Having a conversation with actress Eva Mendes is like shooting the breeze with a good friend–she has a way of effortlessly bringing you into her world.
After getting her start in the horror sequel Urban Legends: Final Cut and moving into high-powered action movies including Exit Wounds with Sylvester Stallone and All About the Benjamins with Ice Cube, the 25-year-old Cuban-American beauty got her most serious notice with her gutsy performance as Denzel Washington’s mistress in 2001’s Training Day. Now, Mendes stars opposite Paul Walker and Tyrese in John Singleton‘s hit sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious.
Meeting up with the laid-back Mendes in Miami, where she is filming the Farrelly brothers’ comedy Stuck on You with Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear, we sat outside on a hotel room balcony and, just like two girlfriends, chattered on about the pressures making 2 Fast, what the label “sex symbol” means to her, and even swapped a few stories about flunking the drivers’ license test.
2 Much Pressure?
Coming off the 2001 sleeper hit The Fast and the Furious, which made a star out of Vin Diesel, 2 Fast was following in some major footsteps, a task made even more difficult after Diesel pulled out early on in its development and left the returning Paul Walker to carry the film.
But Walker wasn’t completely on his own. Just as The Fast and the Furious introduced us to its hot new talent, so does its successor. Mendes, Tyrese and Cole Hauser, along with hot newcomer Devon Aoki and rapper-turned-actor Ludacris, join Walker in another high-octane story about driving fast and living large.
To my surprise, she tells me the pressure of making a highly anticipated, big-budget sequel didn’t bother her in the least. “The food is better but other than that, I didn’t feel it much!” she says, laughing.
“I’m not usually a planner when it comes to my career. But with 2 Fast, I thought being in a higher profile movie would be good for me; certainly its the biggest one I’ve done to date. And I wanted to do something for the younger crowd. I tend to, for some reason, play older on screen, more mature I guess. And I wanted to appeal to people my own age and younger than me.”
In 2 Fast, Mendes plays Monica Fuentes, a customs agent who goes deep undercover to expose a corrupt entrepreneur who is using his import/export business to launder money–and may be getting in over her head.
“In doing research for the role, I hung out with the Miami Police Department and the women were so refreshingly feminine,” Mendes explains. “They had this power about them. I mean, hey, they’re packing a gun. They don’t need to act butch or tough because they are tough. So, I patterned Monica after that. And yeah, I talked to some people about the dangerous situations undercover cops put themselves in. It’s frightening.”
Mendes‘ one regret in the making 2 Fast is that she didn’t get to drive any of the cool cars. “I was so upset! I so wanted to. In the first draft of the script, my character got to drive but then they cut it out for some reason.”
Does she like to drive fast? I ask her. Mendes giggles. “My first car was a ’66 Mustang I got when I was 18 and I tried to be Speed Racer. I’d try to race the guys. So pathetic and so dangerous, too! I’d go up off the curbs, ’cause I was bad at making turns. Stupid stuff, like you see someone next to you and they rev and then you rev. Looking back, it’s like ‘God, what was I thinking?'”
She admits scaring the hell out of herself one time, though. “I remember one time I was driving my Mustang late at night with three of my friends in one of those canyons leading to Malibu, where the side of the road just drops off into a cliff. And I was so into this song that was playing, “Baby Love” by the Supremes, singing at the top of my lungs. I took a turn too fast and ended up on the opposite side of the ride, right on the edge of the cliff. That shaped me up real quick after that.”
Of course, learning how to drive wasn’t the easiest for her either. She admits, “I flunked [the driver's test] three times. First the written and then the driving part. Three times. I couldn’t do a three-point turn.”
I tell her how I flunked because I couldn’t back up straight and she busts up, giving me a high five. “Oh man, I couldn’t do that to save my life. Even to this day, I can’t do it very well.” Hmm…maybe cutting her character’s driving scene wasn’t such a bad idea.
On the job, Tyrese, Paul Walker, Cole Hauser and all those hunky young extras were no doubt easy on the eyes, but was it hard dealing with all that testosterone on the set? Mendes says she didn’t feel out of place at all. “It was kind of a boys’ club but in a non-offensive way. A fun way. If you were a girl and could hang, hey, that was great.”
This isn’t the first movie Mendes has worked on with some sexy leading men–in fact she’s gotten pretty lucky so far. She confesses who she’s liked the most up to now: “Has to be Matt Damon, who I’m working with right now on the Farrelly brothers’ Stuck on You. I’m also obsessed with Ewan McGregor.”
She smiles and adds, “But Paul Walker rates up there too. I have to say, waking up and going to work, seeing him there, it was so nice. He’d have such a pleasant way about him. I’m not a morning person but I’d see him and he was so sweet and giving and beautiful, that I was just happy to be there, you know what I mean?”
I ask if she could explain a quote that she supposedly once said: “. . . I feel I’ll take on the responsibility of showing the world a whole different kind of Latin woman.”
“I have no recollection of ever saying that and people bring it up to me all the time!” she says, laughing. “I mean, I wish I’d said something like that, although I’m not quite sure what it means. I want to be really careful about it because as a Latin actor, I need to make wise decisions and not give into stereotypes, you know? I think we have all the power to say no. I really don’t like people who complain about being discriminated or exploited against but then don’t do anything about it.”
Has this ever happened to her? “In the beginning, I was confused because every time I would go out for something, they’d say, ‘Can you try that with an accent?'” the actress explains. “I cannot tell you how many times that happened! I mean, yes, I’m Cuban and very proud of my heritage but I’m also American. I was born and raised here. So my question was, why?”
What about being labeled a sex symbol? “Hmmm, I don’t know. Never really thought about it much before. I’m definitely not in the business to be a star. I’m in it to make a career as a working actress. I think that changes perspectives because, as you can tell, I’m really casual about having people around. And I won’t be doing a top album anytime soon.”
I think I’ve just found my new best friend.
2 Fast 2 Furious is currently playing in theaters.