Jessica Alba no longer wants to be viewed as a sex symbol. Despite a public image cultivated by movies like Into the Blue and Sin City, sexy pictures and certain prestigious accolades, she said in a reporters’ conference call on Tuesday that she doesn’t want to be just another pretty face.
As a soon-to-be mother, Alba’s future goals include focusing on “more character-driven roles, more indies, smaller casts and smaller budgets. I think it’ll be fun to take more risks and more challenging roles.”
To begin her journey to serious actordom (which will hopefully lead to another Sundance appearance), she’s starring in The Eye, in theatres tomorrow, a horror film about a blind violinist named Sydney Wells who gets an eye transplant and starts seeing dead people. “I love horror movies – my favorites are Psycho and The Birds. I’m a fan and that’s why I wanted to do something in this genre,” she said.
The premise of the movie centers on the idea of cellular memory, a condition in which the transplant recipient takes on characteristics of the owner. In this case, those characteristics include the psychic ability to see death before it occurs – creepy. Even creepier: this can and does happen to real-life transplant recipients – though without such frightening results.
“I actually met a guy,” Alba said, “who hated pasta, and after his transplant he eats it three nights a week and lost thirty pounds. When he and his wife go on vacation, he wants to go to theme parks and go on rollercoasters – he found out his donor was a sixteen-year-old boy who hated sweets and loved rollercoasters and pasta.”
Fans of her previous work, including Dark Angel and Fantastic Four, might see this movie as a departure from her traditional fare. The Eye, like The Ring, is a remake of an Asian horror film that caters to an American audience. Alba describes the movie as a classic ghost story rather than a gore fest or psychological thriller, and calls it “way scarier” than her 2007 film Awake.
It’s a serious subject for an actress known primarily for starring in “popcorn movies.” Although Alba admits that The Eye could also fall under that genre, she acknowledges that her character, and the story, is more complex.
“[Sydney] is not as glamorized as the other characters I’ve played,” Alba said. “I never [choose roles] based on my appearance. There’s so many much, much cuter girls in LA – if it was just about looks, they would be getting them. I have to believe that I bring more to the table than that.”
The subject matter of The Eye is particularly sensitive to a segment of society that is often (no pun intended) overlooked: the blind. To bring reality to the role, Alba researched the difficulties experienced by the non-sighted community.
“I learned how to read Braille, walk with my cane, label everything in the house,” Alba said. “I also spent time with a girl who has been blind since she was two. She speaks three different languages, lives by herself, goes to Boston University and converts all her textbooks to Braille. She’s really my inspiration because she was so self-sufficient and so independent. Any connotations I had with people who are blind in that they can’t live like anybody else have just gone out the window.”
Alba described how, as part of her research, she visited a blind orientation center in New Mexico, an experience that profoundly affected her appreciation of sight and put everything in perspective. “They were dealing with this real thing — I just got to take my shades off and go home,” she said.
After The Eye gives you nightmares, you can lighten up a little with Alba’s next movie, The Love Guru, opening in June. In it, she plays the owner of a hockey team who enlists Mike Myers to help solve the players’ love problems so that they can win the Stanley Cup.
She’s pregnant, she’s settling down and she’s clearly ready to be a serious actor. Right after The Love Guru comes out, of course.