As Romina in the upcoming drama, The Place Beyond the Pines, Eva Mendes plays the a woman caught in the whirlwind of the lives of a line of men who are all affected by her choice to tell a long lost fling that her son, is also his. From make-up decisions to a strange audition process, Eva spoke with us at a roundtable interview in NYC recently about her work in The Place Beyond the Pines.
Are you wearing one of your dresses?
E: It’s not. I am working on this collection for New York and Company now, but this dress is an old Pierre Cardin. So I have decided to collaborate with New York and Company and create my own fashion line, which I didn’t foresee, but it feels right, right now. So I am taking out all my old vintage clothing from my closet and trying to resurrect it and see what can inspire me.
How nervous were you when you first went to Derek to audition for him?
E: I had actually never felt so secure in my life, I will tell you why. I had heard that he wasn’t sure about me fitting in, about me in this role, and I kind of just had this very peaceful feeling about it, because I knew it was mine. There’s certain things that you just know and not from an egotistical way, there are plenty of jobs I have not gotten, but it was stemming from an, I know this character place. He is from New York, I went to go meet him in LA, where he was casting, and said, “Look, I can go into this room and audition, but instead why don’t you come with me, we will take a drive, and I will show you where I grew up in Los Angeles, and we will talk about the character that way.” I knew once he could see a different side of me, that he would feel that I was right for it. So I was actually really calm and peaceful about it, because I felt like I had never done that before, I had never taken someone on a tour in my life [Laughs] to neighborhoods and stuff like that, so it was beautiful for me as well and we took about a two hour drive; where I grew up, where I went to school, different places, then we stopped at this little park that I used to go to, and it was beautiful. If all auditions could be that way, it would be a beautiful process.
Four years ago, you told me, you could do dramatic parts. You were great in Last Night.
Thank you! I loved Last Night! Nobody saw that movie! Massy Tadjedin, writer/director, she’s the best!
I think it was your best dramatic role, until this one.
Thank you so much. This one was a stretch.
Can you talk a little bit about working with Ryan?
He’s the greatest. This whole cast, I mean, Ryan, Bradley [Cooper], Ray Liotta; Ray Liotta challenged me on a level, especially in that one scene, the tragedy had already happened, and Ray is really special, he really just kind of goes for the jugular, I loved it, he really challenged me. Working with Dane Dehaan, working with young talent that you just know will do amazing things. I am a little bummed out I didn’t get stuff with Ben Mendelsohn, but all the actors, that’s the beauty about Derek, one of the beautiful things about him is that he knows how to cast and everybody just plays so well off each other.
Were there opportunities for improvisation?
E: Yes there were, which I really love, because Derek wrote it, but he told me from the beginning, he said, “I am not married to these words,” and that was a lot of freedom. It was great, he put us in situations where just a lot of scenes were very organic and when a line wasn’t working, he was say lose it, just dump it. I have never worked at this level before, I am kind of angry at Derek because I don’t know how I am going to work on another film. Can I give you an example what he did? In the film, there’s this woman who plays my mother and it’s a small role, but it’s an important one, everyone role is an important one. Anyway, one day Derek told me, “You are going to go cast your mother tomorrow,” and I go what, “What do you mean? We are casting her tomorrow?” He goes, “No, you. You are going to the city, and you are going to pick your mom.” I had never heard of this. I go, “Oh I will tell you who I like and then you are going to pick her?” He goes, “No, this is your mother, you need a connection with her, you are going to read these women and you will cast your mother.” I felt, this is too good to be true, there’s no way. So I had this day meeting these amazingly beautiful women, and I felt a connection, immediately with Olga. I felt when she walked in, she reminded me of my mother, and immediately, I was like, “Mommy!” Then Derek saw her tape and I thought he probably wanted to see the other tapes, and he was like, “nope, is she your mother?” I said, “She’s my mother,” and that’s it, it was done. Who does that? This level of working, the freedom that you have is just, so beautiful.
Has Mr. Gosling, has he directed you yet?
E: No, we haven’t started that. I’m very excited for that, though.
You grew up in L.A. but filmed in Schenectady, so what parts of your neighborhood were you able to use for this? Was that something that worried Derek?
E: It’s not so much that it reminded me of Schenectady; it was the idea of coming from nothing. We weren’t poor, but we were lower, lower middle class, and there was a struggle being so close to Hollywood, but still light years away. Schenectady is so close to New York City, but light years away. So, it’s in reach but it doesn’t even look like it from that point. At the end of the day, I take responsibility for the image that I have put out there, and I think Derek was worried I was a bit glamorous and stuff, but the truth is, that’s something I tap into when I have to. Just like when I am working on a campaign, and the hair and makeup comes into play or if I am doing a photo shoot for a fashion magazine, or even like today; I want you guys to think I look nice. I am not going to wake up looking like a hobo, like Will Ferrell called me in The Other Guys. [Laughter] When I am out there, I am not that girl, I am a very kind of LA girl who, certainly didn’t grow up on the streets at all, but I am the girl next door when it’s just me.
