Asked whether or not she likes “Pretty Woman,” Alice Eve answers with an enthusiastic, “Of course!” The English actress defends the “classic film of my childhood” as a fairy tale and quotes in a New York accent, “Who are you, Cinder-[bleepin’]-rella?”
She agrees, though, that “Some Velvet Morning,” opening Dec. 20, could be seen as a more realistic “Pretty Woman.” Fred (Stanley Tucci) tells Velvet (Eve), a prostitute who is also his former mistress whom he hasn’t seen in years, that he has finally left his wife and wants to be with her. “The problem is the reality of the situation is that let’s say Fred did have the best intentions like Richard Gere; Velvet is too damaged to be able to sustain a normal life,” the 31-year-old Eve (“Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Men in Black 3”) says from New York. “And that does happen. You go to the point of no return. You go ‘til you’re beyond saving; ‘til normality and beauty and happily ever after is no longer of interest. Because the only way you can feel is by damaging.”
The fascinating, unpredictable film is a clear return to the days when writer-director Neil LaBute was making highly discussable portraits of human vulnerability and cruelty like “In the Company of Men” and “Your Friends and Neighbors.” Eve’s terrific in the role, and the actress—who compares watching movies to eating pancakes—is quite irresistible on the phone.
There’s so much history that has to be built between Fred and Velvet. How daunting and/or difficult is it to build that as an actress?
Well, it’s daunting I suppose if you consider it. If you just jump in and go for it, then it’s less daunting. I think you realize the toll it’s taken after the fact. I think after you’ve done it is when you realize that it maybe cost you something.
How did you realize it in this case?
I think I felt vulnerable and I felt like I had been through something, undergone an experience. At the time you go through it and you’re excited and it’s creative and it is fulfillling, incredibly fulfilling artistically to work with people like Stanley and Neil and material like this. To imagine the minds of other people who are in complex and difficult situations. But I think after that you then go, “Oh, actually some of that penetrated. Some of that went in and I felt it. And then that hurt.”
How long after shooting were you aware of that?
I think for a couple of weeks afterwards I was a bit bruised.
Speaking of bruised, Fred says he leaves his wife while she’s out shopping. That’s pretty awful. What’s the worst real-life dumping story you’ve ever heard?
I guess it’s de rigeur now. People dump on text all the time or Facebook or probably Instagram, I don’t know. Anything impersonal is pretty [regular]. Dumping in itself is the ultimate betrayal and really should never take place, but it does all the time. I guess it’s sad.
I’m trying to wonder what a dumping over Instagram would be.
You’d have to @ them. Or you could just Instagram a picture saying, “You’re dumped.”
I feel like if people were really going to be cruel they’d Instagram a picture of themselves kissing someone else.
That’s the equivalent of a dumping. I think that qualifies.
Which is worse: a woman sleeping with both a father and a son, or a guy stealing his son’s girlfriend?
Wow. Deep-end stuff here then, in Chicago. I think they’re both pretty bad. They’re both real crossing lines stuff. The thing about the father stealing the son’s girlfriend is all three people are cognizant of it. I suppose there can be one or two parties protected in the other scenario.
That was actually a really good point.
A lot of times people say if you’re a guest somewhere you should leave the place in better condition than when you’ve arrived. The movie made me think about how people often don’t do that with each other.
That’s a very good point too. This is the best interview I’ve had today. No, they don’t do that, what you said there. That’s stupid, isn’t it? … I think [people’s] first inclination is to love with a complete abandon and innocence, and then that goes wrong and from there on out it’s a gray area, and everyone’s doing their best in a set of blurred lines.
Oh, interesting. I see what you mean because when something bad has happened to you, you have to look out for yourself moving forward a little bit.
Sure, and you stop seeing things so clearly. But the other love, the first love, is selfless. You love and you don’t know what it means; you just know that you love that person and you cherish them, and then if that goes wrong you’re probably working at a deficit, both of you, [regardless of who] ended it.
Why do you think movies have such an inclination to romanticize prostitution in a way this movie does not?
Well, movies tend to romanticize everything because it’s digestible. Just like we put syrup on our pancakes. This one doesn’t because Neil’s a realist, as am I, and it is what it is. And the gray area is the black-and-white because the gray is what we live in. So ugly or not, it is what it is. Movies are linked with commerce as well, so if you romanticize something it’s more commercially viable.
Next time I see a movie I’m going to picture myself eating pancakes, as if it’s the same thing.
[Laughs] Well, they’re not dissimilar.
Well, no, it’s an enjoyable experience. It’s one of the pleasures. What else do you do with your Sunday? A walk in the park, eat pancakes, watch a movie, read the papers. It’s one of the pleasure activities.
So if someone eats pancakes while watching a movie, that’s just mind-blowing.
That’s taking it too far?
There’s only so much pleasure people are allowed in life.
Well, we have to limit it, don’t we?
You previously said, “I think a good mind can find dark and twisted things.” What dark and twisted things does your good mind find?
