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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Actresses > Feature Interviews K to O > Eva Mendes

 

Eva Mendes in "The Place Beyond the Pines"

Eva Mendes

Finding Herself in The Place Beyond the Pines

by Jay S. Jacobs

 

Copyright 2013 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 27, 2013.

Eva Mendes may be well known for her stunning looks, but beneath the beauty is a selfless actress who is more than willing to get down and dirty to discover the heart and souls of her characters.  Mendes has always worked hard to find gritty dramas, such as Training Day, Girl in Progress and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.  These films make a good counterpoint to some of her more traditional Hollywood leading lady spots, such as Hitch, The Other Guys, 2 Fast 2 Furious and Ghost Rider though Mendes shines at more commercial work as well.

In Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance's latest film, The Place Beyond the Pines, Mendes takes on perhaps her most tragic and broken character yet.  Mendes plays Romina, a young waitress in Schenectady, New York, who has a son after a one-night stand with a traveling motorcycle stunt driver named Luke (Ryan Gosling).  When Luke returns to the small town and finds out that he is a father, he decides to try to settle down and become a family man.

The problem is, though she is obviously in love with Luke, he is obviously dangerous to Romina and her young son Jason.  She is now living with another man named Kofi (Mahershala Alia) who may not stir her passion in the same way that Luke does, but is safe and settled and wants to be a father to her toddler.  Romina has to decide to follow her heart or her head, a decision which profoundly changes her life as a young mother, as well as later as a middle-aged mother to high school aged Jason (played by Dane DeHaan as a teen).

A couple of weeks before the film's release, Mendes met with PopEntertainment and a few other websites to discuss her career and her experience in making The Place Beyond the Pines.

Everybody had to get ugly for this movie and go to difficult places.  Was that uncomfortable?  So many films do the complete opposite.

No.  Hey, this is what I love to do.  I'm an actress.  My film career started with Training Day.  I was as raw as you could get in that movie.  Since then that's what I gravitate towards.  When you do the bigger Hollywood films, they tend to like you a little bit more cleaned up, but I've done a lot of films... not like this, certainly... but that I've been gritty and raw for.  Certainly We Own the Night had elements of that.  And a film I produced called Live!  I really try to get it in there.  I did a film last year, Girl in Progress, that was a small little film.  But, yeah, I'm an actress and I'm certainly not a glamazon in that way.  I turn it on when I have to.  If I have to wear something on a red carpet, obviously, to sell a movie.  Or if I have to do a campaign.  But that's not where the art lies, obviously.  

Ryan Gosling, director Derek Cianfrance and Eva Mendes on the set of 'The Place Beyond the Pines.'Can you speak about working with Derek Cianfrance on this project?

Yeah, he's my dream director.  He's just amazing.  I've never worked with someone like this.  He creates this world that feels so incredibly natural and so real.  I have a theory that it's very difficult to not be good in a Derek Cianfrance film, because it's all there for you.  He has it all there for you and it's just about tapping into it. 

What would he do to make you get into the role?

One of the things, he had me work at the diner.  On my days off from shooting the film I worked as a waitress at the diner.  That was great.  I familiarized myself with the space, talked with the girls, got their history, their experience.  That really helped out a lot.  A lot of times the way it goes is you get to that location and it's the first time you've seen it.  "You're shooting in your house today."  First time you see it.  He's about creating history, so I would hang out at the house that I had.  I would hang out in places that my character would hang out in.  This other thing that was really amazing is that when it was time to cast my mom in the film, he was like, "Okay, you're going to New York and cast your mother."  I was like "Oh, you want me to meet with them first and then I'll let you know..."  He's like, "No, no, no, no.  You're casting your mom."  I'm like "You mean you want me to put them on tape and you'll look at them and you'll decide?  Or ask me who I like better?"  I was like, what?  He's like, "You're casting your mother."  This is unheard of.  He's incredible.  He stuck to it.  I went to audition these wonderful women.  One of them stuck out to me.  I was like, "Mami!"  She was definitely my mom and he was like, "Great!"

As an actress, how interesting was it to be playing a character in two totally different periods in her life?

So fun!  So fun.  The aging process was so fun as well, because I didn't so much think of it as aging.  I thought of it as the pain manifesting its way through time.  I don't know if that makes any sense.  I had certain tricks.  I had certain garments I would wear under my clothes to make me feel a certain way.  I did the obvious stuff, some pencil work, creating lines.  I did the graying, but I also did this thing where I shaved my eyebrows down to a very thin line.  Which I did in the middle of the night in my hotel in Schenectady.  I was like, "Ooh, hope Derek likes this!"  (laughs)  Yeah, just things that would suggest that this was a woman who had abandoned herself.  So, that's just what I went out and did.  It was beautiful.

