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Jessica Alba - Biography

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Born: 28 April 1981
Where: Pomona, California USA
Awards: 1 Golden Globe Nomination
Height: 168 cm
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Brown
Education : Graduated high school at age 16; attended the Atlantic Theater Company
Family : Mother: Cathy

Filmography: The Complete List

By her mid-twenties, Jessica Alba had already leapt more career hurdles than most actresses twice her age. In her early teens she starred in a kids' TV show - Flipper - usually enough to kill a fledgling film career stone dead. Yet she struggled on through bit parts in the likes of Beverly Hills 90120 and The Love Boat before being chosen by James Cameron to front his latest sci-fi project, Dark Angel. When that series was terminated before its time, it seemed Alba might forever be remembered merely as a second division Buffy. Yet again she bounced back, headlining a small hit in Honey, then stepping into the Silver Screen big-time with an eye-catching part in Robert Rodriguez' Sin City, then the successful Fantastic Four franchise. And all the while she was busy preparing herself for the tougher thespian challenges she knew would be ahead. Having come this far, Miss Alba was not to be denied.

She was born Jessica Marie Alba on Tuesday, the 28th of April, 1981, in Pomona, just a few miles east of Los Angeles down the San Bernadino Freeway. Her father, Mark, was a second generation Mexican-American, while her mother, Cathy Jensen, born in Montreal, was of French-Canadian and Danish descent. Mark and Cathy had met in a lift. He was a tennis trainer, she was a student at UCLA. Jessica arrived quickly, followed 15 months later by brother Josh.

Times were tough, both parents worked multiple jobs, and Mark had to follow the money. When Jessica was still an infant, he moved the family to Biloxi, on the Mississippi Sound between New Orleans and Mobile. Here he'd join the US Air Force at the Keesler Air Force Base, home of the 81st Training Wing, where airmen who'd just completed basic training would be further schooled, mostly in electronics - ground radio, cryptography etc. Cathy, meanwhile, would work as a lifeguard. They'd stay in Biloxi for three years, before briefly returning to southern California and then moving on to Del Rio, Texas, near Lake Amistead on the edge of the vast Edwards Plateau, Mark working at Laughlin Air Force Base, location of the 47th Flying Trianing Wing and the US Air Force's busiest pilot training base. Del Rio was a major crossing point for illegal Mexican immigrants, right on the border. In the past, many denizens of Laughlin had crossed the other way to visit the infamous brothel district of Cuidad Acuna, known as Boy's Town. Here had been the notorious Blowjob Alley, closed down in 1984 after a series of beatings and murders, most of them committed by soldiers enraged that their pleasurer was in fact a pre-op transsexual.

When Jessica was 9, the family returned to Pomona, and the bosom of an extended family that saw her as the eldest of 15 cousins (one older relative was Steve Alba, popularly known as Salba, a pioneering skateboarder since the Seventies). Mark's father, a first-generation Mexican, had made great efforts to integrate his family, speaking no Spanish in the house. His efforts at self-betterment would be continued by Mark and Cathy whose work ethic was admirable. At one point he was finishing his day job and going straight to work as a chef in a rib joint, while she spent her days at McDonalds and her nights tending bar. Young Jessica saw all this. In between scraps with brother Josh, she recognised the efforts made and, as the eldest of the kids and a serial nappy-changer from a very early age, she grew up fast. You needed to when you lived around Pomona. There were some dirt poor areas here, with concomitant gang activity and crime. Come 1999, Pomona would boast the third highest murder rate in California.

By now, Jessica had actually been through a lot. On the family's travels she'd suffered many bouts of pneumonia and twice endured a collapsed lung. She'd had a burst appendix, a cyst on her tonsils and asthma. She'd spent plenty of time in hospital and consequently made few friends wherever they'd gone. Often alone, she developed both a strong imagination and mild case of OCD. She'd become yet more independent on her return to Pomona where, though her health problems had gone, she still had trouble fitting in. Her mother's Danish genes and a purposefully American upbringing meant she did not slip easily into the Latino community. From her father's side, she wasn't quite white either. This wasn't good right now, but in the future it would help secure her one of the biggest jobs of her career.

As said, Jessica was mature for her age, mature enough to recognise that her young dreams might be turned into reality if she worked hard enough. By the age of 5, she's said, she'd already decided to become an actress, or at least an entertainer - fitting for a Pomona kid, really, as the nearby neighbourhoods had already produced Tim Robbins, Tom Waits and baseball star Mark McGwire. As a kid she'd demanded her father fit a bar to her bedroom door so she could practise ballet, often dressing in a leotard to dance along to Flashdance, Fame and Saturday Night Fever, or the routines of Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul.

