Eva Mendes: 'A Close-Up is So Overrated'

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Eva Mendes must have a thing for cops, because she burst on the scene as Denzel Washington's mistress in Training Day, then served as a policeman's love interest in films like Out of Time and We Own the Night. Suffice it to say, though, she's never had an onscreen love affair like the one with Nicolas Cage's loopy law enforcer in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. As a prostitute named Frankie, Mendes plays Cage's only tether to something real, but since this is a Werner Herzog film, even the duo's relative stability is skewed as can be.

A little while ago, Mendes sat down with Movieline to discuss just how out-there Lieutenant gets, but also found time to touch on the Silver Lake hipster scene and the allure of Sam Worthington and Keira Knightley.

You worked with Nicolas Cage before on Ghost Rider. I'm guessing, though, that this was a pretty different experience.

Oh, it was completely different. And I knew it was gonna be different! You know, Werner Herzog's been on my hit list for a while -- I have a little hit list of people I want to work with. I just think there's not another Werner. Not only is he so prolific, but he's an iconoclast. Anyhow, I've been tracking him for a while, and I knew he had a film coming and when I knew that Nic was involved, I thought, "Oh, these people are gonna kill it together!" Like, they're two people who have to work together.

The way Werner has put it, it sounds like he was tracking you, too.

Good. [Laughs] Frankly, there's just certain people where you want to know what they're up to and how you can fit into their next project. You know what they're gonna do is completely different and out-of-the-box, and in today's Hollywood climate, there's not much of that going on. There aren't many real, true visionaries out there making movies right now. The last couple of years have been hard on independent filmmaking.

I've heard that Werner is out-of-the-box simply in how he shoots -- that he'll keep the cameras rolling and start shouting out directions to you after you've finished your lines.

He didn't really do the shouting-out thing with me, but what was interesting was how he shot the film: He doesn't do the traditional close-up/wide shot/medium shot thing. He does a lot of stuff with two-shots, which is amazing because it gives you so much more freedom as an actor. I happen to believe that a close-up is so overrated. I think if the camera can just sit for a while before it goes in on your face, and you can see body language and behavior, that says so much more than the camera just being up in your face. Especially with a lot of American filmmakers, they love close-ups. I think keeping the camera far away is far more powerful.

Were you aware that the movie would turn out so comedic?

I think that while I was shooting, I was just so into being honest, and I knew that the comedy in the film was circumstantial versus a line being funny. It was more like, "God, this is so crazy," and that's what makes it funny, so for me, there wasn't an awareness on the humor. Still, being a fan of Werner's for such a long time, I know that he winks at the audience a lot and I love that.

I'm thinking of that scene where Nicolas bursts in on you and a client and basically demands all his cocaine. I wasn't sure if it was you or the character that was so impressed by his chutzpah that were you trying not to laugh.

Oh yeah, she thinks that's really funny. She thought, "My man is so crazy. Look at what we have." The interesting thing is that she loves the lifestyle, she loves the craziness. They have a relationship based on a commonality of pain, but they're each other's counterparts. That's what makes their relationship so scary, because usually when you get two people together who are addicts in all areas of life like that, it can be very hairy. They're so hooked at each other that they're each other's drug.

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