Jennifer Love Hewitt: Love's Story
America's sweetheart has had some sour experiences recently, but she's not one to dwell on anything negative. Here Jennifer Love Hewitt talks about the whole deal with Carson Daly, the stress of her failed TV series, the challenge of getting in touch with grown-up sexuality on the big screen in Heartbreakers and the joy of being cast opposite actors like Sigourney Weaver, Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin.
The last time I interviewed Jennifer Love Hewitt, or "Love" as she's known to her family and friends, she was 19 and well-regarded as one of Hollywood's sweetest, hardest-working, most successful world-on-a-platter girls. She was starring in the sequel to the hit I Know What You Did Last Summer, she was about to play Audrey Hepburn in a TV biomovie she was also producing, she was preparing to spread her wings as star/producer of "Party of Five"'s spinoff "Time of Your Life" and her production company, Love Spell, had sold New Line Cinema on a romantic comedy idea she herself had helped to hatch. Her lucrative contract with Neutrogena was keeping her smiling, fresh-faced features in heavy rotation on TV and in magazines as a steady affirmation of her enormous appeal. And as if all that weren't enough, on the personal front she seemed to have MTV personality Carson Daly under a heavy Love spell.
In the last couple of years, though, the golden girl has acquired some tarnish. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer did well enough, but was hardly the sensation the original film had been. The Audrey Hepburn Story received a lukewarm response. Worst of all, low ratings got the plug pulled on "Time of Your Life." Then Hewitt's romance went south and Daly bad-mouthed her to the press, then proceeded to romance Tara Reid, to whom he's now engaged. And to top things off, Hewitt's romantic comedy project got nixed for being too similar in concept to a film already going into production, Jennifer Lopez's The Wedding Planner. Had a love spell so quickly become a dry spell?
Now 21, Hewitt is about to star in a grown-up comedy she hopes will leave her growing pains behind. In Heartbreakers, she plays the sexed-up con woman daughter of an equally larcenous mom (Sigourney Weaver) who makes a living out of hooking up with men. After that Hewitt will star as Satan in strappy heels in the remake of The Devil and Daniel Webster, which also stars Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, who'll direct.
Hewitt has a lot riding on the success of these projects, but when I meet her at a restaurant in Santa Monica, she shows no signs of impending anxiety and no inclination to see her recent difficulties as anything but water under the bridge.
STEPHEN REBELLO: From what I hear, you get to do some very sexy things in your new film, Heartbreakers.
JENNIFER LOVE HEWITT: [Laughing] I spent the first day of shooting in a tiny dress, six-inch heels and shoulder-length strawberry red hair, which was attached to my costar Ray Liotta's crotch for--well, let's say a lengthy amount of time. My grandmother came to the set and asked my mother, "Where's Love? I can't see her," and mom answered, "She's...umm...down under the camera attached to Ray Liotta's crotch." To which grandmother responded, "Oh...OK. Well, that's special. I really don't want to know what this movie's about." [Laughs] She hasn't brought it up since.
Q: Did you feel comfortable being so sexy?
A: I was terrified. My biggest preparation for this movie was learning how to be comfortable in my skin. At 21, you don't even know what your skin is. David Mirkin, the director, had arranged a lot of shots where I was to walk in a door and the place was supposed to just stop cold. We had to do take after take because I'd speed it up or look down on the ground, and he had to constantly say, "Walk really slow" or "Make eye contact" and I'd say, "Mirkin, I'm so embarrassed right now with all these people staring at me. What do you want me to do?" I couldn't get comfortable with it. Two weeks into rehearsal, he finally said, "Whether it's true in real life or not, on this movie, everyone thinks you're sexy. If you don't believe it, neither will we." So I had to remember that for those eight seconds, I commanded the room.
Q: Sounds like in real life you don't believe you're sexy.
A: In truth, I don't really feel like I'm a sexy person. When people say things about my looks my honest response is, "What? Are you on medication? That's just nuts." But I walked away from this movie thinking it's OK to feel sexy. I've figured out how to be comfortable in my skin. I can see the headline now [laughing]--David Mirkin helped me discover my sexuality! That sounds so dorky, but it's true.
Q: So now that you feel like a more mature woman, are you going to stop saying things like, "I've made a promise to myself that the one thing I'm never going to do is grow up"? A: No, because what I meant when I said that is I never want to stop having fun. Feeling sexy is about being confident.
Q: Speaking of confidence, hasn't the last year been a little rough in that regard?
A: I've been slammed, and it's definitely been something new for me. I'm a pretty sensitive person, so anything that somebody says about me in print or on TV affects me.
Q: How have you dealt with those hurt feelings? A: I try to brush negative stuff off. I wake up thinking, "Try to be the best, nicest, hardest-working person you can the entire day." That's really all you can do. People are going to say what they want. In this business, if you try to please everyone, you'll kill yourself.
Q: One of the things people slammed you for was being too perky. Don't you think it would help your image if you came off as less upbeat and showed some of that hurt?
A: [Laughing] I don't want people to see me that way. Yes, I've been hurt. I've suffered. But that's not what makes me me. What makes me me is getting through all that stuff, pushing it aside, moving forward. If someone experienced what I do every day, they could definitely see a cloud or two. I don't allow clouds. I'm not interested in them.