After a childhood in the Hollywood spotlight, actress and muse Jessica Alba speaks candidly about marriage, motherhood and her scene-stealing eco crusade.
Within seconds of meeting Jessica Alba you get the feeling she has been confident and self-motivated since she was small. A self-professed feminist at five, she’s perfectly happy for her husband, film and documentary producer Cash Warren, to have “a man room” in their Beverly Hills home.
“C’mon, our house is all women!” she laughs of herself and their daughters Honor, 5, and Haven, 2. Even the dogs, Sid and Bowie, are girls. “I’m much more visionary and creative,” she says of their household dynamic. “Cash is business-minded, logical and pragmatic. He can connect the dots. We really have a ying-yang thing going on.”
“The rest is organized chaos,” she says of their Mid-century Modern styled mansion—a shift from their previous home, which was French Polynesian. “The girls have creative spaces where they can be inspired, play and dream,” and she says the family can always be found in the kitchen. “It’s the heart of the house.”
Alba, now 32, met Warren nine years ago on set of the Fantastic Four. They have just celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary; she says she “happens to have the best husband in the world. Cash bought me a necklace with a wooden ball on it,” she says, starting to draw it in mid-air. “He always gives me gifts according to the year we are together. Five is wood. It was really sweet.” She says the strength of their relationship isn’t about sustaining romance [though he appears to be trying] but rather about communication. “It’s the biggest thing,” she insists. “A relationship takes on a different life completely when you have kids and work. You have to make adult time to reconnect.”
Alba thanks her parents for this. Her Mexican father, Mark, and Danish/French mother, Catherine, free the couple up for date nights. “They are very hands-on grandparents,” she says while crediting them with a life-long relationship to emulate: “They have been together since they were 17 and 18—and are still best friends.”
Both Alba and Warren are Californians. Her parents still live in Pomona, where she was born. She went to Claremont High School and began acting classes at 12. Clearly headstrong, she left school at 16 and worked her way from small television roles—“The Secret World of Alex Mack” and “Beverly Hills, 90210”—to leads in Flipper and her break-out role in the James Cameron helmed series “Dark Angel.”
Film followed in every genre; from drama (Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me) to comedy (Little Fockers) and action (Spy Kids 4). She is best known, however, as muse to Robert Rodriguez. Their fifth collaboration, Machete Kills, will be released this month. Here, she reprises her role as Special Agent Sartana Rivera. In early 2014, she resurrects exotic dancer Nancy Callahan in Rodriguez’s sequel to Sin City. Point being, the director has made Alba both international pin-up and a woman endlessly on People’s Most Beautiful list. Looking from the outside in, one could excuse her for believing her own mythology. To her credit, she doesn’t.
Instead, she has used her traction to found The Honest Company with environmental specialist Christopher Gavigan. This eco-savvy online venture sells toxin-free products for the household—everything from dishwasher soap to diapers. She stumbled on the idea when she was pregnant with Honor. “I had an allergic reaction to a baby laundry detergent,” she explains, “and when I did the research, I found out there are toxic chemicals in personal care and cleaning products in the U.S. that are not government-tested. And so, I knew we needed a company that is a toxin-free, transparent, effective and an inexpensive family brand.”
To put her ethos to paper, the actress published The Honest Life: Living Naturally and True to You (Rodale) this past March. “For the book, I wanted to describe realistic, healthy alternatives that anyone can apply. You don’t have to eat all organic. You don’t have to be all yoga, granola, hemp; cream and beige. I’m not that chick. It’s about how to live in a healthy way without being extreme.”
A multi-tasking matriarch, she is currently juggling motherhood and sourcing organic lip balm while also shooting films. The latest is How To Make Love Like An Englishman, in Vancouver. Starring Pierce Brosnan (she laughs of the title, “he knows the answer to that question”), the comedy is about a Cambridge poetry professor re-evaluating his life of Byronic excess. Her other project, dark comedy A.C.O.D., hits theaters this autumn. She and Adam Scott play children of divorce who have unknowingly become subjects of a psychological survey. She loved A.C.O.D. because, she says, “It asks the question: When do you stop blaming your parents and take responsibility for your own actions?”
This doesn’t seem to be an issue for Alba. “My idea of being a mom is so different from what my mom grew up with,” she says. “The idea of the suburban housewife isn’t mine. We grew up with MTV, hip-hop. We have tattoos and piercings. Same sex couples are commonplace. We have the internet. We know we have to bring up our two girls as global citizens.”
True to her word, Alba takes the kids everywhere, though filming in Vancouver means they will miss this year’s European fashion shows. “I will have to covet my favorite designers from afar,” she says. “Narciso Rodriguez, Céline, Versace, Dolce, Kenzo…” her eyes light up. Instead, there is the permanent catwalk in her closet. “The baby put on my pumps the other day, and I was like, ‘You are going to break your ankle!’ At which she promptly fell over. Aren’t you desperate to keep your kids as kids for as long as possible?” she asks.
Whilst Alba’s professional life may be busy, and whilst she embodies a curious combination of glamour in her crusade against chemicals, she says her secret is to keep it simple: “We play, we hike, we go to the beach, we cook. I can make anything if you give me a recipe. Well, anything apart from cheese.”
Imagine, there she is; the mother in the heart of her household, cooking furiously. With a grin she says, “A girlfriend gave me a cheesecloth recently and I was like, ‘Oh no honey, you’ve got to be kidding me!’ Homemade cheese and almond milk? I have to draw the line somewhere!”
Written by Lorien Haynes
Photographed by Diego Uchitel