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Eva Mendes modelling leopard underwear

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Eva Mendes is taking up some serious space at the newsstand this month. She's "showing her wild side" in leopard print underwear on the cover of men's magazine GQ - "Grrrr!" She's drop-dead gorgeous and naked on the cover of Maxim. Cosmopolitan has crowned her "the Fun Fearless Female of the Year", and Shape magazine has decided she has "the sexiest body in Hollywood". As the face of Revlon, Mendes is described on the cosmetic giant's website as "sultry, seductive and so divine". Her press file makes extensive use of words such as "exotic, passionate and vivacious". All of which is true, but it's her sense of humour, her cool confidence and self-acceptance that makes her really attractive. "Eva has a quality that is instantly likeable," explains Ghost Rider director Mark Steven Johnson. "Sure she's beautiful but she's also real. I needed a gutsy cool chick that you could root for - and Eva is that."

Ghost Rider is Mendes's latest movie where she plays a foxy TV reporter and Nicolas Cage's love interest. For the role Mendes wanted to put on weight in order to appear more like the marvel comic book character the film is based on. "I just let myself have dessert and I skipped the gym," she says. "It wasn't a big deal. The good part about my body is that when I gain that extra 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms), it goes to the fun parts. After that it goes to the other parts where you don't really want it to go, as an actress." Wearing platform shoes, high-waisted flared jeans and a light purple fitted T-shirt Mendes looks more like a 1970s starlet than a modern-day actor when we catch up at Sony Studios in Culver City. Mendes says she is back to her normal size. "I don't really worry about it," she says. "I've never put that pressure on myself. I'm not saying I don't have my bad days where my jeans aren't fitting and I go, OK, ease off the pizza, but I just exercise and I eat. I have a very healthy relationship with my body. I know it's not perfect but really, who cares? Perfect is boring." If she was striving for perfection, she says, she'd have changed lots of stuff including "my teeth and my big nose".

Ghost Rider was made in Melbourne where Mendes "had a great time" dining in some of city's best restaurants, drinking "way too much beer" and even trying some of our more traditional cuisine. Mendes's home is in the Hollywood Hills. She was born in Miami to Cuban parents, and was raised in Los Angeles by her mum after her parents split. She was teased about her "buck teeth" by her older brothers and sisters and would dream about a bigger and better life - one with money. "I was poor. I came from a lower-middle-class family so I would imagine all kinds of things. I thought I was going to be an astronaut and an opera singer when I was really little. Then I thought about being a movie star when I saw Annie. I was seven then."

It was 20 years later that Mendes's acting career finally took off. In 2003 she starred in three high-profile movies with big stars - Denzel Washington (Out Of Time), Johnny Depp (Once Upon A Time In Mexico) and Matt Damon (Stuck On You). "Four years ago when I had a few big films coming out I took Mum to the premiere and sent the limo to her place to pick her up. When I got in the car she was crying and I was like, "No Mum. Please don't start. Not now. I've got fake eyelashes on! She showed me a note I had written to her when I was nine years old. It said, 'Mum I'm going to take care of all your bills and I'm going to pick you up in a limousine'. Then of course I started crying and the fake eyelashes were falling off and I was a mess when we arrived on the red carpet!"

Mendes said she always wanted to "save my Mum who suffered so much to make my life OK". She bought her a town house a few years ago after buying a place for herself that she lives in with her boyfriend of six years. ("It's not flashy and it's not in Beverly Hills. It's cosy and it's got character.") Mendes is certainly not a star you'll see staggering out of clubs, flashing at photographers, getting done for drink- or drug-driving or parading around West Hollywood with famous friends in a new Mercedes-Benz. I live a really quiet life. I don't date actors. I don't go to the hot spots. I don't do lunch at The Ivy. I stay under the radar," she says.

And she doesn't plan on settling down any day soon. "I believe in commitment wholeheartedly but the institution of marriage doesn't appeal to me. Maybe I would consider the idea if gays were allowed to get married." And kids? "I'm certainly not thinking about being a mum at the moment. I can't imagine it. I'm too selfish but I really want to get a pet pug. I've wanted a puppy for the past year but I'm not here all the time and that just wouldn't be fair."

Mendes's route into acting was a haphazard one that began while she was studying marketing at college. Her neighbour was a photographer who "kept bugging me" to pose in a few pictures. "He was shopping his book around and a manager asked who I was. That was my big break!" she says. Mendes was booked for a few commercials, then a video and got cast in a film "without having a clue what to do. I'd never had an acting class in my life. I was terrible!" She tracked down one of the best coaches in the business, Ivana Chubbuck, and is still learning from her today. Mendes says she is grateful that bigger roles have "come gradually" - that is, she's grateful success hasn't happened overnight.
"There hasn't been one movie that has taken me straight to the top. It's been little by little, which is great because I have a feeling that I wouldn't have been able to deal with it. I would have run away and quit." But the paparazzi she says are "out of control" and she now sees a therapist to deal with it. Mendes has not had that many bad tabloid moments. There are the fashion police who she doesn't mind, "because that means I'm doing something different. If they hate what I'm wearing then I think, 'Yeah! I love it'!" And then there are the co-star rumours, "that usually go away pretty fast because they are never true", she explains.

Mendes says she just "doesn't get the whole fame and celebrity thing", and her good friend Damon tried to warn her about it a few years ago. I remember not long after we first met Matt said to me, 'Fame is going to be so strange to you because you're going to stay the same but everyone around you will change', and I was like, I don't really get that. Whatever. "Cut to three and a half years later and I completely get that. That's exactly what happened. But at the rate Mendes's career is moving she may have to increase her time with the therapist and decrease her time with her co-stars or just try to "get it", because the paparazzi won't be going anywhere any time soon.

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