Jennifer Lopez: The Wow
Beautiful and bodacious Jennifer Lopez is full of surprises, not the least of which are raging talent and a two-million dollar price tag. Here, the actress who seems to have burst out of nowhere into stardom explains why she gets roles Sandra Bullock doesn't, describes how Wesley Snipes wouldn't give it a rest, and reveals that Oliver Stone smells like "spicy lavender."
Arriving exactly on time for my interview with Jennifer Lopez, I am escorted through the interior of a luxurious Beverly Hills mansion where she's staying, out onto a sun-drenched terrace. There, as if I had strolled onto the set of Imitation of Life, I find all 66 caramel-colored inches of Jennifer Lopez lying face down on a poolside chaise. Her bikini top is slightly loosened, her nether regions are towel-draped, and a masseuse is kneading oil into the precipitous peaks and valleys of her formidable body. Her skin glints as if it were flecked with 24-karat gold. I park myself on a nearby chaise, and Lopez greets me with the slow, languid smile and half-mast gaze of someone not entirely anxious to surface from a better-than-life dream. "Hi, Stephen," she says. "I'll be with you in a second." Then, responding to the masseuse's skillful ministrations, her lips part in sensual abandon, and she turns her head away, sending her hair cascading over the side of the chaise.
This classic Hollywood star tableau has, of course, been orchestrated by Lopez for my benefit. She knows that I know that she knows that I know the whole scene is deliberate, right down to the supporting players--assistants, various friends, family--arranged here and there around the pool, ready to do a star's bidding. Included in this artfully arranged backdrop is model and restaurateur Ojani Noa, Lopez's husband of roughly a year, who, in a muscle T-shirt and sunglasses, is splashing water into the pool from a garden hose. "Sweetie, Steve and I won't be able to hear each other," says Lopez, as she turns and finally begins to ready herself for something other than rubbing. Issuing one last, voluptuous "Mmmm," she rises slowly from her chaise, grins at me, adjusts her bikini top, tightens the towel around her midsection, rakes her fingers through her hair, and slides onto an adjacent lounge chair for our chat.
That Lopez has dared to try and pull off such a time-honored Hollywood gambit as Rising-Star-Interviewed-By-The-Pool is in keeping with her overall strategy of playing Big. Big is Jennifer Lopez's forte. In the flesh, this girl packs a startling, sloe-eyed, tawny, womanly allure reminiscent of vintage-era movie voluptuaries. Ava Gardner and Linda Darnell spring to mind. To match such visual opulence, Lopez comes diva-sized in style, self-regard and ambition--for which she makes no apologies.
Nor should she. Lopez is right this second popping Hollywood's thermometer like no other new girl in town. In the space of only two years, she muscled out of TV flicks and sitcoms and into showy feature roles with Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes in Money Train, with Robin Williams in Francis Ford Coppola's Jack, and with Jack Nicholson in Blood and Wine. She chased those with a star turn in the title role of Selena, and came through with a big box-office success in Anaconda. Then she followed that up by taking the role Sharon Stone almost played in Oliver Stone's noir item, U-Turn, after which she landed the lead opposite George Clooney in Out of Sight, the upcoming sexy action thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh. As that picture wrapped, she was back in the news for winning the lead in Kiss the Girls director Gary Fleder's next project, Thieves.
"So, what's your theory about why you, why right now?" I ask her as an opening shot.
"Because I'm the best," Lopez declares, laughing in delight at her own chutzpah. "I feel I can do anything--any kind of role. I'm fearless." A fearless Hollywood actress? Can I actually be hearing right? "I work really hard," answers Lopez. "I'll just get better as I go along because I'm open to getting better. If you have the goods, there's nothing to be afraid of. If somebody doesn't have the goods, they're insecure. I don't have that problem. I'm not the best actress that ever lived, but I know I'm pretty good."
Lopez's theory of nothing-to-fear-but-fear-itself is more elaborately worked out than it sounds on first hearing. "I have the 'stardom glow,'" she confides warmly. The what? "See, I grew up watching real movie stars--Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe. Glamorous women like those are why I wanted to get into the business. And from the time I first started off as an actress, each day I had an audition, I'd wake up, do my hair and my makeup, look at myself in the mirror and say, 'I have the stardom glow today.' A lot of people go into meetings and auditions all nervous. No! You've got to have WOW! I tell my actress friends this all the time. I walk into auditions going, 'What's gonna make me different from all the other girls here?' They're looking for the next star to walk into that room. It's about being alive, open, electric, confident. That's the 'wow.'
"My older sister and I both started out in musical theater," Lopez continues. "She has a great voice and she had more of a chance of making it than I did. But she couldn't take the rejection. You have to get up there and say, 'You like me?' And if they say, 'No,' it's like, 'OK. Fuck you! Next? How about you? Do you like me? Or you? Or you?' Eventually somebody will say 'Yes' and that's your opportunity to shine, to turn on the star glow."
Lopez is faster, funnier and prettier than Anthony Robbins, and she outdoes even him as a one-person self-motivation/fan club/cheering section. This bravura is quite charming in person, not to mention refreshing after all the false modesty that masks egomania in Hollywood. But the real reason Lopez can get away with her Bigness routine is that she is good. Self-styled, premeditated divadom is rarely accompanied by genuine acting ability, but Lopez brings talent, and more, to the party. She made an incandescent, heartbreakingly accessible Selena and, in U-Turn, she packed a volatile vulnerability and a jeez-what-will-she-do-next? jolt into her femme fatale, not to mention pitch-perfect Apache cadences.
Oddly enough, Lopez did just about everything an actress could do to avoid taking a U-Turn. Bad blood left over from a casting session she'd had years ago for Stone's never-filmed Manuel Noriega project left her unwilling to talk to the director about any project. "The minute I began reading this long, four-page scene," she recounts of her earlier meeting with Stone, "he started walking around the room. Then he began rearranging the furniture. I'm like, 'What is he doing? This is so rude.' Well, he rearranged his entire office, and when I finished, the casting director said, 'Oliver?' and he turns and goes, 'Oh--um, OK. So you're a regular on that TV series? And I go, 'Yeah.' And I left. I told my manager, 'I've never been treated like this and I never want to work for Oliver Stone.'"