School did not fit into Alba's plans. She hadn't liked it since pre-school when a teacher tried to force her to write with her right hand. A precocious pupil, she'd always be questioning authority, demanding to know why she couldn't do what she thought was best for herself. Consequently, she didn't enjoy junior high at El Roble Intermediate in nearby Claremont. Not that it mattered, for this ambitious young lady was already on her way.

By the age of 12, Alba was already preparing her own (healthy) food, in order to avoid the weight problems that afflicted many in her family. Extra weight, she knew, might scupper her chances of screen success, something she was already pursuing. At the same age she began acting classes and, within 9 months scoring herself an agent, she began to regularly take that trip down the San Bernadino Freeway to LA for auditions. Quickly, she won a debut in a feature film - Camp Nowhere, where Christopher Lloyd would play a laid-back drama teacher who helps outcast kids to create their own fun-time summer camp and persuade their parents it's legit. At first Alba was down to play a bit-part, signing on for just two weeks' work. However, when one of the leads dropped out an immediate replacement was necessary and Alba - smart, pretty and, crucially, with a similar hair colour and style to the former lead - was promoted. On such small details do careers turn.

Having appeared in prestigious TV ads for Nintendo and JC Penney, Alba would now win a part in new TV show The Secret World Of Alex Mack, where Larisa Oleynik would star as a junior high school kid who, after being accidentally soaked in a chemical called GC-161, would have powers of self-transformation and telekinesis. Though she'd attempt to use her new gifts for the good of others, in early episodes she'd have her good nature tested to the max by young Jessica, a snobbish uber-bitch in cahoots with an equally vile Alexana Lambros, both of them plotting Mack's humiliation.

Now forging a fledgling career for herself, Alba would not complete at El Roble Intermediate. Indeed, this was the end of her public education. Though she'd be officially attached to Claremont High School, she'd now be home-tutored, graduating at the age of 16. With her eyes now firmly on the prize, her work-rate was phenomenal.

Alba's second appearance on the Silver Screen would be something of a dud. Venus Rising, featuring Morgan Fairchild and Joel Grey, was a sci-fi piece set in a 1999 where the world's population is anaesthetised with drugs and VR. Audie England would play a woman who escapes from a prison island and attempts to fit into this weird society, with Alba playing her (very briefly) in a flashback showing the slaughter of her parents on the island. Though there was murder, lesbianism and VR sex, it was still tame and silly stuff.

This would have no effect on Alba's career, though, as she now landed a prime role in an update of Flipper, the famed Sixties TV series about a surprisingly resourceful dolphin. Over the next two years, she'd spend 13 months filming in Australia, living just south of Brisbane in surfer paradise. And the show would be a big success, with Alba standing out as Maya Graham, close friend of the grinning aquatic hero. However, it was not an entirely blissful experience. Having received threatening phone calls, Alba was at one point actually kidnapped and discovered locked in the boot of a car. She was unharmed, but must have been terrified.

In her breaks from Flipper, Alba would pick up extra experience where she could. 1996 would see her in an episode of Chicago Hope so far removed from the moral rectitude of Flipper it was almost laughable. Following four separate storylines, each dealing with a different aspect of sexuality, the show would see Alba as a mature 14-year-old who visits hospital with a throat complaint. Complications ensue when it's discovered she's living with a 30-year-old and has contracted gonorrhoea. Of the throat. Ugh. Still edgy, though far less controversial, would be Too Soon For Jeff, an ABC Afterschool Special where Freddie Prinze Jr would get girlfriend Jessica pregnant and be overwhelmed by the possible consequences. Well-received, the film would see writer Karen Kasaba nominated for a Daytime Emmy.

It was already clear that Alba was not content to limit herself to standard teenage fare like Flipper. Chicago Hope had proved that beyond doubt. She wanted to learn, to set herself up for a thespian career that would last. Thus, having graduated at 16, she attended the Vermont workshop of the Atlantic Theatre Company, formed in 1985 by playwright David Mamet and actor William H Macy. Both students of Sanford Meisner, they looked to the later teachings of Stanislavsky and, believing acting schools usually made actors too self-indulgent and self-centred, they taught their charges to understand their responsibility to the script. This was Practical Aesthetics, where actors should reject introverted psychological exploration and work together to bring the page to the stage. The ATC would be increasingly popular. Woody Allen would work there, students would be lectured by the likes of Sam Shepard, Gore Vidal and Mary Steenburgen. However, when encouraged to continue with theatre, to hone her craft and become a "real" actress, Alba would refuse. Having worn thrift-store clothing as a kid, having seen her parents toil, she had no desire to spend years waitressing to finance such a risky career. Not when TV work was giving her the opportunity to support herself and her family in a style to which they were thoroughly unaccustomed. She would learn her craft - but not like that.