Eva Mendes in "The Place Beyond the Pines"What was the most challenging scene for you?

I was really, really emotional and sad in the ending scene where I get the picture.  We tried to shoot it in sequence.  It was the ending of the film.  We'd had three months of like, ugh (sighs), you know?  The scene where I receive the picture in the mail of my character and Luke [Ryan Gosling's character] and Jason [their son], that just was [devastating].  And funny enough, no dialogue.  Nothing about that, but just heart-wrenching.  That was a really hard day for me.

It's one thing to get into a character, but another to get out of one.  How do you shake it off emotionally?

Getting out of a character is easy enough.  I just go home and my mom just quickly... there's nothing like family to equalize everything.  Not be so crazy.  So that's kind of the easiest part, I think.

As a woman in Hollywood, what is it like to get such a complex role?

Yeah, as a woman, but not only as a woman, right now as it's been lately it's tough to find those challenging roles.  You really have to search and fight.  That's why I produced this project a few years ago called Live!  I found a script and I was like, "Nobody's doing anything with this.  What is it?  Can I make him into a woman?"  You start to try to get clever with things that you can do, because it's like everything good, you've got to search for it.  It's not going to just come to you.

What were your thoughts seeing it?  Have you seen the film yet?

I have.

Was it what you envisioned?

I just thought it was really beautiful.  Hats off to Derek.  Nobody's doing this.  Nobody's defying structure like this.  This is really scary stuff.   Especially, I don't want to give it away, but what happens with Luke.  That really takes a lot.  He's such a risk taker.  I know you hear that word sometimes a lot.  Like you hear genius a lot and it loses its potency sometimes.  But Derek is a real trailblazer and a risk taker.  I love him for that.

Eva Mendes in "The Place Beyond the Pines"How did you get emotionally into the mindset as a mom of an infant and later of a teenaged boy?

I worked very closely with my acting coach Ivana Chubbuck.  Because I've played moms before we do have a technique that we use for all kinds of things characters that you portray that maybe you don't have a direct connection to.  There's all these little fun tricks and techniques that you can do.  So Ivana Chubbuck and I worked on that.  Also I played a mom early in my [career].  In Training Day I played a mom.  So throughout the years, you just kind of... I feel like I've been prepping for this role for a while, basically, whether I knew it or not, this role of Romina.  And, yeah, just like I'd prep for anything else, I guess.

Romina obviously cares very deeply for Luke, but she sees Kofi as a safer route.  Was it difficult to portray that internal tug of war: knowing what is best for her and for her son and the fact that it may go against what she feels in her heart? 

Yeah.  Actually, before I made the film I had this women's day at my house.  I invited my friends, my family and everyone was a mother, or is a mother.  I was like: Okay, here is the situation.  You have a baby with a guy who is a fling.  He's no longer in your life.  He's out of town.  He's gone.  Now you have this baby and you have a man who is not the biological father, but who is stable and wants to raise the child as his own.  Then the biological father pops back into the picture, temporarily.  What do you do?  I thought that the women were going to be like what's best for the child is a stable father.  But they were like: You do everything in your power to make it work, because there is a primal pull, a primal connection that happens with the baby's actual biological father.  I was like: Really?  Even though you know he's unfit?  They were like: You try.  I was like: Ohhhh, this is so interesting!  It was so interesting to me, because all these women [felt that].  I was like: All right!  She's got to try somehow.  But I think that's where you see her... there's a lot of moral ambiguity.  There's a lot of, "Uhhh," you know?  Hopefully that came across, because she's very flawed, which I love.  And then she has the opportunity to tell him and she doesn't.  I feel a little bad for her when she walks up the stairs, like: come on, you chicken! 

She's flawed, but I think she gets hurt more than anybody else here.  First Luke, then Jason, she really gets emotionally battered.  Was it easier to work with actors that you know are going to screw with you emotionally?

Yeah.  I just trusted that Derek, when he's casting, he knows what he's doing.  You know who really messed with me?  Ray Liotta.  Oh, yeah.  There's stuff you didn't see in the movie.  I don't know why, it was a really good scene.  When he comes to... when the guys go to search the house for the money while we're downstairs.  He goes for it.  He really got to me, too.  I love him, but in the scenes I was like: you.... arrgggh!  I wish we had kept some of that stuff, because he was that good.  He can just look through you and annoy you and confuse you and offend you.  And he's just looking at you.  And you're like: How do I feel all these things when you're just looking at me, Ray?  Ugghhh!  He's really great.  He's very confrontational.

Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes in "The Place Beyond the Pines"What do you think about working with Ryan?  You also have another upcoming project with him.

Yeah, he's the greatest.  It's amazing.  He's fantastic.  Bradley was fantastic.  Bradley had a really tough job, I think, coming in when he did in the film.  That switchover.  I had a really challenging scene with Bradley.  I hated that scene.  Ugh, that was dark. 

When he tried to give you back the money?

He tries to give me back the money.  Yeah.  That was a really hard day.  That was really, really hard.

What do you think is so appealing about dark themes? 

I think people are attracted to darker themes because it's life, at times, you know?  I think it's the same reason that people may like operas.  They are dramatic.  I'm a sucker for a Greek tragedy, boy oh boy.  Also, being the audience, for me, if you are watching something incredibly dark and dramatic, I think... I like to think worst case scenario sometimes.  So I'm like: okay, that's definitely worst case scenario, so because I've thought about it, it probably won't happen.  I'm very superstitious in silly ways like that.

If this film were to be recast with old-time actors, who would you imagine in your role?

Oh, interesting.  Old-time actors?  That's interesting.  To play my role?  Hmm...  Oh my God, that's such a good question that I don't want to mess it up by saying [just anyone], you know?  I don't know, who do you imagine?  (laughs)  Help me out here.

Sophia Loren.

Aww, that's nice.  I could only wish.  Oh my God, I love your question so much that could I maybe go on to something else and keep thinking about it?

Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes in "The Place Beyond the Pines"You express so much with your eyes in this movie.  Is that  something you practice in the mirror at home?

No.  (laughs)  No, I don't practice in the mirror, but thank you, I really appreciate that.

What does The Place Beyond the Pines mean to you as an actress?

Well, you know, technically it means "Schenectady."  (ed. note: The title comes from the Iroquois translation to the name Schenectady.)

Yeah.  (laughs)

I'm kind of hesitant to say what it means to me, because I don't want to influence anybody else's opinion that they will take from it.  Sometimes as an actor, we think too much.

Speaking of Schenectady, what was it like to be filming in real places in the town with real people?

Amazing.  I lived at the Holiday Inn Schenectady.  It was incredible.  I loved it.  It was amazing. 

We met in Miami when you were doing 2 Fast 2 Furious.  I remember back then you said you loved it and wanted to get into the action films.  Do you still see yourself wanting to do action roles?

Are you sure I said that?  No.  Like you, I have changed.  (laughs)  No, I think that was probably the...

The environment?

Yeah.  Trying to convince myself that it was fun.  I don't know.  No, I'm not an action girl, at all.  I can't believe that.  I'm not attracted to action in films, no.  Not to say if there isn't a great one that would be fun, but no.  Really, I said that?  What was I doing?  On the boat?  Are you sure it was me?  (chuckles) 

Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes in "The Place Beyond the Pines"Yeah, I have a picture somewhere.

Can I see that picture?  I don't remember any of that.  I don't remember being excited about any of it.  I was trying to probably pump myself up for the day and the scene.  But I... no.  Interesting.  I love that.  But no.  I think honestly that on the day you have a job to do, so you have to pump yourself up.  But I've never been into action or sports or anything that makes me sweat.

What do you think are the basic elements that turn a crime drama or a crime thriller into a classic?

Oh boy, that's a Derek question and you know it!  (laughs)  That is not for your actress.  I know my limitations.  No way, brother!  

Last time I saw you, you were talking about your mom and what a hero she was to you.  What's it like to be able to share your success with her?

Oh, she's the best.  She's the greatest.  She lives 15 minutes away and I see her all the time.  She's just... you know, she's my mom.  She's proud, but she's not doting, which I love.  When he asked me how I shake off a role or something, I run to my mom, because there is no... she's just my mama.   That's it.  She'll tell me I'm beautiful, but at the same time, she'll tell me, "Ooh, did not like that dress."  Or she'll tell me I did a great job in the role, but she'll tell me what she didn't believe.  She will definitely not be seeing this film.  She does not like it when anything is violent and when I'm hurt or crying.  That is a big no-no for her. 

CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT RYAN GOSLING HAD TO SAY TO US ABOUT THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES!

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