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Jessica plays a blue valentine

In Hollywood, it's generally accepted that, when a female star is having trouble with her career, it's time to go away and have a baby. Having first come to our attention 10 years ago in the rather fine sci-fi action series Dark Angel -- the only TV project produced by the mighty James Cameron -- Jessica Alba struggled through some pretty poor movies before hitting the No1 spot as Susan Storm in 2005's Fantastic Four.

The young Californian hit the top spot once again with the comic-book heroes' second big-screen outing in 2007. The fact that both movies sucked didn't seem to bother the cinema-going public all that much. The fact that pretty much every other movie Jessica Alba was signing up for, such as Good Luck Chuck, Bill, Awake (all 2007), The Eye and The Love Guru (both 2008) all bombed at the box-office did, though.

By the time those last two little gems were being ignored all around the world, Alba was getting hitched to Cash Warren, a director's assistant on the first Fantastic Four outing, and the couple welcomed Honor Marie Warren 18 days later, on June 7, 2008. The first pics of Honor Marie appeared in OK! Magazine. For a reported $1.5m.

Alba is stepping back into the limelight this year though, after a quiet 2009 that saw her just take on one gig -- a single-episode cameo in the US version of The Office. With Sundance fave The Killer Inside Me due out later this year alongside a Meet The Fockers sequel, Alba launches her comeback with Garry Marshall's Valentine's Day. It's an ensemble romantic comedy that's pretty much Love Actually with all the spit and grit taken out.

Alba plays Morley, woken up at the start of the movie by her boyfriend, flower-shop owner Reed (Ashton Kutcher), holding a ring. By the end of the day, the ring and Morley are gone. In a movie full of meet-cute moments, Alba actually does get a little grit to play with.

When I met her at the Beverly Hilton in LA, Alba looked notably thin, but healthy and happy.

PAUL BYRNE: I always think, for an actor, the beauty of an ensemble piece is that you don't have to carry the movie and, if it sucks, you don't have to carry the blame. Was that the main attraction here?

JESSICA ALBA: [Laughs] That's exactly why I signed on. You know, frankly, I was just happy to work with Garry Marshall. And when I read the script, I was, like, how can this movie not work?

I mean, it shows every aspect. It's not, like, a big mushfest, and it's not like we're only concentrating on one certain demographic.

It shows from a little kid of 10 dealing with his big crush on Valentine's Day, to a couple who have been married for 50 years, so, it really spans across the board.

PB: Some of the characters in this movie live on Sesame Street, and everything works out pretty well for them, but your character pretty much ends up on Lonely Street. Was that tough, given all the happy, smiling couples surrounding you?

JA: You know, in the context of this movie, I probably had one of the more challenging journeys, but I loved the honesty of where Morley was at in her life. I feel that it was quite courageous of Garry to show a woman who is making tough decisions, and sticking by them.

I feel that a lot of people would shy away from something like that, but he didn't, and I love that.

PB: Like me, you're an incredibly good-looking person -- so, I'm assuming you've never, ever had a Valentine's Day alone and cardless.

JA: I have.

PB: Outrageous.

JA: [Laughs] Sure. The only way you can appreciate love, really, is by getting your heart broken.

PB: That must make it even more surreal when you're winning poll after poll for being the most desirable girl on the planet. Does that still catch you unawares, especially now that you're a happily married mum?

JA: I have always felt completely removed from that aspect of it, to be quite honest [laughs]. I hang out with my family and my friends, who don't care what I do for a living. I mean, they're proud of me and everything, but I could be a school teacher, I could be doing anything, and they'd still love me, so, it's always a little bit weird [laughs], from the outside.

PB: Becoming a parent usually puts careers -- even glittering and glamorous ones -- into a new perspective. How was it for you?

JA: Yeah, having my daughter certainly shifted my priorities completely, and now it's about giving her the best life that I possibly can. Yeah, she's No1, so, I try to find a balance between work and motherhood, and it's challenging. But everyone does it [laughs].

PB: Last time we talked, you hadn't made it to Ireland. Been since?

JA: No, I haven't yet.

PB: Not good enough. You're a jetsetting superstar, Ireland should be top of your list.

JA: I want to go. My sister-in-law and my nanny, who is her sister, are all going in May. They're going to do a 10-day road trip. I should try and jump on that bus . . .

Valentine's Day hits Irish cinemas on Friday