Guest of Honor

Eva Mendes Describes the Hard-to-Describe, Reads Like an Egyptian

Eva Mendes - credit Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images
Eva Mendes first found her calling – and a mass audience – working opposite Denzel Washington in 2001’s “Training Day.” Since then, she’s starred in the comedies “Hitch” and “The Other Guys,” along with the critically-acclaimed art-house hit “Holy Motors.”

Her new film “The Place Beyond the Pines”  is similarly dark, and ambitious; it follows a beleaguered stunt man (Ryan Gosling) and the people (like Eva’s character) who have to live in the wake of his violence. She tells Rico about the project, her particularly hard-to-describe condition, and how to read like an Egyptian.


Rico Gagliano: Our guest of honor is actress, model, and designer Eva Mendez. Her– why are you laughing?

Eva Mendez: Oh, model, that’s funny.

Rico Gagliano: We’ll get to that.

Eva Mendez: Okay.

Rico Gagliano: Eva it is an honor.

Eva Mendez: It’s so nice to meet you.

Rico Gagliano: Likewise. So this movie, it sort of starts as a gritty, modern crime noir, but it does not stay that way. I’m gonna leave it to you to sort of synopsize this thing in a way that doesn’t give away all the twists.

Eva Mendez: I have no idea how to do that. I’m gonna need your help. It’s, you know, it’s a drama, it’s a thriller, it’s a love story, it’s a heist film.

Rico Gagliano: For the audience’s benefit, I’ll just say you play a woman who’s had the child of a stuntman/criminal played by Ryan Gosling.

Eva Mendez: Yeah, when you meet us in the film I have this big secret that I’m not sure if I should disclose to him or not, which is that I’ve had his child.

Rico Gagliano: Which inspires him to do some pretty ill-advised and heartbreaking things to provide for the kid.

Eva Mendez: Yeah. That’s a nice way to put it.

Rico Gagliano: To me, this movie is in a lot of ways about guys struggling to be good, even though they’ve been raised in a way that makes it more likely they’ll be bad.

Actually the director, Derek Cianfrance, told the New Yorker he is “exploring a new American male persona.” So, as the female lead, I’m wondering: did you have any trepidations in getting involved in a movie that is so much about guys‘ issues?

Eva Mendez: Well I didn’t so much think of it as guys’ issues. There were two themes that I really loved. The whole nature versus nurture theme. Are we a product of our society, or are we born this way? I’ve always been attracted to that theme, especially while growing up, going how can I be from this family, talking about my own family.

The other one is I love how Derek deals with violence in this film. I love that there’s only two shots fired in this film, and that you see the consequences of those shots way into the future. That to me was really beautiful, especially now. I just was so proud to be a part of a film that actually said something.

Rico Gagliano: This is a far cry from your first movie – I think it’s fair to say would be like a B-movie. It was like “Children of the Corn 5” or something.

There’s an interview where you talked about “Training Day” and you said that was the moment when you really felt this is what people meant by acting. What did you mean by that, and kind of like what changed between your first movie and that moment?

Eva Mendez: Wait, what did I say? You can’t listen to anything that I say.

Rico Gagliano: You’re not keeping track of every interview that you’ve given for the last ten years? I don’t understand.

Eva Mendez: I think I know what you mean. I think, yeah, my first thing ever was “Children of the Corn 5.” I like to call it C5. But can I just make a note that Charlize Theron was in, I believe, C6, and Naomi Watts was in C4?

Rico Gagliano: Man, it’s like a breeding ground for talent.

Eva Mendez: Yeah, a beautiful little sandwich there that I’m very proud of.

I think I remember saying something to the effect that, two years in, when I did “Training Day” and I did guest spots on TV shows, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing, I was like, “Do I love this? I love the challenge of it…” but I didn’t quite get it. When I was on set and filming, I was like, “This isn’t fun for me,” you know?

And then when I worked with Denzel on “Training Day,” there was just such an energy on set, and he’s just electric and, like, things were happening, you know? So I was just like, “Yes! Now we’re playing. I get it, I think this is fun.”

Rico Gagliano: What was I gonna say?

Eva Mendez: Oh no, I’m rubbing off on you. That starts to happen, and I apologize.

Rico Gagliano: Really, people just start forgetting things?

Eva Mendez: Yeah, because that’s me, mid-sentence and I’m out. I’m trying so hard, I’m trying really hard to stay with you right here.

Rico Gagliano: Oh man, it’s alright.

Eva Mendez: It’s nothing personal, it’s just this thing I have. It’s probably a condition, I should look into it.

