Eva Mendes for “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”

Beautiful, luminous and sexy, Eva Mendes has been working consistently for a decade. Her supporting role as Denzel Washington’s girlfriend-on-the-side in “Training Day” (2001) put Mendes on the map and she continued to woo male fans with action offerings like “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003) and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” (2003).

Mendes’ pop culture presence rapidly grew out of proportion to her actual on-screen time and she became a favorite fashion model, Revlon spokeswoman, and a boon to the animal rights cause PETA when she posed nude in an advertisement that claimed the actress would rather go naked than wear fur.

Regardless of the hype surrounding the starlet, Mendes proved that she had real acting talent, offering up increasingly well-received performances in the hit comedy “Hitch” (2005) and the comic strip-based crime drama “The Spirit” (2008). With over a dozen film credits to her name and an increasing number of successful business ventures, the tough trailblazer emerged as an important role model for the growing ranks of aspiring Latin American entertainers, who can play high comedy or the femme fatale with equal determination.

The actress is receiving glowing accolades as the drug-addicted prostitute girlfriend of Nic Cage’s Terence McDonagh, in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”. Mendes talked about the movie, celebrity and acting to Paul Fischer in this exclusive and candid interview.

Question: When you read the script for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, what was your take on the character that they wanted you to play?

Mendes: I came from a place where I just didn’t want to judge her, and I thought, “I don’t want to play the cliched, stereotypical prostitute on drugs” thing and neither did Werner who wanted her with elegance, which I thought was such an interesting direction.

Question: Were you able to relate to her in any way?

Mendes: No, I can only relate to her survival instinct. It’s like – we all have a survival instinct and we all do what we need to do to survive. Thank God, my life has never been that extreme, where I have to do something that extreme. Yet, we do what we have to do in life and I actually understood when she made that turn, and I understood why she did it.

Question: Tell me about working with Herzog. I mean, here’s a guy whose entire career has been about taking risks. First of all, were you surprised that he was interested in doing this? And do you think that he was able to give it a very different bent to if it had been directed by an American?

Mendes: Oh, yeah he’s Werner Herzog. He’s been on my hit list forever. And – you know, nobody can do it like this, because when I first read the script – it’s not like the script jumped out at me, but I knew, under the direction of Werner Herzog, it was going to have its own mark, because if you look at the story – I mean, it’s a pretty out there, crazy story. But in anyone else’s hand, it wouldn’t have been as powerful. And it certainly – you know, I think Werner just puts his stamp on things. And to me, that’s so exciting. Because I know for a fact that I’ll never do another film like that. Like, there is not going to be another film like that. Because he’s just – he’s such an individual. He’s so unique.

Question: In fact, I’m wondering whether or not you would have been as interested in doing this had this been directed by anyone else.

Mendes: Not at all, absolutely not. I would have read it, and it would have gone to the “no” pile, and been like, “No,” to be totally honest

Question: I thought Nic was really extraordinarily out there in this. Did you guys work anything out beforehand? Or, how did this relationship manifest itself on set?

Mendes: I kind of know how Nic worked, even though Ghost Rider was such a different film. I get it, and I know his work ethic, and I just know him. And I think that with this film, we just found the tender moments. We thought those were really important. You know, we understood, these people are together through a commonality of pain. They’re in such pain. And we found those moments that every girlfriend and boyfriend have. Just not in our extreme situation. But – you know, like, when he finds his spoon, I think that that’s just so sweet, when he’s telling me about the spoon. I mean, that’s something that can be in anybody’s relationship, you know? Those moments of intimacy, yet these two people are just so extreme.

Question: Was there a lot of rehearsal? Or was there any improv at all?

Mendes: No rehearsal, and a lot of improv on Nic’s part. But on mine, because – which is funny to say, I’m the stable one in the relationship, which I loved. So I had to be more the straight man and in order for Nic’s craziness to work, I had to kind of be more of the straight man. And I think Nic does a brilliant job – I love him being this out there and crazy, like, Vampire’s Kiss and Wild at Heart. I love those performances. So, this is reminiscent, to me, of those.

Question: You and I have been speaking for a number of years now. What impresses me about you is that you go out of your way to, within yourself, push the envelope. Is it hard for you to find the right envelope for you to push?

