Jessica Marie Alba (/ˈælbə/; born April 28, 1981) is an American actress and businesswoman. She began her television and movie appearances at age 13 in Camp Nowhere and The Secret World of Alex Mack (1994), but rose to prominence at 19, as the lead actress of the television series Dark Angel (2000–2002), for which she received a Golden Globe nomination.
Her big screen breakthrough came in Honey (2003). She soon established herself as a Hollywood actress, and has starred in numerous box office hits throughout her career, including Fantastic Four (2005), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), Good Luck Chuck (2007), The Eye (2008), Valentine’s Day (2010), Little Fockers (2010), and Mechanic: Resurrection (2016). She is a frequent collaborator of director Robert Rodriguez, having starred in Sin City (2005), Machete (2010), Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011), Machete Kills (2013), and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014).
Alba co-founded The Honest Company, a consumer goods company that sells baby, personal and household products. Magazines including Men’s Health, Vanity Fair and FHM have included her on their lists of the world’s most beautiful women.
Alba expressed an interest in acting from the age of five. In 1992, the 11-year-old Alba persuaded her mother to take her to an acting competition in Beverly Hills, where the grand prize was free acting classes. Alba won the grand prize, and took her first acting lessons. An agent signed Alba nine months later. Her first appearance on film was a small role in the 1994 feature Camp Nowhere as Gail. She was originally hired for two weeks but her role turned into a two-month job when one of the prominent actresses dropped out.
Alba appeared in two national television commercials for Nintendo and J. C. Penney as a child. She was later featured in several independent films. She branched out into television in 1994 with a recurring role as the vain Jessica in three episodes of the Nickelodeon comedy series The Secret World of Alex Mack. She then performed the role of Maya in the first two seasons of the television series Flipper. Under the tutelage of her lifeguard mother, Alba learned to swim before she could walk, and she was a PADI-certified scuba diver, skills which were put to use on the show, which was filmed in Australia.
In 1998, she appeared as Melissa Hauer in a first-season episode of the Steven Bochco crime-drama Brooklyn South, as Leanne in two episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210, and as Layla in an episode of Love Boat: The Next Wave. In 1999, she appeared in the Randy Quaid comedy feature P.U.N.K.S.. After Alba graduated from high school, she studied acting with William H. Macy and his wife, Felicity Huffman, at the Atlantic Theater Company, which was developed by Macy and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and film director, David Mamet. Alba rose to greater prominence in Hollywood in 1999 after appearing as a member of a snobby high school clique tormenting an insecure copy editor in the romantic comedy Never Been Kissed, opposite Drew Barrymore, and as the female lead in the little-seen comedy horror film Idle Hands, alongside Devon Sawa.
Worldwide recognition (2000–2006)
Her big break came when James Cameron picked Alba from a pool of over one thousand candidates for the role of the genetically engineered super-soldier, Max Guevara, on the FOX sci-fi television series Dark Angel. The series ran for two seasons until 2002 and earned Alba critical acclaim, a Golden Globe nomination, the Teen Choice Award for Choice Actress, and Saturn Award for Best Actress. Her role has been cited as a feminist character and is considered a symbol of female empowerment. Writing for the University of Melbourne, Bronwen Auty considered Max to be the “archetypal modern feminist hero —a young woman empowered to use her body actively to achieve goals”, citing Max’s refusal to use firearms and instead using martial arts and knowledge as weapons as contributing to this status. In 2004, Max was ranked at number 17 in TV Guide’s list of the “25 Greatest Sci-Fi Legends”. Her role in Dark Angel led to significant parts in films, she had her big screen breakthrough in 2003, when she starred as an aspiring dancer-choreographer in Honey. Rotten Tomatoes’ critical consensus was: “An attractive Jessica Alba and energetic dance numbers provide some lift to this corny and formulaic movie”. Budgeted at US18 million, the film, nevertheless, made US$62.2 million.
Alba next played exotic dancer Nancy Callahan, as part of a long ensemble cast, in the neo-noir crime anthology film Sin City (2005), written, produced, and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. It is based on Miller’s graphic novel of the same name. She had not heard about the novel prior to her involvement with the film, but was eager to work with Rodriguez. The film was a critical darling and grossed US$158.8 million. She received a MTV Movie Award for Sexiest Performance.
Alba portrayed the Marvel Comics character Invisible Woman in Fantastic Four (also 2005), alongside Ioan Gruffudd, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, and Julian McMahon. The Guardian, in its review for the film, noted: “Feminists and non-feminists alike must absorb the Fantastic Four most troubling paradox: having been admitted to the story on the grounds of her beauty, [Alba’s] superpower is to be invisible”. The film was a commercial success despite negative reviews, grossing US$333.5 million worldwide. At the 2006 MTV Movie Awards, she earned nominations for Best Hero and Best On-Screen Team. Her last 2005 film was the thriller Into the Blue, in which Alba portrayed, opposite Paul Walker, one half of a couple who find themselves in trouble with a drug lord after they come upon the illicit cargo of a sunken airplane. The film saw moderate box office returns, with a US$44.4 million worldwide gross. She hosted the 2006 MTV Movie Awards and performed sketches spoofing the movies King Kong, Mission: Impossible III, and The Da Vinci Code.
