We saw her bend expectations in Leos Carax‘s mindtrip Holy Motors last year and Eva Mendes set out to do the same when it came to her audition for The Place Beyond the Pines. Having admired her worked in films such as We Own the Night and The Other Guys, director Derek Cianfrance jumped at the opportunity when Ryan Gosling recommended Mendes for the role of Romina, a part the director was having difficulty casting. But according to Cianfrance, the Training Day actress was initially unsuccessful.

Attempting to fit the look of the ’90s time period and the place (the upstate New York town of Schenectady), Cianfrance says Mendes came in “wearing a pair of 1990s high-waist jeans.” (The actress would later go on to wear a pair of her own cut-off shorts from the 90s on set.) He added, ” She had a big baggy t-shirt on, her hair was a mess, with big hoop earrings and no make-up. And she was evidently trying to be as unattractive as possible and she was failing miserably.” Fortunately, this was a major positive for the Pines director, as he says, “It meant so much to me that she was putting herself in that vulnerable place.”

Instead of a standard audition, the actress took an unconventional approach. She recalls telling Cianfrance, “Look, I can go into this room and read this material for you, but I don’t think that’s really what you’re looking for. I think we should get in my car, we can drive around the neighborhoods I grew up in, in Los Angeles. I think you can get to know how me and the character are really alike through these experiences. For Cianfrance, it did the trick.

He says, “I got to know about her as a woman — really fall in love with her as a human being — and I cast her right there on the spot.” There was certainly some trepidation though, as Cianfrance says, “She definitely was nervous — she had fear about the role, but I relate to that. I don’t relate to a fearless actor. I don’t relate to those signs on people’s cars that say No Fear. I’m scared, all the time. I think the mark of courage is to be scared, but confront it. So anytime an actor I meet has a trepidation about something, to me that’s the one.”

Mendes brought that trepidation straight to the set with her character of Romina, a hard-working woman from the small upstate town of Schenectady, NY. She becomes pregnant after having a fling with a motorcycle stunt driver for the yearly local carnival named Nick (Gosling), but he doesn’t learn of this child until he returns to town. Commenting on the relationship between their characters, Mendes says, “Before she introduces the baby to him herself, she tests him out a little bit. She’s testing the waters a bit and she’s scared and trepidatious but yet there’s a ‘can this work?’ kind of feeling.”

The actress opened up regarding this feeling, and a woman’s pull to the biological father of their children. Being her “big question” before she shot the film, Mendes brought together some of the mothers in her life for a “woman’s day” at home. She goes on to say, “we sat around and talked and ate and had fun, but I gave them the subject matter and I posed a question, ‘So, here’s the situation. You have the child with the man you don’t know. The man is out of the picture. Then you meet a great man who wants to provide for this child as if it was his own. Then the biological father comes back into the picture and he wants to be involved in the life but you have this great man who wants to provide because the biological father is unfit. What do you do?'”

Mendes was surprised at the answers of going with the biological father. “Everything in your body, in your being — there’s a primal pull to the biological father no matter how wrong or unfit you may be and you try everything to make that work. Not to say its going to work but you do try and make it work somehow,” Mendes says. When it comes to Gosling’s character, she says he is “incredibly exciting. He’s a motorcycle stunt driver from a traveling carnival that comes into this sleepy little town. It’s the early 90s, there’s no Facebook nobody knows where anybody is at. He disappeared, he’s come back in. So, she’s still a young woman who’s caught up in this larger than life character. He’s electric.”

Having been friends for years, Mendes discussed her working relationship with Gosling. When it comes time to shoot she says, “You never know what happens before. You can be friends with somebody and not like how they work, but obviously I respect him so much as an actor and he’s certainly upped my game and everyone else’s game.” When it came to the more intimate scenes in Pines, she adds, “Love scenes are always awkward, let’s just say that. They are just awful and it’s nobody’s favorite thing. I’ve managed in my career to really skip through them. There’s times in the script where my character has a love scene and I carefully address it with the director and I say, ‘can we please cut this out? I feel like its gratuitous. There’s no need for it.’ And thankfully that has happened.” Mendes says, “I try avoid them whenever I can and I have done a couple of things that I think have been appropriate for the films I’ve been in but I’ve never done a simulated sex scene because I just feel like they are rarely appropriate.”

Working with Cianfrance, Mendes was able to strike a balance. “The director doesn’t make me do anything. I learned that early on. You make your decisions as an actress and if you are really uncomfortable with something I wouldn’t let a director talk me into it,” Mendes says. For Pines, she says, “Cianfrance is just my dream director. I love how this man works. I love it. I can’t get enough of it as far as his, the way he approaches things.” With her character existing in gray area, like the rest of the ensemble, there was never an answer given to her love (or lack thereof) for Luke. Mendes says, “I feel like that’s up to everybody. I like when people come up to me and be like, ‘oh, she really loved him!’ or ‘no, she didn’t. She was doing it for her son!’ So, I don’t even know, but I think she was just a woman in a very difficult predicament.”

As for her upcoming projects, she’ll be reteaming with Gosling for his directorial debut, How to Catch a Monster, and she recently wrapped Clear History for HBO. Returning to her funny side after The Other Guys, she stars alongside Larry David, Jon Hamm, Kate Hudson, Michael Keaton, Bill Hader, Danny McBride and more in the comedy that takes place in the world of business. While Pines afforded her some improvisational opportunities, it was on an entirely different level here. “It’s all improv,” Mendes says. “It’s shot like Curb Your Enthusiasm in a way. I’m so excited. It’s incredible.” That Greg Mottola-directed film could hit HBO by the end of the year, but before that, The Place Beyond the Pines opens on March 29th.

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