Eva Mendes

It was the casting quandary of the decade: What actress was tough, sexy, and talented enough to play the conniving man- and scene-stealer Crystal Allen in this fall’s remake of MGM’s The Women? Filmed in Bitch-o-Rama, the 1939 classic starred a young Joan Crawford as Crystal. Those were big pumps to fill.

Think hard. Is it any wonder that they picked Eva Mendes? The frank and clever Los Angeles native has proven she’s a master (not just a mistress) at keying into both male and female fantasies of womanhood. She’s got a cool beauty and poise redolent of Sophia Loren (see Mendes’s new Calvin Klein Underwear campaign or her role in Frank Miller’s upcoming The Spirit), but she can banter, Katharine Hepburn-style, with the best of them (as she did with Will Smith in Hitch). And perhaps most charmingly of all, Mendes showed astounding grace under fire earlier this year when she quietly checked into rehab without a single Lohanesque episode to her credit. It all shows that Mendes is so much more than a very pretty face and—as even she would tell you—a great rack. Finally, Hollywood is ready to listen and not just look.

Don’t forget: I’m an actress. It’s awkward business. There’s a way you want to come across. You want to show your goods. The truth starts to slip out sometimes.Eva Mendes

DAVID COLMAN: Actresses usually don’t have very much to say, and they’re very guarded. But you seem to actually have a good time being interviewed.

EVA MENDES: Don’t forget: I’m an actress. You know what? To be honest, it’s a very awkward business. It’s one of those things where it’s almost like a first date. There’s a way you want to come across. You want to show your goods. The truth starts to slip out sometimes.

DC: I think it may have been a date counselor who told me that you should really pay attention on the first date because that’s when people are the most honest.

EM: So this is like our first date.

DC: So hey, foxy lady, where would I take you on our first date to really impress you?

EM: Any kind of live-music venue. I mean, if you took me to Coachella for our first date, it would probably be a done deal. It would be a sure thing.

DC: I’m not really a crowd person.

EM: Actually, I’m not a crowd person either. But there are ways around that.

DC: Limos?

EM: No. [laughs] Can people stop saying limos? When do you think we’ll stop saying that? It’s so ’80s. When you say limo, it reminds me of prom every time.

DC: Here in New York, everybody’s like, “Did you call a car?” I’m always like, “You mean a limo?” People sort of wince, as though a stretch limo with mauve-tinted windows were going to come up with some guy sticking out of it in a prom tuxedo.

EM: I actually had somebody send me a white stretch once, and I started laughing. I was like, “No. No-no-no.”

DC: How about this? I know somebody who got a white stretch with clear windows, so she was trapped, and everybody could see in. It was really the ultimate-in-humiliation limo.

EM: There’s no hiding.

DC: What about food? Where would I take you to sweep you off your feet, food-wise?

EM: I like the assumption you’ve made that I eat. When the bread basket comes to the table and I have a bite, people are like, “Oh, you eat bread?” I say, “Oh, my God, of course I eat bread. I’m human.”

DC: People are always surprised when women eat.

EM: I always shock people with the bread basket. Now I think I do it for shock value because it’s so fun.

DC: Where do you live?

EM: I live in the Hollywood Hills. I grew up in L.A., so I’m an L.A. girl.

DC: You grew up where exactly?

EM: Silver Lake-before it was really cool. I mean, it still has a little edge to it, but it had a lot of edge back then. There’s this rumor that maybe you can help me dispel-that I’m from Texas. I’ll read certain things that come out, like, “Houston-born Mendes,” and I’m like, “What?!” It was on IMDb.com forever. IMDb has a lot of misinformation. I think they’ve finally changed it, because I’ve given them so much heat for it. I’ve never been to Houston. I like being a native of L.A. It’s all the other people that make it crazy, who come in dying for their 15 minutes. People always ask me, “Oh, my God, was it weird being raised in L.A.?” I say, “No. I wasn’t raised at the Chateau Marmont. I was raised in a little -apartment in a normal family.”

