Eva Mendes Interview – WE OWN THE NIGHT

     October 11, 2007

Opening up tomorrow at theaters everywhere is “We Own the Night,” the new film by James Gray (“The Yards,” “Little Odessa”). In the movie Eva plays the girlfriend of Joaquin Phoenix, and even though this kind of role is often just a token character, I thought Eva was great and she absolutely disappeared into her character.

And if you haven’t heard of the film yet, the first thing you can do is watch a bunch of clips from the movie here… or you can just read the synopsis:

Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) has turned 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, an emotional crime thriller about a man who has chosen to hide his past only to discover that he has to confront an inevitable future, takes its title from the motto of the 1980s-era NYPD street crimes unit. Written and directed by James Gray (The Yards, Little Odessa).

So to help promote the film, Sony recently held a press day and all the stars did roundtable type interviews.

During our 20 minutes with Eva she discussed why she took the role, she talked about her sex scene, working with the cast and what she has coming up. If you’re a fan of this beautiful actress, you’re going to dig the interview. As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the MP3 of the interview by clicking here.

“We Own the Night” opens tomorrow at theaters everywhere.

Question: This must have been an irresistible character for you to agree to play.

Eva Mendes: Actually I said no for a year because I’m a complete idiot and I have a no reflex that I’ve learned just doesn’t work for me. I said no…I’m trying to figure out what it is. I’ve paid a lot of money for therapy, I just don’t understand. It ends up being the things I loved the most in life and the best experiences I have I usually say no to at the beginning.

Q: And what made you say yes then?

Eva Mendes: I’m sorry?

Q: No doesn’t always mean no.

Eva Mendes: Well…(lots of laughter) that’s cute..that’s cute. At the moment I feel it. You know, there’s conviction it’s like no it’s not great. I first read the script James Gray gave me and I thought you know I don’t want to play the girlfriend role. I’ve been really selective in my career to play like independent women or women who have something to overcome of course, but to not be just the girlfriend cause you can fall into that hole so easily, you know? But anyhow, and then he did a few re-writes. He was very persuasive and he just kept at it. He came back to me 6 months later and the script…you know the role was a little better but I say like no, no, no and then a year later he came back to me with a more enhanced role and then he said Joaquin Phoenix is definitely playing the role of Bobby and then I go well, maybe. So it all…

Q: Did that opening scene scare you?

Eva Mendes: Did the opening scene?

Yeah the opening scene with Joaquin—the sex scene?

Eva Mendes: Yeah, yeah it definitely—scared is a good word. Yeah, it scared me.

Was that in the first script they gave you? The first page or…?

Eva Mendes: Yeah, and believe it or not that wasn’t what made me not…that wasn’t one of the reasons I didn’t respond. I just felt like she was too much the girlfriend once the story started unraveling. But we worked on it together and we really came up with something that I thought was really you know, special and real.

Eva, in real life maybe are you the kind of person—it sounds like that at the beginning you think you know after 5 minutes if you want that or not? And then you give that person or that situation a chance and then you end up loving it?

Eva Mendes: Totally.

The first minute you’re like…

Eva Mendes: Exactly and it’s like and I give it a chance and I read it and stuff then it’s like no. Actually I said no to Hitch and I was like I love Will but I want to be a serious actress. I don’t want to do a romantic comedy. I am an idiot, you know. And of course, meeting Will was like one of the highlights of my career, you know, and meeting Jada and then that movie, working with Sony, it’s just so funny so now it’s like I don’t know.

So now you say yes to everything quickly and then regret it.

Eva Mendes: And then regret it, yeah. Now I have a whole new problem on my hands.

Your character in this movie seems to evolve quite quickly from the first 20 minutes I think a lot of us had a fixed idea of what this character was going to be like, then she ends up being a lot more self-possessed and articulate than we might have thought. Is that what your initial objections were to the character?

Eva Mendes: A little bit, yeah. I definitely just wanted her to be a different person from when we first meet her. I understand that James wanted her to almost fizzle away in the film, because that’s much more heartbreaking and sad and it’s traumatic for him and stuff so when he thinks he sees me it’s not really me and blah, blah, blah. It was great for the drama, but I just definitely wanted her to evolve somehow. Even in the most minor way, I wanted her to have a journey.

How would you describe that journey?

