JESSICA ALBA on Sin City with BENECIO DEL TORO and ROBERT RODRIGUEZ
Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
March 19, 2005
A comic book series turned noirish action thriller, Sin City delves into the stories of a dark, seedy town held together by a tangled, precarious web of vice and corruption.
Co-directed by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Spy Kids) and Frank Miller (creator of the original Sin City books), this visually groundbreaking film makes extensive use of greenscreen special effects to fully immerse its characters in a world that looks strikingly similar to its pen and ink source material. Sin City features an ensemble cast that includes, among many others, Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Clive Owen, Benecio Del Toro, Mickey Rourke, Brittany Murphy, Nick Stahl, and Elijah Wood.
In this interview, Jessica Alba, accompanied by Benecio Del Toro and Robert Rodriguez, discusses the making of the movie.
MEDIA: Jessica, your character Nancy is a stripper who appears topless in the comics?
JESSICA: Oh, she was bottomless, too! [laughs]
What made you want to take on the role?
JESSICA: I wanted to do this movie because Robert Rodriguez was directing it, first and foremost. I didn't really know it was a comic book when I saw that he was directing something. I just tell my agents every month, "What's Robert doing? I want to do something with him." And one of my agents has a relationship with Robert and said, "You got an opportunity." And I was like, "Excellent!" So I took that opportunity and ran with it. I auditioned the old fashion way, went in for the casting director, put myself on tape, and he had to approve. And it was like a week of, "Does he think I suck?" Like I don't even care if I get the role, I just don't want Robert to think I suck! And he didn't think I sucked. And he came down, and I read with him, and at that time I looked at the graphic novel and I saw the pictures.
JESSICA: [laughs] I then found out she was a stripper, and she was bottomless and topless. You know, nudity was an option. We could have done it if we wanted to...
Aaawww! Was it really an option?
JESSICA: It absolutely was an option. Robert said that we could do it if we wanted to, and obviously it would have been more authentic. But I felt like dancing around with a lasso and chaps was going to be sexy enough. And I think being nude, for me, would have been distracting, and I really couldn't be bottomless, for my dad would be like...I don't know. He would disown me or something. He would freak out!
ROBERT: In the world of the comic, they just think Nancy's the sexiest person in the world. [to Jessica] And you did that. That's all we needed to worry about. [laughs]
Did you find the relationship between Nancy and Bruce Willis' character uncomfortable because they share both a sexual attraction and a father/daughter dynamic?
JESSICA: Nancy doesn't think of him as a father. She thinks of him as her knight in shining armor. So I just came at it from that point. And she just sort of waited till she was old enough to really be in love with him and have that relationship completely. But I think she always looked at him as her soulmate from the beginning. She's kind of an old soul from when she's a little child, and so I didn't think it was creepy at all.
ROBERT: Yeah, it's a great love story, but he doesn't realize that she's grown over those ages. She's like the only person there for him the whole time he's in prison. And when he comes out...Frank got the idea because he was at his mother's house, and this beautiful woman walks in. He's looking at this woman, and then she turns around and goes, "Hi, Uncle Frank!" And he's like, "Oh my God, my little niece has grown up! I feel like such a heel for looking at her!" [laughs]
How did you prepare physically for the role?
JESSICA: I work out anyway just because it's healthy to work out, and women have health problems, especially in my family. And so that was already part of it. And I went to strip clubs to see how strippers do it. I wanted a choreographer, and Robert said, "No. Just feel it. We're just going to play music and you're just going to feel it."
ROBERT: [to Jessica] Yeah, I wanted it to come from you. I didn't want it to be a dance number. I did that with Salma Hayek in Dusk Till Dawn. She wanted a choreographer. She said, "I don't know how to dance." I said, "I'm not going to have you do a dance. I want something more primal than that."
JESSICA: Mind you, he's saying Salma Hayek in Dusk Till Dawn--the sexiest dance I've ever seen on camera...ever! And he's like [casually], "It'll be like that." And I was like, "Like that? Are you serious? I have to live up to something!" Like, it's iconic! There hasn't been a sexier dance ever! And she wasn't naked.
