by Lisa Rose

The Star-Ledger

Thursday December 18, 2008,

Glamorous, enigmatic and cutthroat in a literal way, the women in films and graphic novels from Frank Miller tend to be a bit more, er, proactive than typical comic genre female characters.

“The Spirit,” opening Christmas Day, features Eva Mendes as a jewel thief/ace swimmer named Sand Saref. She co-stars with Scarlett Johansson as murderous scientist Silken Floss and Paz Vega as knife-wielding belly dancer Plaster of Paris.

Based on a 1940 comic by Will Eisner, the picture is the sole directorial debut from Miller who co-directed his graphic novel adaptation of “Sin City” with Robert Rodriguez. The writer’s swords-and sandals epic “300” has also been made into a hit film.

The title character (Gabriel Macht) is a masked misfit for whom death is a curable condition. He battles a fashionable nemesis called the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson).

On paper, Sand Saref could seem a type, a woman fixated with diamonds. Mendes says, however, that the character’s neurotic need for shiny things is more than simple materialism.

This is the Cuban-American star’s second appearance in a comic book adaptation, following her performance in “Ghost Rider” as a journalist in love with the engine-revving hero (Nicolas Cage). At 34, she has a list of credits that ranges from early roles in music videos to big parts in comedies — “Hitch” — and dramas — “We Own the Night.”

LIONSGATEEva Mendes in “The Spirit,” opening Christmas Day.

We sat down for a chat with Mendes — looking fab in a strapless dress — during a “Spirit” press day at a New York hotel last weekend.

Q: Frank Miller is such an interesting visual stylist, how would you describe his technique working with the cast, helping you work on the characters?

A: He was very specific. Sometimes, when he was trying to communicate something to me about a scene, he would draw it out for me. In two seconds, he’d draw me as Sand Saref. I was like, “Can you sign that for me?”

Q: Did you get to keep any of them?

A: I kept a couple.

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