Jessica Alba - A screen siren crosses more than one border

Jessica Alba has so far avoided screen nudity, but her new movie about immigration sees her abandon her reserve. The Fantastic Four star tells Gill Pringle why

If most actresses will do anything to get to the top, once they arrive that often all changes as they suddenly become picky. Not so Jessica Alba. How else do you explain her steamy scenes with a man more than twice her age, not to mention a jaw-dropping nude shower scene, in the sexy "Mex-ploitation" film, Machete? Not only does the camera linger longingly over Alba as she takes the shower, it also features her in bedroom scenes with an ex-con played by veteran actor Danny Trejo, 66. We are told the underwear she wore in the shower was digitally removed afterwards, but it's still surprising for an actress who has always sworn off screen nudity.

"You think this version is sexy?! In the original script I played twins, and there was a lot more sex," she says teasingly, making it abundantly clear that she doesn't take herself too seriously.

"But I've never been very comfortable with that stuff. I get freaked out and nervous, I guess, so I told Robert [Rodriguez, the film's director], 'this is an awesome movie and I'd love to be a part of it but I don't feel comfortable doing that', and he was like, 'oh, we'll rewrite it and we'll do what you are comfortable with'."

Machete is notable not least for the audacity in casting Alba and Robert De Niro alongside more faded acts like Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson and Steven Seagal. But, most importantly for Alba, it marks her first film playing a Latina character – a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.

"Robert is a real pioneer. No one would have cast Salma [Hayek] in anything until he told them: 'Look, she's amazing'. He's really opened Hollywood up for actresses like us who refuse to play the stereotypes. And, yes, Machete is exploitative, but I also feel like we wouldn't be able to talk about the political and social messages that this movie talks about if we weren't participating in the fun of being in an exploitation movie. It's all great fun, but it also brings home certain serious messages about immigration. I grew up with road signs showing a dad, a mom and a child running in the air," she says, recalling growing up close to the Mexican-American border in San Diego, where her father worked on a nearby US Air Force base.

"Those signs are still there. It's like you see rabbits crossing and there'll be a little picture of a rabbit but then, a few miles down the freeway, you'll see a road sign showing a family and the kid would be literally flying in the air. That's what you saw driving on the freeway. And that's what I grew up with. We'd go all the time to Tijuana or Rosarito, across the border, because my dad always wanted me to stay connected with that. It's always been a relevant issue for me and Robert because we grew up with that reality, and it just happens today that a state did something really foolish and passed this very racist and foolish law, so this film has now taken on a life of its own," says Alba, 29, proud to be tapping into her Latina heritage for the first time in her 25-movie career.

She confesses she used Machete as an opportunity to brush up on her Spanish. "It was worse in the beginning and got better towards the end. But I wanted it to be like that, and my cadence was very gringa in the beginning and then at the end it had improved. But I'm really trying. At home I speak a little bit to my daughter but its just basic stuff. My goal is for her to be trilingual because we're enrolling her in a French school and then she gets Spanish every day at the house," says Alba, who wed long-time boyfriend, Cash Warren, in May 2008 in a private ceremony just weeks before the birth of their now two-year-old daughter, Honor.

Motherhood, she insists, has been transformative. "I think I'm actually a little more wild and free since I've had her because, once she's in bed, all my mom friends, we get together and have dance parties at the house. It sounds really dorky but its true. It's certainly something I wouldn't have done before," says the actress whose post-baby choices have been intriguing, ranging from this year's all-star ensemble romance Valentine's Day to serial-killer thriller The Killer Inside Me.

"I know, its weird, isn't it? I think everyone expects me to start doing family films now," says Alba, who next up appears in comedy Little Fockers with De Niro and Barbra Streisand, before reuniting with Machete director Rodriguez to play a sexy-spy mum in kids' adventure movie Spy Kids 4.

Determined to become an actress since the age of five, she was 11 when she won an acting competition in Beverly Hills, winning acting lessons which led to her being signed up by an agent. Commercials and small TV roles quickly followed, including a couple of guest spots on Beverly Hills 90210. After graduating she studied acting at David Mamet's Atlantic Theater Company, in the company of William H Macy and his wife Felicity Huffman. Aged 17, Alba auditioned with Machete director Rodriquez for his horror film Faculty, although he felt she was too young for the role. But James Cameron selected her from 1,200 hopefuls to play the part of a genetically-engineered soldier on short-lived TV series Dark Angel. She was soon cast as the eponymous star of Honey, her sexy dance moves sealing her career as a major Hollywood sex symbol and leading to bigger budget roles in Fantastic Four, Sin City and Meet Bill.

Regularly voted Sexiest Women in the World or similar, she's had almost as decade to mull over what this means: "This whole 'sex goddess' thing? Half the time, I don't even know what that means. It sounds beyond me. Way beyond me. Because I don't put myself out there to get that kind of attention. When I do, it's flattering, but it's not what I set out to do. I just want to be in movies, and I really don't see myself like this. I don't especially celebrate it but I'm grateful about it. And when I go home I wash it all away. I need to find time to be myself and not to be only a personality part of the business.

"I'm not sure what people really think about me and who they believe I am. When you see me in these magazines, it's always tailored to how they are trying to sell the movie or sell me – but this is not really me.

"I grew up Catholic so I have lots of guilt I can't seem to shake away. I'm really just a simple girl from the suburbs. But, a lot of the time, the magazines don't show that side of me. I'm proud of my heritage. I grew up in California and my great-grandparents on my dad's side are from Mexico. I'm half Mexican and the other half is French and Danish. Not so long ago, there was an idea of what an American movie star had to be, or what criteria you had to fit in to be a leading lady or man and it's changing. And I'm very glad to be part of this group of people who are ethnically diverse.

"When I grew up as a teenager, it was still a very different point of view of who the girl next door was and now it's quite different. I didn't grow up with rich girls so I really don't fit in that other group of girls. I'm a regular girl from the suburbs. The people who inspire me in real life are those who are trying to make this world better than it is. It's about all kinds of people, and I don't want to only point to people already in the eye of the media, because it's also about simple people, like my grandmother, who inspire me. Or President Obama," says the actress who has lent her name and support to numerous causes from Aids charities to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as publicly endorsing Barack Obama and encouraging voter-registration among the young during the 2008 presidential election.

Congratulate her on her killer figure in Machete – not to mention the ability to throw a lethal kick while wearing four-inch heels – and she smiles. "I'll be honest, they were killing my feet! Walking in them isn't half as fun as putting them into someone's eye. That's for sure. I personally think it's sexier to see a strong woman.

"But I actually hate working out. I haven't worked out regularly since my daughter was three-and-a-half months old and she's more than two years old now. I know I should work out but I'm just tired. I'm doing a bit of training now for Spy Kids 4. I'm trying to get back into it. Its not easy though."

'Machete' is released on 26 November

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US