What is it about Jessica that makes u obsessed about her? Of course she’s beautiful. But is there something else?? Maybe it’s a magical curse. I dunno. Would I have been better off not knowing she existed so she wouldn’t be on my mind so much?
—From one of the hundreds of Alba fan sites
“I got plenty of ass.”
Jessica Alba is hiking in Hollywood’s Runyon Canyon with one hand gripping her left cheek. She is talking about her body. The body. Hers of the mesmerizing torso showcased to full, undulating perfection in several films, most recently Sin City and in this month’s summer opus Fantastic Four, and bested only by the aforementioned ass, a heart-shaped beauty that sends men into fits of sputtering praise, but an ass that Alba nonetheless believes is a tad too large.
“I hear people in this industry talking shit all the time about how Jennifer Lopez is fat,” she says tersely. “And I know if they’re calling her fat, they’re saying the same shit about me.”
Rightly, Alba worries about this. At 24, she has, thus far in her acting career, been largely defined by her body. Of her last eight films, she has been nearly naked in seven. She is five feet six and a half, 34-25-34, and weighs 120 pounds, depending upon her training schedule. But the numbers tell little of the story. Even beneath the baggy sweats she favors, Alba’s body is a marvel of feminine proportion. A siren song. Everything slopes and curves where it should. Nothing juts or strains. Muscles blend into soft arcs.
As a result, Alba has consistently been ranked in the top ten on various men’s-magazine fuckability polls. Web sites devoted to her celebrity hammer on her hotness with creepy persistence. Mark Wahlberg’s reality-infused HBO show Entourage devoted an entire story arc to the conquest of Alba, her body hounded like the Holy Grail of scores by the young male cast, a quest Wahlberg himself has supposedly pursued in real life. Us Weekly even reported the rumor that Alba was Tom Cruise’s first choice for a publicity girlfriend — the plum position ultimately handed over to default pick Katie Holmes. The thinking: Alba’s carnal appeal is so powerful it could endear Mr. Cruise to a youth audience and affirm his virility once and for all.
She is good-humored about the scrutiny, but she confesses the one-note quality of it all is starting to wear her out. “The scripts I get are always for the whore, or the motorcycle chick in leather, or the horny maid,” Alba says as she climbs a hill, panting slightly. “I get all these screenplays that start, ‘Tawnya is in the shower. The water streams down her naked, perky breasts.'” She sighs, then laughs a tired laugh. “I don’t think this is happening to Natalie Portman.”
There are many reasons for this, and Alba, to her credit, has a firm grasp on most of them. Cast as she is, she hasn’t yet had much opportunity to “act.” The closest she comes to a scene-stealing turn is as one of the popular snots in Never Been Kissed, where she is indisputably funny and natural. The rest of her curriculum vitae — including schlocky thrillers, the short-lived James Cameron sci-fi television series Dark Angel and the ill-conceived hip-hop-heroine picture Honey — is less impressive. Her turn in Sin City stands out, but largely because Alba plays a stripper with a heart of gold. And a lasso.
“It’s not always so great to be objectified,” she says. “But I don’t feel I have much of a choice right now. I’m young in my career. I know I have to strike when the iron is hot.”
Alba plans to capitalize on her God-given assets for the moment, saturate the market with her sultry image and then, when she “won’t have to do that stuff just to get people’s attention,” she hopes to transition into someone like Diane Keaton or Goldie Hawn, women she admires for their kookiness and pluck. “I look forward to the day when I can do a small movie and act,” Alba says, “and it’s not about me wearing a fucking bathing suit or chaps.”
Problem is, Alba isn’t kooky. Kooky does not come with plum lips and amber skin and a beckoning grin. Alba, for better or worse, is a babe. More than that, she is a certain strain of babe — the kind that invites rather than intimidates. She is a good girl, playing a bad girl. Her face is open and warm. She smiles often. She is fresh- scrubbed. She never struts, but ambles. She has normal-size breasts and no plans to enhance them. She points to pimples on her forehead and laughs. She eats — a lot. In short, she is girlfriend material, and it is this accessibility, when married to her liquid body, that makes her walking kryptonite —an effect in evidence whenever she exits the house and leaves a trail of double takes in her wake. Men on the street take note initially because she is pretty, but then, as she walks closer, it registers — “Man, that’s Jessica Alba!” — and the admiration explodes into palpable desire.
“She doesn’t even notice it,” says her close friend and sometime personal trainer Ramona Braganza. “We went into Starbucks in Ohio, and all these guys were falling all over themselves and whispering. She had no idea.”
Alba herself tells a charmingly naive story about how in L.A. she is never able to dine alone. “Everyone feels bad for you,” she says. “For some reason, waiters, cooks, they all have to come out and talk to you: ‘How’s the food? Did someone not show up? I’m like, ‘No, I’m reading my book. I’m totally happy.'”
