all spit. And sometimes that isn't very pretty.
This film is really about family. As actors, did you guys all come together as a family?
Eva Mendes: Not really. I wasn't involved in that. Joaquin and I had a really nice bond. But as far as the story goes, I wasn't connected to his family. So that's something that I didn't think was necessary. Certainly, we all got along. But I didn't feel like I had to go hang out with Mark and Duvall. In the story, we are not as one. I'm certainly not the black sheep. But they are not approving of me.
Did you ever get into studying the cops, or what they were going through to get a certain type of perception on what they were about?
Eva Mendes: No, no, no. This girl would never do that. It just doesn't interest her. There's no reason for my character to have any knowledge about cops. I just had her opinion, and that was that cops are not always great people. They are foreign to her.
What are you currently working on?
Eva Mendes: I just wrapped The Women. It's a comedy. It's a remake of the old George Cukor film. I play the role that Joan Crawford played in the original 1939 film. Its fantastic. Meg Ryan and Annette Bening are in that. Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, and Carrie Fisher are also in it. I just wrapped it. And it was great.
We Own the Night opens October 12th, 2007.