It is hard to imagine...
how the talented and beautiful Jessica Alba finds the time to make movies. After all, she’s the boss of her own eco-friendly home and baby products outfit, The Honest Company, the mother of two young children, and the author of her own health manual, The Honest Life, published last spring.
Yet she still managed to shoot four films last year, including How to Make Love Like an Englishman opposite Pierce Brosnan, and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, in which she stars in the long-awaited sequel to the original 2005 Sin City, directed by Robert Rodriguez and adapted from the Frank Miller graphic novel. The 32-year-old actress is thrilled to have had the chance to reprise her role as exotic dancer Nancy Callahan, one of the iconic characters of her career.
“It’s a lot more intense this time around,” Alba explains. “Nancy is pretty messed up. She’s an alcoholic, she’s self-destructive, and nothing is going right for her. But she fights back, she gets to shoot people, and it was really fun to get to play her again. It was one of those cathartic and liberating experiences for me to let loose and jump into her world. I had almost given up hoping that the sequel would ever get made, so it was a wonderful surprise when Robert called told me to get ready!”
The recent release of the trailer for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (it hits theaters in August) has already created a massive wave of interest across the Internet, as it features Alba looking dark and troubled in a black bra. Though she generally avoids roles that focus on her looks, this film leaves little doubt that the former pin-up girl remains one of the sexiest women in Hollywood.
Aside from movies, Alba enjoys being the hands-on president of The Honest Company, which she co-founded in 2012 in order to offer mothers healthy, non-toxic baby products that are free of harmful chemicals that can be found in many shampoos, soaps, baby-wipes, plastics, mattresses, and household cleaning supplies. Armed with $52 million in venture capital, the firm is based in L.A and employs over 200 people. “Many people don’t even realize that there is lead in their lipstick, or that petrochemicals in your laundry detergent could be making you sick,” Alba, who suffered from many chemical-related allergies as a child, observed.
Alba grew up as an Air Force brat, whose father Mark is a Mexican-American Air Force staff sergeant, while her mother, Catherine, is a homemaker of French, Danish and Canadian descent. Jessica, a Revlon beauty ambassador, lives with her producer husband, Cash Warren, in Los Angeles together with their children Honor, 5, and Haven, 2. When recently asked about whether she plans on adding to their brood, she replied: “I’m 32, so I don’t know if the shop is closed. I’m sure I won’t be trying anytime soon, though.”
VSMARTY: Jessica, you have so much going on in your life, yet you seem to be making more movies than ever before.
ALBA: Acting is in many ways a wonderful escape for me. I’ve always been such a control-freak in my life, even when I was a little girl, and I used to manage my career with the same kind of intensity. Now, because I’m a wife and mother and running a company, I enjoy the freedom that comes with arriving on a film set and throwing myself into a character. It’s liberating to play different kinds of women from who I am in my own life and just let myself go.
VSMARTY: How much of a challenge was it to play Nancy Callahan again in the new Sin City film?
ALBA: I enjoyed the physical challenge as much as the acting itself. There’s a lot more dancing in this film as compared to the original, and the scenes themselves are more complicated. I spent three months preparing for the film, but it was worth it, because I loved being able to dance again and get my body toned and fit. I told Robert and Frank that I really wanted to go for it and I think they were pretty happy about that! (Laughing)
VSMARTY: For a long time it looked like the sequel would never get made.
ALBA: I didn’t think they were ever going to do it. So much time had passed and that makes it more difficult to get the audience back.
VSMARTY: Did you hesitate to act in a more erotically-charged film like this again?
ALBA: No. I’ve been able to play many different kinds of parts lately, and I don’t worry about being categorized that way anymore. I’m much more fearless at this point in my life. I was much more wary earlier in my career about taking chances and what critics might say if I attempted more dramatic roles. These days, I’m up for almost anything – I’m not worried about failure. I also enjoyed being able to do a lot of physical work in a film like this. I’ve always been proud of my fitness, ever since I worked on Dark Angel (when she was cast by James Cameron as a teenager) and did a lot of martial arts and stunt training.
VSMARTY: Was it fun working with Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis again?
ALBA: It was a blast! I’ve always been a big fan of Mickey’s and in the first film we really didn’t get to work together, but on this one, we have some great scenes together. There was such a great atmosphere on the set and it was so interesting to see how Robert and Frank had evolved the characters. It’s very gratifying to be able to come back to these characters and this dark world they’ve created. I’ve also evolved a lot since we did the first one, and it was good to be able to bring my own life experiences, to be able to add new layers and more depth to Nancy.
VSMARTY: Your life took a different direction when you co-founded The Honest Company with Christopher Gavigan. This must give you an enormous sense of accomplishment.
ALBA: It’s always good to be able to build a company like this, which is based on your own personal values and vision. It was so frustrating as a new mother to look for non-toxic products, because so few companies were involved in producing natural and more environmentally-friendly products. I have a pretty strong will, and I was determined to create a company that would allow other mothers to look after their children and their homes in the safest possible way. Most people these days are very conscious of the environment and worried about all the chemicals we come into contact with on a daily basis, so The Honest Company was my way of responding to that concern.