When it is suggested that perhaps these concerned gentlemen emerge specifically to see her, that surely not every gal eating solo gets the pity party, Alba shakes her head. “Men in Los Angeles get uncomfortable when a woman is by herself,” she says. “Unless she’s shopping.”
On any other actress, such an observation would smack of disingenuousness, but somehow Alba pulls it off. Maybe because she has been acting since she was 12 and has already in her short lifetime “had periods where I was in everybody’s face and times when nobody knew who I was.”
Alba has already been back and forth on the celebrity trip and has decided, ultimately, “Fuck it.” Now she ignores fame completely, staying in a bubble of her creation, a sunny, insular place where life is as deliciously sweet as she wills it to be. A place where men talk to her because they are kind, not horned up. A place where the future has nothing to do with her haircut or her high-riding buttocks.
“I don’t need to be famous,” she says adamantly. “I’m not that ambitious. At this point, if I’m not sucked in, I’m never going to get sucked in. Being the so-called hot girl, I disconnect from that. It’s not that deep.”
Alba grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs, the only daughter of Mark and Cathy Alba. Mark is “dark Mexican,” Cathy is French and Danish. The genetic mix has been kind to Alba, leaving her with an intriguing ethnic palate that netted her roles as everything from a part-Malaysian, in The Sleeping Dictionary — a film most famous for clearly showing what fans prayed were Alba’s breasts (“They weren’t!”) — to Anglo superhero Sue Storm in the upcoming Fantastic Four. The fan boys were up in arms about her being cast in the latter role, until a newly blond Alba appeared, eyes twinkling, onstage at a press event and melted their collective hearts.
Alba says that her ethnic mélange, while photogenic, made for a challenging childhood.
“I never really belonged anywhere,” she says. “I wasn’t white. I was shunned by the Latin community for not being Latin enough. My grandfather was the only one in our family to go to college. He made a choice not to speak Spanish in the house. He didn’t want his kids to be different.”
Alba is taking Spanish lessons now.
“I have a great accent,” she says, “because I grew up hearing it in the neighborhood. But I have no idea what I’m saying.”
There were other struggles. Her parents met and married in their teens. By the time they were 20 and 21, they had two kids, the second Jessica’s brother, Joshua.
“We all grew up together.” Alba says of her family. “My parents were so young. My dad hates when I talk about our past, about not having things, living with Grandma, wearing thrift-store clothes, cutting coupons.”
Alba’s parents held several jobs apiece. Nights, her father was a cook in a rib joint. “He was terrible,” she says, “but you could see them working, and he would ham it up for the customers, so they kept him.” Her mother logged days at McDonald’s and evenings tending bar. “At every place, she would make up a drink and name it after herself,” Alba says.
When money got especially tight, Mark would drive the kids to Mexico and point out the shacks and the filthy water. “He wanted us to see that we had nothing to complain about,” she says.
Still, she craved more. “I was born with a wicked sense of entitlement,” she admits. “I always thought I was born into the wrong family, that I was fucking royalty and nobody knew it but me.”
Her attitude made school difficult. “From a very early age, I remember thinking that adults were always acting like assholes,” she says. “I couldn’t understand why I had to respect them. My preschool teacher forced me to write right-handed when I was left-handed. I didn’t get why I had to change. Nobody could give me a reason. I have had a big problem with authority ever since.”
“Since she was a baby, she’s always been a leader,” says Mark. “She’s really assertive. You know how hard it is to talk to adults and try to get a job when you’re a kid? She met [Dark Angel creator] Jim Cameron when she “was 17 and just said, ‘I think I’m the best person for the job.’ She is unafraid of people in power.”
Alba was a clever and observant child. She noticed things. Like how much her parents enjoyed cutting loose. They needed to, to break out of the box of their lives. She remembers being unable to sleep most nights, and how she would wander into the kitchen and see her parents partying or arguing, drama they tried to protect their kids from in the daylight hours.
“I would stand there and listen,” she says. “I would see stuff I shouldn’t.”
Today Alba considers her parents her best friends. She has no complaints about her upbringing. She gets that people do the best they can and that they were kids having kids and that now, maybe, they will finally have their time to shine.
“I want them to move here,” she says. “I want them to expand their minds a little, get out of the suburbs.”
Alba sighs. “I wasn’t given a whole lot in my life. I was on the bottom of the class system. But I got wisdom. I never just did what people told me. I questioned everything. When I look back, it is really no surprise that I started working at twelve.” She broke into movies and TV with relative ease; within a year of her first audition, she had a regular role on the series The New Adventures of Flipper.
