In her latest film, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” Eva Mendes shirks her sexy image and gives a down-to-earth portrayal of a small-town waitress forced to choose between the father of her child, a face-tattooed stunt motorcycle driver (Ryan Gosling), and a man who can offer her substantial security (Mahershala Ali) – kind of her own “Sophie's Choice,” as Mendes says. Though some may raise an eyebrow at her being cast in a Derek Cianfrance film, Mendes fought for the role of Romina, an important female figure in a film dominated by men and concerning legacy in America, particularly about what is passed down from parents to children. During her research, Mendes gathered up her own family and friends with children to further explore the role and added that thoughtful touch to her performance. You can read more about ‘The Pines’ in our TIFF review here, our interview with co-star Ryan Gosling here, and our interview with Derek Cianfrance here, in which the director admits to kind of falling in love with her. After watching ‘The Pines’ and reading the Q&A below, I challenge you not to fall for her.
In this recent Q&A with journalists, Mendes discussed wanting to work with independent filmmakers like Derek Cianfrance and Mike Leigh, finally being “accepted into the weird club,” great improv with Larry David, and much more.
"I just hope to keep on having fun and challenging myself. I want to do a little bit more of the weird; I like the weird."
Tell me how you got involved in this.
After I saw “Blue Valentine
,” I was blown away by the performances and the film and how thought provoking it was and I thought, “Look, you get a couple great performances that could be the actors, but you get like an entire cast giving killer, authentic performances and that's a director.” So I was like I need to meet this person. So I met with Derek and at the time, we didn’t talk about ‘Pines.’ I didn't know there was a possible script, but it was important for me to know that someone like that, that works at that level, knows that that’s what I want to do. I'm sure that my choice, my body of work doesn't exactly scream indie.
Although if you do the calculations, I realized in this last interview I've done more independent films than other films. I’ve actually only done a handful of big budget films.
Right, but often times like “Hitch,” they’re big enough that sometimes those are the only films people know.
Exactly. So anyhow when this came around it was like months later, maybe 8 months after I first met Derek, and I knew that I really wanted to go out for the part. Derek kind of had reservation about me and I was like, “Uh oh.” I was challenged and I thought okay. So I went to go audition for him and when I got there I looked the part. I looked totally different and I think he was impressed and he was like, “Do you want to get out of here?” It was the end of his day, he had been casting the whole day. I said, “Yeah, I actually grew up around here. Why don't I drive you around Echo Park, Silverlake and show you where I grew up? And we can draw parallels between Romina and myself and you can see how serious I am about this.” So I think that was it. I think he really saw my education at that point and probably trusted in me and I'm so happy about that.
It’s a tough, potentially thankless role – this mom who's got the shit end of every stick. What drew you to it?
Definitely. I like the moral predicament that she’s in at the beginning. I like how difficult of a decision that is to make and it's kind of her own “Sophie's Choice
” in a way. I haven't said that before, I don’t know why that just came to me, but it's just such a heavy decision. I mean you have this child with someone, you have this man’s baby who you just had a fling with, who you have no connection to, you can't find. It's the early ‘90s, certainly there's no Facebook and then you have this other man, who's wonderful and stable who you're not technically in love with and who wants to provide for your child even though he's a completely different race and that will prove to be problematic – he wants to take your child in, you know? And then the biological father comes into your life and it's really a tough one.
And actually? Before we filmed, I had a woman's day at my house where I invited my sisters and my Mom and my girlfriends who had kids, and we all sat around and ate lunch and I was like okay, here's the situation and I gave them the institution.
You brought the dilemma to them?
Yeah Romina's dilemma, Romina's choice, and I said, “What do you do?” I thought for sure you're going to go with the good guy, who wants to take care of your kid. And they were all like, “you try everything
in your power to make it work with the biological father.” I was like, “what?!”
I was so shocked and said, “But he's unfit!” They were like, “It doesn’t matter, something primal kicks in and, unless he's a physical threat to his life, you try everything you can to make it work.” I was like so happy I did because it made me realize this incredible push and pull. And so when Romina, at the beginning for the film kind of starts toying with the idea of reconnecting with Luke [Ryan Gosling’s character] and then does, it's not just because it's some kind of hook up in any way. She's testing it to see if he's really fit, and be a father. Can she really trust her baby around him ? And then, of course like things in life, it spins out of control. So, it added another layer of depth. I feel like if I didn't meet with these wonderful women, I wouldn't have been thinking that way.