Eva Mendes, Ready to Leave the 'Pretty Girlfriend' Roles Behind

Eva Mendes's turn as a husband-murdering jewel thief is a meaty departure from previous roles.
Eva Mendes's turn as a husband-murdering jewel thief is a meaty departure from previous roles. (Lionsgate/odd Lot Entertainment)
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 26, 2008

In "The Spirit," Eva Mendes plays a conniving jewel thief who has managed to kill all 14 of the men she has married.

It's a fabulous role for any woman, she insists, and especially for her.

"I get to do something here," she says, meaning something-more-than-stand-around-looking-pretty.

She is good at standing around, slightly off-center, as some leading man's gorgeous girlfriend or as the voluptuous temptress who gets what she wants.

She is good at it, and it has gotten her what she wants: a viable career as an actress.

Only now, she wants more. "I just want more-layered roles," she says.

Hence the gun-toting jewel thief in a comic-book noir drama by Frank Miller, who also directed "Sin City." In "The Spirit," Mendes joins Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson as the targets of the quasi-human superhero played by Gabriel Macht. (See review on Page 28. )

Mendes had never heard of the comic, which ran in newspapers in the 1940s. She recalls being intrigued first by her character's hard edges, then by what was underneath.

To translate those layers from paper to screen, Mendes worked with her trusted acting coach, Ivana Chubbuck, to unravel the role.

"As superficial as she may look and as stereotypical as you may think she is, there's a lot of pain under there," she says of the character, whose cop father was killed when she was a child. "And that's all I needed to give me an excuse to go further with the character.

"This is really, really an amazing acting opportunity."

Mendes says she spent much of her time leading up to the shoot studying the manners and styles of great actresses of the '40s. (The film is set in a nebulous time, but Mendes's character is all golden-age glamour girl.) In examining the ways of Ava Gardner, Bette Davis and the like, she came to admire their "almost equal balance of femininity and masculinity."

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