Ever since Training Day started making Eva Mendes a household Hollywood name, the actress has been assembling quite the film catalogue, accompanied by a ever-so-lovely reputation. While I love her roles in Once Upon A Time In Mexico and Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call – New Orleans, she’s more prominently known for films like Ghost Rider, Hitch, and The Other Guys – and her next role in the upcoming festival hit The Place Beyond The Pines will only add another high-point to her already accomplished career.
While promoting Derek Cianfrance’s new film in New York recently, I was able to sit down for a round-table interview with the wonderfully pleasant starlet and talk about her emotionally taxing role in The Place Beyond The Pines. Read on to hear Eva talk about her experiences as a mother on the film, the strong dramatic story which pushes her character, and of course her experiences working with Ryan Gosling.
We first started off asking Eva about her on-screen transformation as her character ages throughout the film, as she seems to be the only one noticeably changing physically, and if she talked to director Derek Cianfrance about making it so visible:
Eva Mendes: Because of the tragedy that she suffers, I wanted to make sure you could see it on her face and on her body. I did certain little tricks that I’d like to keep secret to make sure I looked haggard as to appear time had its way with me.
I did talk to Derek about the obvious graying and all that stuff, in fact one of the little tricks I did was to shave down my eyebrows to a very thin point. While I don’t really recommend it for an everyday look, when you want to change your face a bit and look a little insane, it actually works, but I wanted it to stem more from an emotional place than getting into prosthetics and aging too much.
The truth is, you start off the film with Romina in her mid to late 20s and it’s a little ambiguous, and then you’re going into her early 40s and there is a difference there, but it’s not as drastic. We didn’t really want to get into it, we didn’t want the attention to make audiences question “Oh wow, is that her face?”
Jumping off the physical attributes, someone noted there is also a visible emotional change in her character Romina:
Eva Mendes: Did you notice? Great, that’s what I was concentrating on. It’s the same thing I do on every film, whether it’s a big studio film, or a comic book film, or a film like this – I work very closely with my acting coach who I’ve worked with since Training Day, Ivana Chubbuck, and we break down a character. For me it’s a part of the process that I love, when you get to break down a character and work on all that emotional stuff.
Thankfully Derek Cianfrance turned out to be my dream director, too. I just can’t get enough of the way he approaches things. From the audition, I knew we were on to something special because I came to see him for this role and I said to him “Look, I can go in that room and read this material for you, but I don’t think that’s really what you’re looking for. I think you should get in my car, take a ride, and I’ll drive around the neighborhoods that I grew up in around Los Angeles. I think you’ll get to know me and the character are really alike, and I can talk to you about my experiences growing up.”
He was totally into it, and we took this beautiful couple of hours in the car, and I talked to him about my upbringing, showed him where I was from, and drew the parallels between me and the character Romina, and it was so great.
The fact that he was so into that non-conventional approach to auditioning, I thought “Oh gosh this is going to be fun, I like this.”
Getting more into the character of Romina, we tried to pry open her character’s emotional makeup and hear Eva’s thoughts on why her character tries so hard to make her situation with Ryan Gosling work:
Eva Mendes: That was actually my own question before I shot the film, and because I have so many women in my life through family and friends, I decided to have a woman’s day at home before I went out to Schenectady to actually shoot the film. I brought all these women together and we all sat around to talk, eat, and have fun, but I gave them the subject matter and posed a question. I said “So, here’s the situation. You have a child with a man you don’t know, that man is out of the picture, then you meet a great man who wants to provide for this child as if he were his own. Then the biological father comes back into the picture, he wants to be involved in the child’s life, but you have this great man who wants to provide because the biological father is unfit. What do you do?”
The thing is, my initial thinking was you would go with the man who is fit to provide for the child, but all these women said no, and that everything in your body and being creates a primal pull to the biological father no matter how wrong or unfit he may be, and you try everything to make that work, not to say it’s going to work, but you do try and make it work somehow.
I was like “Wow, this is so interesting!” I got so much insight from my friends and family, and women that were in similar situations. It was so helpful for me.
From that, I found when Romina kept seeing Luke (Gosling), I liked her because she was flawed. She wanted to keep the man who provides and is stable, yet was still testing Luke to see if it could work. Before she introduces the baby to him, she’s testing the waters.