Romantic comedies (2007–2010)
Alba reprised her role in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, released in June 2007. According to Alba, Tim Story’s direction during an emotional scene almost made her quit acting. “[He told me] ‘It looks too real. It looks too painful. Can you be prettier when you cry? Cry pretty, Jessica.’ He was like, ‘Don’t do that thing with your face. Just make it flat. We can CGI the tears in.'” Said the newly self-doubting Alba: “And then it all got me thinking: Am I not good enough? Are my instincts and my emotions not good enough? Do people hate them so much that they don’t want me to be a person? Am I not allowed to be a person in my work? And so I just said, ‘Fuck it. I don’t care about this business anymore.'” The film US$290 million globally.
In Good Luck Chuck (also 2007), Alba portrayed the love interest of a womanizer dentist. She posed for one of the Good Luck Chuck’s theatrical posters parodying the well-known Rolling Stone cover photographed by Annie Leibovitz featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono in similar poses. While the film was heavily panned by critics, it made almost US$60 million upon its release. Her third starring vehicle in 2007 was the psychological thriller Awake, portraying the girlfriend of a billionaire man who is about to have a heart transplant. Reviews were lukewarm, but Roger Ebert praised her performance, and budgeted at around US8 million, the film made US$32.7 million. In 2007, she also made an uncredited appearance as herself in the comedy Knocked Up, and starred as a mistress in one segment of the independent anthology film The Ten. She earned two Razzie Award nominations for Worst Actress and Worst Screen Couple, for all of her 2007 leading roles.
In February 2008, she hosted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Science and Technical Awards. Alba made her acting transition to the horror genre in the film The Eye, a remake of the Hong Kong original, in which she obtained the role of a successful classical violinist who receives an eye transplant that allows her to see into the supernatural world. Though the film was not well received by critics, her performance itself received mixed reviews. She garnered a Teen Choice for Choice Movie Actress: Horror–Thriller and a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actress (shared with The Love Guru). In 2008, she also played a salesgirl in the independent romantic comedy Meet Bill, alongside Logan Lerman and Elizabeth Banks, and starred in the comedy The Love Guru, as a woman who inherits the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, opposite Mike Myers and Justin Timberlake. Mick LaSalle, of San Francisco Chronicle, noting that she was “prominently” in the film, felt that she “finally seems relaxed on camera”. The Love Guru was a critical and commercial flop.
While Alba did not have any film release in 2009, five high-profile films released throughout 2010 featured her in significant roles. Her first role in the year was that of a prostitute in The Killer Inside Me, an adaption of the book of the same name, opposite Kate Hudson and Casey Affleck, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, to polarized reactions from critics. Her next film was the romantic comedy Valentine’s Day, in which she played the girlfriend of a florist, as part of a long ensemble cast consisting of Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Taylor Lautner, Julia Roberts, among others. Despite negative reviews, the film was a commercial success, with a worldwide gross of US$216.5 million. In the action film Machete, Alba reunited with director Robert Rodriguez, taking on the role of an Immigrations Officer torn between enforcing the law and doing what is popular in the eyes of her family. Machete made over US$44 million globally.
The drama An Invisible Sign of My Own, which Alba filmed in late 2008, premiered at the Hamptons Film Festival. In it, she portrayed a painfully withdrawn young woman. Her last 2010 film was the comedy Little Fockers, in which she played an extrovert drug representative, reuniting with Robert De Niro, who was also in Machete. Despite negative reviews from critics, the film grossed over US$310 million worldwide. For all her 2010 roles, she received a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress.
Action and independent films (2011–present)
In 2011, Alba worked for the third time with Robert Rodriguez in the film Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, portraying a retired spy who is called back into action, and to bond with her new step-children, she invites them along. The film paled at the box office in comparison to the previous films in the franchise, but was still a moderate succcess, taking in US$85 million around the globe. Alba next appeared with Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Jane Lynch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Catherine O’Hara in the comedy A.C.O.D. (2013), portraying what Washington Post described as a “fellow child of divorce”, with whom Scott’s character “almost cheats on” her girlfriend. ScreenRant critic Ben Kendrick wrote: “[Winstead] and [Alba] also deliver in their contributions – though both of their characters are mainly designed to be mirrors for Carter to examine his own life and choices.” A.C.O.D. received a limited theatrical run in North America. In 2013, Alba also made her voice acting debut in the moderately successful animated film Escape from Planet Earth.
Alba worked once again with director Rodriguez for two film sequels. She reprised her role of an Immigration Officer, in an uncredited cameo appearance, in Machete Kills (2013), which flopped with critics and audiences, and her much larger role of stripper Nancy Callahan, seeking to avenge her late protector, in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which was released in August 2014, on 2D and 3D. Unlike the first film, A Dame to Kill For was a commercial failure, grossing US$39 million against its US$65 million production budget, and received mixed reviews from film critics. Variety felt it was a “late, limp attempt to turn Alba’s character from an exploited figure into an empowered one”. She next took on the roles of a cabaret show performer in the dramedy Dear Eleanor (2014), the athletic girlfriend of a successful and well-respected English professor in the romantic comedy Some Kind of Beautiful (2014), a receptionist at a limo company in the thriller Stretch (also 2014), an arms dealer in the crime comedy Barely Lethal (2015), and that of a documentary filmmaker in the horror film The Veil (2016); all films were released for limited theaters and VOD.
In the action film Mechanic: Resurrection (2016), alongside Jason Statham, Alba played the girlfriend of a retired hitman. She did Krav Maga to get into shape for the film, and was drawn to the strength her character exhibited, remarking: “I think for these types of movies you don’t often get to see the female romantic lead kind of kick butt. I mean it’s usually she’s being saved by the guy and so it’s nice that I got to come to the table with a toughness, and a real heart”. The film made US$125.7 million worldwide.