Drop… Dead… Gorgeous…

Finally, a Cuban-American who can replace our tattered Scarface posters. Star of the film Ghost Rider, Eva Mendes is beautiful enough to steal our hearts and tough enough to kick our asses. And if she did, we’d like it.

Check out her Girls of Maxim gallery!

You grew up in Silver Lake, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. Do all the girls from L.A. want to be actresses?
It’s strange growing up in a city where everyone is an “aspiring blank”—writer, singer, actor. I didn’t want to be that. I wanted to go into art history. Acting fell into my lap when a neighbor took pictures of me and showed them to an agent. Then I found an acting coach and worked my butt off. I did my share of bad jobs. And bad performances. I’m no Meryl Streep now, but I was awful when I started.

We thought you rocked in Children of the Corn V
I was awful in Children. It was my first movie, and I hadn’t acted since being the fairy godmother in fourth grade. I’m not fishing for a compliment, but C5, as I call it, was a disaster.

Though, that disaster featured your first on-screen kiss.
Oh, my God, it was with a really cute guy. They wanted to make it steamier, and I said, “I can’t!” It was the most awkward thing. I was so nervous and thinking too much. When you kiss somebody in front of a camera, it’s really nerve-racking.

Since then you’ve done a lot of on-screen kissing. Has it become any more comfortable?
I’ve been lucky. All the guys I’ve worked opposite are amazing. I’d be blind as a bat not to have chemistry with Johnny Depp [Once Upon a Time in Mexico], Will Smith [Hitch], or Denzel Washington [Training Day]. Everybody has something sexy about them. You have to look a little bit harder with some guys, but most of the time it’s all right there.

Have your costars given you good advice about Hollywood?
Will Smith taught me the importance of doing press. Everywhere we went people were going nuts for him. Women would give their babies to him. People trust him and love him so much. I would normally go into a little shell, but he taught me to be gracious and embrace it. He’s probably one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Denzel took me in. He knew that I was scared, and he made me feel protected. Not only did I do full frontal nudity in Training Day but I also exposed myself emotionally and physically.

In your new movie, Ghost Rider, Nicolas Cage’s character sells his soul to the devil. Is there anything you would sell your soul for?
I feel like I sell my soul a little bit every day in this business. It’s a barter system. You take certain roles you don’t want on the assumption that it will pay off somewhere down the line.

Did Satan force you to play Roxanne in Ghost Rider?
When I took the role, I didn’t have a script. But I trusted the director, Mark Steven Johnson, and I told him, “Please don’t make me the chick who has nothing to do.” And he didn’t. He created a modern role for me in a great superhero movie.

The flick is nonstop action. How did you manage to keep your energy up on set?
I recently had a Red Bull problem. I found myself maniacally drinking it. I was up to seven a day. I was all wired by the time I got home. I don’t recommend it. Then Red Bull contacted me, and was like, “We want to send you a mini-fridge.” I was like, “No, please! I love you, but you can’t!” It’s like giving a crack addict free crack.

As Roxanne you’re more voluptuous than normal—not that we’re complaining…
I wanted to make comic book fans happy. The original Roxanne was blonde and blue-eyed, but she also had huge bajoongas. If I gain weight it goes to my boobs and butt. I figured since I can’t be blonde and blue-eyed, I’ll at least have her bra size. So the bajoongas got big. They were out of control.

Nice to know every girl in your line of work isn’t obsessed with her weight.
I don’t complain about gaining weight. It was actually a lot of fun. Nic lost so much weight for the movie. He’s so focused. I was like, “You’re so ripped right now.” I love my body. I believe in cherishing myself as a woman. But I don’t want to come off like I’m this totally in-control person, because I’m definitely not.

You mean you’ve got flaws? Give us one.
I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. I like a man to be smarter than me so I can learn from him. I like a superintellectual with an edge. Having an edge means not always abiding by the rules. I like a little danger. A little mischief.

What kind of mischief do you get into with your Hollywood girlfriends, like Cameron Diaz and Jessica Simpson?
Jessica is a beautiful person. She’s the best texter I’ve ever met. She’s hysterical. I love Cameron. She did this show Trippin’ on MTV, and we went to Nepal. If I were a guy I’d ask Cameron to marry me. She’s got the greatest spirit, and she has the cutest, tightest butt. Her butt is so cute I can’t take it. And she’s also a world-class belcher. I’m not gonna lie. She totally outbelches me.

How would you go about wooing Cameron? Do you believe in old-fashioned courtship?
I don’t push the romance thing. If I like you, I like you. If you like me, you like me.

Besides Nepal, what’s your favorite place to go on vacation?
I like a hot beach. There’s nothing sexier or more relaxing than being in a little bikini in the middle of nowhere with the sun beating down on you—like in a Corona commercial.

Bikinis. Bajoongas. You obviously enjoy being feminine, but there’s also a toughness that comes across in most of your on-screen characters.
It’s funny. People think I’m tough because of the characters I play. There’s a scene in Ghost Rider where I fire a shotgun and blow off a demon’s head. I put on my mean face and pretend to be badass by doing my imitation of Clint Eastwood. In real life I’m not tough. I’m more of a cuddle bug than a tough sex goddess. I may look like a bad girl, but I’m just built that way. I’m actually a good girl.

You’re not a huge paparazzi target. Do some stars secretly want to be in the tabloids?
I think so. If you go to the Ivy [restaurant in L.A.], you’re going to get your picture taken, so don’t go there if you don’t want your picture taken. I don’t put myself out there. The events I go to are either work-related or a situation where I’m supporting a friend’s film. I choose to hang out in places where nobody cares.

You’ve been in ads for YouthAIDS. How’d you get involved?
I saw the YouthAIDS campaign with Salma Hayek a few years ago and thought, What a beautiful image. It shows how advertising can really work. A lot of my energy goes into a charity called the Art of Elysium. It brings art into the drab hospital rooms of children. You have one-on-one interaction—finger painting, singing—with kids who are battling diseases. It’s an amazing connection with these beautiful little beings. It’s good for the soul.