NEW YORK – Jessica Alba (search) says she's more focused on her craft than ever — even if she chose a movie so she could go scuba diving in the Bahamas for four months.
That film, "Into the Blue," won't be out until later this year. Right now, Alba co-stars (along with half of Hollywood) in the adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book world, "Sin City." (search) Next will be the summer blockbuster "Fantastic Four," (search) where she plays Susan Storm/The Invisible Woman.
It is yet another comic book movie for Alba, 24, who first emerged in James Cameron's sci-fi TV series, "Dark Angel." In the obsessively faithful transfer of the noir "Sin City," Alba plays a stripper with the proverbial heart of gold and the reason for Bruce Willis' will to live.
Alba says she and Willis used Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall as a template for their old man-young woman relationship. They certainly had little else to go on, as all their acting was done entirely in front of a green screen.
The actress recently sat down with The AP to discuss life as a young sex symbol, cynicism and a few of her favorite things.
AP: You play a stripper in "Sin City." Were you nervous about the dancing scenes?
Alba: I was terrified. The way it's drawn in the graphic novel is so ... specific. She's lassoing and she's jumping in the air and doing back flips. It's very over-the-top and burlesque to another level. It's almost like Cirque du Soleil stripping — and she's topless and bottomless, and I'm really not comfortable doing that. I did tell Robert and Frank that I was uncomfortable with it and they said OK.
AP: It seems you're very comfortable with your sexuality.
Alba: Definitely, because it's been talked about so much and it's been an issue that's been at the forefront of my existence for such a long time. Just because I developed earlier — I went through puberty early and I became a woman early — it took me a really long time to get comfortable with myself. This GQ magazine spread (which featured several tasteful, but topless photos), a year ago, two years ago, I wouldn't have done it. I didn't think of myself in that way where I can be beautiful as a woman and it not be considered slutty or nasty and not be ashamed of myself. And I'm not now.
AP: Even though your character, Nancy Callahan, is a stripper, she's considered the "heart" of the film. Is her innocence something you share?
Alba: No. I've been working since I was 12. I'm a little too aware of everything, but it's not bad because I wouldn't trade my knowledge or my view in any way. But I did go through an incredibly cynical time in my earlier adulthood and late teens. I played very rough, brassy girls and I never could play the sweet girl because I didn't get it.
AP: Why were you so cynical? Was it the experience of working in Hollywood?
Alba: Yeah, the harshness of you walking in rooms and everyone having a blank face. You've spent a week preparing for something day and night and they're really just looking at the size of your ass or the size of your lips or the color of your hair. And because you're not in the cool group of actresses, they're sipping their coffee. Mind you, I gave up my social life, I gave up everything to be able to do this for a living. It's devastating when you're so excited to meet so-and-so and you've prepared and you walk in and you do everything you can to get into this character.
AP: What's with you and comic book adaptations? You started with "Dark Angel," now "Sin City" and later this year you'll star in "Fantastic Four."
Alba: People liked to categorize me as this comic book girl. I've been offered every gum-smacking, tough-talking, gun-shooting chick role. ... But I've avoided it. "Dark Angel" was so much when I was exposed to the public. I didn't just want to be that. ... At the end of the day, I'm an actress and I'm not just this little action figure that you can throw in movies.
AP: After acting with Bruce Willis in "Sin City," who else would you like to work with?
Alba: Millions. From actors that just aren't in movies as much as they should be, like Frances McDormand, who I think is phenomenal, to young new talent. The range is so big. I'd hate to say I want to work with DeNiro and I want to work with so-and-so. Of course I want to work with anybody who is so committed to their work ... but there's so much talent out there that people haven't seen yet. I can't wait to produce movies and be introduced to new talent and discover and work with new people. So it's from one end to another. From Clive Owen and Bruce Willis and DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman — I love Dustin Hoffman — to Michael Caine, who's one of my favorites in the whole world, to the next Cate Blanchett.
AP: The director of "Sin City," Robert Rodriguez, and "guest director" Quentin Tarantino are insane movie buffs. What are some of your favorites?
Alba: "Les Femmes," Brigitte Bardot. It's a great relationship romantic comedy about a young woman and an older man. "Contempt" is amazing. It's such a commentary on the business and how ----ed up it is. "The Big Sleep." "The Way We Were." "Out of Africa." I'm a big Robert Redford fan. I have to think of a (Steve) McQueen movie. "The Getaway." My favorite scene is when he smacks (Ali MacGraw) on the side of the road!
AP: How about music?
Alba: I love Modest Mouse. There's this group Citizen Cope and it's the Clarence Greenwood experiment. I think he's going to be really big. I listened to the Strokes like two years before they got popular. I listened to David Gray a couple years before he got popular because I listen to this independent radio station in L.A., KCRW. And then I love Biggie, I love Jay-Z. Beyonce's voice is amazing. Morcheeba, Air. I mean, the range is really from one end to the other.
AP: You grew up in California, and now live in Los Angeles. How do you like it?
Alba: I can't really be in L.A. for more than three months. ... It's a silly place. Imagine walking around in Us magazine and "Entertainment Tonight" and "Access Hollywood." Literally the whole town is a tabloid. At every restaurant, every hotel, everywhere you go, people are looking at the door to see who walked in. It seems like no one is ever satisfied with their jobs or their lives, everyone is always sort of maneuvering for something else, something better. But the weather is ----ing beautiful.