“She never had a childhood,” says Alba’s friend Braganza. “She had to be the adult in her family. She worked all the time. I remember with Dark Angel, she was supposed to be a bike messenger, and I had to teach her how to ride a bike. She had never learned.”
If Alba mourns her lost childhood, it doesn’t show. “I don’t like to waste time,” she says.
Alba is all about tomorrow — who she will become and what that will mean. She wants to have kids, some hers, some adopted, with a husband or without. She wants to start a business. She wants to run a production company — “and not just so I can put myself in movies. So many people do that. It’s pathetic.”
Alba has no patience for weakness, especially weakness born of ego, “you know, like some woman in her forties who dates a 20-year-old so she can keep getting her picture in Us Weekly.” She prides herself on being professional, straightforward, levelheaded. Among her friends, she is the advice-giver, the dump-his-ass girl. She is older than her years, a girl who by circumstance and disposition grew up fast — less the wine-chugging/wake-up-with-a-stranger type, more the review-your-contracts, eat-your-vegetables, organize-your-sock-drawer type. Alba is consciously responsible, the sort of person you could trust to feed your cat, and nothing grates her nerves more than women who act like children because they can.
“I can’t stand that girl: the poor little girl you have to rescue, the crazy girl,” she says. “It drives me up the fucking wall. It’s annoying. Stop.” She rolls her eyes. Drops her chin. “Most men love the crazy girl,” she says. ” ‘Oh, save me! You’re such a big, strong man!’ The more insecure the man, the more likely he will love the crazy girl. And also, 90 percent of the time, men are about the physical. And most women who are hot are crazy. Because they don’t need to have it together.”
Jessica Alba drives her convertible BMW like a teenage boy. She is aggressive and distracted, prone to frequent braking and curb-rubbing. There are many, many close calls, which she barely registers, or does but blames the victim.
“Maybe I could be one of those car-service people,” she says wistfully, cutting a wide corner. “That’s dope.” As she drives, she talks animatedly about her man, whom she is on her way to meet at a fancy clothing store. “If I found someone messing with him, I would cut them. It’s not even a question of how much I would fuck them up. That’s the ghetto side of me.”
Alba squeals into a Beverly Hills parking lot. A woman in head-to-toe-studded denim teeters out on metallic heels.
“That is my mom,” Alba says with a soft smile. “If she could dress that way every day, she would.”
Alba parks and walks quickly toward Rodeo Drive. “I’m always a little late,” she says. “My parents were always so excited to be places that we would be early. I remember having to sit there and make conversation, like, ‘Uh, OK.'”
She finds the store and rushes inside, straight into the arms of her de facto fiance, 26-year-old film assistant Cash Warren. The two kiss like the movie is ending, then reluctantly break apart. Warren, who looks like Lorenzo Lamas if Lorenzo Lamas had gone to Yale, met Alba while working on Fantastic Four. (He is listed as assistant to the director, Tim Story; it’s Warren’s second credit after working as an assistant last year on the god-awful Queen Latifah flick Taxi.) Warren has spent the past six months doing everything in his power to persuade her to marry him. Today he is trying on various Dolce & Gabbana suits for industry appearances with Alba in Cannes.
“Basically, I do whatever the girl wants,” he says, squeezing his swarthy frame into skinny pants. Alba eyes the questionable ensemble.
“Try the jeans,” Alba coos. “For me.”
“I must love you a whole lot,” Warren says as he disappears into the dressing room. A few minutes later he howls. “These cannot be men’s jeans!”
Alba jumps up, laughing, and rushes to the dressing room, hopping into his arms and shutting the door behind her. There is some whispering and more laughing. After a bit, Alba emerges, grinning.
“If we fuck this thing up,” she says, adjusting her baseball cap, “we’re idiots.”
Later, as she shops for cheese, Alba explains what makes her relationship work.
“We are the boy-and-girl version of each other,” she says. “We have the same ideas about the future. If I met Cash and I was married to somebody else, I would have to get a divorce. We make that much sense together.”
She picks up an oozing wedge of Camembert, holds it to her nose and inhales sharply. “I wasn’t sure I was going to meet anybody,” she says. “I thought I was going to be a single mom. And I was totally fine with that. But it is nice having somebody, not doing everything alone.”
Alba puts the cheese down and exits the shop. Outside, two girls walk by arm in arm, squealing. Alba eyes them. “I don’t make friends easily,” she says matter-of-factly. She goes on to explain that girls her age have a history of being jealous or weird or competitive around her, so unless another woman is sure of her game, Alba gets the steer-clear vibe. Which is why most of her girlfriends are married with children.
