[23 September 2007]
NEW YORK—“Did you think I was naked?” asks Jessica Alba. Before you can say “get out of my dream life,” you realize she’s referring to a scene in her new comedy “Good Luck Chuck.” As the object of comedian Dane Cook’s desire, Alba at one point flits across a doorway wearing no shirt.
So the answer is ... “Yeah?”
“Nope,” she says, smiling. “People think I am, but I was wearing tape.” She points to her chest. You nod, stupidly. And think of all the pause buttons on DVD players that will one day die in vain.
Alba, who may be the most downloaded celebrity on the Web, is not a ditz, despite the stigma of being voted Most Desirable Woman last year by such salivating Web sites as AskMen.com. This may come as a disappointment to those who prefer to think, as her co-star Cook put it, that “God doesn’t give out with both hands.” She has a plan, which is not to be anyone’s cupcake du jour.
“I didn’t want to be just the cute girl on the side waiting for the man to sweep her off her feet,” Alba said of “Chuck,” in which she plays a less-than-graceful penguin specialist named Cam who “has some real ideas about relationship and monogamy and very traditional wholesome values and I just kind of liked that.”
Cam is virtuous, upright and decent. “Chuck,” the movie, on the other hand, is unspeakably filthy, will probably make a pile of money and shows Alba’s willingness to disassociate herself from the likes of TV’s “Dark Angel,” “Fantastic Four” (the fantasy-adventures that made her name) and “Sin City” (in which she played an exotic dancer), while easing her way toward rom-com sovereignty.
The premise: That Charlie Logan (Cook), a single, charming, dentist about town, is the single woman’s sure-fire route to eternal domestic bliss—but not with him. When Chuck sleeps with a woman, the next man she meets turns out to be Mr. Right. The film’s presumption is that every woman wants 1. breast-enhancement surgery; 2. Chuck; and 3. marriage, and the fact that Cam is uninterested in any of these makes us root for her—as does her singular inability to cope with gravity. In one scene, Cam falls into Chuck’s Mustang face first. It looks too painful to be planned.
“The script said `climbs in,’” Cook said. “And lo and behold, she dives into the car, which is a stick-shift, `60s model that’s all metal and rubber. It showed a lot of heart and shows she has the heart to evolve.”
“No,” Alba said, laughing, “it was really easy. It’s funny because some of the stuff I did in the movie I didn’t do on purpose. It just sort of happened because I’m a total and complete klutz. I always have to watch it, because when I’m feeling carefree, I bump into things.”
Here at the oh-so-chichi Mercer Hotel—Sean Penn is sharing a nearby table with Alba’s onetime “Sin City” co-star Clive Owen—she rolls up her pants leg. “Actually,” she says, pointing at a dark mark on her calf, “that’s a new bruise. My whole leg was all scraped up because I fell down at the beach.”
Beach? There’s no beach scene in “Good Luck Chuck.”
“No, in real life. I don’t think people really know that I’m a total goofball.”
Perhaps. But it requires a certain grace to negotiate “Good Luck Chuck,” which is really two movies—the Cam-Charlie segments are like “Sesame Street” compared with the scenes involving Charlie and his best friend, the sex-obsessed breast surgeon Stu (Dan Folger). And Alba does have to hold her own with Cook, a popular standup comedian who’s also shown his chops at drama (“Mr. Brooks”).
It was a journey into the unknown. “I would never even get into the rooms for comedies,” Alba said of the audition process, “because people didn’t think it was something I could do. So I hosted the MTV Movie Awards, where I knew I would have to do skits and comedy, and figured if I couldn’t do it, then I had no business doing comedy, I should get that dream out of my head. But I ended up really enjoying it.”
At the time, she was up for the role of Cam. “I was there,” said Cook of the MTV show. “I called my agent from my seat and said `If she wants it, it’s hers.’”
One can imagine why Alba would want to get out of the cat suits and into a role that requires more of her, even if it’s the superficial depths and range of a “Good Luck Chuck.” After all, actresses in Hollywood have a briefer shelf life than men, although to suggest this elicits an agricultural-themed epithet from Alba, 26.
“Diane Keaton’s still working, Meryl Streep’s still working,” she said, “but there are only a couple of women in their 20s that are working. Who are the women? Scarlett? Clare Danes is in her late 20s. As far as opening movies and making stuff happen, there’s maybe 20 girls, and maybe 10 in their 30s, maybe 10 in their 40s, who are still employed if they want to be. And at the same time there are 30 guys in each group.”
Right. In any case, Alba sounds determined about women’s roles in the moviemaking process. A middle-class kid from California, whose military father kept the family moving, Alba has been acting since she was a preteen. “I think from the beginning I always knew there weren’t enough women in the entertainment business,” she said.
“Everyone was very safe about how they wanted to see women,” she continued. “Not women like me, who look like me, or talk like me, who are opinionated and strong-willed and determined and didn’t have blond hair and blue eyes and had darker skin and fuller lips. They didn’t know what to do with you, but slowly but surely women like Halle Berry and Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz, all these women started showing that women can open movies and can have power.”
You don’t want to tell Alba that women who look like her have seldom had a problem getting roles. Or that in the `40s, for instance, the biggest box-office draws had names like Davis and Crawford, or that a mixed ethnic heritage such as Alba’s—she’s French, Danish, Mexican-Indian and Spanish—has long made for beautiful people, such as Rita Hayworth and Merle Oberon. She’s frank enough about the process as a whole to indulge her a little youthful naivete.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 12,” she said (her first film appearance was in the 1994 Christopher Lloyd comedy “Camp Nowhere”), “so not a lot gets me excited anymore. You know, go in, know your lines, hit your marks, blahblahblah, try to create completely superficial moments and try to make them seem organic and natural and don’t speak like a human being `cause characters never talk like regular people talk.
“But in this,” she said of “Chuck,” “I was doing things that were crazy and new and using everything as an instrument, walking, talking, using my body—it’s much more exciting and much more fun.”
And you can’t imagine anyone telling Alba to stop having fun.