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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jessica Alba Needs to Get Over Herself

I was a big fan of Jessica Alba’s. I liked her work in Flipper and Dark Angel and never missed an episode. I thought she showed a lot of promise as an actress and felt it was a matter of time before she got her breakthrough role at the movies.

However, I was deeply offended by her statements in the December 2010 issue of Elle Magazine. In it she states:

“Good actors, never use the script unless it’s amazing writing. All the good actors I’ve worked with, they all say whatever they want to say.”- Jessica Alba Elle Magazine December 2010

The fan in me wanted to forgive her, but the writer in me felt she crossed the line. As a writer and a film buff I know the screenplay is the most important part of a film project. If no one used the script there would be no movie. The writer may be the bottom person on the totem pole of a production, but without us writers, there’s no foundation for the structure of the film to be built on.

And as for good actors not using the script:

Tell that to Jennifer Jason Leigh. Leigh uses the script to breathe life into her characters. To prepare for a role, she writes notes and diaries in the character’s voice and does extensive research. As a method actress, she couldn’t start doing her research without reading the script first.

And tell that to Hilary Swank. Swank is known for her meticulous research, from visiting a gym and practicing boxing in Million Dollar Baby to studying the life of Betty Anne Waters for Conviction. She couldn’t do her research without reading the script first.

Both Leigh and Swank have a resume of amazing performances and the awards to back them up. Swank is a two-time Oscar winner. Leigh has won every award but the Oscar, and it’s a matter of time before she gets one of those gold statues.

And how many awards has Ms. Alba won with her brilliant technique of not using the script?

That’s right ZERO.

Maybe Ms. Alba needs to learn how to read those scripts she doesn’t use and do research so she can give a strong performance like Swank and Leigh do. Then maybe she’d finally have that breakout role that would get audiences looking at her from the neck up and not the chest down.

She also goes on to say: “I know I haven’t been swimming in the deep end with some of the movies I’ve done. I wasn’t trying to. I knew what they were.”

Well, if Ms. Alba knew she was starring in movies with weak scripts then she should also know how important it is to find a good screenwriter and STAY very close to them. Screenwriters like myself are eager to tailor a script to an actor; many more would have been eager to create a character that would play to Ms. Alba’s strengths if she’d go out and seek out one.

Most of the Oscar-Winning actresses like Hilary Swank go out and LOOK for writers with fresh material. They form personal relationships with writers so they can craft dialogue and stories tailored to fit them. It’s to Ms. Alba’s advantage to find a writer and have them at her side when she pitched a project. With the help of a good screenwriter she’d have a better opportunity to produce material that would allow her to show the range I know she has but rarely uses in the string of forgettable movies she’s starred in recently.

Unfortunately, because of her comments Ms. Alba is going to have a harder time getting access to the projects which use “amazing writing”. Early on in the pitch process, it’s us writers who suggest performers to producers to cast in the lead roles. The producers oftentimes bring those actors in for readings before hiring a casting director. Those jobs are often a lock.

What’s even crazier is how later on in the piece Ms. Alba goes on to say she’s all about directors now. Er…many if not most good directors WRITE their own scripts. Directors also often re-write the scripts of other writers to get things just right during shooting. And directors don’t take too kindly to actors saying what they want to on their sets.

I doubt Ms. Alba would get away with saying what she wanted to say on the late Billy Wilder’s set. Or the late Elia Kazan’s set. Or George Lucas’ set. Or David Fincher’s set. The late Billy Wilder FIRED actors who went off HIS script. And he worked with legends like Marilyn Monroe. The late Elia Kazan was an “actor’s director”, but I doubt he’d put up with crap like an actor not staying on script. In the last Star Wars Trilogy, George Lucas micromanaged how every line was said and how every movement was made. David Fincher is notoriously meticulous for re-shooting scenes a hundred times to get things just right, and is very picky about his scripts.

I find it funny how Jessica’s all about directors but has a hard time taking direction from a second-rate director like Tim Story on a B-Grade Fantastic Four sequel. In the same article she says:

"I wanted to stop acting. I hated it. I really hated it.”

