After years of doing dramas and action flicks, Jessica Alba jumped head first into the comedy pool in 2010 with the movies “Valentine’s Day” and “Little Fockers,” which both feature a large ensemble of stars, some of whom are Oscar winners. “Little Fockers” is the third movie in the series that began with 2000’s “Meet the Parents” and continued with 2004’s “Meet the Fockers.”
In “Little Fockers,” male nurse Greg Focker (played by Ben Stiller) is still under the often-disapproving eye of his stern father-in-law, Jack Byrnes (played by Robert De Niro), who tends to treat Greg as if he’s not good enough for his daughter/Greg’s wife, Pam Focker (played by Teri Polo). Greg and Pam’s marriage has hit some snags because of the strains of renovating their house and raising their two children. So when a sexy pharmaceutical rep named Andi Garcia (played by Alba) comes along to recruit Greg to be a spokesman for an erectile dysfunction medication, he can’t help but be flattered by her attention, which may go beyond a professional interest on her part.
For her role in “Little Fockers,” Alba engaged in some slapstick humor what was literally dirty, with scenes that include Andi helping Greg give a patient an enema, and later Andi and Greg falling into a mud pit. At a “Little Fockers” press conference in New York City, Alba talked about why she wanted to test her comedic chops with “Little Fockers.” I also asked her to set the record straight about a controversial comment that she was quoted as saying in a recent interview.
Your character in “Little Fockers” is so bubbly and happy in her scenes. Did you look forward to that or was it ever kind of a drag pretending to be so excited about life?
I was taking meth and speed and cocaine and shooting Red Bulls. Snorting it, actually. No, I’m kidding. No, I’m not. Yes, I am. No, it was great because no matter what mood I was in she was so enthusiastic and excited that it was nice. It turned every day into a really fun, silly day. And also, I was kind of the joker, so I just got to people laugh, even if it didn’t make it into the movie … If I could just make people giggle, that was fun and very satisfying.
How did you get in such great shape for the role? And have you taken any Spanish classes?
I’ve taken a few, unsuccessfully, unfortunately. My Spanish is about the level of a one-year-old. Yeah, that’s about it, unfortunately. My daughter’s quite good at it. She’s two-and-a-half.
And as far as getting in shape, I didn’t actually lose all my baby weight until a year-and-a-half after I had her, which was about the time I was shooting this [“Little Fockers”]. I have to attribute stress and work to the last 20 pounds that was tough to get off. I lost the first chunk of it in three months, working out heavily and dieting and all those horrible things. Then I just worked and then I was just running after her or at work, so that took care of the last 20 [pounds]. It took a year-and-a-half.
Being a Latina, are you going to take on roles that take on a more positive image of Latinos?
[She says jokingly] I’m addicted to drugs. Great role model. [She says seriously] I try to go after just fun characters, whether it’s someone who ends up being a positive role model or not. That’s just a bonus if you’re playing somebody like that.
But at the end of the day, especially now, it’s more about being fulfilled creatively and working with great filmmakers on great material and a character who is challenging. So whether it’s “The Killer Inside Me” with Michael Winterbottom, or “Little Fockers” with Paul Weitz, I grew as an actor and certainly it was a challenge, both roles.
As a married woman, what did you think of the way Greg Focker interacted with Andi Garcia in “Little Fockers”? Do you think he crossed the line?
Not at all. And I don’t think my character was trying to maliciously do anything. She wasn’t manipulative; she wasn’t malicious. I think that’s what made it so great: She was just having fun, and she was just in the moment, and she wasn’t really trying to screw anything up. She was just a big fan and loves her job so much.
She has no filter, and she really doesn’t really have any boundaries. She’s completely unedited and not self-aware so much. She’s just a ball of fun. It was fun playing somebody like that, because it was very liberating. I might be a little bit of a control freak in real life, maybe.
How comfortable were you on the “Little Fockers” set as a newcomer to the cast, especially on a film with people who had worked together for a number of years?
