With a soft spot for single mom stories, Eva Mendes talks to us about her latest screen personification where the Hollywood A-lister takes on the role of a single, young mom. She also talks about her own coming of age moment as she overcame being a victim of teenage bullying.
“Girl In Progress”, in theaters May 11 and the latest film by director Patricia Riggen (“La misma luna”/ “Under The Same Moon”), is brought to life by Eva Mendes in the role of Grace, a single mother struggling with life, love, and her motherly responsibilities. Cierra Ramirez, the young actress and singer that is emerging into the scene as possibly the next Selena Gomez, plays the role of Ansiedad, Grace’s 13-year-old daughter who in a desperate cry for her mother’s attention, schemes up a plan to skip her teenage years and enter a world of adulthood which, of course, she is completely unprepared for and exposes her to participate in both ends of teenage bullying.
“Unfortunately, bullying has been around forever,” states Mendes. “In junior high school I was a victim myself. I would make up stories like ‘my stomach hurts’ just so that I wouldn’t have to go to school because this one girl would just terrorize me.”
Mendes’ experience is by no means an isolated case. The startling reality of today’s day is that, according to a study done by Clemson University in which 524,054 junior and high school students at 1,593 schools across the nation were surveyed over two years, one in six kids is regularly bullied. In the film, one of the steps in Ansiedad’s plan to fast-forward into adulthood requires her to participate in this type of behavior in order to “get in with the cool crowd”. “It’s a real thing,” states Mendes. “We have to deal with it and talking about it is definitely one step.”
Another subject matter featured in the film, and which also resonates with the Cuban-American actress, is the role of single motherhood. Although Mendes’ father was in the picture during her upbringing, it was her mother that did most of the heavy lifting. In “Girl In Progress”, Mendes’ character finds herself losing communication with her growing daughter due to the balancing of two jobs, her adulterous relationship, and her own personal flaws as a young, single mother. “During filming I called my mom a few times to tell her thank you,” she stated. “Because it’s tough. Raising a child on your own is really tough.”
Although the majority of the actors in the recent Pantaleon film are hispanic, including Mexican actor/comedian Eugenio Derbez who plays Mendes’ unresponded love interest, and Mexican regional superstar Espinoza Paz in his film debut as Derbez’s cousin, the film has universal messages that umbrella all age, gender and ethnic groups. With featured issues such as teenage alcohol abuse, premarital promiscuity, and youth rebellion, the film presents the opportunity to begin a dilaogue regarding these themes.
“Grace being a single mother and Ansiedad dealing with bullying definitely resonated with me,” states Mendes. “And hopefully, people will find elements of the film that speak to them as well.”
As for her days of being bullied, Mendes recalls that it wasn’t something talked about back then. She proudly confessed that one day an act of courage made her face her attacker to make her stop. “I’m so happy that now it’s part of our daily dialogue. Maybe this way we can finally can get rid of it.”