The Training Day co-star talks about her role in the indie drama The Place Beyond the Pines.
Actress Eva Mendes
Tavis Smiley: Good evening. From Los Angeles, I’m Tavis Smiley. Tonight a conversation with actress Eva Mendes. She costars with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper in a new movie called “The Place Beyond the Pines.”
That’s bringing her some great reviews, but before we get to that conversation, in light of our tenth anniversary season and our upcoming 2,000th episode, I want to continue introducing you to some of the folk who make this program happen.
So joining me now, Christopher Jones. He’s been our graphics operator for eight seasons on this program, so Chris, thanks for your work. I’m glad to have you on our team.
Christopher Jones: Oh, thank you. It’s been a pleasure being a graphics op for your show. I’ve had the opportunity to work on everything from the logo back there on the screen to all of our lower thirds – (crosstalk). There you go. (Laughter)
Tavis: All right, so glad to have you, and so take it away.
Jones: Right. We’re glad you joined us. A conversation with Eva Mendes, coming up right now.
Tavis: Eva Mendes’s breakthrough role was opposite Denzel Washington in “Training Day.” She has since gone on to make her mark costarring with an array of actors, from Johnny Depp to Matt Damon.
She’s now costarring with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper in an emotionally charged movie called “The Place Beyond the Pines,” about fathers, sons, and the consequences of the decisions they make. Eva plays a single mom trying the best way she can to navigate a life that didn’t exactly turn out the way she’d hoped. Let’s take a look at a clip from the movie.
Tavis: I almost didn’t recognize you; you’re all glammed up today.
Eva Mendes: (Laughter)
Tavis: This flick, for those who haven’t seen it and will, obviously, you’re not playing up all of the glam.
Mendes: No, no. Actually, that’s the beauty of being an actress, is that you hopefully get to have different roles and really stretch yourself. This is really what I’ve been working for a while, I guess 14 years now. I’ve been in the business for a minute, and it’s an opportunity like this that I’ve been really working towards.
Tavis: What specifically about it, when you say an opportunity that allows you to stretch yourself? What do you mean by that?
Mendes: Well, the raw nature of this character, but also working with a director like Derek Cianfrance. He directed “Blue Valentine,” and when I saw that film, I was so incredibly moved by the performances and by the unconventional style of filmmaking.
Then I heard about how he actually worked and his process, and I was just, I immediately called my agent. I’m like, “Can I get a meeting with this director? This is how I want to work; this is how I want to do it.”
I met with him and we had a coffee, and it was way before this script came around. I kind of planted a little seed there, and I was like, “This is how I want to work. Can you just keep me in mind for the next one?”
Tavis: And he did.
Mendes: Well, he did. I had to fight for it a bit, which I love. I love fighting for it. I love a challenge. He didn’t see me quite right for – he didn’t think I was quite right for it at the beginning, but.
Tavis: Yeah. You said a couple of things I want to go back and have you unpack for me. Number one, when you say that you read about his process -
Tavis: – and I know every actor in this business has a process that they like to work inside of.
So what was it about his process that so titillated you?
Mendes: Well, first of all, I still go to acting class. I love the craft. It’s just so much fun for me, and I’m always a student. So when I heard about his process, I heard that he’s really big on rehearsal and he creates a reality for the actors that it’s basically – he likes as little acting as possible, basically.
Mendes: So I think we all heard the kind of story that Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams lived in a house because they played husband and wife and they lived in the house, and I was just like, wow, that’s really interesting. Just reading about how he really pushes his actors and really, really challenges them, and I was just ready for that.
Mendes: Really, really hungry for it.
Tavis: What do you get these days from going to acting class? What’s the takeaway for you (unintelligible)?
Mendes: It’s the scariest thing in the world, going to acting class.
Tavis: Still scary?
Mendes: It’s frightening. (Laughter) Scarier than being on set, because – yeah, I know.
Tavis: Okay, you got me on this. Why?
Mendes: Well, because first of all, there’s a lot of pressure. You just – any time I’m in the situation where I’m in a classroom environment and I take various classes in things, I just go back to being that fourth grader who couldn’t, like, sit still in her seat, who had all the answers and was like, oh, and didn’t always have the answers but thought she did.
I’m an overachiever in that way and a pleasure, and so I just want to do good by my teachers, so I kind of go back into that whole thing.
