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“No silver spoon, no nepotism, no ease…” Jessica Alba on her uphill path to success

As she makes her return to acting with a lead role in kick-ass cop drama L.A.’s Finest, JESSICA ALBA reveals how growing up different from other kids and being told there was “no chance” a Mexican American woman would headline a movie gave her the drive to prove everyone wrong…

Blouse Dôen; shorts Alexander Wang; necklace Alighieri; (right hand) ring Spinelli Kilcollin

“I grew up with a chip on my shoulder because I wasn’t like other kids – I was sick all the time and spent an unnatural amount of time in and out of hospitals. Which meant, by school age, I was more comfortable with adults than my peers. My parents were young when they had my brother and I, and they did what they could to get by. My father joined the Air Force so he could provide for us and get a higher education. I definitely grew up in a home where we were living paycheck to paycheck; both of my parents were juggling up to three jobs each. I was lucky that my grandparents were super involved in helping raise us whenever my parents needed the extra hands or financial help when times got tough.

My dad got out of the military when I was nine and we moved in with my grandparents in a middle-class town in LA called La Verne. I heard about a talent competition over the radio that was being held at the Hilton Hotel near LAX. My mom, my aunt, my aunt’s sister, her boyfriend, my four cousins and brother all auditioned to get the scholarship because obviously we couldn’t afford to pay for the classes and we all thought that maybe we could be ‘discovered’. We would dig for change in the couches or I would sneak into purses and pockets of any pants or jackets in the house to pay for stuff. We did that to pay for gas and food for the journey to the Hilton Hotel. All of us piled into a car we affectionately called ‘the Boat’ that would randomly backfire; it was a hand-me-down from my grandparents. That’s how I got my foot in the door as an actress; I won the prize that gave me a scholarship to an acting and modeling school when I was 11.

To folks in the business, I was ethnically ambiguous or ‘exotic’ (they couldn’t wrap their heads around me being Mexican). I didn’t have a cheery, out-going demeanor; I didn’t have any contacts in Hollywood; and I looked older than my age – often getting mistaken for an adult by age 12. I was consistently told by casting directors, agents, managers, actors, producers and directors that there was no way I could be a leading lady and no chance I’d be able to be a bankable box-office draw. I didn’t fit the bill, and the few child actors that could parlay into a career as an adult were slim to none. The women that could headline a movie just didn’t look like me. They aren’t mixed Mexican Americans… that’s just not happening. I had 1000 nos for every yes. But I hustled, dreamed, resisted and managed to push doors open and pave my own lane – without reinforcing stereotypes of Latinas. Also, I had a modesty that was shocking for Hollywood at the time: I got chewed out by many folks on various productions for not being onboard to show nudity. What can I say – it just wasn’t my thing.

That’s my chip. I’ve navigated Hollywood and now business with a strategic mindset, because I have no safety net. I had to create the reality I wanted to live; starting as a dream then creating a strategy to get there. No silver spoon in the mouth, no nepotism, no ease.”

Read Jessica Alba’s cover story

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