'SIN CITY' Jessica Alba, exposed
The actress plays a stripper in the comic-book-based movie.
By TERRY LAWSON
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
We've got to stop meeting like this.
The last time we hooked up with Jessica Alba, in 2003 when she was talking up her first big-screen star turn in the hip-hop street musical "Honey," we had just had a gawk at her in some racy swimwear in the lad magazine Maxim. Now Alba is all grown up: Days before we talk, photos of her in frilly underwear are all over the Internet, cribbed from veteran men's style journal GQ.
"Oh God, what will you ever think of me," said Alba, laughing. "What can I tell you? I've got a movie to promote, and it's not like Time is going to sit down with me to talk about world politics. Although I'm sure I could think of a thing or two to say."
Comic book origin
The movie is the much anticipated -- at least among the comic book cognoscente -- "Sin City." Based on a series of graphic novels by the comic book crowd's own super hero, Frank Miller, and co-directed by Miller, Robert Rodriguez, and, for one scene, Quentin Tarantino, the highly stylized "Sin City" features Alba as a dancer: Only this time, she's the kind who dances hanging on to a pole.
"It never occurred to me that someday I would be fighting for a part in which I played a stripper," said Alba, whose first major role was as the genetically enhanced title character in James Cameron's short-lived action-sci-fi TV series, "Dark Angel." "But my agent got a hold of the script for 'Sin City,' and I was like, 'Oh yeah, I want to play her."'
"Her" is Nancy Callahan, one of the unofficial citizens of Old Town, a corner of the corrupt, brutal, crime-ridden Basin City -- a.k.a. Sin City -- that the police and the bad guys have declared a no-combat zone. Nearly a decade earlier, Nancy, a little girl, was rescued from unthinkable peril by a cop, played by Bruce Willis, and when he re-enters her life during another showdown with evil, she can't deny her love for him, despite the fact he's so much older than her.
"She's the sweetheart of the story," said Alba. Miller has described her as an "angel in hell, sweet and pure." When Alba read the script, she says, she had no idea it was based on comic books, which she immediately went out and bought. She said the books made her even more excited about getting involved with the movie.
"It is not a movie based on a comic book, like 'Daredevil,' or something. It's literally the comic book brought to life. All the dialogue is straight from the books. The visual design is based completely on the comic book panels. Even the actors are replicas of the characters in the comics."
It was for this reason that Rodriguez, who has alternated between making violent, exaggerated films like "From Dusk to Dawn" and "Once Upon A Time in Mexico" with family-friendly fare like the "Spy Kids" series, was adamant that Miller be involved with every aspect of the production.
Miller, having been less than thrilled with "Daredevil" (which he wrote and drew as a Marvel comic decades ago) and less than enchanted with filmmaking altogether after being relieved of directing duties on the film of his script for "RoboCop 3," was understandably excited about the idea of working in tandem with someone dedicated to remaining true to not only the spirit, but the distinctive design and tone of his books.
The Director's Guild, however, has long-standing rules designed to prevent co-directing credits. (The reason the Coen Brothers never took a joint credit before their last film). So when Rodriguez's request to share the credit with Miller was denied, Rodriguez quit. It was less a matter of principal, says the director, than his being unable to claim credit for something that was "as much, if not more, Frank's creation than mine."
"That's the truth," said Alba, who had to fight for the part of Nancy, one of the only members of a large cast -- that includes Mickey Rourke, Benicio Del Toro, Elijah Wood (as a mute cannibal), Clive Owen, and, as fellow strippers, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy and Alexis Bledel -- who shows up in all three of the movie's intertwined threads.
"I had to audition for the part, and I was most worried about Frank. Believe me, there were a lot bigger names than me who were interested in the part. The first thing Frank said to me was 'Can you dance?' ... He had no idea who I was, so when he told Robert that he thought I was exactly what he imagined as Nancy, I was pretty thrilled."
Moving past fears
Alba says that while she was initially worried about taking her clothes off for "Sin City," most of those fears evaporated when she took a fact-finding research crawl through strip clubs in Los Angeles.
"It's not all that difficult; it's all play pretend for the customers. Just like acting. You show them some skin, they show you the money," she said. "The worst part for all of [the Old Town girls] was wearing the costumes, doing these scenes where we were just freezing ... The men had it a lot worse, because they had to wear all those prosthetics."
What really concerned her, Alba said, was doing love scenes with Willis, who is 50. Alba is 23.
"We were both really nervous about it," Alba said. "Maybe him more than me, because he obviously doesn't want to come off like some kind of perv. I was just grateful I didn't have to get naked and roll around in bed. ... That would have been way too embarrassing.
"What actually happens is that we share this sweet, passionate moment. I think it's one of the best kissing scenes I've ever seen, even if I am the one doing the kissing."
Alba's higher profile in "Sin City" does not come without some strings: Her comments about sex in a recent Cosmopolitan story were taken out of context by dozens of quote-hungry newspaper gossip columnists. She also was slammed by the choreographer who taught her the basics in "Honey," who complained Alba had never given her proper credit.
Meanwhile, at the fan boy Web sites, there has been carping about her being cast as the whiter-than-white Sue Storm in her other comic-book movie this year, "The Fantastic Four." (Alba is part Hispanic.)
But her biggest issue, she admits, may not be with the fans but with someone who knows her too well.
"My dad is none too happy about me being on the cover of GQ," she said of her Air Force officer father. "I'm still his little girl, you know. I had to talk him down, you know, 'I'm not naked, I don't really show anything.' And I may have failed to tell him I'm a stripper in 'Sin City,' actually. But you're going to print this and blow it for me, right? So I better get prepared."