Mendes: But I love it, because it’s a chance for me to be creative and put something out there, and then your teacher’s right there to critique you, and it’s always – I worked with Ivana Chubbuck. She’s an amazing, amazing teacher. I’ve taken class with Larry Moss, who’s more kind of in the theater world, so he’s really educated me about playwrights.
I love Edward Albee. I feel so lucky to kind of dip into the theater world now, certainly with the class and stuff. So it’s just all a bunch of – it’s just so much fun for me.
Tavis: Is that your way of subtly telling me that we’re going to see you on Broadway pretty soon?
Mendes: I hope so. I keep looking for the right thing. I keep looking, so hopefully it’ll present itself.
Tavis: Yeah. Without calling the name of a particular piece of work, unless you choose to do so, is there something that you have dreamt about, at least, or imagined the kind of project you would do when you make the Broadway move?
Mendes: Well, I’m drawn to a lot of tragedies, and I love a Greek tragedy, oh, boy. But I would think – I start thinking realistically about it, and performing eight days a week, that would take a toll. I take things to heart. (Laughter) I don’t know if I could survive, like, “Medea.”
But I think it would be so fun to do some kind of comedy, something – I’m not exactly sure, but something like I just did Moliere’s “Tartuffe” in class, and wow, what a stretch. Again, look, why go to classes? I get to play in Moliere’s “Tartuffe,” and I could never – nobody (laughter) would ever think that they would be, I’d be right for that.
Tavis: Casting you in that, huh? Yeah, yeah.
Mendes: So I get to explore all that stuff as well, but yeah, I think a comedy would be great. Some kind of satire. Yeah, that’d be great.
Tavis: I also want to go back, Eva, to the comment you made a moment ago for this project and how you got it, and you had to fight for it. I am always amazed, and I think the audience may be amazed as well, because my assumption is – and I’m in this town every day.
But the assumption, I think, for most of us is that once you get to a certain place in your career you’re not having to elbow and knock people around and audition for parts, so this is a two-part story.
So before this project even comes along, you’ve already met the director, you’ve already put your bid in to try to work with him on something, and then when it comes around, you still have to go on and fight for the part. And we’re thinking Eva Mendes has to do all that? If you’re not Eva and you’re trying to make it in this business, it’s like, well, there’s no hope for me if she has to fight that hard for a part.
Mendes: No, it’s just the fighting never stops.
Mendes: I think when I stop fighting, I die in a sense. I love the fight. I don’t – it’s not a negative, it’s a positive, and I love the challenge. There’s that little part of me that I love proving someone wrong in that way when they have an image of me or something, or they think they have me figured out or they think I’m a certain way.
You know what I mean, that’s just so much fun for me as an actress. I get to, like, to really prove them wrong. (Laughter) And have a blast while I’m doing it.
Tavis: Speaking of proving them wrong, this is inside baseball, so I won’t go too deep in these (unintelligible).
Tavis: We won’t submerge too deeply here, but this movie now is in limited release. It’s about to go broad release here.
Tavis: But the per-screen average, the amount of money that you made per screen last weekend was, like, really, really, really good. So I won’t go inside the baseball stuff, but the people that work with you at this studio happen to be very happy about that per-screen average was.
Tavis: What’s your barometer for success? Because for the business, the barometer of success is ticket sales.
As an actor, what’s your barometer for the success of your work?
Mendes: For me, I tend to – and I really had to train myself, but I leave it, when I’m done filming, I leave it. I’m done with it. So much, in fact, that sometimes when I’m at the premiere and I see the film in its entirety, I forget plot, I forget the story, I forget what my character goes through, because I really do just let it go.
I learned early on that it’s heartbreaking to – there’s the editor that comes in, and then they have to craft the movie together, and sometimes you give a whole performance that’s just been cut up, and maybe it’s better for it, absolutely, but you still have to deal with the loss of that.
I just kind of – my kind of way to deal with it was to just accept, let it go the minute I was done. So to answer your question, for me is the way I feel like I’ve been successful after being done with the film is when I see it, if I’m embarrassed, if I’m slightly mortified, and if I feel super-vulnerable, I think I did something.
Tavis: Okay. The vulnerable part I get. The mortified and embarrassed part I don’t get.