Well, all sorts of ones it wished it didn’t. You think things, don’t you. You think about worst-case scenarios and you encounter the twists and turns of a mind that’s lived and that has seen things. I saw this picture on the cover of the New York Times yesterday. I don’t know if you read the story about the SCUBA diver who went down too far and then surfaced. He had done so much damage to his lungs that he died, but he made it to the surface before he died.
And there’s this picture of him, just as he takes his first breath of real air, and the look in his eyes just before he died is the most terrifying thing you’ve ever seen. He’s seen death, and it didn’t look like it was very pretty. I guess with this film, where the eventual destination is a negative one, I guess [it’s] the same of our lives. I guess contemplating that is dark.
That’s a pretty heavy picture to be on the cover of the paper.
I think that it must have been a mistake. It’s the most disturbing image I’ve ever seen.
Usually that stuff doesn’t get put out there in the media.
Yeah. We don’t see people in that state, no.
On the subject of things that shake you up, I know how I felt after seeing Neil Labute’s “In the Company of Men,” “Your Friends and Neighbors” and “The Shape of Things.” Do you remember what your reactions were?
I think I found the candor with which he presents these dark or damaged souls [notable]. He doesn’t prepare you for it. He doesn’t protect you from it. He just presents it as it is. I think I found that shocking.
Could you say which movie messed you up the most?
Probably “In the Company of Men.” What about you?
Probably that one because it was the first. I always remember that last image of him shouting to her and her not being able to hear him. That’s a really powerful image. Neil’s so good at endings.
Yeah, he’s so good at endings. So true. Endings are really hard.
With “Star Trek,” “Men in Black,” “Sex and the City” and to a degree “Entourage” you’ve joined a number of franchises already in motion. If there was a franchise that was going to start and be built around you, what would you want it to be?
I actually know the answer to that question. It’s the story of Agatha Christie.
Is that because everyone’s been asking you that or you just think about Agatha Christie a lot?
I just actually know that question. I just know the answer to that question. I’ve never been asked it before. Don’t worry; your questions are so far thoroughly original.
I appreciate that.
So why Agatha Christie?
[There’s a lot of] scope there. And her story’s cool. She’s a good character. A strong woman. Has the right tempo. The right time period. I like it.
As Vinnie Chase’s wife I’m sure you’ll be able to advise him on professional choices. What tips would you give him as his acting coach?
Vinnie Chase. [Laughs] Don’t be lazy.
Do you feel like he’s been lazy?
Vinnie? I think Vinnie’s definitely been lazy at times. He drinks beer all day!
I think that’s what people assume all young cocky actors do in Hollywood.
Well, I bet Tom Cruise didn’t.
That was something that always stuck out at me about “Entourage.” I really enjoyed the series, but he never seemed like that great of an actor, Vinnie.
I think that’s the point, isn’t it? Sorry, we’re talking about Vinnie, not Adrian [Grenier], right?
Yeah. OK good, yeah. I wouldn’t say that to Adrian. I don’t think he’s lazy at all. But Vinnie, yeah. I think that was the point of Vinnie.
Is there anything you hope you get to do as part of the movie, as far as a female character in that world?
I mean the movie’s about guys getting girls so I don’t think [they] are going to make it because I don’t think Sophia’s going to stick around for Vinnie to go and cheat, so maybe we’ll see them break up.
Oh, my understanding was that she was going to continue on.
Maybe, I don’t know. I haven’t read it yet. It might be difficult for them I would imagine, but I don’t know. Maybe they live happily ever after and “Entourage: The Movie” is them and their family [Laughs], but I doubt it.
Just them hanging out, raising kids and puppies, and it’s PG-rated.
Totally straight-edged, PG-rated.
Some people might be disappointed.
I think so. My brother’s among them.
In “Cold Comes the Night,” Bryan Cranston takes you hostage in a motel. In “Some Velvet Morning,” you’re not really allowed to leave a house. In “ATM” you’re trapped in an ATM. How are you feeling about spending all this time trapped, and how claustrophobic are you?
I’m massively claustrophobic, and I’m really concerned that you brought these things to my attention and I must remedy it.
So have you taken these roles to fight the fear or something?
No, considering you don’t actually feel claustrophobic. You’re not actually trapped [on set]. I guess I must have been interested in the concept of victimhood and victimization and what that means. Maybe sometimes I take on these things in order to come out the other side and feel the opposite and empowered, and I think I do to some degree.
Hmm. Is “Some Velvet Morning” showing empowerment or more victimization?
For Velvet? I think she’s not on that scale. I think she exists in a world of such tortured, damaged souls that she’s both empowered and a victim in the same moment. Which is why she’s complex and we can sustain 90 minutes with her. She won’t occupy any position. She doesn’t stand for anything, so she’s sucked into everything. She’s all over the map. She’s a mess.
On where she’s been in Chicago: “The airport. [Laughs] I’ve been there a lot, the airport. One time I went outside the airport to say I’d been to Chicago, but I still don’t think it counts. I’d love to go. I worked with John Cusack, who speaks very highly of it.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.