The last time Eva Mendes was seen on screens was in “Holy Motors,” in which she played a model kidnapped by a belligerent underground manbeast with a curved goatee. She had no lines and barely broke her icy model facade. It was a kind of commentary, if perhaps accidental, on the career of Mendes, a beautiful woman and, earlier last decade, an It Girl — a designation that tends to stick for three or so years before being unceremoniously taken away.
“I’m an actress,” Mendes insists, with a relaxed smile. “I’m certainly not a glamazon. I turn it on when I have to, if I have to wear something on the red carpet to sell a movie. That’s not where the art lies.”
Mendes has done her fair share of questionable Hollywood product (“2 Fast 2 Furious,” “Hitch,” “Ghost Rider”). But she’s always made room for more challenging fare, such as “We Own the Night,” “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” and “Training Day,” in which she played Denzel Washington’s mistress. “I was as raw as you could be in that movie,” she recalls. “That’s what I gravitate towards. When you do the bigger Hollywood films they like you a little more cleaned up.”
She’s now in “The Place Beyond the Pines,” a three-part megadrama in which she plays a small town waitress who sired a baby with a carnival motorcycle racer played by her real-life boyfriend Ryan Gosling. “I feel like I’ve been prepping for this role my whole life, whether I realized it or not,” she says.
The film spans 15 years, requiring her to don some light aging makeup. “I didn’t think of it as aging. I thought of it as a pain manifesting its way through time,” she says. She still had tricks to make her look — and act — older. “I had garments I would wear under my clothes to make me feel a certain way.” She even shaved her eyebrows down a very thin line — in the middle of the night, without telling her director, Derek Cianfrance. “These were things that would suggest this is a woman who abandoned herself. That’s where I went with it.”
Like everyone in the cast, Mendes has raved about Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine,” also with Gosling) as a director who places actors front and center. “He’s my dream director,” she says. “I’ve never worked with anyone lie this. He creates this world that feels so incredibly natural. So real.”
Mendes stayed at the Holiday Inn in Schenectady, where the film was shot. Cianfrance had her work at the diner that employs her character, where she talked to the waitresses about their lives and histories. He even had her cast her own mom.
“A lot of times they way it goes is you get to the location and it’s the first time you’ve seen it,” she says. “You’re shooting at your [character’s] house, and it’s the first tme you’ve seen it. So I would hang out at the house I had. He’s about creating history.”
“I have a theory,” she says. “It’s very difficult to not be good in a Derek Cianfrance film. He has it all there for you, It’s just about tapping into it.”