Another problem Alba would have to surmount with the ATC involved language. As you'd expect with theatrical exercises devised by Mamet, many of the expressions employed were fruity to say the least, which put the young actress in a difficult situation. This obsessive, alienated girl, leaping into a strange adult world long before her time, had come into contact with born again Christians and, probably needing some feeling of structure, of usefulness and togetherness, she'd joined them, waking at 5am to pray, attending church three times a week, handing out flyers on the streets. Now she had to reconcile herself with this hardcore and most unChristian dialogue, and went along with it, just as she'd gone along with the Chicago Hope storyline. And she'd continue to take tough and worldly TV parts. So independently minded, she would have great trouble accepting limits placed on her by her religious "superiors", particularly when it came to work and career progress. After 4 years with the group, continuously told by a young pastor to wear baggy clothes lest she tempt the good young men around her, she came to realise that her burgeoning sexuality was being repressed, and left.

As mentioned, aside from the cheery, clean-cut Flipper, much of Alba's TV work was earthy, indeed (she's said that most of the roles she turned down at the time had her as a variation on Maria, the Latino janitor's daughter who's messing around with a white kid). Having missed out on a role in Robert Rodriguez' The Faculty, 1998 would see her in three very varied small screen parts. First there'd be an episode of gritty police drama Brooklyn South where Alba would play a schoolgirl flashed by a perv on the street. Her father, a court official, demands an arrest, but Jessica can't manage a positive ID. Next there'd be a 2-episode spot in hit show Beverly Hills 90210 where she'd play a teenage mum who abandons her child outside the clinic of star Jenny Garth. Garth tries to persuade Alba to take the child back but she won't have it, until she's told that a gay couple would like to adopt. Now Alba faces a difficult choice. Will she keep a child she can't look after, or deliver it into a steady household of which she disapproves? Finally, there'd be a ride on The Love Boat, a revival of the Seventies hit now sailing under the title The Next Wave. Here Robert Urich would star as the captain of the titular cruise liner, the Sun Princess, with Kyle Howard onboard as his troubled 15-year-old son. Alba would appear as a teen passenger who begins a relationship with Howard, only for the pair of them to be thoroughly creeped out when Urich hooks up with Alba's mum, the couple having been high school sweethearts years before.

But the TV work was simply for experience (and money). Alba's real aim was cinematic success, and she now moved deliberately away from the small screen. Her next appearance would be in P.U.N.K.S, a film made for the Disney Channel, where scientist Randy Quaid would create a robot suit that turn wimps into supermen. Evil industrialist Henry Winkler wants it, but so do Quaid's neglected son Tim Redwine and his gang of nerdy mates, including Alba, as they take on high school bullies. It had a strong 1980s flavour, as indeed did Never Been Kissed, where newpaper girl Drew Barrymore went undercover at high school. Unpopular the first time round, this gave her a chance of redemption and she attempted to ingratiate herself with the in-crowd, fronted by Alba's Kirsten and Marley Shelton's Kristen. It was entertaining, warm-hearted stuff, with Alba excellent as a conceited Barbie training boys to do her bidding.

Very different would be the comedy horror of Idle Hands, inspired by Evil Dead 2, where young pot-head Devon Sawa was possessed by a murderous entity which gave his hand a mind of its own. The hand, of course, begins to dispatch Sawa's friends and acquaintances and even makes an attempt on Alba, a hot motorcycle babe Sawa's been after for ages and is now on the verge of seducing. As both he and the hand can't have their evil way at the same time, he ties the hand to the bed and Alba, not realising the danger, thinks that's kinda kinky.

