Jessica Alba is dancing in her next movie, but it's not just for the dollars.
If the former "Dark Angel" star has anything to say about it, "Honey" will be a meaty mile-marker amid the foamy sea of teen fodder being hawked by Hollywood.
"Everybody knows that this type of thing, if it does well, everybody's gonna wanna go watch it because teen movies [are slight and successful]," Alba said of "Honey," which she begins shooting in September. "But I'm not interested in making money just for money's sake. I'm interested in making a statement and doing something that's for real, that I can be proud of."
In "Honey," Alba plays the title character, a tough city girl with dreams of opening a dance studio (see "Lil' Romeo, Jessica Alba To Star In Inner-City Musical"). Alba, who costarred with Devon Sawa ("Final Destination") and Seth Green ("Austin Powers in Goldmember") in the 1999 teen horror flick "Idle Hands," said she initially shied away from "Honey" because "originally it was written with, like, a motorcycle and lots of slang that just didn't make any sense to me," she explained. "It kind of [felt] like a teen movie, and I'm not into teen movies. I was sort of exploring doing an action movie or something like that, [but] it's hard to find the right one."
Alba began to consider the cultural impact that "Honey" could have, and in particular, thought about Jennifer Beals and 1983's landmark "Flashdance."
"I was just like, 'You know what? There is no "Flashdance" right now,' " she recalled. "You can say 'Save the Last Dance' was something similar to that, but it really wasn't. ... And you don't have ethnic girls that are the stars of a lot of movies right now. I had Janet Jackson and I had Paula Abdul they were my icons when I was a kid."
To Alba, dancing is integral to the very fabric of civilization, and it's something that's been trivialized in contemporary pop culture.
"There's something about dancing and movement that's really beautiful," she said. "In every culture they have dancing as a part of their thing. From Africa to Malaysia to Germany, there's some sort of dance. I just think it's a beautiful way to express yourself, and it's about time [there was a movie about it]. There's no 'Fame,' there's no 'Flashdance.' It's been over 10, 15 years since something like that happened.
"It was just so much fun when I was a kid," she continued. "Music videos these days are so 'hoochie' and girls in bikinis shaking their ass. Or it's like Britney Spears-type girls, who she's a very talented girl and she works, I'm sure, very hard at what she does but she's just sex. It's all sex. And there's no real dance to it. So I'm hoping that maybe this can kind of bleed into that world and inspire people to do some more dancing."
For "Honey," Alba is teaming up with video director Bille Woodruff, whose recent credits include Nelly's "Hot in Herre." Alba said that Mekhi Phifer ("O") just agreed to be her leading man. Lil' Romeo also has a role in the film.
"He's a sweetheart," Alba said of the preteen rapper. "He hasn't blown up too big yet in the industry, and he still has something to say."
Alba, who started acting at 12, said that she "always had a little secret passion to be a dancer," but that her family's economic status and geographical instability prevented her from taking any classes. For "Honey," she's already started training seven hours a day in both dance and Tae Bo.
"I thought training for 'Dark Angel' was hard," she said, laughing. "You know, you quickly forget the pain. I forgot how painful it all was. Now it's all coming back!"
Now that "Dark Angel" is off the air, fans could potentially seek solace in "The Sleeping Dictionary," a film Alba finished about two years ago in which she portrays an Iban girl who becomes involved with an English diplomat in 1920s Malaysia. Unfortunately, they won't be seeing it anytime soon.
"It's not coming out," Alba said. "It's a really good thing. It didn't turn out to be the movie that we all thought it was gonna be. I had a great experience and I learned a lot. But you know, some things are just meant to be an experience. And I think that's one of them."
Though Alba called the recent cancellation of her Fox TV series "a surprise," she's similarly philosophic about the experience.
"I'm 21," she said. "I don't feel like ['Dark Angel'] was the beginning or the end of my world. I believe that I worked my ass off before I got to that point. And everything came at the right time. And I love [creator/director] Jim Cameron. He's amazing. We have very similar personalities when it comes to our stubbornness and our singular vision. I just bonded with him and I understand him as a filmmaker and I respect him.
"If nothing else, I got to work with one of the best directors of our time," she said of Cameron, famed for classics such as "The Terminator" and "Titanic." "I was so stoked about that, because you get quite jaded in this business. I actually want to make a movie that's about something. I believe in the process, in making real stories, and Jim does too."
Alba said she's committed to making "Honey" as authentic as possible, and she's also expecting the film to have a killer soundtrack. ("I personally like Timbaland as a producer," she said. "I think he's amazing.") If Alba has her way, she'll get a very special supporting actress as well.
"I'd love to sneak Jennifer Beals into it," she said. "She's just so great!"
"Honey" is projected to have a summer 2004 release.