VSMARTY: Do you, yourself, use all your company’s products?
ALBA: What do you think? I use most of the products every day. I love being able to use our soaps and detergents, because I’ve suffered from terrible allergies all my life and now I feel much more comfortable using things like floor cleaners and body washes that I know are not going to give me a rash or make me feel sick. I also want to expand our product line to include many more household items, like deodorant and other personal grooming products. There’s a huge and growing demand for all those products.
VSMARTY: You’ve commented in the past that women should try to avoid putting too much pressure on themselves to be the perfect mother. What advice do you have for young moms?
ALBA: Women shouldn’t try to behave like supermoms. You shouldn’t put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect and worry about every single detail of your child’s life. You can’t help but make mistakes and learn as you go along once your baby is born. I put too much stress on myself and I’ve learned from that experience. So my advice is to relax, love your baby, and enjoy the process.
VSMARTY: As a mother, have you already thought of the kind of life lessons you’ll want to impart to your children as they grow older and learn to fend for themselves?
ALBA: I want them to be strong, independent-minded individuals – like my grandmother, who has always been my inspiration, and in many ways, my role model. She worked hard all her life, ran a restaurant, raised five children, and put my grandfather through university. She also played a big role in raising me. So I would want my children to learn to respect the value of working hard for your goals and also having a strong sense of self-respect and self-worth. Too many teenage girls are so worried about fitting in, wearing the latest clothes, and attracting attention. That’s not what life is about. I grew up with strong, traditional values and a sense of belief in family and respecting your elders. I think if more kids would learn those kinds of values, they would grow up to be much happier and more inspired adults. I want my children to respect their mother and father, develop a strong work ethic, and lead productive and happy lives. That’s my goal as a mother.
VSMARTY: What were you like growing up?
ALBA: I was the eternal outsider. I was the loner Hispanic kid who was taught to defend myself against insults, even if that meant getting beat up at school sometimes. But I never backed down and I learned how to fight and stand up to bullies and some girls who would try to pick on me. And after I started working on Dark Angel, I was constantly getting approached by a lot of guys and I knew how to avoid the kind of men who didn’t respect women. That’s why I love it whenever I get a chance to do martial arts training for some of my movies, the way I did for Machete. A girl has to know how to protect herself! (Laughter)
VSMARTY: You grew up in a very strict Catholic household, and even though you became known for your physical appearance and were a pin-up girl, you were never comfortable about exposing yourself that way?
ALBA: No. I wasn’t even allowed to wear a bikini on the beach when I was a teenager. It took me a long time to embrace my sexuality and that’s why I wanted to get away from playing more overtly sexual characters, even though that’s what got my film career going and what audiences were expecting. I didn’t want to be selling that kind of image. Once I became a mother, though, my attitude towards my body and my sexuality changed completely. Now I’m very happy wearing sexy clothes or playing sexually empowered women.
VSMARTY: What was your childhood like while trying to get into the acting field?
ALBA: When I was young, I was always the Hispanic girl competing against other girls for parts. I never had it easy. Even when I came back from Australia where I had worked for two years doing Flipper, I wasn’t getting any respect, even from other girls in acting classes. So I feel I’ve always had to fight for everything, and that kind of attitude keeps you ambitious and determined. I was also considered to be a Hispanic actress, rather than a mainstream actress in some circles, and that made me all the more determined to overcome that kind of stereotype.
VSMARTY: Unlike so many other young actresses in Hollywood, you never became associated with the wild partying scene in L.A.
ALBA: That was never my thing. I like to go out once in a while, but I didn’t want to use clubbing as a way of attracting attention to myself. That wasn’t my personality or my upbringing. My father was a U.S. Air Force officer and when I was acting as a teenager, I was always told that if I got into any trouble or started hanging out at clubs late at night, that would be the end of my career! (Laughter) Some of my friends even think I’m too serious and reserved, and that I should get out more and show up at all these glamorous parties and industry events where I can strut down the red carpet in fabulous designer outfits and all that stuff. But I wasn’t raised to be frivolous. I take my work seriously and I don’t want to have that kind of image. Getting drunk at a nightclub was never something that turned me on. I always had this serious and very responsible attitude towards the way I conducted myself. I never wanted to go to parties and make stupid conversation with a lot of drunk people.
VSMARTY: How do you feel at this point in your life?
ALBA: I’m very excited about going forward. My family is happy and healthy and I’ve been able to do some interesting work lately, in terms of acting. I also get much satisfaction from running my company. We’re a trailblazer in our field, and we’re going to work hard to provide more products that consumers will find safe, useful, and environmentally friendly. But I still have a lot left to accomplish. In some ways, I’m still the girl with the glasses who got teased and bullied in school and became very determined to prove myself.