Jessica Alba on Becoming a Mermaid
She's one of the hottest "it" girls in Hollywood this year. After kick-butt turns as a sexy stripper in Sin City and an invisible action girl in Fantastic Four, the petite actress goes Into the Blue as the free-diving girlfriend to Paul Walker's treasure hunter in the undersea adventure flick.
By her own admission, Jessica wanted to be a mermaid as a child and her stint in the family-friendly TV show "The New Adventures of Flipper" introduced her to a watery world that hooked her on scuba diving and allowed her to make friends with the denizens of the deep. For "Blue", the actress had to learn to hold her breath for as long as possible, swim for hours in a bikini and handle sharks! All the sharks you'll see in the film are real! No CGI Jaws in this flick.
Interesting tidbit that has nothing to do with water or sharks: We learned that Jessica isn't sure about ever becoming a mom but she's starting her own baby clothes line since she can't find anything very cute when buying for all her pregnant gal pals.
We caught up with the busy actress in L.A. The recently blonde Jessica is back to her long, chestnut locks with auburn highlights up in a pony tail today and, as she entered the room for our talk, she was frowning and chatting very seriously on her cell phone.
Jessica: I'm sorry. I'm giving my family advice on unhealthy relationships right now.
TeenHollywood: Are you an expert on the subject matter?
Jessica: [smiling] No. I'm not. I mean, I give my opinion. Whether they take it or not is really up to them. But I'm a really strong believer in equal relationships and so when I see an unbalance in power I kind of freak especially with my little female cousins. I'm the oldest of fifteen cousins. If they have any questions about school or about work or about anything - I tell them all that they should not be actors. I deal with everything on a heightened level and it seems like I've crammed a lot of life into a short period of time. I tend to give the best advice that I can give.
TeenHollywood: What are the most asked questions?
Jessica: Oh it's more about school and work, or like, 'Mom won't let me do this. Dad says this.' I encourage them to go to school, and a lot of them just want to stay at home and go to community college and figure out what they're going to do next. I'm like, 'Get on with your life. Make some decisions. Get your butt to school [college] and move out.' I just think that that's when they really find out who they are as people instead of getting pregnant while at home and in community college.
TeenHollywood: Good advice. How is your family reacting to you being more and more famous?
Jessica: To be honest with you, it kind of affected them during 'Dark Angel,' and I was up in Canada. There were billboards and I was in everyone's house literally. I mean, people escape and go to the movies, but I was literally on people's televisions with that program. So that's sort of when it affected them the most. Now they are kind of used to it. My mom didn't know what the paparazzi were like until about a month ago and at first she was like, 'Well, babe, that's what happens when you get famous.' And then after about an hour of it she was like, 'I'm going to call the police. This is out of control.'
After telling Jessica that we think it's cool that she's willing to help her young cousins, we note that she looks like she's ready for a corporate board meeting today; gray, enclosed-toe heels, trendy gray tweed suit with white cammi, tiny pearl earrings and tons of long pearl necklaces. Maybe an attempt to squash her sex-kitten image? Let's get that out of the way....
TeenHollywood: When did you first realize that you looked good in a bikini?
Jessica: [laughs] I never did to be honest with you and I still don't. I'm quite critical of my own appearance, but I had to just think the way that the character did, to be honest with you. She just doesn't care. She's not sitting there looking at her body. She's just working and she lives in the Bahamas and if she didn't wear a bikini it'd be weird unless she wore a one piece, but young girls don't wear one pieces.
TeenHollywood: What was the training for this film like and how did you start feeling comfortable in the water?
Jessica: I'm really comfortable in the water and so that really wasn't a problem. I've been swimming since before I knew how to walk because my mom was a lifeguard in Mississippi when I was baby. She taught me to swim because she was always so nervous that I would fall into the pool and not know how to swim. At the end of the day I just had to think that girls who have curves and aren't the skinniest things in the world are going to feel more comfortable seeing me as the main character than someone else. So hopefully if I can do anything positive with it I had to just think that maybe I would help young girls with their body image.
TeenHollywood: Do you do anything to keep up your body?
Jessica: My trainer has been with me since I was seventeen. You get run down and get sick when you do movies because of the long hours and everything and she just helps me to stay healthy. She gives me vitamins and she makes me eat right, and we do workouts and on this movie, because it was so physical, we did more stretching and yoga and stuff like that.
TeenHollywood: We heard that the stunt people were surprised that you were such a great swimmer.
Jessica: Yeah. I loved the stunt people. I feel more comfortable with stunt people than with actors because actors don't know what they're doing all the time especially when you're doing physical stuff. I was trained as a stunt person when I did 'Dark Angel' and they were just more water savvy than the other actors. They knew what was going on and about currents and everything. So they just made me feel more comfortable and especially Paul's double. He was amazing. He was such a fast swimmer and I would just hold onto his shoulder, and the hardest thing was just trying to hold my breath as long as him because that's what he does.
