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October 2007
An Interview with Eva Mendes

An Interview with Eva Mendes

By Brad Balfour

October 14, 2007

For Los Angeles born-and-bred actress Eva Mendes, it's both a treat and challenge to work on a film in New York, especially a film that so intrinsically about New York like director James Gray's throwback-to-the-1980s cop drama "We Own the Night." Based on some of Gray's own experiences in the '80s, the film details the clash between two brothers—one's a cop, Joe Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg), following in his police chief father's footsteps (Burt played Robert Duvall) and the other is a Brooklyn nightclub manager, Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix). Forced to save his family from Russian mafia hit men, blood and loyalty brings Green on the same side as his brother and father when the drug dealers tied to the nightclub try to assassinate them.

Gray has worked with Wahlberg and Phoenix before, but it's the first time for Mendes; she had turned down the part initially but the director's insistence won her over. Of Cuban-American heritage, she was little known until she played the girlfriend of Denzel
Washington's character in 2001's "Training Day." Since then she's been featured in a wide range of roles, from the comedic "Stuck on You" to the high-action "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" to the romantic comedy "Hitch" opposite Will Smith. She's sought to work with top-flight directors while defying the expectations that come along with being a 30-something Latina actress.

What was it like doing the opening scene, in effect a masturbation scene?

Eva Mendes: That was very uncomfortable (laughs). Thank you for reminding me that it was a masturbation scene. Most people refer to it as a "love scene," but thank you.

Yes, it was nerve-racking but you've just got to do it. I was so scared that morning and I tried to stall. But I had to do it. James [Gray] was so respectful and helpful. Usually there's so much pressure on the set, it feels like a time bomb is ticking. You're constantly working against the clock.

That morning, I spent a couple of hours talking to Joaquin and James. I was talking in circles trying to get out of it saying stuff like, "Well would it be necessary for me to this?"

It was so obvious what I was doing, but they were so patient with me. Eventually I just talked myself into oblivion and we shot it. James was so cool because he planned this scene as the last to be shot, which made sense because by then we had three months of history together. It really helped.

The scene is really erotic, and very embarrassing, but it comes from a place of love.

Is that one of the more embarrassing scenes in your career?

EM: Well I would say "Children of the Corn 5" was more embarrassing as a whole [laughs].

When you're shooting it, you've got to learn to adjust. At times it would get very technical with James telling you to move in a certain direction to get in the shot. So that put some distance between me and the scene.

But what's really difficult is when you're sitting there and you're watching it 40 feet high and you're like "Oh...my...God!" It's one of those things where you call your parents and say "Come 15 minutes late." That's when it really hits you--when you see it and it looks real because when you  are doing it, it's technical, but when you see it, it's so embarrassing.

It seems lately sexuality has become incorporated in films again as much as the violence. What do you think is going on?

EM: I love being American, but I think it's so hypocritical to be so anti-nudity in our films and be so pro-violence. I'd rather see two people making love, rather than somebody being done in, or being shot, or getting their head blown off.

If I had a child, and I accidentally walked in on him seeing something, I'd rather he'd see two people making love than two people killing each other. We're in such a violent country that I'd rather support sex.

Speaking of violent action screens, what was it like shooting that car chase scene?

EM: Chaotic, which was necessary. Thank god I've never been in a situation like that.

When we were shooting, sometimes it was so crazy we couldn't hear "cut" so just kept on going and I kept screaming and screaming. Eventually we started wondering whether  we were in real danger.

But I have to tell you it was one of my favorite car chase scenes. I'm a big car chase girl. I love [Michael Mann's] "Heat" and all that fun stuff. And this is a good one too.

How did they protect you--did they have extra air bags and stuff like that?

EM: No, not really [laughs]. Thankfully, there was a stunt driver. When the scene got really, really dangerous, like when the truck overturns, we weren't in that scene.

Did you get a solid knowledge of the Russian mafia or go to the Russian neighborhoods?

EM: Yes, we did go to the Russian neighborhoods. We found this fantastic club, it was straight back from the '80s. It was fantastic.I forgot the name, but it was a hoot.

As far as research, I wasn't around in the club scene during the early 80's, but I'm actually good friends with [former Studio 54 owner and hotel developer] Ian Schrager.  And one day, when Joaquin and I were rehearsing, he mentioned "you know who would be a good person to talk to... Ian Schrager?"

And I said "Duh! I know him." So we took him out to dinner and got confirmation on all the stories that we've heard.

Did you get a chance to talk to some of the actual Russian criminals?

EM: I did not do that. My character, although she was in that world, she was completely oblivious to it. She just happened to be there, she didn't think that these people really killed people. She was still kind of, a "mama's girl." She was in this cloud.

I didn't want to arm my character with a lot of information and knowledge. I figured the less she knew the better. Amada didn't want to know all that stuff because then, she would be a participant. So I didn't get into that. Although I found it very fascinating.

Since you didn't experience the '80s club scene, did you go out and try to make up for it when you were shooting this movie?

EM: You know, I don't really like clubs. I'm not a club girl. When I spoke to Ian and everybody, I realized that there wasn't knowledge or education about what these drugs can do to you. There wasn't AIDS then, there was an innocence to the drug intake and to the partying. Now we know what's going to happen.  We know what could happen if we
have unprotected sex.

I tried to give that to Amada as well because now if we party, we know the consequences.

Whether you are living in New York or L.A. for work, this movie is all about New York. How do you feel about making this movie here, working here, staying here in general?

EM: This is my favorite place to work. Working here--there's nothing like it.

This movie could not have been shot anywhere else. It would have been over James Grey's dead body. It couldn't have been shot in Toronto. He would've had a coronary attack.

I love this city and I've always been a wannabe New Yorker but I was raised in Los Angeles. Early in my career, people always assumed I was a New Yorker. I never corrected them, but I guess that's lying so maybe I should correct them.

As for places to go and things to do in New York, do you have some favorite options?

EM: Well I lived at the Gramercy Park Hotel. It's like my second home. I can't say enough good things about it.

It has a great bar downstairs. If you want to go upstairs and grab a bite, they have a beautiful terrace, a beautiful outside garden, and the rooms are spectacular. I love their art. I'm just a big Gramercy fan. That's my place.

What do you think of having former New York City Ed Koch on set and what did you think of him as an actor?

EM: Oh, I never got to meet him. He was there on a day when I wasn't working. Unfortunately we never crossed paths.

What did you think of him as an actor?

EM: He's good. Not bad. good.

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