The women of Sin City: Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson & Brittany Murphy
A metropolis bled morally dry, Basin City (aka Sin City) is the site of three torrid tales based on books by Frank Miller. They follow several larger-than-life characters -- including those played by Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis and the late Brittany Murphy -- through their lives and, for some of them, their deaths. Each endures an urban nightmare of seedy alleys, strip clubs, cheap motel rooms and winding back roads to rescue, defend or avenge a woman.
Sin City: The story
Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is a no-nonsense cop who, after saving a little girl (Makenzie Vega) from a brutal child-rapist named Junior (Nick Stahl), is punished for his good deed and spends the next 10 years in a solitary prison cell. Once released, Hartigan has cause to thank heaven for the little girl who's grown up in the most delightful way: Nancy (Jessica Alba) is now a lasso-swinging exotic dancer who's fallen deeply in love with him.
Marv (Mickey Rourke) has a churlish countenance, but at his center has a heart of Goldie -- Goldie (Jaime King) being the pulchritudinous prostitute who was murdered after their one glorious night together. Marv makes it his quest to hunt down and kill her killer. This is the flagship story, and it's wonderfully infused with Rourke's pervading presence.
Another story in the anthology follows Dwight (Clive Owen), a red Converse-wearing, trench-coated Weegee-esque newspaper photographer who has a hand in committing a most unfortunate murder and then must go to great lengths (and depths!) to cover it up.
While the anthology ostensibly follows its male residents, Sin City would be dull indeed without its firecracker female characters. Following film noir and classic detective novel convention, the women are kicked as often as they're kissed -- but they give as good as they get. Dangerous dames line the city's highrise rooftops like beautiful but deadly gargoyles, protecting their turf from all comers. Tough cookies, hookers, strippers and cocktail waitresses abound, as do acerbic assassins, barely-clad gun-toting lesbians and the female trophies of a literal head-hunter.
I was lucky enough to have sit-down interviews with three of the Sin City women (see the video interviews here): Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Brittany Murphy.
Rosario Dawson as Gail
GAIL: She's the boss. Beautiful. Merciless. Any of the Old Town girls are hair-trigger ready to die -- or to kill -- for her. And they wind up doing both. Plenty of both. -- Frank Miller
Old Town's top panderer is played with fishnet panache by the ravishing Rosario Dawson. Without a doubt, Gail is -- as Clive Owen told me -- "The toughest cookie of them all." Rosario gleefully agrees. "All the women working in Old Town, take care of ourselves. What I liked about Gail is, that even though she is basically a pimp, she's still maternal. She tells [one of her girls], 'Make sure you dry your hair when you get home. I don't want you to catch cold.' But then when Dwight slaps her across the face, she fights back and she thinks it's sexy. I love that!"
I was curious about her outfit in the movie, which is basically just strategically-placed leather belts, a bit of fish net, and impossibly high heeled boots. Rosario chuckled at the memory of how excited the costume designer was at having found those boots, which have a piece of stiff leather running across the shin, over the knee and to her bare thigh. Of course, the costume designer didn't have to wear them. "I would just stand there on the set, because I could not bend my legs at all," she said -- obviously, it's easier to laugh about it now.
Gail and her girls reside in the darkest recesses of Sin City, where wind gusts through the shady alleyways and buffets the scantily clad prostitutes who swagger along the rooftop ledges. The whole town was created via the magic of green screen. "It was just incredible," said Rosario. "You're standing there in this outfit with wind machines going, and braced basically just by fishnets. But I trusted Robert [Rodriguez -- director, DP, co-writer, editor, etc.] and I was lucky because my segment came out on the very last part of shooting, so I was there three months into it and got to see a lot of the footage that was already shot. That way, I knew what to expect and just trusted Robert."
Jessica Alba as Nancy
NANCY: Imagine you find your way into the sleaziest saloon on the planet. The place stinks, with all the usual stinks. There's a stage. The lights come up. You expect the worst. Then out dances an Angel. Perfect. Graceful. Beautiful. A dream come true. Nancy. Nancy Callahan. She amazes. -- Frank Miller
While Jessica Alba plays an exotic dancer at the local seedy watering hole, her character is actually the most covered up. In the graphic novels, the incredibly well-endowed Nancy is completely nude save for her leather fringed chaps and her gun belt. In the R-rated film, those items are accessorized with skintight jeans and a fringed bra. Nancy dances in an outlandish, undulating manner, swinging a lasso and gazing through the hazy smoke of the crowded bar as if she were someplace else.
According to published reports, Jessica had agreed to play Nancy as drawn, but then backed out. According to Jessica herself, that wasn't the case. "Nudity was always an option," she said. "Robert told me that obviously it would have been more authentic, but I just felt like dancing around swinging a lasso and wearing chaps was going to be sexy enough." She recalled the snake dance that Salma Hayek did in Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn, and how sensual that was, while not showing a single naughty body part. "Being nude in Sin City, for me, would have been distracting and besides I really couldn't be bottomless because of my dad. He would disown me," she laughed.
Salaciousness aside, Jessica told me that the main reason she wanted to play Nancy was for the "pure, true love," she feels for Hartigan. "When we kissed, it was like I was just swept off my feet. He really was my knight in shining armor."
She also enjoyed looping the lasso above her head, and confirmed, "Yes, it's all in the wrist!" She said some cowboys in Austin, Texas (where the film was shot -- in Robert's hometown) taught her how to do it just right and that she practiced constantly, "like a big dork!"
Brittany Murphy as Shellie
SHELLIE: I ain't playing hard to get. I'm impossible to get. -- Frank Miller
Brittany Murphy's Shellie is a cocktail waitress in the bar where Nancy works. She doesn't have a huge back story, but she is unique in that she's the ribbon that weaves its way through all three Sin City vignettes. When I asked her if there was any pressure in knowing that Shellie is Frank Miller's favorite character from his books, she giggled and said she did not know that before he cast her, "So, no. No pressure!" In fact, she said there was never a moment of pressure on the shoot, her part of which only lasted two days.
She has scenes with nearly all the actors, but there is a particularly intense one with Benicio del Toro's hard-hitting Jackie Boy. "He was only there for a few days, too," Brittany told me. "Yep, long enough to dunk his head in a toilet, and he's outta there!" I joked, referring to a particularly nauseating scene in the movie.
Brittany said she was in "heaven" working with three great directors -- the master, Robert Rodriguez; the first-timer but expert on the material, Frank Miller; and the guest, Quentin Tarantino, who stopped by to lend a hand during one particularly memorable scene involving a disembodied head and a pack of Irish thugs.
Of Shellie, Brittany said, "She's not one of the hard Old Town girls, but she has adapted very well to the environment. She's sort of a throwback to the '30s or '40s era, which I love. I feel so honored and privileged to be a part of what I feel is film history."