Mendes: Oh, yeah. And it’s hard because you ask me this question, and I want to tell you the honest answer. Yet I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, you know? But the truth is, it’s extremely difficult to find good material for women out there. And without even bringing the ethnicity into it, there’s a lack of meaty, layered, flawed female roles out there. And a lot of times what I’ll do is, I’ll be home and I’ll watch an old Bette Davis film, or Joan Crawford, or even Marlene Dietrich. I mean, what a time in cinema for women. They had so much to do. You know, I saw Mildred Pierce the other day, and I was like – Jesus! I mean. And this was back when women were supposed to be suppressed, and it feels like for me, these last few years, and especially these last couple years, with the financial situation being what it is – nobody’s doing these little movies with these flawed characters. And that’s why I’m so happy promoting Bad Lieutenant right now. I’m so happy that this film is out there, but I’m looking for the next one. And it’s just very hard to come by. And I’ve produced. I’ve produced a little film last year that comes out in DVD next month. It’s called Live, and I’m also in it. It’s a small, small, film, very, very small, tiny budget. But I’m very proud of that. But – you know, the truth is, it’s so hard to come by. So for me, I have to keep thinking of, “Okay, what can I produce? Can I collaborate with a writer?” And meanwhile, I want to work, because I love what I do. And I really do try to make every character I do – I try to make her off the page as much as I can, and give her a little bit more than what she originally had.

Question: How are you able to successfully avoid being a “movie star,” as against being an actress, and being sort of a victim of tabloid journalism, and dealing with that side of fame? Does that come easy?

Mendes: It’s not easy, but it’s something that I take great pride in, because I’m very, very private. And it’s very difficult to keep privacy in this disgusting celebrity-obsessed society right now. I really don’t think we need to see people buying fruit in the grocery store. I just don’t think that that’s relevant or fun. You know, it’s one thing, seeing somebody at a premiere or something, but I just think it’s out of control. And what I try to do, I make a conscious effort every day to go to places where you can sort of pick spots where you aren’t going to be seen, let’s say. Or, you’re less likely to be seen. And that’s important to me. I’m not saying it out of an annoying, like, “Leave me alone,” kind of way. I want to control certain images of myself out there, because I’m an actress first and foremost. And if you know what my daily routine is, and you’re privy to that, and you know details of my personal life, you’re not going to buy me when I’m in a theater, and I’m acting like a World War II pilot or something. You know what I mean? It’s going to be that much harder for you to divorce yourself from my personal life, and really – you know. And I love what I do. I love the craft of acting. I love movie-making. And I want to protect that, you know?

Question: You obviously have a sense of humor, too and I’m interested that you did Adam McKay’s next movie, The Other Guys What was that experience like to you? Was it nice to let loose for a change?

Mendes: I can tell you that that was the best time I’ve ever had, in my life, on a film. Best time I’ve ever had.

Question: Who do you play in that movie?

Mendes: I play Will Ferrell’s wife, and a doctor, thank you very much. [LAUGHTER] And I’ve never felt so encouraged to be free, and to let it out and let it rip. And to improvise. Again, experiences like Bad Lieutenant and Last Night, and things like We Own the Night. Love these dramatic experiences. Want more of them, but as far as fun goes? The most fun I’ve ever had has been on this set on these guys that I just finished, this film.

Question: What else are you doing that you’re particularly excited about?

Mendes: You know, I’m excited for all three of these things for different reasons. I’m excited about Bad Lieutenant, because it’s completely something different that is completely outside-the-box film, and has got its own thing going on completely. It’s like a piece of art, to me. It really is. It’s almost like a piece of abstract art, when you go to the museum and you see a Picasso, and you can’t quite pinpoint what it is, but you know you’re attracted to it, and you accept it as art. I’m excited about Bad Lieutenant for that reason. With Last Night, I’m excited that I’m working on a film that was written and directed by a female that really delves into relationships in a very deep and profound way.

Question: And you play whom in that?

Mendes: I play the woman. It’s me, Keira Knightley, Guillaume Canet, and Sam Worthington and we all play “the other person,” do you know what I mean? Without giving it away too much, we all play the other person, to other people. So, it’s a true foursome, in a sense.

Question: It’s Miramax. It’s an indie.

Mendes: It’s Miramax, exactly. It comes out in March. And then my summer film with the guys, I’m excited for that, because I get to be funny. I’ve never been encouraged to really been an idiot, and be funny!

Question: Well, not on-screen, anyway.

Mendes: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] Well, every day, yeah, in my personal life, but yeah, not on-screen, ever, so how fun.