DC: But you weren’t born in Los Angeles or in Houston. You were born in Miami. How old were you when you left?

EM: One month. But I have my grandma over there and I have family over there.

DC: Did you grow up spending any time there?

EM: None. My immediate family—I have two sisters and a brother—were all very close, but to be quite honest, we weren’t a family that could afford trips every summer. We kind of entertained ourselves here in L.A.

DC: That’s what’s so nice about L.A.-the weather is great. In New York, people are dying to leave in the summer. In L.A., they stay put.

EM: Of course, when I was straight out of high school, I would bash L.A. all the time. You know what I mean? It was just something you have to do.

DC: I think that’s true for every teenager everywhere straight out of high school . . .

EM: Then, when I first went to Europe, I thought I was going to move there. I was making plans to move to the south of Spain. It’s such a cute, innocent thought. I think we all go through it. And I hated being in L.A. then. But I have to say, it’s a comfortable lifestyle.

DC: How about those supermarkets? A supermarket where you could drive a car down the aisles-that’s heaven to me.

EM: You like that? I prefer a little bodega, actually.

DC: So you don’t cook?

EM: No, I don’t cook. I respect food too much.

DC: Well, how about fast food? Do you like fast food?

EM: I used to love fast food because I had no money, and I was a struggling actor. You know the story, when you’re literally hustling. You’re going from audition to audition, changing in the backseat, and all that fun stuff that’s great to do at one time in your life. That’s when the 49-cent taco, as disgusting as it is, really plays into your day. It really helps you out. There was a time in my life where it really helped me, and it fed me. It was my diet. But personally, now, I can’t do fast food. Today, I eat sushi. Recently, in the past six to eight months, I’ve given up chicken. All I eat is fish and seafood, and I love it.

DC: So how does it feel being a huge sex symbol?

EM: It’s flattering that people think I’m sexy, but it’s not the end-all, be-all. The minute I put my self-esteem on what they think I am, I’m screwed, because one day they’re not going to think I’m sexy. You know what I mean? It’s just going to be like that. That’s just life-especially in this industry. If I based my self-esteem on their -perception of me, I’d be screwed, and it would lead to a very unhappy life. So, although I’m grateful, I take it with a grain of salt. Otherwise, it’s just too complicated.

DC: Reading back on some of your past interviews, it seems like you have two sides. There is this tough chick who you wouldn’t want to cross, and then there is this sweet-as-pie innocent.

EM: Tell me where the tough chick comes in, because I wish I were tough. Seriously, I hate confrontation. I am so not tough. I mean, I’m strong. I can take it if you dish it out. But I’m not tough. In Once Upon a Time in Mexico [2003], I played a cop. When my family saw me with a gun, they were laughing in the aisles! They were like, “What is she doing? Who gave her a gun? Do not give my little sister a gun.” But I think I’m just drawn that way. I’m drawn to look tough. The arched eyebrows are just there—I don’t do them like that. I have strong features, but I wish I could be tougher.

I went through my little Angelina Jolie phase. I had just come out in Training Day, and I was nude in it, so I was getting a certain kind of attention. And I did carry a little blade.Eva Mendes

DC: Didn’t you say in one early interview with GQ that you carry a blade?

EM: Can I say something? That was my controversial stage where I’d just started acting. I went through my little Angelina Jolie phase, like I was really tough. I had just come out in Training Day [2001], and I was nude in it, so I was getting a certain kind of attention. And I did carry a little blade . . . My God, with obviously no intention to ever use it. I had Mace as well. But the blade sounded cooler in the interview, so they wrote that. But the truth is, I was young and stupid. It was my little rebellious stage.

DC: Well, we all have them.

EM: That was it. That was my blade phase.

DC: So now, let’s say, if you were going to confront somebody, what would you do?