Next, Alba would take off for England to shoot Paranoid, a thriller directed by John Duigan (Lawn Dogs, The Year My Voice Broke). This would see her moving away from the schoolkids she'd recently portrayed and playing a promiscuous, drug-taking supermodel who attends a party at a secluded country house, a reunion of a hit 1980s band, and wakes to find herself handcuffed to a bed. Now she's at the mercy of weirdo Iain Glen, his spooky wife Jeanne Tripplehorn and his freaky, camcorder-wielding brother and, as the movie examines the dangers of our objectification of youth and beauty, she discovers her only hope lies in some guy who's making obscene calls to her. It was tense, but perhaps not as tense as one would've liked.

Having turned her back on TV to concentrate on her film career, it looked like Alba was in for a long struggle. However, events conspired to drag her backwards and forwards at the same time. In 1999, James Cameron, self-proclaimed King of the World after his massive success with Titanic, was all set to make his screen comeback. This was to be a sci-fi TV series called Dark Angel, based on the exploits of a genetically-enhanced female in the year 2020. Alba's name was put forward, one of 1000 girls Cameron would cast his eye over. He liked her - he actually said he believed that with her racial background she was the future of humanity - and, despite her misgivings about TV work, she allowed herself to be persuaded. And so began a punishing year-long training schedule involving weights, cardio, kung fu and gymnastics. Once physically prepared she found filming to be no less gruelling, working in Seattle for 10 and a half months of each of the next two years, mostly at night and often being rained on.

Thus she became Max, also known as X5-452, one of a group of genetically engineered super-kids escaped from the evil Manticore corporation and entering a world destroyed by terrorist attacks on communications systems. In the ruins of a Seattle under martial law she works as a bike courier and burgler, chased by the law and bounty hunters, hanging with the denizens of a funky underground. The show, with its big budgets and massive Cameron-based hype, its wild action and gloomy sets, became increasingly popular over its first season. But things quickly changed. In real life Alba became attached and engaged to co-star Michael Weatherly, an actor 15 years her senior whose father had made millions importing Swiss Army knives into the States. This was big tabloid news and the producers, forced to tone down the show's apocalyptic visions after 9/11, began to concentrate on the relationship between Alba's Max and Weatherly's Logan Cale, a cyber-journalist and crusader for justice who winds up in a wheelchair. With Manticore's pursuit of Max no longer the show's focus, it became clunky and, when Fox rescheduled the programme, moving it to Friday nights, audiences began to fall. Dark Angel's high budgets began to count against it and executives decided to cancel it, concentrating instead in Joss Whedon's Firefly.

This was disappointing for all concerned, but Alba did walk away from Dark Angel with a Golden Globe nomination, a contract with L'Oreal and a reputation as a hi-octane sex kitten that made her one of the most sought-after stars on the Internet. Cannily, Alba would recognise the advantages of this situation and now play upon both her looks and her status among young action-fans, while gradually easing herself into more adult fare.

Her first post-Dark Angel release would be The Sleeping Dictionary, a love story set in Malaysia in the 1930s amidst British colonial rule. Here Hugh Dancy would arrive in Sarawak to take up a government post and, needing to learn local languages and customs, would be tutored by half-caste Alba. The governor's daughter, Emily Mortimer, falls for Dancy - a perfect match - but he and Alba share a love that's socially unacceptable and eventually catastrophic. Also starring Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn, the movie would be excellent thespian experience for Alba but would still stiff royally, being shelved for over a year then released direct to DVD.

Alba would quickly shift back to more populist American fare. She'd reveal a lighter side on Mad TV when lampooning Jessica Simpson and pretending to adopt a Korean baby (a huge baby, played by Bobby Lee). Then would come Honey, a street-style dance movie that echoed Alba's early inspirations, Flashdance and Fame. Here she'd play a dance instructor in an urban activities centre threatened with closure. Seeing Lil' Romeo and his homies breakdancing in the 'hood, she decides to put on a show in a local church to raise funds to save the centre. At the same time, a big-shot producer is tempting her with fame and fortune. Will she take the money and leave behind the kids she's helping and the barber who loves her? It wasn't unpredictable in that respect, but Honey was warm and well-made, with Alba impresive in her dance sequences. Doubling its budget and opening at Number 2 at the US box office behind Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai, it also proved she could pull off a starring performance that didn't involve roundhousing people in the head.