She’s scared and trepidatious, and yet there’s a feeling of “Can this work.” Obviously you can’t ignore the fact that Luke is incredibly exciting, he’s a motorcycle stunt-driver, there’s a traveling carnival that comes into this sleepy little town, it’s the early 90s with no Facebook or knowing where other people are, he’s disappeared, he’s come back in, so she’s still like a young woman who is caught up in this larger than life character. You see him and you can just see he’s electric and filled with vigor…
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At this point someone interjected and asked if Eva could relate to her character:
Eva Mendes: No, not really, because I grew up in the city and everything was so exciting. My mom worked at the Hollywood Chinese Theater, albeit in the box office and souvenir shop, but I don’t know. Maybe I would if I grew up in a small town.
We then asked Eva how she felt about her wardrobe for The Place Beyond The Pines, as her character fits right in with the early 90s vibe:
Eva Mendes: Yeah, I wanted her to be as raw as could be. This is not a girl who fuses with makeup or clothing, this is a woman who is on survival mode and who is really bare bones.
A little tidbit – those horrendous jean shorts she wears, that are so God awful, were actually mine from 1992. I swear. Absolutely. [Laughs]
“The director did not make you wear them, you brought them yourself?!”
Eva Mendes: First of all, the director doesn’t make me do anything. [Laughs] I learned that early on.
You make your decisions as an actress, and if I’m really uncomfortable with something I wouldn’t let a director talk me into it. Derek loved it though. He wants as much personal stuff infused with your character as possible. That’s what he loves and really encourages his actors to do. I love that.
The shorts are very ill-fitting and that’s what I wanted for Romina. She’s raw.
Moving towards the chemistry between Eva and Ryan Gosling, we asked where that connection came from:
Eva Mendes: Ryan and I have known each other for years, but it’s possible that you could be friends with someone and not like how they work. I respect him so much as an actor though, and he certainly improved my game, as well as everyone else on the cast.
Expanding upon this question, we asked if it’s harder or easier doing a more intimate love scene with a close friend:
Eva Mendes: Love scenes are always awkward – let’s just say that. They’re awful. It’s nobody’s favorite thing. I’m not giving you anything different from anything any other actor or actress has said. I’ve manage in my career to really skip through them, and there’s times in a script where my character has a love scene and I carefully address the director and say “Can we please cut this out? I feel that it’s gratuitous and there’s no need for it.” Thankfully that has happened.
I try to avoid them whenever I can, but I’ve done a few things along those lines which I believe have been appropriate for the films I’ve been in, but I’ve never done a simulated sex scene because I feel like they’re rarely appropriate.
Getting back to her character, we asked Eva if she think’s Romina actually loved Luke, or if it’s more the biological father talk she mentioned earlier:
Eva Mendes: It’s up to everybody to decide. I like when people come up to me and say “Oh she really loved him!” or contrarily say “No, she was just doing it for her son!” Really, I don’t even know, but I think certainly she was just a women in a very difficult predicament. I’m so happy I had that woman’s day at my house, it really gave a lot of insight.
Looking for even more character insight, we asked Eva’s thoughts on how her parenting went when the film does its final jump to the last act where we see her child grown up, because a good 15 years passes and we don’t hear much about what happened in the blank area:
Eva Mendes: Well I feel very protective and motherly right now, I feel [Luke's kid] wasn’t that troubled! Oh my gosh, this is so funny, I’m feeling so overprotective! I’m want to talk about other character’s influences, no my own kid! [Laughs]
The truth is I think she just over-parented and at the time when we finally see her, she had decided “He’s a teenager, I’m going to let go and give him his space a bit.” There’s a couple scenes that were cut that show more interaction, and in one of those I smack him, and it was heartbreaking to smack [Dane DeHaan's] little face, but it was a really hard scene where I was trying to tough love him. I think when we see Romina those 15 years later there’s a sense of going “OK, I don’t know what to do so I’m going to leave this alone because I’ve over-parented.” She has this alliance to Luke that I think is really beautiful.
Clearing up some future projects, we asked if she was going to be in the next Fast and Furious:
Eva Mendes: No.
“What about Clear History?”
Eva Mendes: Yes, Clear History! I just finished shooting with Larry David. I’m really excited about this you guys. It’s all improv, and definitely shot like Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Thanks so much to Eva Mendes for taking the time for this interview, and be sure to catch her in The Place Beyond The Pines when it opens March 29th!Previous