Eva Mendes: You know, she goes from being this so completely in love with this person, and hanging on pretty much his almost every whim and just having him and almost like you know, she’s in her late 20’s yet it’s almost like a love that most of us experience when we’re very young like that 16-17 year old love where you see future with this person, you can’t live without this person, you live and breathe this person and I think what happens is she realizes that she does have this strength within her to go on without him and it’s a very mature decision because walking away from somebody that you’re still in love with is to me the hardest thing that one can do. Technically, they’re still in love. He didn’t do anything to her. You know, it’s not like he’s beating her and she has no other choice but to walk away. That’s just a very adult and emotionally mature decision to make, to walk away from someone you’re still in love with just because it’s not right for you. That’s tough.

How was it like working with Joaquin Phoenix?

Eva Mendes: Unbelievable. You know just and I really mean this—he is for me my dream co-star in the sense that he was so there for me. He knew that this was my first real dramatic role and experience and him along with James made this the most frightening experience but the most safe as well. I know that sounds really weird but it was almost like I was pushed from both of them every day. I was emotionally just pushed and pushed but yet there was a safety net there, which was really beautiful because I’ve never quite had that experience before. And now I feel just kind of fortunate of course, but I’m kind of irritated at Joaquin because he’s messed it up for all my future co-stars, you know it’s like God why did it have to be so good now I’m going to compare you to Joaquin. Seriously he’s a dear friend of mine and I just…when you do something for the first time and you have somebody there that’s really holding your hand through it, it’s an amazing feeling.

Do you think you’re going to be even more selective…I mean you talked about the no’s and saying no and everything, but now having done a character like this in such a way that you’ve done it, will you be more selective now in what you take on? Will you be any less likely to take on tough characters or…?

Eva Mendes: No, I probably won’t be doing Fast and Furious 4, but I had such a great time doing the 2nd one that actually I love those movies and they serve a purpose and those characters serve a purpose, you know? I don’t think I could do just movies like this because I think they’d take a toll on me because I study religiously and I immerse myself so deeply into it that I feel I need to get stronger legs, do you know what I mean?

Did they ask you to do Fast and Furious 4?

Eva Mendes: No, they’re not. And I love Neil Moritz, we’re really good friends and stuff so I was just trying to be funny there but it’s more like I love fluff films and stuff like that so it’s not now you’re going to get the serious Eva Mendes and I will never….you know? No, I love all of it and I think that’s the fun of being an actor and I think that’s something amazing that a Julianne Moore does very well or a Kate Winslet so hopefully I can just keep kind of going doing different…

It says here that you’re going to be in The Women and The Spirit?

Eva Mendes: Yeah. I just wrapped The Women and it was fantastic. A great experience. I did the role that Miss Joan Crawford played back in the day. I know, I’m going to get a lot of shit for that one. I’m ready for it. No way did I try to copy what she did. I’m not that stupid but I definitely took it on as my own and I had a great, great time. Annette Benning’s in the film, who’s just unbelievable.

Did you make a point of not seeing the original?

Eva Mendes: No, no I saw the original years ago and then I saw it again actually because I think it’s a great movie. We obviously modernized it. Diane English did a great re-write and the ladies and I all got together and made sure that we modernized it. We made it relevant to today and the issues we face as women today. So yeah that was exciting.

What about The Spirit? Are you Sand Saraf?

Eva Mendes: I’m Sand Saraf. I start that in just a couple weeks.

Wow, so what’s the preliminaries for that? Have you been reading the old comic strips?

Eva Mendes: Yeah, I have some. Frank Miller gave me some of the old comics and I’m excited because I’ve never actually played like the real femme fatal and this woman is just so…she’d eat you for breakfast. I know, it’s kind of fun.

What about the visual look of a character like that?

Eva Mendes: Right now we’re thinking kind of a very old meets new Rita Hayworth-ish kind of hair. We have a 40’s feel to some of the outfits and stuff but obviously modernize it. Frank Miller’s lovely insanity so it will be a nice little mix. That’s what we’re thinking now and that could always change once we’re there. It usually does.

Will you be a red-head?

Eva Mendes: I’m going a little red, but not red-red. Not like…I tried red a few years ago and oh actually for 2 Fast 2 Furious I thought I would do red just to be fun. The worst idea I ever had. Me and Neil were like yeah, that’s not going to work. I was like yeah, I know it’s not working, so we’re not going fully red but we’re doing a little hint of it.

Is he co-directing again or…?

Eva Mendes: No, he’s directing-directing and he wrote the script as well.

Are there any of the cast members that you’re excited to work with?