EM: I would probably write you an e-mail, and then not send it, but just get my stuff out there. I’m really sensitive. I tend to cry, and it’s like, “Let’s leave the tears out of this.” Then I’d talk to somebody. I talk about therapy a lot because I love therapy. It has just enriched my life. I come from a family and a heritage where you don’t really go to therapy unless you’re crazy. I want people to know that that’s so not the case. It’s enriching, and I’ve learned this new tool.

DC: What is it? Tell me.

EM: It’s very simple. It’s called “pause.” I use it about four million times a day. Literally, when I feel those little emotions coming up, I just pause.

DC: I do that. And the other thing I do that’s very helpful is, “Hmm, maybe they’re right.”

EM: I don’t do that!

DC: Then I don’t have to be on the defensive. Then it doesn’t feel like the stakes are so insanely high and that I actually have to go to war and get out there to clear myself.

EM: I do this thing, when I think everything’s ending and I’m so dramatic, where I really stop and go, “Is anybody dead from this?” I’m like, “Has anyone been hospitalized because of this?” That really puts things in perspective.

DC: I have a question for you that’s a little more complicated. Do you find it a challenge being Latin in Hollywood?

EM: I would never call it a challenge. I think being a woman in Hollywood is a big enough challenge. It really is, man. I don’t want to be one of those people who complain. But the lack of roles out there—it’s unbelievable. I read a lot of scripts. I believe you’ve got to read one that you know you’re not going to do, because you’ve got to educate yourself on what’s out there to make the best decision for you. So it’s challenging being a woman. Then there are other kinds of obstacles that come your way, but there are many times that being Latin has actually helped me, being a Cuban-American has helped me.

DC: I think it makes you seem very modern and real.

EM: Absolutely. Because whether you like this next statement or not, we are the future. I mean, we’re all just mixing together that much more. We are the future in that sense. I don’t mean Latinos, I just mean ethnic diversity. I speak English without an accent, and I speak Spanish without an accent. I really do have the best of both worlds. What makes it frustrating is when a director or a studio head doesn’t see me for the same part that they’ll see, let’s say, Drew Barrymore for. Drew’s a great friend of mine. But it’s like, “No, we want more of an American type of girl.” And it’s like, American has opened up. I’m an American girl, born and raised. I mean, I was into New Kids on the Block, just like Drew! Actually, I shouldn’t say that. I don’t know if she was. I’m going to text her on that one.

DC: I was reading recently about Rita Hayworth.

EM: Oh! Love her film Gilda [1946].

DC: She was half-Latin, and she changed her name to her mother’s maiden name. Her mother actually was Irish-American, and her last name was Hayworth. She also plucked her hairline so she would look more aristocratic. A lot has changed in 60 years. Back then, I don’t think anybody was really ready for somebody with a Latin last name. Obviously, so much has changed. I was wondering if you feel, like, “Yeah, it’s changed, but it hasn’t.”

EM: No, I feel it’s definitely changed. Thank God. We are moving forward. Every time there’s another successful Latin actress, that’s just better for everyone involved. Now, I want to see more Asian girls. People ask me if it’s difficult being Cuban-American in this industry. I say, “You know what? Not as difficult as it is being an Asian girl.” We have so many Asian girls in this country, and they’re so not represented up on the screen.

DC: Yeah, that’s very true. You, of course, have been working with Francisco Costa, the designer at Calvin Klein. He’s delicious! He’s so unstereotypically Latin in so many ways. It’s kind of silly to even talk about being surprised that somebody is stereotypically or not stereotypically Latin.

EM: I collaborated with him for this art event at the Whitney Museum. I didn’t wear Calvin a few years ago. I just thought, Beautiful, chic, amazing, but not so much my body type and my style.

DC: How would you describe your body type?

