The Mysteries of Eva
The sphinx like Eva Mendes is almost as famous for the silence she maintains about her life with gentle-stud actor Ryan Gosling as she is for her many film roles over the past 18 years. In her first interview since the birth of her second child and a tragic family loss, the actress opens up to Latina as never before.
Photographs by: Diego Uchitel
Written By: Shirley J. Velásquez
“I THINK LIKE SUCH A MOM NOW—BIG PICTURE—AS FAR AS WHAT I’M PUTTING OUT THERE, NOT ONLY FOR MY CHILDREN, BUT FOR OTHER CHILDREN.”
It may look like she’s living large today in Beverly Hills, tended to by a busy crew at the Latina cover shoot. But Eva Mendes has already given it eight hours of intense, professional focus since we got started early this morning, and the day is not over yet. She plops down on a mid-century–style living-room sofa and takes a moment to appreciate the rugged beauty of the sienna-hued canyon through the floor-to-ceiling window. The Miamiborn actress isn’t about to complain, especially now that she’s changed back into her own comfy outfit: a green silk maxi-dress and a worked-in pair of Chloé wedge sandals.
Getting Eva to open up about the goings-on in her life won’t be easy, but I have just the trick. Resting across from us on a walnut coffee table— everything here is mid-century—is a horoscope book. But it’s not just any astrology volume. It’s The Secret Language of Birthdays, a well-researched tome that describes in detail, and with remarkable accuracy, many say, the character traits—good and bad—of men and women born across the 365 days of the year.
We flip to Eva’s birthday, March 5, and I warn her that she may not like what she finds, and we don’t have to go down this road if it’s too uncomfortable. “I’m so intrigued—haber,” she says excitedly, taking the book and reading out loud:
Those born on March 5 usually have two distinct sides to their personality. To the world they may appear debonair and charming, sophisticated, as well as kind and considerate, while inside they are grappling with their personal demons.
Eva pauses. “I wish I was sophisticated,” she says, “but I don’t Really see that.” She continues:
Extremely secretive, they can be quite different people in private and are often prone to expressing dark feelings and emotions.
“Wow,” she bursts out laughing. “Ay.” She goes on:
Problems can arise for them in their personal lives, which are often not only stormy but often destructive. They also have an unspoken way of bringing out both the best and the worst in others; through piercing insight, those born on this day can expose the weaknesses, deficiencies and insecurities of others with incredible impact. This is largely because the March 5th–born are a rare species whose mental and emotional sensitivities are equally developed.
Not surprisingly, those born on this day seem to live life more intensely than others. They also remain open to a wider variety of experiences than most people can handle.
“So interesting, very cool. I definitely connect with some of this stuff, like the duality is interesting. I thought it was just being Cuban,” she says with a deep laugh.
At times March 5th people can be logical and emotionally objective, at others passionate, perhaps irrational, overwhelming people with their intensity—and all this can happen in the short space of a few minutes or seconds! Others may wonder how one person can be so mutable, and adaptable to circumstances.
"It’s frighteningly accurate. I’ll take it.”
Keeping her astro-personality portrait in mind, we reviewed some of the highlights of a nearly two-decade career that stubbornly confounds neat categorization (her first on-camera appearance was in an Aerosmith music video). It took off with a single-episode appearance on ER in 1998 and gained momentum three years later with her eye-opening role as Sara, side-womanin- the-hood to Denzel Washington— the role earned him the 2002 Oscar for Best Actor—in Training Day.
“I grew up, what, 20 minutes outside of Hollywood? It seemed like a foreign land. But when I saw the door open, when I saw the crack, slightly ajar, I kicked it open.”
She continued scoring steady roles, working alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names. In Hitch, she found romance with Will Smith. In The Other Guys, the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg caper, she showed comedic flair. “I didn’t think acting could be a profession you could make a career out of,” Eva remembers. “I grew up, what, 20 minutes outside of Hollywood? It seemed like a foreign land. But when I saw the door open, when I saw the crack, slightly ajar, I kicked it open.”
Many of her characters have exuded sensual vulnerability; other roles have had her playing strong and persistent women. Often she is both. Nowhere is that strong-sensual duality more evident than in the 2007 crime thriller We Own the Night, where she plays Joaquin Phoenix’s love interest, and in 2012’s The Place Beyond the Pines, arguably her finest film work. “It’s the thing I’m most proud of in my career,” she has said.