Eva Mendes: Which from where?

From Spirit?

Eva Mendes: Yeah, I’m really excited to work with Gabriel Macht. I think he’s exciting and new and I saw him in I think it was Love Song for Bobby Long, I don’t know if that’s correct. Does anybody know if that’s correct? Yeah, that’s cool. And I thought he was lovely. I was like why doesn’t this guy work more and then he was in The Spirit and I was like oh, cool. Then Scarlett Johanssen who she’s also going to be in it and the funny part is I did one of my first jobs about 8 or 9 years ago with Scarlett, one of my first acting jobs and she was like 14 years old, 15 years old and she ran circles around me. I was like this little girl is going to be such a star because she was just like telling me how it is. She was telling me about the business and I was a lot older than her and I just loved it. You’re so cool.

What was that?

Eva Mendes: We don’t really need to know what that was. It was called My Brother the Pig. It’s kind of genius though because I play her live-in babysitter. This college girl that comes in and lives with the family and I take care of like her but my main responsibility is her little brother who I guess was like 7 or something like that. And through happenstance I don’t even know, I turn him into a pig accidentally and then we have to go back to Mexico to find my grandmother who knows how to reverse it. I’m not joking. I am so serious about that.

Career defining performance?

Eva Mendes: Oh yes, yes, yes.

Did you go to the Studio 54 people and talk to some of the women?

Eva Mendes: You know—actually you know what happened was I’m going to drop this name, I’ll pick it up later—I’m friends with Ian Schragger and his family and he’s a lovely man. So what we did is because of that whole world and stuff, Joaquin and I went out with Ian and Ian was very gracious with giving us all these stories and just letting us know how it was really running and that was really interesting actually.

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Eva, with The Women, I know you said you updated it from the original…one of the great things in that movie is the dialogue. Did you change a lot of the dialogue?

Eva Mendes: Yeah, you have to. I know. There are certain lines that Diane kept but in order to just make it watchable—even when you watch The Women now it’s amazing but it’s hard to understand in this day and age with even some of the stuff, so it had to be changed, unfortunately but this is not…we’re not trying to…it’s just a modern day version, where in no way is it trying to compete with or…it’s just a great film to make in this day and age. (one of the journalists gets up and leaves) Am I that boring? Am I that bad? Wow, my heart just broke. No, I’m just kidding.

You’re being mean to me. Blame Mark.

Eva Mendes: No. no.

I’ve just seen the DVD of Knocked Up and your total interview there Eva Mendes playing herself and not the most sensitive…

Eva Mendes: No, well it’s always a joke. You don’t really play yourself when you play yourself otherwise it’s boring, you know what I mean? Otherwise it just would have been nice and so the point was I’d just go in and we’d …I’m kind of blanking on the director…like my favorite.


Eva Mendes: Apatow, geez like hello! I’m dying to work with Apatow. He called me in and he’s like ok, you’ve got to really give her a lot of crap, keep telling her no matter where the conversation goes, he’s like…cos it was like all ad lib but he’s like keep telling her she’s fat, keep telling her she’s big. Just keep at her, keep at her. I was like ok– cool, cool, cool. So we went at it. It was fun.

Are you sad it was cut because it’s a killer scene and you’re great in it?

Eva Mendes: I’m an actress. I’m sad if…yes, of course I’m sad it was cut but I understood it, you know what I mean? But I was like oh.

Are you signing on for anything prior to the strike? Or are you going to take some time off?

Eva Mendes: I don’t know. I definitely don’t want to get caught up in that state that a lot of people are in. I don’t like acting out of fear or paranoia that you’re not going to work so you better get something in because what if it’s not the right thing? So, if something great comes up after The Spirit, fantastic. If not, if there’s a strike you know I’ll…

I think the last time I spoke to you, you were developing your own material.

Eva Mendes: I have a few options on books and I have a couple of scripts and I have to tell you, I thought acting was tough. Being a producer and trying to get something off the ground is heartbreakingly, excruciating. It’s the worst. It’s even worse than acting because you feel so passionate about these projects and you go in and you’re selling them. You’re selling something that you love and when the studio doesn’t see it or they don’t get it, you’re just like oh my God, what am I going to do? So it’s like I want to take out a loan and finance it myself but that’s like death. Everybody tells you– do not do that. So I’m just kind of learning trial by error and all I know is I have an incredible amount of passion for these certain projects but it’s heartbreaking. When I work with someone like Diane English, it’s both inspiring and daunting because she’s had this script. She’s had The Women for 12 years—she’s been trying to get it done. Meg’s been attached—Meg Ryan’s been attached for 8 years, so I’m like you know this is not going to work because the point is for me to play theses roles. If we wait 12 years I’m not going to be able to play them and I’d have to cast someone else in it and…never mind.

