Jessica Alba is no stranger to the action genre – she first achieved worldwide recognition for her role as Max in James Cameron’s TV series Dark Angel, a genetically-enhanced human prototype who escapes from her government captors to live her life on the run in 21st century Seattle.
In 2005, she made Robert Rodriguez’s movie Sin City and went on to star in the popular comic book adaptation of Fantastic Four. She’s now back with Rodriguez in the auctioneer Machete, playing I.C.E. Agent Sartana, who is tracking down an illegal immigrant named Machete (Danny Trejo), who is thought to have shot a senator.
Can you talk a little about your role as I.C.E. Agent Sartana?
Sartana is no pencil-pushing bureaucrat. She’s tough, street-savvy and smart, and soon understands that there’s a lot going on with this guy, Machete. When Sartana and Machete finally meet, all kinds of sparks are ignited.
How does Agent Sartana view Machete?
My character looks at him initially as a nuisance and as an immigrant. She’s an immigration and enforcement officer, and it’s her job to send people to their respective countries who are in the United States illegally, unless they have papers. But when she figures out that this guy was a federal agent and he has been double-crossed by the system, she ends up siding with him, and looks at him as a hero.
Is this your first Latina role?
This is my first Latina role. I’ve been offered different roles, women who come from different backgrounds, different ethnicities. I always felt for me personally when I did play a role that was a Latina role, I wanted to make sure she embodied what women in my family that I grew up with embodied, someone who’s smart, someone who is independent, dynamic, multifaceted, has depth, and that’s what Robert writes, that’s how he writes women, so I was excited to sign on and play this role because of that.
What’s the environment like on a movie like this?
I feel like it’s incredibly collaborative and everyone is gung-ho. Everyone’s on the same level, the actors aren’t separate from the grips and gaffers. Everyone has respect for what they do. It’s an equal playing field. It’s a family environment, that’s what I love about it, and everyone gives two hundred percent.
Even though it’s filled with action, it still has a very relevant social message.
I think if it was a serious Schindler’s List-type drama, we wouldn’t be able to explore the political themes the way we do in this film. Exploitation films came out of, I believe, a time in the sixties and seventies when people were afraid to voice their opinions so much, and so filmmakers kind of massed their political or social opinions in doing exploitative films, and I think that was the inspiration here for Robert.
I love that people go in thinking they’re watching this amazing action comedy, kick-ass Robert Rodriguez film, and they can walk away with a conversation, having an opinion, one side or the other. And I feel like this is also something that’s politically and socially relevant anywhere in the world, because every country deals with immigrants, and there is always two sides to the argument.
You’re a mom now, is it an easy balance working and being a mother?
No way, it’s never an easy balance being a parent and working. You always feel like you give 50 percent. I wish I could be two people, and I’m one. It’s tough, but at the same time I also want my daughter to have an example of a woman who can work and can be a good mother, and can be a good example. And also someone who still dreams and questions the world. I’m a very curious person, I question everything; I’m excited about life.
As an actor, do you enjoy Robert’s style of making films?
I’ve spent most of my career playing balls-to-the-walls chicks, and I actually found after having a child, a softer side to myself, and a comfort with my sexuality that I’d never had before. Robert allows you as a woman to be the toughest chick in the room, but also the most feminine, vulnerable and sexy one as well. I don’t think it’s difficult to do the action, to be treated as an equal to the men, I actually embrace it.