Maybe it's a breach of journalistic ethics to accept a hug from Eva Mendes, but I don't care. I did it. When an actress of her formidable beauty offers you the chance for a post-interview embrace, you don't turn that down; it's like being asked if you're a god – you always, always say yes. Of course, it had occurred just after what I'm sure she has since told her agents, her loved ones and of course her Fiat-sized german shepherd was the greatest interview she has ever done, so it seems only fair to show her a little love after providing her with a venue to bare her soul about her role in The Other Guys and the challenges and opportunities she's faced in her career.
All kidding aside – and I'm serious about that hug, I got one – Mendes is a remarkably talented and thoughtful actress, having performed ably in a wide variety of roles throughout her career, and she offered no less energy or intelligence than usual talking about Sheila, the comely wife of Will Ferrell's character in The Other Guys. At the film's recent Los Angeles press day, I enjoyed a brief but enlightening discussion about the challenges of keeping up with Ferrell, and finding roles on a regular basis that stimulate her almost as much as the prospect of hugging nerdy, adoring journalists.
Cinematical: It seems like Hollywood can do a good enough job breeding insecurity into actresses that they would be reluctant to make fun of themselves. How easy is it to make even a joke in a film like this that you're not as attractive as you actually are?
Eva Mendes: I've always said that one thing I've always been up for is that I'll do anything for a laugh – anything. So when I got the opportunity to make fun of myself and just kind of go for it, I did. And trust me, I even wanted to do more, but just being on set was so exciting for me, and even being able to explore as much as I did was so satisfying for me. I felt so comfortable.
Cinematical: Is this a movie where you have to have a conversation with Adam or Will about what actually attracts these two people to one another, or can you go in and explore and improvise knowing that is the established dynamic?
Mendes: A little bit of both, but we definitely talked about what their attraction to one another is. We talked about the characters and how they connected and how they bonded, and the fact that these people are actually – like Sheila, she's an attractive lady, but she's a weirdo, she's a total weirdo, and Will's character is a weirdo and they connect on the commonality of pain kind of thing. One of the moments, it's a little tiny moment but it's a bonding moment, is when they talk about the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan movie, and he says it and she's right there with him. We obviously know that this is not true, but they have somehow, they're so there and they're on that freaky wavelength together and that was really fun. Because that was all improv and I'd made that choice to be like, "right, right, where is it? Yep – that's it!" To have somebody that can just back you up no matter what is ideal, so I was like, that's what kind of woman Sheila is. She's going to back her man up no matter what, even if he's wrong.
Cinematical: Even for something like this, obviously you want to play it as real as possible, but the environment seems like it would be more heightened. How did you know how to play your role and get the right tone for the scenes in which you appeared?
Mendes: I followed the lead of [Adam] McKay and Ferrell. Those guys know what they're doing; Anchorman is just my favorite comedy, and it's layered, it's such a brilliant, funny film. And they know what they're doing, so it's much easier going into a situation where you respect the people you're working with and they know what they're doing and they have this incredible shorthand with one another. For me, I was just like, go with it – I've done all of my prep, I took an improv class, I broke down my character, and I did all of that stuff. Now, once I get to set I've got to follow their lead and go with it. The first day I had a little adjustment because everything would make me laugh because I am a fan of Will Ferrell – come on, you know what I mean? But I quickly learned within the first couple of takes that I've got to pick myself back up. If I crack, and you do, you've just got to [keep going] because Will will maybe crack, a little bit, but he's back, so I followed his lead. I followed his lead.
Cinematical: In both this and Stuck On You, your character gets to be sexy and laugh at being sexy, but comediennes often have to sacrifice their sexuality in order to be funny. Do you have to think consciously about, say, freaking out Mark's character because you know the audience will similarly be freaked out, or does it come naturally to find a balance between the two?
Mendes: Definitely, but I really don't think about the audience at that point. I think about being true to the character because I trust what McKay has written, and what Ferrell and Chris Henchy have written, so I really do what's just for the character and I don't think of the audience - at that point I don't think of them at all. But what happens is that scene where Mark comes in and meets me for the first time, I made a very conscious choice to show cleavage. And the second scene, which is a dinner scene, I'm very covered-up and very ladylike. So I'm very detailed and I know exactly for the character what will work – okay, what will make the best impression on Mark's character, I come from that place. You know, I'll show my goods while still being a lady (laughs), and that ends up being what the funniest thing is.
Cinematical: There's nothing I want to see at the Oscars next year more than you, Cee-lo and Jon Brion on stage performing "Pimps Don't Cry." Did the song you guys sing in the movie lead to the version over the end credits, or where did it come from?
Mendes: They wrote a little bit, and I don't know musical terms very well, but they wrote a couple of lines for it in the script, and then they sent me the actual music for it – but at that point it was more of just a melody. So I kind of got a little melody, but the song was not yet written. The song was written after we saw the ridiculousness of the scene and how that played and stuff, and that was really fun. It was my first time in a recording studio, and that was actually really fun.
Cinematical: It's really an incredible song.
Mendes: It's kind of amazing. It's one of those things where I'm singing it and it's obviously a joke, but I was like, "but it's beautiful, too!" You know what I mean?
Cinematical: Jon Brion can do that kind of stuff so well.
Mendes: Jon Brion is just so – you know when you meet people that you respect and you think, oh, well, he's a legend, but they still have a childlike quality about them and they're so excited? He was so excited in the studio with me, and I was thinking, really? I want that, always and forever, I want that childlike excitement, and he's amazing.
Cinematical: It can be sort of a thankless role for actresses to play a girlfriend or wife in these movies because the guys often get to do so much more. Is there something that you do to define your character or to challenge yourself to make a role interesting and something more than window dressing for the rest of the characters and story?
Mendes: Absolutely. I love that you asked me that because I absolutely milk my characters for everything they're worth. Like, I try to add things and I really try to layer them as much as possible. Unfortunately, there's so many female roles out there especially for ethnic women that are limiting, and you've got to come in completely prepared and completely armed as I think of it with choices and props and things and ideas, and one of the things that helps me get to that place is I constantly take acting classes. I have my acting coach, Ivana Chubbuck, in Los Angeles, who I study with still to this day, and that for me is so incredibly rewarding, and I take from these amazing playwrights. I take from Albee and from William Inge and all of these amazing playwrights that I do in class, and the plays that I do, I take from each one of those and then that always comes into play, even doing something like Sheila. Right before Sheila I'd been in New York and I'd done an acting seminar and I'd worked on Neil Labute's Helter Skelter, which is a really crazy, out there kind of Greek tragedy in a way, and believe it or not doing even that just before the shoot, even though you wouldn't consciously link the two together, it just helps bring in those layers and ideas and stuff for the character.
Cinematical: You've enjoyed a really eclectic range of roles. Would you attribute that to being careful about your choices, or has it just been a matter of luck?
Mendes: I think it becomes one of these things where it may look like I just kind of take what I can get, and that actually couldn't be further from that. I'm actually really calculated about my career, even when I do something like Calvin Kelin and those overtly sexual campaigns for them, which I'm very proud of, I'm very calculated about everything I do. It's amazing, the things that become important; for me, it's the things I say no to that help define my career, if that makes any sense. It's the stuff I stay away from, and the offers that I say no, I can't do it, and then they came back at you with some more money and you feel incredibly tempted, and sometimes I've broken and done them, but for most of the time, I really don't and stick to my guns and say how, does this help me in the bigger picture? It won't, so I stay away from those things.