ROBERT: She was very nervous, too.
JESSICA: And she was gorgeous!
ROBERT: I just knew. You know how to dance, it's going to be something people wish they could choreograph. [laughs]
JESSICA: My heart was beating so fast. I was so nervous! And then I had some Texans teach me how to rope and lasso and...
ROBERT: She was out there in the back roping and spinning the gun. She whacked herself in the head a few times while practicing.
JESSICA: A couple times. [laughs]
ROBERT: But by the time she got to the stage, she was just like a pro.
Benecio, were you familiar with the Sin City books?
BENECIO: No. I was familiar with Frank's work in the Batman stuff. My preparation was really talking to The Wizard about--
BENECIO: [refers to Robert] I gave him that nickname.
ROBERT: He walked in and said, [exaggerated Mexican accent] "The Wizard!"
BENECIO: We just walked in and everything was green. And I had seen how it looked already, because he had shown me the beginning of the movie, the opening sequence. So it was like being in the office of the Wizard of Oz.
JESSICA: Yeah, it's magical.
ROBERT: It was more interesting to watch his process. It's the best thing in the world to see an actor transform, and within a day, because we shoot very fast.
BENECIO: Yeah. The Wizard is like really fast. He makes it easy and cheap.
ROBERT: It's the Latin way. [exaggerated Mexican accent] "Faster, cheaper, better!"
What, if anything, from your Latin heritage goes into your work?
BENECIO: Pizza and jalapenos I brought with me got into my work.
ROBERT: I finally found somebody who eats as much as me. Homemade pizzas from the pizza oven with jalapenos on them.
BENECIO: Is that a Latin dish?
ROBERT: It is now.
JESSICA: And that restaurant...oh my goodness. The best Mexican food I've ever had. Other than my grandma's, of course.
What restaurant was this?
ROBERT: Fonda San Miguel in Austin.
JESSICA: It's so authentic and so good.
Has the business of Hollywood changed in recent years in terms of the roles available for Latin actors and actresses?
JESSICA: I don't know Benecio's experience, but it's a lot different for me, because I only used to get breakdowns for "Maria, the janitor's daughter who was messing around with the white kid." And it was such a classist, bizarre thing because I grew up in the United States. My mother's white, my father's Mexican. And my father's very dark and my mother's very fair, and I came out how I did, and they always want to pigeonhole you. And it's bizarre. We're just people living in society, and I never think about it until people make me think about it. And this industry definitely made me think about me being a Latin girl, up until I was eighteen and I did Dark Angel, and [series creator James Cameron] basically said, "You're the future of the race." And that's basically what Dark Angel was, where you were just a mixture and we're not going to talk about it. And it's done, and then you're just a human being going through the struggle of your journey. And so now, it's very liberating working with people that aren't going to pigeonhole you as the janitor's daughter.
Was working with Sin City's extensive greenscreen techniques intimidating or liberating?
BENECIO: For me, it was intimidating when I walked in and everything was green and I thought I puked. But then after that, it reminded me of theatre. I'm trained as a theatre actor, and you had a bare stage and you had to pretend you're in the middle of 8th Avenue and traffic is just going by. So it reminded me a little bit of that. And that made it fun, just going back to basics in some ways.
What was it like having two directors for this project?
JESSICA: It was very self indulgent, I think, because we got to talk each director's ear off about our characters, and we really like talking about characters we play and ourselves because we're all kind of narcissistic. [laughs]
Do you find it easy or difficult to watch yourself in the finished version of the film?
JESSICA: I'm critical of myself, so I'm waiting for my part to be over so I can get on with enjoying the movie. [laughs] That's sort of my thing. [to Robert] But you made my skin look nice. Thanks! [laughs]
With a trio of major releases (Sin City, Fantastic Four, and Into the Blue) due out this year, are you prepared for instant fame?
JESSICA: I've been doing this for eleven years, so it definitely isn't an overnight thing. I don't act for myself, or else I would just act in front of a mirror. So I actually like having an audience and people being affected by stuff that I'm in. I love entertaining, and they just all happen to come out this year. The more the merrier! [laughs] I think.