Mendes: For me, like when you’ve put yourself out there emotionally, physically, and you’ve really put yourself on the line, for me, that means I’ve really done something. That means I went to an uncomfortable place.
Mendes: I went outside my comfort zone and I showed an ugly part of me, or maybe a not so ugly part of me, but something that I didn’t want to reveal or something that was difficult for me in any way. So I grew. Going outside my comfort zone is a big one for me, yeah.
Tavis: So tell me – this is a perfect lead-in, then, perfect segue, thank you, to the part of the single mom that you play in this movie. How did you assess your work when you saw the product?
Mendes: Oh, I cried the first time I – yeah, I cried the whole time, and I just thought – of course, there’s that feeling of like I always think I’m just the worst. My initial reaction is very negative, but I’ve accepted that. I don’t even pay attention to that voice anymore.
Tavis: So you’re a tough critic.
Mendes: Oh yeah.
Mendes: I do everything I watch, whether it’s like a big comic book film that I’ve done or something very serious and raw like this. I do have that initial feeling like I’m the worst, this is awful, my work is – I’ve let everybody down. I definitely have that.
But now that I’ve known that for, like, the last 10 years, I just let that voice come and I let her do all that she’s going to do.
Tavis: So you cry, you move on past that.
Mendes: I move past it. But then that’s where the real feelings come in after that, and for this one I just – it was very personal for me, this film, for a host of reasons, and I really saw, I think for the first time I really saw myself portraying a real person, and I was really happy about that.
Tavis: You keep saying these things I – this is a great conversation. You’re making my work very easy, because you keep saying things that I want to follow up on.
Mendes: Oh, good. (Laughter)
Tavis: So you say for the first time in your – you’ve been at this 14, 15 years now.
Mendes: Yeah, a long time.
Tavis: This is the first time you have felt like you were playing a real person.
Mendes: Yes, absolutely.
Tavis: I think I know what you mean by that. You were raised by a single mom yourself; you’re playing a single mom, but tell me more about what you mean by playing a real person, to your mind.
Mendes: I just saw somebody up there that was really struggling. I saw real struggle, I saw real emotion, and I saw somebody that wasn’t hiding underneath anything. Certainly when I dressed up for you today -
Tavis: Thank you.
Mendes: – it’s not, I’m not hiding under anything. It’s a job. I’m hoping to look nice. My mother’s watching and I want her to think (laughter) – she’s a tough fashion critic. Of course it’s part of my job.
But when I see myself like this, portraying, like, a real, raw person, I was just so – it just made me so happy. I don’t, I’m not sure how else to articulate it. I hope – am I clear?
Tavis: You answered it.
Tavis: Since we’re into it, tell me more about the character.
Mendes: Yeah, she’s this single mother who – well actually, before that she’s this woman who has a fling with Ryan Gosling’s character, and I love it because the story doesn’t get into it too much, like how it happened or what kind – was it a weekend thing, was it a couple months.
So it’s kind of left to the audience’s imagination, but it was definitely a physical kind of just a fling. He went his separate ways. He’s a traveling stunt rider, motorcycle -
Mendes: – rider. Why did that throw me off right now? (Laughter)
Tavis: I got a quick comeback to that, but I’m not going to go there.
Mendes: Okay, okay.
Tavis: Why Ryan threw you off? I’m not going to go there. (Laughter) We’re going to move right on past that. All right.
Mendes: Woo, okay. (Laughter) Thanks, Tavis.
Tavis: All right.
Mendes: Then so he goes off his own way with his traveling circus, and I stay in my quiet town of Schenectady, where we really shot the film. Then when we meet these characters in the film it’s about a year later, and they’ve come together again.
What he doesn’t know is I’ve had his child since then, but what he also doesn’t know is that I actually have another man in my life who is actually a very stable person, who’s a loving man, and who wants to father my child like if it was his own.
With Ryan’s character, he’s a very unstable character, very unfit to be a father, so I have this crazy dilemma on my hands, which is do I raise the child with a loving father that’s not his biological father but that is going to provide the life that he should have as a kid, or should I try to make it work – should I even let the biological father know that he has this child.
Or is he so unfit and so insane that he shouldn’t even know about – there’s this crazy moral conflict that I’m faced with. I found that really interesting, because I wasn’t sure. Right before I went to go film, I thought, well, I don’t have children, so my mind went to reason.
