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Jessica Alba on Getting Her Head Smashed in The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside Me, Michael Winterbottom’s chilling adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1952 novel, stars Casey Affleck as a murderous sociopath and Jessica Alba as a prostitute with whom he shares a sadomasochistic relationship and eventually kills. Like, really, really kills, by beating to a pulp. It’s all very gruesome and un–Jessica Alba–like, who’s best known for her turns as a hot superhero in The Fantastic Four movies and the hot love interest in movies like The Love Guru and Good Luck Chuck. We spoke to Alba in advance of tomorrow’s limited release of The Killer Inside Me, and covered topics like violence in movies, how becoming a mother has affected her work, and getting her face bashed in onscreen.

So I watched the movie last night alone … at home … late at night …

Oh no! That must have put you in a happy-go-lucky mood. Like, I just want to do cartwheels around the living room now!

I do not recommend it. What are the different reactions to the movie that you’re getting?

Most people are just, like, “That was intense.” But everyone understood what it was — it’s an adaptation of a Jim Thompson pulp-fiction novel, and so knew what to expect going in. My friends were probably the most taken aback, because they don’t usually watch indie movies, and they have certainly never seen me portrayed like this. They were trying to get images out of their head for awhile.

I actually had to cover my eyes when your character was getting killed. But I heard what was going on.

Oh, I know, you’re like, “Uhhhhhhgggg.”

What were your thoughts when you read that scene?

I think we’re so used to watching death portrayed in a much more glamorous or glorified way. It’s usually a hero who comes in and he’s chopping someone’s head off or shooting somebody, but you don’t really get to see how horrific death can be. So this is the ying to the yang of how death and killing is usually portrayed in pop culture.

This movie is a departure for you. You usually do big-budget, audience-friendly films.

I know, but after I had my daughter, I wanted to concentrate on doing movies with good directors. For the past eight years, I’ve worked with, primarily, first-time directors with the exception of Robert Rodriquez [for Sin City], where the directors were still trying to figure out their thing, more or less. And it’s different when you work with someone more experienced. After I had my kid I was like, Gosh, as an artist it’ll be so much more fulfilling to work with directors who can pull a performance out of me.

So how did Winterbottom pull this one out of you?

Luckily, it was only confined to four days and I just went for it. And it was scary and horrific and awful. I think the film is perfect in the way he portrayed the novel; in a weird way, it’s similar to Sin City, how Robert really brought to life Frank Miller.

Some critics have complained about the excessive violence in the movie, especially against women.

But it’s a Jim Thompson novel about a sociopathic killer who’s a coward! I think the detail that went into the killing of the women is actually showing how weak he is, because he’s preying on the people who loved him the most. I think a lot of people also want everything to be shiny happy people, and they want killing to be a sexy guy with his shirt off blowing guys’ heads off. This just shows how horrifying it is, which is responsible, actually.

You’ve said that it’s frustrating to be thought of only in terms of your pretty face. In this movie, that pretty face gets hit until it’s deformed. Was that part of your thinking in taking the part?

[Laughs.] Yeah, maybe that’s why I was drawn to it. It’s like, Really? This is all I have, okay, I’m going to get rid of this. Now how do you like me? Now you’re getting into why I act. Now you’re getting into the catharsis. That might be some sort of subliminal thing. I wasn’t like, I’m going to show them! It was more like, Oh, that’s a statement.

You mentioned that your work changed after your daughter was born. How so?

If I’m going to be away from her, it needs to be worth it. I don’t want to be away from her doing some big silly movie where I’m running around in a leotard shooting people for six months. I’m not saying I’ll never do that, but right now, that’s not where my head’s at.

You’re in Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, for which he recently released a trailer playing on Arizona’s immigration law …

Robert is hilarious. Honestly, we made that movie a year ago, when none of this had happened yet. But I just love that he did that.

Jessica Alba on Getting Her Head Smashed in The Killer Inside Me