Jessica Alba, 29, isn’t interested in being stereotyped. As a result, in the past, she’s stayed away from portraying Hispanic characters. "For me, I never wanted to reinforce any stereotypes about Latin women, and that was why I’ve shied away from Latin characters I’ve been offered. Most of them reinforced the stigmas,” the half-Mexican actress told USA Today. But in Robert Rodriguez’s new film Machete, opening today, Alba will play Santana, an immigration and customs enforcement officer.

Alba, who starred in Rodriguez’ 2005 movie Sin City as the tough stripper Nancy Callahan, was quick to point out that “the women whom I grew up with are intelligent, strong women, and unless I read a woman being portrayed that way in a film, I didn’t want to play it.” Luckily, Santana is, in her words, "an intelligent, fierce, independent woman." Machete, which is co-directed by Ethan Maniquis and also stars Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan and Cheech Marin, follows the renegade Federale Machete as he hunts down the men responsible for betraying him, using the same exploitation movie style as Rodriguez’ 2007 flick Grindhouse.

According to Alba, her character is "just as fierce as the men, and so I’m proud to bring that to life and put that imagery in people’s heads." Part of Alba’s determination to play strong women stems from her other major role — that of a mother to daughter Honor Warren, 2. "Before, my priority was very business-driven and business-oriented, and now it’s about evolving as an actor more than anything,” she said, “And, it’s like, if I’m not going to spend time with my daughter, it has to be worth it." —AMY LEE

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