I was like, well, of course you raise a child with the person who’s going to love the child and who’s going to provide. If the biological father is unfit in any way, you protect the child from that person. That’s where I was. So I had a bunch of women come over my home before I went to go film, who are mothers, friends of the family, my sisters, everybody.
They came over, we ate. I often have, like, women’s day, so it wasn’t uncommon, but this time we had a subject, we had a topic of conversation. I said, “Okay, guys, so here’s her situation.”
Tavis: It’s just like “The View” in your living room.
Mendes: Yeah, exactly.
Tavis: You got hot topics at Eva’s house.
Mendes: With a lot of cupcakes.
Tavis: Okay. (Laughter)
Mendes: Yeah. And Cuban coffee.
Mendes: Exactly. So I posed the question. I said, “Here’s the situation. Obviously I go with the person who is the stable,” and all the women were like, “Uh-uh, uh-uh,” and I was like “What?” They’re like, “Something primal happens that you want to make it work with the biological father as much as you can. You want to see them together.”
They were just like enlightening me. I was just like, “What?” So anyway, it was just a very interesting afternoon.
Tavis: No, see, I want to go there. So now I’m in your acting class or inside your head as an actor.
Mendes: Okay. Oh, don’t go inside of here. It’s a lot of like -
Tavis: I’ll make it quick. (Laughter)
Mendes: Get out quickly, yes.
Tavis: Yeah, I’ll dip in and dip out real fast.
Mendes: For your protection only.
Tavis: Okay. (Laughter) So you’re hearing two different trains of thought here, because your girls are telling you oh, no, no, something primal happens and you want to make it work with the baby daddy if you can.
Mendes: Yeah, and if it doesn’t work, then yeah.
Tavis: Yeah. So you’re hearing two different things. So how are you – before you go to Schenectady, where’s your head about how you’re going to play the character?
Mendes: I’m a mess.
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)
Mendes: But you know what? I’m a mess, so I called Derek, I called my director, and I said, “Derek,” (gasping) all this actory stuff, and he’s like – and I’m like, “I’m just a mess. I don’t know what to do.” He goes, “Well, guess what? Neither does Romina.”
Mendes: I was like, “Ah, okay.”
Tavis: Romina, the character you play, of course.
Mendes: The character, yes.
Tavis: Sure, sure.
Mendes: So I was like right, neither does Romina. So I just kind of let it take over me, and I was a mess, yeah.
Tavis: I want to hear about your mom, first of all, because it’s fascinating -
Mendes: Oh, my mom’s the best.
Tavis: I want to hear about your mom. Has your mom seen this yet?
Tavis: She hasn’t seen it yet. Okay, so we don’t give the plot away, of course, but what do you think or what do you expect the single mom who you were raised by, what do you think, expect, hope that she’s going to say to you when she sees this?
Mendes: Well, I don’t think she – honestly, and not because she’s not supportive – but I don’t think she’s going to watch this one, because I think it’s going to be too emotional for her.
Even seeing some of the stills she was crying already from the film. She was crying, and I think at the end of the day I’m her baby girl. If I could be in “Hitch” forever, if I could be working with Will Smith again -
Tavis: She wants you to stay right there, huh? (Laughter)
Mendes: – in a romantic comedy forever, that’s how she wants her baby girl.
Tavis: That’s funny, yeah.
Mendes: So she doesn’t want to see me up there struggling. So I think it would be difficult for her. There is violence in the film, which is wonderful, because it’s dealt with so beautifully. There’s two shots fired in the film, two gunshots only, and we follow those consequences -
Tavis: All the way through.
Mendes: – all the way through. Derek dealt with that beautifully, but even for her it’s a lot, and I don’t know if she’ll see this one.
Tavis: I got a feeling your mama’s going to see it at some point.
Mendes: At some point.
Tavis: At some point. You may not know about it, but I think she’s going to see it at some point.
Mendes: That’s true. You’re right. You are in my head. Get out of here.
Tavis: Tell me about your mom. I’m curious about your mom.
Mendes: Oh, she’s incredible. She’s the best. She was pretty much a single mother by the time I came around, but my father was around, and my father is great. He was around, but she had to do a lot on her own, and I’m the baby by nine or 10 years, and I have two sisters and a brother.