"I remember when I was dying in 'Silver Surfer'. The director was like, 'It looks too real. It looks too painful. Can you be prettier when you cry? Cry pretty, Jessica. ...'

"And then it all got me thinking: Am I not good enough? Are my instincts and my emotions not good enough?... And so I just said, 'F**k it. I don't care about this business anymore.'"

She hates acting in a B-Grade action movie with a director who asks a little of her but wants to work with more serious directors who will ask more of her.


If Ms. Alba is having problems working with mediocre directors like Story, how is she going to work with some of today’s best directors like David Fincher, Zack Snyder, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Ridley Scott, Ron Howard or Clint Eastwood? Directors who stick to the script. Directors who put actors through HELL to get the shots they want?

Later on in the piece, Ms. “All About Directors” goes on to blame all her recent box-office failures on “First-Time Directors” she’s worked with.

Has anyone told Ms. Alba that in order to work with the great directors and the screenwriters with the “amazing writing” an actor has to pay dues? That sometimes paying those dues may mean years of working in projects with first-time directors, filmmakers who are a usually a LOT more receptive to hiring unproven talent like her? That’s usually the way an actor works their way up and hones their craft until they get to their breakthrough role which gives them an opportunity to work with the bigger directors.

I’m sure Julia Roberts loved working in Satisfaction before she found critical acclaim with Mystic Pizza and had her breakthrough role in Steel Magnolias.

I’m also sure Reese Witherspoon had her share of forgettable films like Fear before she broke through with the Legally Blonde series.

But Jessica Alba who has proven she can’t follow a script or take direction in lesser films feels entitled to work with top directors and doesn’t have to use a script unless it’s amazing writing.


In defense of all those first-time directors and screenwriters, I have point out Jessica Alba hasn’t actually proven she’s been bankable or a strong actress. In spite of numerous lead roles, she hasn’t shown she’s been able to carry a film from FADE IN to FADE OUT. Nor has she proven she’s got the star power to open a film on her own in its debut weekend. Angelina Jolie Jessica Alba ain’t.

But Ms. non-bankable mediocre talent feels she has the star power to badmouth people behind the camera.

Unfortunately, she has no idea how badly she’s ruined her stalled career.

As an actress of color, Jessica Alba has been blessed with roles and opportunities other Latina actresses like Christina Vidal, Sofia Vergara and Eva Longoria would be eager to have. Lead parts in movies. A lead role in a television series created by Oscar-winning director James Cameron. Playing Sue Storm, a role that was originally a white woman in the adaptation of Marvel comics’ flagship title Fantastic Four. It’s not like all those White Hollywood writers usually wrote roles regularly for women of color, but she was cut a lot of breaks. Instead of counting her blessings she bites the hand that feeds her.

Too bad she doesn’t understand how that hand strikes back in retaliation at actors of color.

In a racist sexist town like Hollywood, alienating screenwriters, producers and directors is the easiest way to make opportunities dry up for a young actress of color. Those screenwriters who considered her for their projects are now probably thinking of other actresses when they pitch their scripts to producers and executives. I truly doubt they were considering that many actresses of color on their short lists, but at least she was on them.

As a brotha who writes novels and screenplays, I know how hard it is to get a screenplay greenlit. And I know how much harder it is to get a screenplay greenlit featuring characters of color. And I also know it’s a struggle to maintain the integrity of that script as it goes through the hands of White directors and White producers. In an industry where only two percent of the screenwriters are African-American and even less are Latino, writers who write roles for actresses of color have to fight tooth and nail throughout the pre-production process to keep those roles from being changed to White roles. That’s why it frustrates me when I read about someone like Ms. Alba making ungrateful comments about not using the script and badmouthing directors. Actresses of color already have a hard time as it is finding quality scripts to work with because almost no one writes for them. Statements like Ms. Alba’s don’t give those writers more incentive to write more roles for women of color.

I was seriously considering writing a story with Ms. Alba as the inspiration for the female lead character. It was gonna be a romantic comedy. I scrapped those plans after I read the Elle article. Now I may be a nobody right now, but whenever I do become somebody, I’d rather write for someone who will value my script rather than someone who won’t use it.

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