Having split with Michael Weatherly - she said he was a homebody while she wanted to go out dancing - she'd be connected in the press to Mark Wahlberg, and did indeed appear in an episode of his TV show Entourage, where the guys are all trying to score with her. Onscreen she'd next appear in Sin City, a chance to work with Robert Rodriguez after being turned down for The Faculty some 7 years before. Based on Frank Miller's graphic novels, this would be a crazy melange of stories, often amazingly violent and always ultra-noir. Bruce Willis would play an ex-cop just released from jail having been framed for the crimes of a senator's son. Returning to see Alba, whom he'd saved from the clutches of the villain when she was 11, he must rescue her again from the same guy, now an unspeakable monster. Rodriguez had previously enjoyed some success directing Salma Hayek's famously erotic dance in From Dusk Till Dawn. Now he repeated the trick with Alba, hugely provocative in leather and spinning a lasso. But her performance wasn't just about sensuous moves, she also displayed touching depth in her innocent and vulnerable love for the much-older Willis.

After the eye-popping mayhem of Sin City, Alba would next be seen in the far more family-orientated Fantastic Four. Here, four astronauts in orbit are accidentally showered with space-stuff and undergo molecular changes, now becoming Mr Fantastic, The Thing, The Human Torch and, in Alba's case, The Invisible Woman, not only capable of disappearing but also of containing explosions in a forcefield - useful tricks when warring against Dr Doom. Despite spending much of its time explaining itself rather than being fantastic, the movie was a big hit, big enough to launch a franchise, Alba returning in 2007 for Rise Of The Silver Surfer. Her position secured, she'd now have the leeway to make far smaller and more intimate movies. The movie would also bring her a new boyfriend, director's assistant Cash Warren, a Yale graduate two years her senior and the son of TV actor Michael Warren.

Following Fantastic Four, Alba would appear in Into The Blue, actually filmed before both Fantastic Four and Sin City. Set in the Bahamas, this would see Alba and Paul Walker as lovers in paradise, living on a boat and diving for treasure. However, when mate Scott Caan joins them and they discover not only ancient sunken treasure but also a very contemporary haul of drugs, they're in big trouble as the riches test their loyalties and a drug lord comes looking for his due. It was a fun-time adventure, for sure, and Alba would spend most of it in a revealing swimsuit, but the characters were properly drawn and portrayed - it was believable. Interestingly, before taking on Into The Blue, Alba had been in talks with former producer James Cameron about starring in another scuba-diving adventure - Fathom. Was it her athleticism, the way she looked in that swimwear, or was she still subconsciously seen as the girl from Flipper?

With her profile maintained by the Fantastic Four franchise, Alba now moved on to Awake, a fraught drama where super-rich Hayden Christensen finds himself aware but paralyzed during heart surgery. Meanwhile, in the waiting-room, his possessive mother Lena Olin discovers that he's secretly married her assistant, Alba and, as we view the Alba-Christensen relationship in flashback, the recriminations fly. Following this would be the comedy Good Luck Chuck, where Dane Cook would play a guy whose girlfriends always seem to get happily married to the man they meet immediately after leaving him. Naturally, word gets around and the women come flocking to (briefly) date Cook, a situation that delights him until he meets Alba, a woman so wonderful he wants to keep her for himself.

Outside of screen work, 2006 would also see Alba helping out Habitat For Humanity, a charity building homes for the homeless. She'd also sue Playboy who'd taken a promo shot from Into The Blue and slapped it on their cover. Alba claimed this would make people believe she was appearing nude inside the magazine (she still hadn't flashed the flesh onscreen and thus had grounds for complaint) and Hugh Hefner was forced to apologise and make a large charity donation.

2007 would bring more variety as Alba tested her own limits. First would come The Ten, a bizarre comedy loosely based on Kieslowski's Decalogue, with ten separate stories dealing with the Ten Commandments. Alba would appear alongside Oliver Platt, Winona Ryder and Famke Janssen as tales of prison bitches and puppet obsessions unfolded. Then, before Fantastic Four 2, would come Bill, a movie Alba snapped up when Lindsay Lohan pulled out at the last. Here Aaron Eckhart, crushed by his tiresome job and cheating wife, would have his love of life reignited by Alba's unusual and alluring saleswoman.

It's clear that Jessica Alba is far too smart to ever be typecast in a Dark Angel/Invisible Woman mould. Moving into comedy and thrillers while also developing movies and a (non-violent) videogame, she's she's setting herself up nicely for a long career. She says her favourite actresses are Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball, Sally Field, Susan Sarandon and Cate Blanchett, a mixed bag of inspirations that might well lead to rewarding work in many genres. Given that Alba has also said she has ambitions to play Medea, there's a lot to look forward to.

by Dominic Wills

This post first appeared on Legendary Characters, please read the originial post: here

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Jessica Alba - Biography


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