How did you see yourself aging in the film?
E: That was my favorite part. Anytime, and I know my work doesn’t reflect this, but I promise you will see more of it, anytime I get to really play a character and I get to change the way I look, I am happier, that’s what satisfies me. I still go to acting class, I am such a student of acting, and everything I try in acting class is material, it is Edward Albee material, it’s crazy, crazy dark stuff; I go for crazy. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult to have those opportunities in film. That’s why I took the part in Holy Motors, because I wanted to look totally different and that’s why this thing I just did with Larry David, I look insane for. So it was such a great part and I just look totally different for that. I try to sneak it in there actually, in a lot of films, you can’t really notice, but even in Hitch, I did the scene after the night where Will spends the night at my place, and that next morning, I have no makeup on. It was a big studio movie and I was like, “I don’t want makeup on.” It’s amazing how many people kind of fight you on that. “What do you mean; we need something, a little powder.” No we don’t. So I am always into seeing all of it. Of course, there may be a scene where you can look beautiful and glamorous, but if that scene exists, I want the complete opposite of that and everything in the middle. I am an actress and that’s what really gets me going.
So to answer your question, when I get to age myself in this film, I was like, “Derek, what can I do, what can I do?” Then I made a decision, because truthfully, we didn’t have months to prep for that, we were filming and we had about a week. It is a small film, and we went through prosthetics, maybe a bit much, so I did little tricks. I decided, besides me obviously graying and stuff like that and I had some undergarments that were kind of helping with my body language a little bit. [Laughs] I was in the hotel room, the Holiday Inn Schenectady, and I was like, “What else can I do to myself to just change my face,” because time its way with her, and it wasn’t like she is old; she is in her early 40s, obviously it’s not old, but I wanted time to have had its way with her. So I started shaving my eyebrows and I was like, “That’s interesting.” I started shaving, shaving, shaving, and I almost shaved them all off and I was like, “Weird.” [Laughter] I thought that might change the shape of my face a bit, so I did a bunch of little tricks like that, besides the obvious one of absolutely no makeup. For the scene at the hospital when I am with Jason, that whole night, I didn’t sleep. In my hotel room, in the Holiday Inn in Schenectady, I was drinking coffee, coffee, coffee, and not sleeping, because I wanted to look haggard, and delirious. I can’t imagine having a son in a hospital, to me that’s obviously the worst thing imaginable, so I kind of went a little method for that, but that really helped me just feel and look exhausted.
Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts on the emotional state of the character? Even though it is unintentional in the character’s mind, technically, she’s the villain of the piece. If she doesn’t show up at the beginning, the rest of the movie never happens.
E: That’s an interesting take. [Laughter] I didn’t see it that way.
Why is she showing up if she doesn’t want anything to really do with Luke?
E: Because life is beautiful, complicated, complex, and some of us make bad decisions. Think about it, it is 1992, you have a fling with this guy, he disappears, and you have his baby. You have this other guy in your life that is stable and wonderful and wants to raise that child as if it’s his own. You don’t know where the biological father is so you are thinking you will probably never see him again, what am I going to do? So you are probably tempted to make a call, possibly not, but there’s no connection. This person comes back into your life, you have one night, an opportunity, and you know he’s in town one night, with this traveling circus, a carnival, and you are going, you are under a clock and you are like, “What do I do?” What is the right thing to do? What do I do? He is unfit to be a father, but this is his biological child. What do I do, what do I do?
I think the beauty of what Derek wrote is this woman who is morally questionable, and just trying to figure out what the right thing to do is. So she goes to see him, there are sparks and hopefully what you saw was a push and pull of like, she still didn’t know what to do, it just couldn’t come out. Have you ever been in a situation where you just can’t, you just don’t know how to communicate something so incredibly important and significant? And then she ends up going inside the house, and she has no way to call him back, she doesn’t know he just disappeared, and then the story unfolds, but I like that she is flawed like that, and that she didn’t do the right thing, because we don’t always do the right thing in life.
Well speaking to that, because there’s obviously this incredible chemistry, part of you can’t stay away from him, so can you talk about creating that interaction with him and what you did?
E: Well it’s one of those things that you have to keep in mind that Romina is in a small, sleepy town, in a small, sleepy life. Here comes this man, Luke, who is a motorcyclist, stunt driver. It is excitement, like he is just excitement, and in her life, that’s just kind of important. He’s the superstar of that town. Or whatever town he goes into, he’s the superstar. So I think that it stemmed from there, it’s just exciting. Then he leaves and she stays in her normal, kind of quiet, quiet life.
Do you think she didn’t know he was dangerous until he punched Kofi? Did that change things?
E: No, I think that she’s a smart woman and she saw that this person was potentially dangerous. She didn’t know in what capacity, I don’t think she ever felt her life in danger or anything like that, or else she wouldn’t have done it, but she definitely felt like she was playing with fire. Obviously you are going to get burned at some point.
So what’s next?
E: Lunch. [Laughter] I am really excited about the Larry David thing; hopefully you guys will like it.