The project is also significant because Eva costarred with her future life partner, Ryan Gosling. And no matter how much she has striven to conduct their relationship in private, by joining her life to Gosling’s she catapulted into that A-list sphere where the media glare is a constant. From her love life with Gosling to both of her pregnancies—most of the public didn’t know Eva was expecting baby number two until late in the game—and now to the rumors swirling that the couple tied the knot after she proposed to him, the interest in her private life has only intensified. But an innate streak of stubbornness, and a proven ability to stay calm (instead of being driven by her energy flow, as her birthday horoscope advises), has apparently given her an invincible sense of being grounded despite the constant fuss around her.
Now 42, Eva is not only raising a family with the man of her dreams, but she’s also tapping into new talents and projects. At New York & Company, she’s designing feminine-chic clothing for women of all body sizes. And at her beauty company, CIRCA, she’s concocting luxury products at affordable prices, marketed exclusively at the nationwide Walgreens chain.
Speaking to her, it is impossible not to appreciate her fierce drive to celebrate and improve the lives of other women. In that, as her birthday horoscope affirms, she’s fulfilling her ancient calling to “live life more intensely than others” and create from a canvas whose colors are a “little brighter, the highlights and shadows… more contrasted.”
Your birthday entry in the book characterizes you as logical, emotionally objective, and also passionate. That certainly comes out in your films, but what about as a mom?
Well, I have two girls. That’s a lot. It’s early for me to make any big statement about having children. My older little girl is not yet 2 years old. My little one is still an infant, and right now it’s really about surviving those nights and trying to enjoy this time as much as possible with them, and start the bond between Esmeralda and Amada. It’s a really, really special time. I’m loving it.
You’re staying home with your girls now. How long do you see yourself taking a break?
I’m not sure, but it would definitely take something really special. I don’t like saying “take me away,” but essentially that’s what work does. I think it can be very, very healthy if it’s something that feels worthwhile. Right now I feel very fortunate to be home with my kids. I feel so lucky, and I’m just taking advantage of that.
The Place Beyond the Pines was a beautiful film and made on a small budget. Is that the kind of project that might tempt you?
Absolutely, that was an amazing experience. I think working with really interesting filmmakers that have their own voice, and working with people that really care about the message they’re putting out there, something like that would be intriguing. I think like such a mom now—big picture— as far as what I’m putting out there, not only for my children but for other children.
You had a very modest Cuban upbringing in Los Angeles. And recently you said that your father still doesn’t speak English.
[Laughs] Yeah, my father is like 70-something. It’s not happening. It used to frustrate me, and now I think it’s really cute.
It’s almost cool now.
Yeah, it’s cool, exactly. [Laughs] That’s a good sign of the times, isn’t it? When I was younger, and me and my mom would go to the mall, she would be speaking in Spanish, and I’d be embarrassed. I was 12 or 13 years old at that time, and all I wanted to do was fit in. Anything that made me different, I didn’t want to embrace, which is the opposite now. And hopefully as you get older, you realize that your quirks and what makes you different are the things to celebrate. Cut to now, I’m just like, Mami, como se hacen los frijoles así? I’m just so proud of my whole culture, of where I come from. I wish I’d had that insight when I was 13. I fought it for a while, for sure.
So how will you infuse your girls with your Cuban culture SINCE they’re growing up in a bicultural home?
We’re constantly playing Cuban music. I speak to them in Spanish, and my mom speaks to Esmeralda in Spanish. Well, now she speaks to both of them in Spanish. Any time I have an opportunity to introduce her or them—I have to say “them” now, though my newborn just sleeps all the time—to my culture, whether it’s through music, or through food, I do. That is a main priority, for sure.
It was different then. Parents really wanted their kids to assimilate.
Absolutely. I have the best of both worlds. I feel completely Cuban and completely American at the same time. I’m so thankful to my mother for coming to the States and risking it all and giving us this opportunity. I really connect with both cultures, and that’s rare. That’s a gift that she gave me and all of us.
How did acting become something you wanted to do? Were you an artistic kid?
I think I was. My main goal when I was little was to pay my mom’s bills. Like that was my goal. And I used to write her letters.
And, later, acting brought other opportunities, such as your creative roles with a fashion line that goes up to size 22 for New York & Company, and a portfolio of beauty products for Circa.
These two companies really satisfy a certain part of me that I love to connect to. I love women. I have two sisters, my amazing mother, and girlfriends that have been friends since I was a kid. And we’re still super, super, super close. Whether it’s designing dresses or coming up with an affordable makeup line, those things are exciting because it takes me back to my youth and my love of my female support system that I come from. Also remembering not having much [growing up] allows me to achieve my goal of paying my mother’s bills. My goal is to continue paying her bills. That’s still something I care about.
It’s interesting how one’s core beliefs and passions don’t necessarily change with time.