She’s just a survivor. They left Cuba right after the revolution and they went to Miami, and then the story gets a little iffy like when they actually came to Los Angeles. I was born in Miami, and then I think I was about two years old when we came to Los Angeles, but sometimes I hear it was for a job opportunity, sometimes I hear – you know that family history, when it’s like, what happened between the years of -
Tavis: Yes, it gets a little dysfunctional, a little crazy.
Mendes: So I’m not really sure.
Tavis: Yeah. I think everybody’s family has some of that in it, yeah.
Mendes: Yeah, there’s like a little blind spot there somewhere. But anyhow, I’m so thankful that she moved to Los Angeles, and she was always about creating opportunity, like most – just an amazing mom.
Tavis: When did the creative, artistic acting thing happen for you, and what did your mom say about that? I’m asking because I know that parents, particularly if they are shouldering the responsibility and love you the way your mom loves you, they want to push you into a career that’s going to be a lot more stable.
Tavis: So when did the acting thing happen for you, and what was your mom saying about it?
Mendes: Well, the acting thing didn’t happen for me until later in life. I was 23 and although that obviously is very young, I still had gone to school and I had a proper childhood, I had a proper teenage, those teenage years were as normal as they get, and an early adulthood.
So I think by the time I told them I wanted to be an actress, they were so like, “Thank God, she’s going to do something. Go get ‘em.” So I have to say my mother, my father, my siblings, were just wonderful. None of that “Are you sure,” or “It’s a lot of rejection.”
From day one they were just like, “Go get ‘em. Yeah.” I’m so thankful, because without that support – some people can thrive on negativity. I thrive on love and support. Yeah.
Tavis: Yeah. The fact that it happened at 23, you avoided all of that.
Mendes: I did. I did. I think I saved myself a little bit there.
Tavis: So I want to close, or move toward the close – see how fast that goes? A whole show (crosstalk).
Mendes: I can’t believe it, because it’s been so beautiful.
Tavis: We’re just getting started (unintelligible). I want to close where we began, or where I began, and that is with the fact that of all the things that you have done, I don’t know what’s left to come in your corpus of work, but all the stuff you’ve done already, the critics are really loving you in this.
Everything I read about this is just giving you such high praise and these wonderful accolades for the way you set this one off. Is there a hope that you have for how you or your talents will be viewed on the other side of this project, or is that asking too much? Does that question make sense?
Mendes: Yes, oh, it completely makes sense, and -
Tavis: When you finally get that gritty role, I think there’s got to be an expectation that you have, or hope, at least, that you have for what happens on the other side of this role.
Mendes: I think I’ve been doing this long enough to know that expectation is just trouble. It’s heartache and it’s trouble.
Tavis: Yeah, that’s fair.
Mendes: It really is. But of course I want people to be moved by something I do. Of course, absolutely. Of course I would like people to enjoy it and the whole thing. But I do think once I get into expectations, I’ve just trained myself. I’ve just trained myself to just move on to the next. I’ve finished another film since then, so you know what I mean?
Tavis: You’ve passed (crosstalk).
Mendes: I’ve been past it for a while, but yeah, this opened some more doors and that’d be fantastic, of course.
Tavis: So my time is up. Where’s the dog?
Mendes: That’s crazy, Hugo the dog.
Tavis: Hugo, yeah.
Mendes: Thank you for letting me bring him. He’s in the green room.
Tavis: He’s around, yeah.
Mendes: Yeah, he’s back there.
Tavis: All right. I know you don’t go too far without -
Mendes: Without him, yeah.
Tavis: Okay. Good. (Laughter) It’s a great film. You did a wonderful job.
Mendes: Thank you so much.
Tavis: You did a wonderful job.
Mendes: Thank you so much.
Tavis: “The Place Beyond the Pines” is the project, starring Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that you’ll want to see this, because when you see the trailers, I think you’ll want to see it. Glad to have you here.
Mendes: Thank you.
Tavis: Your first time, hopefully not your last.
Mendes: Oh, no – will you have me back?
Tavis: Of course I will. (Laughter) Will you come back?
Mendes: Then not my last, yeah.
Tavis: All right. We have a deal, then.
Tavis: I’ll give you that.
Mendes: You went to bump and I went to shake.
Tavis: No, I’ll give you that. That’s good. (Laughter) That’s much more gentlemanly anyway. (Laughter) That’s our show for tonight. See you next time on PBS. Until then, good night from L.A., thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.
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