I was going to say can you talk a little bit about working with Sam Jackson and Ed Harris in The Cleaner?

Eva Mendes: Oh yeah. The Cleaner was a dark, dark movie. It was a really great experience. You know Sam’s fantastic and you know Ed’s…Ed Harris, I think it’s one of those funny things that my Mom…my mom’s a very, very old school woman and she doesn’t ask to come to set ever anything like that. We were in Shreveport, Louisiana and my mom was like I might have to come visit you. She’s been in love with Ed Harris for so long. I’m like Mom, I hear you. He’s quite the dream and just such a great actor. That was a cool experience. It was just kind of dark, the role was dark so I think about it and I’m like oof. It was a very dark place.

This is pretty dark too.

Eva Mendes: This is dark as well, yeah, but fun. Oooh, so fun. Really good.

What character—could you talk about your character in the film now?

Eva Mendes: In The Cleaner?


Eva Mendes: I play a woman who’s just recently lost her husband and she’s trying to find out what exactly happened to him. Yeah, I’m sorry I’m not making it sound that interesting. It’s actually a really interesting film and Renny Harlin—he did an amazing job. It was just one of those things that I had to go to a kind of dark place and just the subject matter was ugh so as you can see I’m trying to avoid it. I’m trying to avoid talking about it.

The scene in this movie where you go to visit with his family for the first time, you’re not really accepted and kind of an awkward experience. I was just wondering if in your own life was there ever any instance where you were dating someone and either for ethnic reasons or whatever reasons that somebody might have been prejudiced against. Have you ever experienced that first hand?

Eva Mendes: I experienced it when I was younger with a lot of the moms. The dad’s always liked me. The dad’s were always cool with me. The mom’s were a little iffy. The mom’s were like well maybe you know? But to be honest, I’ve experienced it a couple of times but once they gave me a chance they knew that I was you know.

The prejudice that kind of…

Eva Mendes: Yeah, I think like back in high school absolutely when it wasn’t as cool to be “Latin” you know what I mean? I think a couple of time, yeah definitely.

Eva, I have to confess that I was a bit shocked by the sex scene in this movie. Were you asked to tone it down or shoot it in a different way, I mean…?

Eva Mendes: You know that’s not my job. I would never do that ever, ever step on a director’s toes. You know what, it was nerve wracking but it’s just part of the thing. If my character didn’t go to deeply emotional places and then that’s all I was there for was the sex—I would not have done it. I wouldn’t have done the movie, but because it was a journey and because we saw so many different sides of her, I felt this was an accurate portrayal of this person and of their relationship. I understood that this is James’ opening scene and it sets the tone for the entire movie. Was I scared out of my wits? Absolutely. I was really nervous that morning. I was frightened but you just do it. It was very intimate as well.

Eva, has your mom seen the scene? Talking about a conservative mom like Latin moms?

Eva Mendes: Absolutely not. I have instructed all of my family that they must show up 15 minutes late. That’s it. I told them. Thank God it’s the first scene so they don’t have to like you know…I told my dad. I said Dad, Poppy you cannot be there on time. Nobody can. So, I definitely….it’s a tough one. I understand. It premiered in Cannes and I’m sitting there in the audience and I was like oh my God, no that’s me. Oh my God, oh my God. That’s me. That’s my boob, that’s my boob. So you literally as you know I want to be this actress and this thing, it’s still me up there and it’s nerve wracking so I’m sure it is for my family but you know what, that’s what you have to do.

Did you have concerns about the nudity itself or did you…?

Eva Mendes: No, no, no. I feel like…I am very un-American in that way only. I love being American but in that one way when it comes to nudity I feel like if you’re emotionally nude for a movie and you’re saying you’re not going to do nudity, I just feel like that’s a contradiction and that’s a bit hypocritical. I give 150% of myself and now what’s interesting is I’d rather be nude and be true to the scene and the character than be scantily clad for no reason if that makes any sense. Do you know what I mean? I think it actually more grotesque to be parading around in a film in skimpy clothes for no reason than to actually be true and authentic and have your breasts exposed or something so I have a difference of opinion. Thank you guys so much.

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