Back at her house in Beverly Hills, Alba lets her pugs, Sid and Nancy, out and changes into sweats. In her living room is a just-delivered, massive 12-foot-by-12-foot poster of her Sin City character pinned with a note from director Robert Rodriguez.
“Where am I going to put this?” she wonders, genuinely embarrassed.
There is little evidence of Alba’s career anywhere in her home. No movie stills or glamour shots. Only family pictures in simple frames and modest furniture.
“Why pay $10,000 for a couch?” she asks. “That’s stupid.”
She shows off her whirlpool tub and the plasma screen above it, “my big indulgence,” where she watches America’s Next Top Model as she bathes. A nearby bookshelf is full. Martin Amis. Elizabeth Wurtzel. Nigella Lawson.
“All of this was carpet,” she says, gesturing to the gleaming black wood floors. “And this,” she says, pointing to her office, “was a gym.”
The house is understated and clean, with a masculine edge. The only touches of girl are the photo collages stickered with the words “vacation” and “birthday,” and the underwear drawer in her closet, which is ajar and reveals piles of lace and floral silk. When she sees the open drawer, she quickly pushes it shut.
“I used to come to Beverly Hills for auditions as a kid and think, ‘Why don’t I live here? Why don’t I drive that car?'”
As she talks, Alba walks past her bed. On it rests a Playboy.
“Let me explain,” she says, blushing. “My father called me the other day screaming about how I was in Playboy. I was terrified it was something humiliating, but it was only me in a paparazzi shot in a bikini straightening my towel.”
She flips open to the page and stares at the photograph, taken from behind and featuring her bottom round and high in the air. She says nothing for a moment. Then throws the magazine down on the bed.
We can see you!” It is the day beforce she leaves for France, and Alba is giggling as she recounts the last time she went hiking and had to pee. She took refuge behind a wiry bush and let it rip just as an entire troop of Boy Scouts trudged past.
“Their leader was mortified,” she says. “He kept yelling, ‘You in the bush, we can see everything!’ But what am I going to do? Come out and introduce myself?”
For an actor who has been working since childhood, Alba is remarkably forthcoming about the potentially embarrassing details of her life.
She lost her virginity at 18.
She is a control freak.
She is not the world’s best dancer. (“When I was filming Honey, the choreographer kept saying I was going to ruin her career.”)
She is bossy.
She hates to lose.
She thinks that what is happening in Iraq is “all kinds of fucked up.”
She used to be a Bible thumper, praying to God to rid her of her wanton desires.
“It wasn’t hard to tell the truth,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine having sex with a teenager. I had been working for six years. I had responsibilities. These boys wanted to hang and drink beer. That just wasn’t my shit.”
Alba is at home, scouting the fridge — which appears to be arranged by food category — for a bottle of water. Tomorrow before leaving town she will go to a meet-and-greet with DVD salesmen to promote Fantastic Four. She will turn up looking pretty and, if the past is any indication, be groped by soft men in golf shirts.
“We pose for snapshots, and there are times when they put their hands on my ass or cupped under my breast,” she says, sighing. “And I have to stand there and smile like nothing is happening.”
Braganza stops by, and Alba suggests they go to Tae-Bo, a trendy workout class.
“I have a photo shoot soon,” she says, pointing to her belly. Braganza demurs. They decide to walk instead. As they do, Alba reveals that last week she was unexpectedly and violently French-kissed by a chimp named Tia. Twice. Amazingly, this is not her lead anecdote. It rests a lazy third to stories about porn shopping in Cleveland (Brazilian Booties) and her aunt’s unfortunate home waxing accident.
Still, the monkey story leaves Braganza appropriately mortified.
“How in the world?” she asks.
“So I’m shooting a special for MTV,” says Alba, “and they told me all I had to do was push my lips out a little and the monkey would give me a peck, but instead she rammed her tongue inside my mouth and swept it all around in a circle.”
Here, Alba demonstrates, and the sight of her, lips parted, her index finger swirling around inside her mouth, triggers predictable stares and sighs from passersby. She is laughing too hard to notice.
“She touched every inch in there! It was the most disgusting thing ever!”
“And they filmed it?” asks Braganza.
“Oh, yeah. That will be a special moment.”
The women keep walking, chatting about Hollywood, dogs and horrible kissers. The sun begins to set, turning L.A. a dusky blue. Alba pauses to admire the sky. She is thinking about the year ahead, wondering how things will evolve, if, in fact, she can break out, grow up and leave her sexy image behind.
“As a girl, I was always told I was nasty or dirty if I was sexual in any way,” she says quietly. “Americans are such prudes.”
She starts walking again. “That’s why we’re all so perverted.”
She smirks, then smiles big, her teeth gleaming in the twilight.
“Not me, of course,” she says. “I’m an angel.”