Eva Mendes admits that she’s still a work in progress herself.
In “Girl In Progress,” an indie coming-of-age dramedy from director Patricia Riggins (“Under the Same Moon”), Mendes plays a single mom who’s not always making the best decisions when it comes to making ends meet in a thankless waitressing job, romancing a (married) doctor and raising a daughter who feels so overlooked she tries to liberate herself by staging a passage into adulthood based on formulaic teen movies. And as Mendes reveals, she, too, is still on the way to finding herself, even in the midst of a hot Hollywood career.
How difficult was your own transition from girl to woman?
I think the years between seventh grade and maybe my junior and senior year in high school were pretty difficult, because I was on a mission. I wanted to be my own independent person, and especially back then I was so close to my family and so closely tied to them and their beliefs that I really wanted to divorce myself from them and figure out who I was independent of them. So that was my mission. That was rocky. It was really rocky.
How much of a girl in progress are you at this stage in your life?
I actually often refer to myself as a work in progress, and so it's funny that this should be the title of the film because I'm always taking the odd class: anything to kind of grow, anything that I can get into, any area, whether that's a singing class…I just took a course on Thai massage. I know it sounds so funny, but I enjoy giving massages. My mom has terrible neck problems and back problems, so I grew up massaging her. She trained me well, and there's something there so I took a course in Thai massage, and I have to say that I've been told I'm pretty good. I'm not certified in the States, but overseas I am. I am. It's harder to get certified here in the States.
What drew you to this sometimes not-so-sympathetic character?
I was attracted to the fact that the character was such a mess of a woman, such a disaster of a mother, but really, truly trying her best. So, I wanted to play a truly flawed, real human being, and I knew within the first few pages of the script that she was that…I think she's just awful. I do. I love that she's a work in progress, and I love that she's trying her best and she somewhat finds her way, but I just think, 'Wow.'
What have you learned from working with a young actress just starting out in show business like Cierra Ramirez?
How simple it could really be. I really mean that as a true compliment. I think I have a tendency to complicate things. Maybe it's the actress in me that can appreciate a dramatic plot, but for instance, Cierra has incredible access to her emotions. This girl is so incredibly talented and it's such a pleasure to work with her. To watch her access her emotions so easily, it was incredible to watch. I remember one day there was this emotional scene, the scene on the bus and my director really wanted me in tears. I was like, 'I'm not feeling them. Maybe the character doesn't want to cry.' You have those kinds of moments. So I started kind of forcing emotion out and that's never fun, but I did, and I looked to her and the camera would even be on me, not even on her, and she would be crying. Her tears would be flowing. There was no effort though. She just allowed it to happen. I remember looking at her and I said, 'How do you do it?' It's her first movie and she says, 'I just think of what my character is going through and I feel so sad for her.' I was like, 'Duh – Come on, Mendes! Get it together!'
Some actresses who’ve been seen as the sex symbol segue into playing the mom to keep their career vibrant. What's your take on moving into the mom role?
First of all, sexy is just one component – it's not a thing that I am, it's a thing that I can be. It's a side of myself that I can tap into, just like I can tap into my funny side or my quirky side or my dramatic side, but it's not what I am. Then, just kind of rewinding a bit, my first role that put me on the map in this business was in 'Training Day.' It was only two scenes, but that actually got me in. That's what started it all, and I played a mother. So when you play a mother – whether you're a bad mother or a not so great mother or an amazing mother – being a mother already is so complicated. It's already three-dimensional automatically. So, I welcome it. The more complicated a role can be the more flawed a character can be – that's what I'm looking for. The careers that I admire and actually try to emulate in a way, those are Julianne Moore, Annette Bening. Those women, to me, make amazing choices, and they're sexy, beautiful women. That doesn't dictate their choices.