KEPPING a relationship on track is no walk in the park, even for Jessica Alba.
When moviestars get hitched, we’re usually subjected to a stream of gushy platitudes about how they’ve found their soulmate and how, well, different wedded bliss is Hollywood-style.
Then, they invariably get divorced. Not so, Jessica Alba. She’d rather tell you the truth.
“Marriage is tough,” admits the actor, who secretly tied the knot with film producer Cash Warren in 2008. “Everyone goes in with the best intentions. But you have to adjust and be sensitive to somebody else’s needs, and that’s quite hard for some people.
“Most people just want to be selfish and do what’s right for them, but marriage kind of flips all of that. It shakes you up a bit because, all of a sudden, you have to coexist with somebody. It’s hard work.”
“So, with that kind of example, it seemed possible,” she pauses and laughs. “Regardless of the statistics.”
Alba and her man eloped when she was eight months pregnant with their daughter Honor, now two. She says it was important to her that they married before becoming parents. “It’s not something I take lightly,” she explains. “I’m quite traditional in that sense.”
Of course, eloping isn’t the most traditional way to get married – even Alba’s brother didn’t know about the secret nuptials until a reporter broke the news – but she had no problem with forgoing the wedding extravaganza people have come to expect of celebrities.
“Our wedding was about us and our commitment to each other. It was something we just wanted to do with each other.”
When we chat, the 29-year-old is in the south of France, staying at her mother-in-law’s house for the summer. She says she’s relishing being able to spend time with her daughter in Europe, far away from the ‘fishbowl’ that is Los Angeles, particularly if you’re a Hollywood star with a cute offspring.
“We have a totally different freedom in France,” she muses.
“In LA, it’s hard to get around without being followed [by the paparazzi] all the time. It makes you a bit paranoid.
“There’s nothing I can do about it, though. I don’t want Honor to be weird and grow up in a bizarre bubble where she doesn’t see people. I don’t want her to see people doing things for her mum all the time, because that’s not who I am. I don’t hire people to do my grocery shopping or my day-to-day stuff. I want her life to be as normal as possible.”
Alba speaks in quiet, almost languid tones, occasionally stifling a yawn, which she blames on the early hour and having a toddler. But she’s good-humoured and surprisingly candid for a Hollywood A-lister.
She confesses to a few worries about how having a baby at 27 would affect the career she fought so hard to build. “I come from nothing,” she explains, with a hint of defiance. “No one in my family is in this business, so there was no nepotism. I got to where I am by putting my nose to the ground and doing the best I could.
“People told me I should be concerned about my career when I decided to take a year off to have a baby. But my gut instinct is that any life experience makes you a better actor. Without it, I wouldn’t understand a lot of the women I play.”
Life experience number one: struggling to shift the 25kg she gained while pregnant. “Taking if off sucked,” she laughs. “You don’t think about it when you’re gaining it. I didn’t care. I just wanted her to be healthy, so all I did was eat and sleep, and subsequently gained a lot of weight. I was like a jolly person with a big tummy, a big bootie and big boobies.
“Then an opportunity came up to shoot an advertisement and make some money – I hadn’t worked for a year. And I thought, OK, if nothing else, it will motivate me to lose the baby weight. I shot the ad about three-and-a-half months after I had her, and I really had to bust my ass. I managed to lose about 15 kilos in a pretty short period of time. Then it took me until she was about a year-and-a-half before I lost the next 10 kilos.”
Unsurprisingly, Alba says the birth of her daughter changed everything. “Nothing is of any importance now but her and her well-being,” she says. “My whole life revolves around her. I’ve done four movies [since her birth], but I’ve only worked a few days on most of them. She’s my number-one priority. “There was nothing else but my career before. I was completely defined by it. Now I have my family, which is more fulfilling. I’ve always wanted a big family.”
Motherhood has led Alba to reassess her career. Although she’s worked steadily since 2005’s Sin City, she’s probably best known for her two outings as superhero The Invisible Woman (aka Susan Storm) in Fantastic Four and its sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer. And while grateful for the success, she concedes her career hasn’t been overly satisfying.
“There was a lot of success and it was wonderful,” she says, stifling another yawn, “but that’s not why I started acting. I went to my agent and said, ‘I don’t want to work just for the hell of it. I love what I do for a living and if I’m going to continue being an actor, I don’t just want to be slotted into any movie and do something that isn’t going to challenge me. I want to work with great film-makers.’ So that’s what I set out to do this year.”
For the post-baby Alba, that may well mean choosing more “creatively fulfilling” projects that are lower profile.Her latest movie, The Killer Inside Me, is as far as a girl can get from Fantastic Four.
Based on Jim Thompson’s cult 1952 novel, it’s a violent film in which Alba’s character, Joyce, is savagely attacked by Casey Affleck’s psychopathic cop, Lou. Its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival prompted an angry response from women in the audience who were affronted by the film’s graphic nature.
While noting that The Killer Inside Me pays “homage to the darkest pulp fiction writer ever”, Alba acknowledges it’s a difficult watch. “I don’t think my daughter should ever see it, nor should my parents or husband. There’s no way they can separate me as a person that they are attached to emotionally and look at the movie objectively.”
She took the role because she felt Joyce was a strong female character. “A lot of times, [film-makers] throw women into films because they need some tits and ass. My goal has been to play characters that have more of a purpose. With the exception of Into the Blue [in which Alba spent most of the time in a bikini], I think I’ve always played women who have a point.”
Even as a super hero? “Well, I was the only female super hero [in Fantastic Four],” she laughs. “I thought that was pretty cool.”
Alba does spend most of The Killer Inside Me in her underwear but, she quickly points out, she’s playing a ’50s prostitute, and deemed it necessary for the role. There’s also a fair bit of nudity, although not all of it was Alba as nature intended.
“The bottom was a prosthetic and I had ‘pasties’ over my nipples,” she explains.
Why the modesty? “I don’t think sexuality and nudity is anything anybody should be ashamed of,” she muses. “In my private life, I’m free and liberal about it. But I feel that, in the US, nudity is not looked at the same way.
“I lived in Australia for two years and there you see women who are topless and it’s no big deal. Men don’t disrespect women because they can see their breasts. But, in my country, it’s just so different, I’m just sensitive to that.”
That stint in Australia came when she was 14 and lived in Surfer’s Paradise while filming the TV series Flipper. The daughter of a Mexican/American father and a mother with French/Danish heritage, Alba says she never fitted in as a child, a situation not helped by the fact that she went to 11 different schools before the age of 12, thanks to her father’s career in the US Air Force.
“I was a strange kid,” she recalls. “I never cared about fitting in, I just wanted to hang out with my teachers or adults. But when I was on a set, I finally felt like I belonged.
“I loved Australia. I have the best memories of that time,” she continues. “I was working, which is what I wanted to do, and I was in a cool country. I can’t wait to bring my daughter to Australia.”
There’s no doubt a visit by Alba would cause quite a stir. After all, this is a woman who regularly makes the top 10 in the ‘world’s sexiest women’ polls. I can’t help asking what it’s like to walk around with such a reputation preceding you.
“I don’t really care that much,” she says firmly. “I just enjoy what I do. It’s not about trying to prove anything. I grew up in Southern California, and there are plenty of girls there who are 10,000 times better-looking than I am.
“If I get dressed up and have someone do my hair and make-up, then I clean up pretty well,” she continues. “But I’m not walking around thinking I’m this great-looking person.”