Rico Gagliano: Well you’ve got a lot going on to distract you. This sort of plays into my next question.

Eva Mendez: Okay, good.

Rico Gagliano: Which is, you are both an actress and as you mentioned earlier, a model.

Eva Mendez: You mentioned that, I didn’t mention it.

Rico Gagliano: As we mentioned earlier, you are also a model.

Eva Mendez: Am I really?

Rico Gagliano: This is my question. If you look at especially your recent roles, “Holy Motors” and this, it really feels like you’re almost playing with that image of yourself as a model, especially in “Holy Motors” where you play a model who is literally abducted in the middle of a photo shoot and sort of dragged by this homunculus crazy man into a crypt.

First of all I want to ask, would you, could you do one or the other? Would you want a career where you had to do one or the other?

Eva Mendez: Well this is the funny thing is, I never really… I didn’t start off modeling. It’s been a product of me being an actress. I love that aspect of my career, but I’m still squeamish when you say model. I’m like “No, you know I’m not.”

Rico Gagliano: Why?

Eva Mendez: I don’t know.

Rico Gagliano: I mean I see in these roles a kind of ambivalence. I mean, this role is very un-glamourous. It’s a really gritty role, and in “Holy Motors” you’re obviously taking the idea of a model and sort of poking fun at it.

Eva Mendez: Well yeah, but for me it wasn’t so much that she was a model, it was that she was just miserable in this empty world that was so ridiculous. And here comes this creature, this beast who, in my eyes he didn’t kidnap her, he saved her.

You could replace that with being an actress as well. It just seemed I think a little bit more visually pleasing for me to be standing on a tomb.

Rico Gagliano: That’s right, that photo, it’s a photo shoot at Père Lachaise that the character is undergoing.

Eva Mendez: Yeah, and that’s how he got me. Père Lachaise is one of my favorite places in the whole world.

Rico Gagliano: That’s how you were persuaded to make the film?

Eva Mendez: Well it was Leos Carax, the director, he said “You’re gonna film in Paris,” and I’m like, “Oh cool. Paris is cool.” And he’s like, “At Père Lachaise,” and I was like, “What?”

Rico Gagliano: For those who don’t know, like, Oscar Wilde is buried at Père Lachaise.

Eva Mendez: Oscar Wilde is buried there and has the most beautiful epitaph. It’s gorgeous. And Maria Callas and Jim Morrison. It’s just, like, city of tombs. It’s my dream, it’s beautiful.

Rico Gagliano: It’s really your dream?

Eva Mendez: Well, I don’t know… Yeah it’s kind of my dream. I have – I’m gonna sound kind of crazy but sure – I’ve always loved cemeteries, and that’s just like the epitome of all.

Rico Gagliano: That’s the king mother of all cemeteries for sure.

Eva Mendez: That’s the king mother.

Rico Gagliano: We have two questions that we ask everyone on the show, and the first one is, and I hope I haven’t asked it, if we were to meet you at a dinner party, which question would you least like to be asked?

Eva Mendez: “So, tell us about your film.”

Rico Gagliano: Did I do that? I asked you to summarize the film. That’s a little more specific.

Eva Mendez: I’m kind of joking, but okay, so we talked about it before, about my condition. If you asked me to summarize something or to explain the plot of something – it could be a great book, my favorite book, – I’d be like “Ah, ooh, um…”

Rico Gagliano: I’m sorry. I apologize for asking that question.

Eva Mendez: No, no, no.

Rico Gagliano: No, no. This is my bad. But here’s a question that we also ask everyone, that maybe is easier. Tell us something we don’t know. And this can be anything about yourself, or anything in the world. A piece of trivia.

Eva Mendez: Okay, well it’s not really a piece of trivia, but it’s about me. I’m a total wannabe Egyptologist. I’m obsessed with ancient Egypt.

Rico Gagliano: What lead to that, do you think?

Eva Mendez: I don’t know. Ever since I was little, I’ve just… I’m going back to the tombs in the cemeteries and everything. I was really drawn to hieroglyphs and I took a class last year actually at UCLA extension, it was really fun. I started learning how to read hieroglyphs. Wow, that is complicated.

Rico Gagliano: Really?

Eva Mendez: It was overwhelming. There’s such an order to it. Like, the way a certain bird is facing on the hieroglyph, that’s how you read the hieroglyph.

Rico Gagliano: That’s the direction you read it in?

Eva Mendez: That’s the direction you read it in.

Rico Gagliano: So you don’t necessarily read left to right or right to left?

Eva Mendez: No, you read the direction the bird is facing. There’s such poetry to it, it’s really beautiful and complicated.