They don’t. Or they haven’t. I think growing up without much, I know that this could be temporary. So I still feel like, “How am I gonna pay the bills.” And it’s like, “Wait, I’m okay this month. I can breathe.” I don’t feel like I’ll ever lose that sense [of urgency]. I don’t want to lose it.
WE SPENT AN ENTIRE DAY LISTENING TO BOLEROS DURING YOUR SHOOT. HOW DID YOU START LISTENING TO THAT OLD SCHOOL LATIN MUSIC?
I have so many beautiful memories when my mom would play old Cuban music records, actual records, and I would wake up—at like, noon, because I was a teenager!— to these beautiful romantic songs that she would play while she was cleaning the house. And like I said, back then I was slightly irritated by it. I love it now. I just love the sound and the poetry of the language.
So different from music today, which is much more crass.
[Laughs] It has its place. But for me, maybe it has to do with my first concert I ever went to, which was José Luis Rodríguez, El Puma. Your first concert reveals a lot about you.
Imaginete. I think it was at the Greek [Theatre, in L.A.], and my mom takes me, freaking out with all the middle-aged women. I’m this little 12- year-old, like, “What am I doing here?” But I think I didn’t want to admit that I kind of liked it.
It’s like she down loaded you a penchant for romantic Latin music.
Yeah, and now I buy all the records from eBay, and I have a record player, and my mom’s like, “Niña, tu compraste eso? Yo tengo todo eso en el garaje.” [Laughs]
Does she really still have the vinyls?
NO, I THINK IT’S MORE A METAPHOR. I’M LIKE, “MOM YOU DON’T HAVE THAT.” I THINK IT’S LIKE “YOU’VE HAD THIS UNDER YOUR NOSE THE WHOLE TIME, AND NOW YOU LIKE IT?”
This year you welcomed baby Amada Lee to your family, but you also lost your older brother, Carlos. That’s a lot to experience all at once. How do you stay grounded?
Losing my brother brought our family closer, and we were already close to begin with. So to just see everybody be there for one another and show up, I feel so lucky to have them. And then they were there for me when Amada was born. We had a funeral service for him and that same week I had the baby. So it was really, really intense and obviously beyond heart-breaking, but also kind of beautiful.
It’s like a renewal of life, and a lot to go through in such a short amount of time.
And being totally honest, I don’t feel like I’ve really processed that yet.
IS THERE A REASON YOU NAMED BOTH OF YOUR GIRLS AMADA?
My grandmother’s name is Amada, and Esmeralda Amada is the name of our oldest. We had a few names picked out for our new baby, and when she was born, we didn’t feel like those names were her. We came up with a few more, even that morning, and tried them out. We were like, “What about Viviana?” But we just kept going back to Amada. In true Latin fashion, we reuse names all the time. I used to know five sisters that were all Maria del Carmen, Maria Elena, Maria Liliana…. [Laughs]
Not exactly unusual for us!
I actually told Ryan, “This is com-mon in Latin culture, so it wouldn’t be crazy.” So we went with Amada because it was something we kept going back to. And it was an emotional time with the passing of my brother. We thought how beautiful to go with what made us emotional and with what felt like her. When we looked at her, we thought, “Aww, Amadita.”
It goes back to what you were saying about reinforcing the bond between Esmeralda and Amada, by sharing a name. It’s very cool and very Latin, too.
[Bursts out laughing] And my mom’s name is Eva. We even thought about Eva III. And we were like, “You know what? Maybe that’s a bit much.” [Laughs]
Was it hard to be away from Amada today? Yeah. But you know, it’s great because I have to get back to work, and that’s my reality. Has motherhood made you re -appreciate your own mom’s efforts?
For sure. She’s just such an inspiration. Everything she’s been through, the challenges in her life, she handles everything with such grace and elegance and has a great sense of humor. One night this year, we were in the car after leaving my brother’s house. It was before he passed away, and we were obviously very upset. We were very quiet and in our own thoughts when then I turned the car and this entire bottle of Coca-Cola spills all over her. We still had 40 minutes to be on the road, and she was all sticky and cold. And she’s just sitting there drenched in this soda, and we start laughing so hard.
Oh no, how did she respond?
She couldn’t stop laughing. And I was like, “Mami, mami, I’m so sorry.” I couldn’t pull over because we were on the freeway. And in the middle of laughing, she said, “Well that’s a first. I’ve never worn Coca Cola before.” And I was like, “Mom, you’re the best.” It had been such a tough day, but she didn’t let it get her down. We had a good 15-minute break from the sadness. That’s just my mom. She’s incredible. And she’s so funny. And in moments like that, I don’t know, I really appreciate her strength. I have a really strong support system within my family and outside, with other amazing women. We love each other and support each other, and I try to do that as much as possible out in the world.