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August 6, 2008

Eva Wants You!

After a string of sexy roles in movies for dudes, Eva Mendes is tapping her inner girl's girl.

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Mendes lounges in a Jason Wu belted dress and YSL heels.

Photo Credit: Mark Abrahams

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Every time I mention the name Eva Mendes to another guy, he gets this stupid grin on his face while, no doubt, fantasizing: Eva Mendes mowing his lawn. Eva Mendes juicing kale in his kitchen. But when I mention Eva's name to a woman, the response is almost a nonresponse. "Oh," the woman will invariably say, "she's ... really pretty." Coming from a woman, this is not necessarily a compliment, which isn't to say it's not a fact. At 33, Eva Mendes is uniquely pretty, Revlon-commercial pretty, the-new-face-of-Calvin-Klein-underwear pretty — but, as a matter of conversational reflex, one woman calling another woman "really pretty," and only that, is also a way of outright dismissing her. What these women really mean when they remark on Eva's bone structure and skin tone is that she is not an intimate in the Sarah Jessica Parker/Jennifer Aniston sense. She is that suspect thing, a guy's girl — who stars in movies for dudes, about dudes (2 Fast 2 Furious, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Training Day, Ghost Rider), with all that implies. But if Eva has her way, this is about to change.

I meet Eva on the patio of a strip-mall Hollywood café beneath a tilted umbrella and six cypress trees doing slow-mo tai chi in the breeze. With her spine straight, her legs crossed in half-lotus, Eva looks just about ready to chant ommm in her chair. Her dress gives off an ashram-couture vibe, natural and chic. It's empire-waisted and long, white linen with brocaded burgundy arabesques and thick beaded shoulder straps. Her Missoni purse is nearly the size of a gym bag. Blocky tortoiseshell sunglasses protect her eyes from allergies, she says, and she plays with her hair almost constantly, brushing it behind her, teasing it forward and to the side, twisting until it looks like a rope. For the first of three times, Eva orders a coffee and dumps in a side of espresso. "Cubans don't drink regular coffee," she says. "We basically drink petroleum."

Eva's latest project, The Women, is her first bona fide chick-flick, in which she plays a husband stealer who works the perfume counter at Saks. So, she's the bad guy in her first girl film — but it's a girl film nonetheless. Line crossed. "There's not a man in the film," says Eva, rather proudly, popping a blueberry-muffin morsel into her mouth. Instead, the cast features Annette Bening, Meg Ryan, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cloris Leachman, Candice Bergen, Bette Midler. The kind of cast that'll drill Peggy Lee's feminist anthem, "I'm a woman. W-O-M-A-N!" into your head for days on end, even if you're a man.

"Usually I work with guys," Eva understates, breaking off more muffin, "and I go to rehearsal in a summer dress or jeans or whatever. But last year, while rehearsing the movie at [writer/director] Diane English's house on Martha's Vineyard, I found myself really aware of what I was wearing, really caring about my outfits. With guys it doesn't matter. But this was with women, women who are all put-together and cute with their little dresses and their perfect earrings. Every morning I got up and thought, I'm going to see Annette today, I need to make sure she thinks I look cute. Jada's gonna be cute. Meg's gonna be cute. I'd better be cute." She pops a muffin crumb between her wide, asymmetrical lips and drops a new shot of espresso into a fresh coffee. "I'm sure I sound like a ditz saying this, but it's a girl thing. A timeless, ageless, ethnicity-less girl thing."

It's also a thing that goes beyond wardrobe approval. This is Eva Mendes looking for positive womanly support, looking for the respect of her most lauded cohorts. This is Eva wanting them to like her and wanting, in fact, to be more like them. "I don't understand women who don't like being with the girls," she says. "They say they'd rather be with the guys all the time? That it's just so much easier? I'm calling bullshit on that."

In Bening, Eva's found a true role model. "Annette's got taste and class," she says. "She reminds me of one of those women back in the '40s and '50s. She's a broad, and I want to be a broad. I mean, she's like Ava Gardner or Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn. Those women were broads. They said it like it was. They weren't afraid to say fuck. They were in-your-face, but they were also ladies. That's a broad. Annette's like that, and I strive to be like that, too, to have femininity and a voice, to play the Hollywood game without getting pushed around."


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