Oh, good lord. It’s not like they had fruitful careers prior to this movie either, huh? It’s certainly a pretty intimidating group of actors, icons, my heroes and an incredible franchise, and they do all know each other, and they’ve known each other for so long that it’s almost so scary and intimidating that you just have to let it go and have fun. And that’s exactly what I did. I said, “What do I have to lose? I’ll get fired?” I just hoped I didn’t get fired.
What kind of guidance did “Little Fockers” director Paul Weitz give you, in terms of character, specifically when you got to “attack” Ben Stiller as Greg Focker?
Paul was really great, because I would go off into the deep end so much because I did really have fun and I was really a clown — and so I would just go all the way. I’m inspired by Lucille Ball, Peter Sellers, the “National Lampoon” movies in the ’80s, John Hughes movies. I love that stuff. I love slapstick. So I would go way over there. He would always make sure I stayed grounded. We would always do a more grounded, more centered take once I went off the deep end.
About a month ago, you were quoted as saying in an Elle magazine interview: “Good actors never use the script unless it’s amazing writing. All the good actors I’ve worked with, they say what they want to say.” Those comments created some controversy and offended a lot of writers. Could you clarify those comments?
It’s not true. By the way, so it’s clear, films even don’t get made, and nothing ever gets the greenlight, unless there’s great material. That goes without saying. That’s always the number-one thing before you can get a director, actors, or a studio interested in something. There was an article written recently where I was paraphrased and things were taken out of context and mushed together, and it simply wasn’t true. It was a four-hour interview that got condensed into a page-and-a-half for a fashion magazine. That [quote] is just not true, and I have the utmost respect for screenwriters.
In fact, even when I was doing my first job where I was talking to dolphins in “The New Adventures of Flipper,” when I was 13 — it was a fake dolphin; we had a great relationship — when the dolphin would go off-script, I didn’t know how to. He would squeak, and I couldn’t squeak back. It took me 15 years to learn to do that, and lots of therapy.
Basically, what I was saying was that I didn’t have the courage and didn’t know how to bring my own thing to the table. I would never veer away the script ever, no matter what. Even when actors would go off-book I didn’t know what to say.
The other actors in “Little Fockers” said that there was a lot of improvisation on the set. Can you talk a little bit about that improvisation?
In this [“Little Fockers”], it’s encouraged. Once you got it and say exactly what’s in the script, then it’s like, “OK, we got it, now let’s do something else and do something crazy.” That’s what it was. It was amazing. You have to think on your feet. I have so much respect for people who do stand-up comedy, live theater, any sort of live performance.
It’s hard, and it’s hard when you’re on the spot and you have to have that back-and-forth. I was like, “This is Ben Stiller throwing zingers at me. I’ve got to throw them back!” I just tried not to disappoint him because he was kind of the boss as well.
“Little Fockers” will be the first time that a lot of people will see you do slapstick comedy. What surprised you the most about doing this kind of comedy. Did you use a stunt double for the scene when you and Ben fall into the mud pit?
It was all me. I channeled my “Dark Angel” days. I knew that was going to come in handy in my underwear in a mud pit.
What do you find more challenging: dramatic or comedic roles?
There’s definitely vulnerability when you’re doing drama, for sure. You never know what’s going to happen next and you’re really open. But it’s the same in comedy, actually. The thing about drama is that you can indulge in the drama of the moment. No one’s going to criticize you, “Oh, that sad or emotion wasn’t right.” No one’s going to say that. But if you’re not funny, that’s terrible. You know that right away. People either have that visceral reaction or they don’t. Then you’re exposed and you’re open and you’ve failed. I think comedy might be more difficult for me, at least, but it’s fun when it works.
What’s your next project?
I don’t know. I have a movie a “Spy Kids” movie [“Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World”] coming out, probably in the summer [of 2011].
You and “Spy Kids” director Robert Rodriguez have worked together several times. What can you say about the sequel to “Sin City”?
We were talking about that, actually, in Austin. So we’ll see.
For more info: “Little Fockers” website
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