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Mendes appeared nude in an ad for Calvin Klein's Secret Obsession perfume. Since there was exposure of her nipples in the ad, it was banned from airing in the United States.
Mendes was born in Miami, Florida to Cuban parents, and was raised in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale. Raised a Roman Catholic, she planned to become a nun.
She attended California State University, Northridge to study marketing, but dropped out to persue an acting career. Before her “big break,” she sold ‘Hot Dog on a Stick’ at Glendale Galleria Mall.
Her first film appearance was in the direct-to-video Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror. Mendes was "so ashamed" by her performance in the film that she decided to hire an acting coach so that she wouldn't "squirm" when watching herself in future roles. In this period of her career, she also starred in A Night at the Roxbury, Mortal Kombat: Conquest, My Brother the Pig, The Disciples, Urban Legends: Final Cut and Exit Wounds.
Mendes' breakthrough role came when she appeared in Training Day as the girlfriend of Denzel Washington's character. That performance led to roles in All About the Benjamins, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Once Upon a Time in Mexico (which earned her a nomination at the Teen Choice Awards), Out of Time and Stuck on You. She was the female lead in the 2005 comedy Hitch opposite Will Smith. They were the first minority actors to play leads in a hit romantic comedy.
Eva then starred in The Wendell Baker Story, Guilty Hearts, Trust the Man, and Ghost Rider. In 2007, she starred in We Own the Night, Live! and Cleaner. In 2008, she received a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress for her performance in The Women.
She next starred in The Spirit, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Other Guys, Last Night and Fast Five. In August 2010, Mendes appeared in a Funny or Die video spoof, selling her "S.E.X. tape." She also sang for the Funny or Die music video "Pimps Don't Cry," a song featured in The Other Guys, released on August 6, 2010.
In 2012, Eva Mendes was featured in the PBS documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. She visited Sierra Leone to speak with rape victims and raise awareness of the problems in the area.
Mendes appeared in Will Smith's video "Miami" and the Pet Shop Boys' music video for "Se a vida é (That's the way life is)" in 1996 and Aerosmith's video "Hole in My Soul" in 1997. She also appeared in the video for The End Has No End by The Strokes in 2004.
Mendes was voted as No. 4 in the 2008 edition, and No. 1 in the 2009 edition, of AskMen.com's Top 99 Most Desirable Women. Maxim ranked Mendes #7 in its 2007 Hot 100 issue. She also made her second Maxim cover in the November 2007 issue. Maxim ranked Mendes #11 in its 2010 Hot 100 issue. People named her one of 2012 Most Beautiful at Every Age.
In 2010, Mendes dueted with Cee Lo Green on a song entitled "Pimps Don't Cry. In 2011, she recorded a version of "The Windmills of Your Mind."
Mendes is an avid follower of transcendental meditation.