TeenHollywood: Okay, you are petting sharks in this movie. How scary was that?
Jessica: Very. Once instance in particular the sharks mouth was open and was sort of coming at me and nobody was warning me. The camera operator was just filming it and no one was telling me from behind, and I just saw in my peripheral vision, because of my mask, that a shark's mouth was coming towards me and so I just whacked at it and hit it away. What else are you going to do? And then after that happened I was really paranoid about the sharks getting too close to me. So any time one came even this close to me I would just kind of shove it away because their noses are very sensitive and they're not the smartest animals in the world. If it bumps into something it's going to deflect it in the opposite direction.
TeenHollywood: Whoa! I don't know if I would be that brave. There was an underwater safety crew though, right?
Jessica: To be honest with you that's where I learned how to dive, and that's how I learned how to do underwater stuff and really trust the underwater safety people because we're under forty feet and then they take your mask off or they take your regulator out of your mouth and you can't go to the top because your lungs will explode because you're on assisted air.
TeenHollywood: Scary! So it's all about trust then?
Jessica: You have to trust that when you run out of air that you're going to find someone, and mind you, these people are far away from us because the cameras are so wide. So if I'm here, the camera is like double the size of this room away from me and the guy is on the other side of the camera and so I have to trust that when I do this [indicates she's out of air] someone is going to give me air because I can't go to the top. So it just sort of helped me relax with the underwater safety people that were there and know that I wasn't going to drown.
TeenHollywood: What is your holding your breath record so far?
Jessica: I think that by the end of the movie they were doing this close-up shot of us and I think that I did one take that was a minute and twenty seconds. I swam down into the [submerged] plane from the surface and went all the way to the back of the plane and came all the way back through and came back up and I stopped and did stuff inside the plane where they had cameras set up.
TeenHollywood: Paul told us that the most dangerous sharks were the smaller ones who would bump into you. True for you?
Jessica: I wouldn't let them bump into me, but he was more like into letting them get close to him. I wasn't. I was not happy with that at all. I would push them away before they even got close. It's like baby snakes. They don't know to just let out a piece of the venom. They let out all of the venom and it's the same with little baby sharks. They're just trying to get food and whatever is in the way they'll just bite at and will nudge you. They are more playful and a little bit more wild.
TeenHollywood: Really important question. Doesn't make-up wash off in water?
Jessica: There was no makeup. None of us had makeup on. I mean, thank God I had pigment. My dad is good for the dark skin gene and I got very, very dark. Paul [Walker] got really, really dark and so did Scott [Caan]. I think that Ashley [Scott] was the only one. She would sort of get a little bit dark and then have to wear a lot of sunscreen.
TeenHollywood: At one point in the movie, I thought I saw a big bruise on the front of your leg. Did I?
Jessica: Yeah I forgot how that happened. I had a really big bruise and because of the underwater thing, you can't really wear makeup underwater, I think that they tried to put something on it, but it just came off. I don't remember though. I get bruises all the time.
TeenHollywood: Paul got hurt pretty badly while filming. Did you?
Jessica: No. He totally scarred his head. It was bad, and it was on the first day of shooting.
TeenHollywood: So you and Paul met to discuss another film a while back?
Jessica: It was going to be a remake of 'An Officer and a Gentleman' and it was this really amazing director and we all sat down and had dinner actually. We got along really well. It was like a brother/sister kind of thing. It was fun.
TeenHollywood: So who is the better diver? You or your "brother" Paul?
Jessica: You have to be able to equalize and Paul couldn't equalize that well when he was going down. Maybe he can do it better now. Because he's a surfer, he had this ear problem, but at the end, after all this diving, we all had sinus problems through the whole movie. So I think that there is one scene in particular where I had a bad sinus cold or something and my voice is really deep [Laughs]. I had a cold voice.
TeenHollywood: So feeling more like bro and sis, how was doing a love scene together? Weird?
Jessica: Well, it wasn't a love scene. I mean, we weren't really like tonguing each other or anything. I mean, I think that what sold the relationship was their obsession for each other and how young they were and new the relationship was. Then all of a sudden they are hit with this reality where he's choosing money and fame and all of this other stuff and he's getting sidetracked. That's kind of the point. They've been together for two years and she's like, 'Okay. Now what?' This other thing seemed more appealing to him.
TeenHollywood: Sensitive question. Scott's character says something like "let the Mexican do it" when referring to you. Did that tick you off? Was it considered a racial slur?
Jessica: [getting thoughtful] I was pretty irritated, and Scott grew up in Southern California and he actually, I think, says that he can speak a little bit of Spanish which is more Spanish than I can speak. It wasn't spoken in my house at all and my father doesn't speak it at all. But I was a bit irritated, and when you are the only half minority, there is nothing that you can really say because everyone else is white.
TeenHollywood: So he ad-libbed it. Could you have asked to have the line taken out?
