On a career break with her daughters, Eva Mendes shares her heartfelt new role
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On a career break with her daughters, Eva Mendes shares her heartfelt new role

The global pandemic has thrown millions of lives into chaos. And movie stars are not exempt, Eva Mendes reminds us, as she talks about the challenges of parenting her two girls with Oscar-nominated actor Ryan Gosling during LA’s lockdown.

“Sometimes it feels like we are running some kind of bed-and-breakfast with very drunk and aggressive guests,” the 46-year-old actor laughs warmly down the phone line, referring to their daughters, Esmeralda, 6, and Amada, 4. “We really do feel like we are working in a hotel, and the guests are angry and bossy and demand food brought to them. And by the time they go to sleep, we’re left to just clean up and talk about how they’ve treated us that day!”

Eva Mendes: "I've been so happy to be able to incubate with my babies, but now they are four and six, I’m starting to feel like my ambition is coming back.” 

Eva Mendes: "I've been so happy to be able to incubate with my babies, but now they are four and six, I’m starting to feel like my ambition is coming back.” Credit:Arthur Belebeau/Trunk Archive/Snapper Images.

Still, her good humour makes it clear she’s not expecting sympathy. “When we feel like we’re just ‘in it’, like all parents do during these times,” she says, “we remind ourselves that these are the good times, because we’re all together and we’re all safe right now.”

Eva, whose film credits include Training Day (2001), Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) and Hitch (2005), is the 2020 McHappy Day ambassador for Australia, promoting the annual November 14 event that raises funds for Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) to help keep families together when a child is seriously ill or injured. In the past, she and Gosling – who met in the early 2000s – have kept their personal life off limits in interviews, but the Latina beauty is unexpectedly candid in our chat as she talks about her own family connection to RMHC.

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“About five years ago, my cousin Linda’s 18-month-old son, Andrew, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, and it was one of the scariest, most challenging times in her life,” she recalls of the daughter of her mother’s best friend, considered an honorary cousin growing up together.

“When she had to take Andrew to New York for treatment, I begged her to let us help. I said, ‘Do you need an apartment next to the hospital? We’ll do anything for you, just ask.’ That’s when she told me about RMHC and what an incredible support system it was for her and others in the same position.

“She loved it even more when her second son was born and she had to go back to New York,” she adds, “because they had activities for the siblings and really helped with the little things nobody thinks about in such an unimaginable situation.”

Eva says Andrew is now in remission. “We saw him and his little brother Anthony right before COVID, when they came to visit. Ryan and I have two little girls around the same age, so it was interesting when the boys walked in and started tearing up the place and our girls looked at us like, ‘Who are these beasts?’ ” Eva reports gleefully. “We were just happy to see Andrew getting to be a normal boy, trying to destroy their toys!”

Eva de la Caridad Mendez (she substituted “s” for “z” in her stage name) was born in Miami, Florida, to Cuban parents Eva Perez Suarez and Carlos Mendez, and raised by her mother in LA after her parents’ divorce. She has two older sisters, Janet and Becky, and a younger paternal half-brother, Carlo. Her older brother, Juan Carlos, died of throat cancer in 2016.

“I was definitely the baby of the family, and there was Cuban food and music and loud singing and yelling around the house all the time growing up,” she reminisces. “One of my earliest memories, around age 11, was having a girlfriend call me. She could hear my family in the background and said, ‘Oh, I’ll call you back later, it sounds like you guys are fighting.’ I said, ‘No, we’re not fighting, we’re having dinner!’ ”

When her 53-year-old brother, a father of two, passed away, Eva was pregnant with Amada. “It was surreal, but my brother didn’t really want to talk about it, so I respected that and gave him other stuff to talk about, like seeing my pregnant belly and playing with his niece,” she reflects. Eva also told People magazine, “Thank God I had my baby 12 days later, so there was something to move forward. There was poetry to it all.”

With her wavy, caramel-auburn hair, big brown eyes and beauty mark on her left cheek, Eva seemed destined for stardom when a talent manager spotted her in her friend’s photography portfolio while she was still in college. But after appearing in music videos with the Pet Shop Boys and Aerosmith, she realised Hollywood had a lot to learn about diversity.

“There was a commercial casting director who’d let me audition for commercials and kept bringing me in for callback. One day, after a year of never booking a job, I said, ‘Okay, tell me what I need to change so I can get cast?’ ” she recounts. “She said, ‘Honey, it’s just your look. You’re too ethnic, so you’re never going to be the face of any American product.’ ”

What Eva is too modest to admit at this point is that she’s since represented many prestigious brands, including Calvin Klein, Cartier, Revlon and her own Eva Mendes clothing line with fashion label New York & Company. And, as well as working with Denzel Washington in the 2001 crime thriller Training Day, she became one of the first minority actresses to play the lead in a romantic comedy, starring opposite Will Smith in Hitch (2005). “I have fond memories of that moment now, because that woman actually provided me with the fuel I needed, so I used it as a challenge, to give me that fire or extra kick I needed to break through.”

"[Hitch] actually provided me with the fuel I needed, so I used it as a challenge, to give me that fire or extra kick I needed to break through.”

"[Hitch] actually provided me with the fuel I needed, so I used it as a challenge, to give me that fire or extra kick I needed to break through.”Credit: Peggy Sirota/Trunk Archive/Snapper Images

Lately, we haven’t seen much of her on screen, but, says Eva, this time it’s by choice. “I feel like, as far as my ambition, it didn’t go away, it just shifted onto the children,” she says.

“I applaud and look up to those women who can do it all, but I’m not one of them – and, thankfully, I have a choice not to work and I realise how fortunate I am that it’s even a choice. I’ve been so happy to be able to incubate with my babies, but now they are four and six, I’m starting to feel like my ambition is coming back.”

I applaud and look up to those women who can do it all, but I’m not one of them – and, thankfully, I have a choice not to work and I realise how fortunate I am that it’s even a choice.

Although the Hollywood power couple are so under the radar they’ve rarely even been photographed together, Ryan Gosling did give her a memorable shout-out when he won the 2017 Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for La La Land.

“While I was singing and dancing and playing piano and having one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a film, my lady was raising our daughter, pregnant with our second, and trying to help her brother fight his battle with cancer,” the actor said from the stage. “So sweetheart, thank you. And to my daughters, Amada and Esmeralda, I love you. And I’d like to dedicate this to the memory of her brother, Juan Carlos Mendez.”

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Eva’s voice cracks with emotion even now when she’s reminded of those words. “I was home feeding our six-month-old baby and couldn’t even be there that night,” she says. “I was in the other room when my sister started screaming for me to come in and she was crying, so we rewound and watched and it was such a beautiful, surreal moment, especially for my family to hear Ryan say my brother’s name.”

Eva is committed to being fully engaged with her McHappy Day duties, albeit long-distance.

“I’d have loved to be there again,” she says. “I spent seven months in Melbourne [filming 2007’s Ghost Rider with Nicolas Cage] and fell in love with the country and the people and made friends there I’ll have for life.”

It’s no surprise to hear that big-hearted, family-oriented Eva makes friends everywhere she goes.

Eva is supporting McHappy Day on November 14 and will meet families at RMHC virtually.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale October 18.

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