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Memoirs of the Invisible Woman

By ANTHONY C. FERRANTE     December 03, 2005


Jessica Alba as Sue Storm from FANTASTIC FOUR.
© 20th Century Fox
Three years ago, Jessica Alba was getting typecast as the tough chick after appearing for two seasons on the James Cameron-created sci-fi TV series Dark Angel. Three years later, blonde and one of the hottest young actresses in town, she snagged the highly coveted role of Sue Storm in the feature film adaptation of the Marvel comic book FANTASTIC FOUR, which arrives on DVD on December 6th.

"When I had dark hair, every time I would walk in a room, everyone would think I was ready to beat somebody down," says Alba, who was warned not to dye her hair blonde. She didn't heed the advice.

"Nobody wanted me to dye my hair blonde," admits Alba. "My representatives were saying it was going to look bad and cheesy, but my mom is blonde, so I knew I could go blonde. It really brings out a different side of my personality, I think, and it's lot nicer now to get the chance to play the girl next door."

When it came time to audition for FANTASTIC FOUR - Alba didn't think she was right for the part even though she loved the character of put-upon girl Friday to scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), his best friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and her brother Johnny (Chris Evans) who all undergo a unlucky transformation after a space station accident gives them super powers (Sue's is invisibility).

"I didn't care so much about the comic book as much as I cared about the character in the script," says Alba. "When I met with [director] Tim Story, I had no intention on really ever getting the movie. They were talking about actresses that were blonde-haired, blue-eyed, doey, sweet naive girls - just a lot more innocent, fair and white bread. I never thought I was going to be able to play Sue Storm, but I loved the character so much, if I was ever going to play Sue Storm, I showed them how I would play her. I guess it was a different approach."

That tact paid off, and Alba nabbed the role and relished in the nuances that came with such a rich and dynamic character steeped in five decades of comic book lore.

"They're a dysfunctional, functional family," says Alba. "Most people in this world are quick to bail the second something gets hairy. People go into therapy instead of figuring it out amongst each other. This movie is about a completely screwed up family. Like every family, they have their problems, but they figure it out. I can relate to that. In my case, my parents have been together since they were 16, 17 years old. So it's great to be a part of a movie where people figure it out. It gets tough, you scream and make-up."

Sue Storm receives the power of invisibility, and, as Alba explains it, the Four's powers are extensions of who they were before the space station accident.

"My character is a woman in a man's world, walking through like she's invisible or overshadowed," says Alba. "So when she's at a peak, it's the emotion -- whether it's anger, embarrassment, sadness - that's when she goes invisible. So it's not just out of thin air. She finally gets control of it and uses it toward the end, but throughout most of the movie it happens involuntarily."

The question, of course, remains: if she was trying to get away from heroines who kick ass as a brunette, how did she end up as a blonde who kicks ass?

"Sue Storm puts up force fields, but she does it all with a smile," says Alba, smiling herself.

One of the more daunting aspects of the movie was the extensive filming process that was required for her character to be invisible (but visible to the moviegoing audience) through the work of CGI.

"Every time I go invisible, it took three days of filming," says Alba. "I had a scene with [the character] Reed Richards where I go in and out of invisibility. The next day, we had to shoot the entire scene over again, but instead of me being there, I was behind the camera and still had to go through all the motions. It's was a little exhausting. In some cases we had to recreate arguments and had to be at that emotional place all day for two days, which can be exhausting."

Getting used to this kind of filmmaking is becoming old hat for Alba. On the Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller directed adaptation of Miller's Sin City comic book (where she played a stripper with a heart of gold and had a thing for hard-boiled cop Bruce Willis), Alba spent most of her time in front of a green screen on that film.

"I really liked doing that on that movie because it's just you and the other actors and the green screen," says Alba. "You're absolutely ready for that. Robert is so specific, and he knows exactly what he wants. I don't think he would have gotten it, if he had other distractions."

Even though Alba is only 24, she has been working in the business for 12 years. But her wanting to become an actress was a surprise, even to her family.

"I was a sort of a repressed kid, and I have a very loud Latin family," says Alba. "Everyone is a star. They all sing, dance and are artistic in different ways. I was always really quiet, so it was my way to be my own person and have my own voice. And then on the other end, I grew up with no money, so it was a way for me to be financially independent at a young age."

Wanting to be an actress certainly was an uphill battle, especially within the family.

"For the most part, everyone in my family thought that I was crazy," says Alba. "Everyone wants to be an actor and there was no way in hell it was going to happen for me. I got great satisfaction to tell them to all go fuck themselves, and I just did it. The only person that was really supportive was my mother. My father was hesitant until I got Dark Angel, and then he looked at it as a real job."

Finally breaking that rather daunting Hollywood wall, Alba says making it was all the more satisfying since she did it on her own and on her own terms.

"I didn't get into this business because I knew anybody," says Alba. "It was just survival of the fittest. It was a struggle for a long time. People like Jim Cameron, who was like a surrogate father to me, his advice to me was the only advice I listened to. And that was 'Keep doing what you're doing, you'll be fine.' That, and 'Be professional, be on time and have respect for everyone on the crew, and then eventually it will all come together.' At the end of the day, if you don't believe in yourself, then no one else is going to believe in you. That's always been my thing."

As for her future, Alba recognizes that the Fantastic Four is major step for her and is slowly plotting out the next phase of her career.

"I want to produce. I want to do everything. I'm going to do a movie, SONIC, that I'll produce - a sort of suspense thriller. It's more like The Bourne Identity and La Femme Nikita - the Luc Besson version. It's very gritty, fucked up and cool," says Alba.

Directing isn't out of the question, either.

"I think I would really do a good job directing young women or women because I know how patronizing it can be towards women," says Alba. "I know how to talk to them and a get a real strong performance out of them. I have been doing this for 12 years. I have a little bit of experience under my belt, but that's down the line. That's after I've popped out a couple of kids and done a few other things."

Alba's interest also extends beyond filmmaking as well. She currently is creating a children's clothing line with one of her best friends called NEA and ZO.

"It's going to be a spiritually-based clothing line for kids," says Alba. "It's all going to revolve around their signs and empowering symbols from different cultures. It's a great way to be creative."

And as Alba continues to climb up the Hollywood ladder, she admits she will always have her ego kept in check by her loving family.

"I don't have to work at being grounded -- my family lives in L.A.," Alba says with a laugh. "If you met them, you would understand. You don't float too far in the air when my family is around. They're like, 'I knew it, of course you're a star, because you're related to me.' That's what my father always says."

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