Jessica: I told him, 'I can't believe that you said that.' I called him a jerk and a couple of other things, but of course what makes the film is that. I didn't appreciate that too much, but growing up and not really fitting in as a Latin or a white or an anything, no one ever accepted me and so I kind of get the brunt of all those weird, racial slurs.
TeenHollywood: Okay, for all the guys who wanna know, were there any bikini wardrobe malfunctions?
Jessica: Well, I mean, when you're in the water in a bathing suit, it stretches and they just had to sort of take everything in after a while especially when we got cold. We all sort of lost a little bit of weight just burning some calories while trying to stay warm towards the end of the movie.
TeenHollywood: You and co-star Ashley Scott have both been superheroes. Who would win in a smackdown between the two of you?
Jessica: [laughing] Oh, I wouldn't compare Ashley and I. I've had a lot more training than she has. But she is awesome. She did 'Birds of Prey' and she did 'Dark Angel.' I really appreciated, as a woman, first of all, having another girl there to be girlie with because we were the only girls there with all boys. The crew was also all boys. Also, she's just really comfortable with her body and so that's another thing that helped me. She would throw a bikini on and walk around. Meanwhile, every time the camera shut off I was covering myself in a towel and hating my life and calling my mom and going, 'I can't do this. I hate this movie.'
TeenHollywood: You have a scene in which you are handcuffed to a huge guy but you're dragging him around. How hard was that?
Jessica: He was huge. Huge. He's like six five. No joke. Six five. My back hurt. My legs hurt. Actually, now I remember where I got the bruise. I was like running away from the guy and I tripped over the railing on the way up. I fall down right before I kick him in his face. By the way, none of that stuff was in the original script. In the original script it was like me trapped under the boat, passed out and handcuffed to the dead guy and then Paul comes and saves the day. And I was like, 'Now, you guys did get me to play the girl and I think that women want to see a girl kick ass.' [We totally agree] So I talked to the writer and talked to [director] John [Stockwell] and everyone was cool with it. And then I think that it made for a more interesting ending.
TeenHollywood: What is happening with the next Fantastic Four movie?
Jessica: I don't know. I'm signed for three of them but Robert [Rodriguez] talked to me about another Sin City. They have nothing for my character now, and I talked to him and I had dinner with Frank [Miller], and he kind of told me what he kind of thinks is going to happen with Nancy. It's really cool. It's something that he's writing.
TeenHollywood: Did you talk about what should happen to your Fantastic Four character?
Jessica: I think that they need to get married. I mean, I know what the first twenty minutes are going to be of the movie. It's really cool, but yeah, they're getting married. Maybe I'm giving away too much, but yeah.
TeenHollywood: What do you think about all the junk written about you lately in the tabloids?
Jessica: Oh, it's crap. All of it. It's terrible. It's terrible if it affects anyone else in my life, but none of it is true. I was so irritated, like, I go to have a peaceful vacation and we're not doing anything wrong and they make it like I'm being inappropriate and public with my boyfriend. It's just like, 'What?' It's just because they have an angle of a picture, they make this whole story and it makes my parents think that I'm doing something that I'm not which is all that really matters because I could care less what anyone else thinks.
TeenHollywood: Do you ever see yourself transforming into a more plain Jane like what Charlize Theron did in Monster?
Jessica: Absolutely. I think that I never go after a role because it's going to be hot or sexy or beautiful or anything. I'm totally just about the character. Sue Storm [Fantastic Four] couldn't have been more conservative and nerdy and like a little corny and soft in her opinions about things. Even when she was making a statement she was still very prim and proper and I loved that about her. So that was really why I did a character like Sue Storm and that's kind of what I go for in choosing movies. It's never about whether or not I look good. It would be amazing to dive into a character like Charlize did and transform yourself entirely, or like 'Bridget Jones' and just transform everything. That's the whole point of acting.
TeenHollywood: What is the next film you are going to do?
Jessica: It's called Awake. It's with Sigourney Weaver and Hayden Christensen. It's an independent movie. It's not a big studio film.
TeenHollywood: Okay, if we handed you an I-pod, what music would you like to listen to now?
Jessica: Damien Rice and Coldplay.
TeenHollywood: Into the Blue seems like it was a tough shoot. Were there moments when you said to yourself 'what am I doing here'?
Jessica: Absolutely. Certainly. After the sharks and the cold water and the seasickness. I mean, it's a beautiful movie and then we watched dailies and I was like, 'Oh, okay. This is why I'm doing it.' I knew that it was going to be a beautiful, suspenseful movie and that's what it is. It's a popcorn movie and it's fun. I know that even with Blue Crush, the underwater photography was not nearly as gorgeous as it is in this movie. Sixty percent of the movie it seems like takes place under the water, and I think that it's rare and cool. I like it.
Lynn Barker is a Hollywood-based entertainment journalist and produced screenwriter.