EM: I’m just voluptuous. And with Calvin, they had a certain image that was beautiful and chic, but not . . . I think I’d tried on some of their stuff, and it just wouldn’t fit around my boobs. It wasn’t proportionally right. So when I did this event, I went and met with Francisco and loved him, because he’s just so easy to love-he’s really adorable. I tried on some dresses, and I was like, “Wow! I love this.” It was the first time that I wore red on a red carpet, because I always thought that red could be a little vulgar. And that’s kind of how our love affair started.

DC: How do you describe your style?

EM: What’s interesting is that my style is a lot crazier than what I project out there. It’s a lot edgier. Yet in the celebrity-obsessed culture, where everything of you is a shot on the red carpet, I don’t want that to dominate my image. First and foremost, I am an actor. I want great roles. So if I am too eccentric . . . I mean, my fashion icon is Endora from Bewitched. Do you know what I mean?

DC: Of course.

EM: Oh, my God, the hair and the eyes and the flowy gowns. I mean, seriously! I don’t really need to be putting that out there. How is that going to help me diversify my roles?

DC: Now let’s talk about substance abuse. My favorite topic.

EM: Great.

DC: First of all, what is it with actors and substance abuse?

EM: I don’t know. I’m not a spokesperson for any kind of substance-abuse organization.

DC: They’re going to have to change the name of it to “Alcoholics Unanimous.”

EM: [silence]

DC: I’m sorry, that’s a bad joke.

EM: I’m not making jokes, because people die from this stuff. So, honestly, I think it’s a bit tacky that you made a joke. I’ve got to be honest.

DC: You’re angry. Listen . . .

EM: I’m not angry. People have died, and I’ve lost friends too-even recently. So I can be a little sensitive on the subject.

DC: Look, I haven’t had a drink in 11 years. I’m just trying to be light-hearted about it, because it’s an awkward topic.

EM: I’m not angry. But because celebrities’ lives are so visible, I think it makes it look lighter than it is. I have a really good sense of humor, I’m just very sensitive. The other day I was reading an article. I don’t even remember who the actress was, but she’s been around for a long time. She said something like, “I’m proud that I’ve had a whole career without making it to rehab.” I thought, That’s such a negative twist on it. I’m proud of people who have the determination and the fearlessness to actually go and face their demons and get better. This is a life or death situation. Again, I’m not a spokesperson for this, but it’s just that I want to support people for their decisions when they do go in and get help.

DC: You might think it’s a new problem, but it’s probably only because people are quicker to say, “Okay, I’m going to rehab. Let’s get it over with.”

EM: It’s because everybody is so highly visible now. We see everything. We see what celebrities buy at the supermarket. It’s ridiculous. It’s that visibility. I’m confused by this whole celebrity-obsessed culture. It’s really weird.

It’s not that interesting when you know that much about people… it’s just better for you not to know because it really does make me a better actor at the end of the day.Eva Mendes

DC: Again, I wasn’t trying to be . . . Well, I was trying to be flip, but not trying to be dismissive. I do take it very seriously myself. You could just say, “I don’t want to talk about that.” Which is fine.

EM: I’ve given you a more interesting answer, I hope, than to just say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” [laughs] There are so many lies out there regarding my recent trip to Cirque Lodge. But I don’t care what people think. I just don’t care. So I will neither confirm nor deny. I think now we just know way too much about our celebrities. It’s not that interesting when you know that much about people. I have no ego about me. It’s just better for you not to know, because it really does make me a better actor at the end of the day. You’re not going into the movie with all these specifics about me.

DC: I don’t know what I would do if all my business was out there . . .

EM: You know what? You wouldn’t feel that bad, because so much of it is not true. Actually, the media has been pretty nice to me. They’ve really trashed some people, so I’m actually thankful that it didn’t get too crazy. But for all the stuff that came out a few months ago about substance abuse, there were so many wrong stories. I was so happy about that, because it’s when they get the real scoop that would make me really nervous. It’s a relief, in a way. You want it to be a lie, because when it’s true, that’s when I’d be like, “Oh, my God!” It’s time to rethink who’s in your circle, because stuff got out.