Jennifer Lopez: The Wow
Because Lopez in person, is, if possible, more alluring and yet more delicate than on-screen, I can’t help but say, “Looking the way you do, I’m guessing certain directors and costars must have been more than casually attracted to you. Who’s made the clumsiest pass yet?” Without the slightest hesitation, she answers, “That would have to be a tie between Woody and Wesley [her Money Train costars]. Woody was more playful, but if I’d have gone for it, he totally would have. I’d say, ‘Hey, Woody, how are you doing?’ He’d, like, stick out his tongue and flick it at me very nasty.”
Mimicking Harrelson as the ‘world’s horniest anteater, she continues, “He was really funny about it. But Wesley–even though I had a boyfriend at the time–went full court press. He was flirting with me–you always flirt with your costars, it’s harmless–then he just started getting a little more serious. He would invite us all out together and then at the end of the night, he’d drop me off last and try to kiss me. I’d be like, ‘Wesley, please, I’m not interested in you like that.’ He got really upset about it. His ego was totally bruised. He wouldn’t talk to me for two months. I was like, ‘What an asshole.’ Actors are used to getting their way and to treating women like objects. They’re so used to hearing the word ‘Yes.’ Now, I suppose Wesley will call me going, ‘You bitch! How dare you? I didn’t like you.'” Lopez raucously laughs, “It’s time for the truth to come out!”
Lopez says she also blocked a pass made by Stephen Dorff, with whom she made Blood and Wine. What went down? “I thought he was really charming,” she recalls. “He said, ‘You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever worked with,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet.’ And he kept on staring and then he told me, ‘Seriously, you’re the most beautiful…,’ on and on. There was an attraction there, definitely, but not something I wanted to take further. I would flirt with him a little, but I just wasn’t into him that way. He got really upset and, toward the end of filming, I said, ‘Oh, what, are you not talking to me now? Look, I’m just not interested at this point in my life, but don’t pull a Wesley on me!’ because I had told him that whole story. He was, like, ‘All right, let it go.'”
Lopez refers to Jack Nicholson, with whom she also worked on Blood and Wine, as “a legend in his own time and in his own mind–like the rest of us are peons.” And how did things work out with her mercurial U-Turn leading man, Sean Penn? “He has a lot of strength and we got along great, actually,” she says, sounding genuinely respectful. “He could tell right away I wasn’t intimidated to be there with him and Oliver. I remember asking him, ‘Why do we always see pictures of you looking like you’re ready to hit somebody?’ and he goes, ‘Because in those pictures, I’m never with my friends.’ Working with Sean and Nick Nolte, too, who is a truly amazing, great actor whom I respect so much–that was top of the line. I could never work with better actors.” When I ask, “Which of your costars, in a parallel universe, say, would you have a ‘thing’ with?” she looks up from beneath her thick lashes and says, grinning, “Should I get myself in trouble with my husband? OK, in a parallel universe, Sean. I was engaged when we were shooting U-Turn, and one day he said, ‘If I weren’t married and you weren’t engaged, would this have been a very different movie?’ And I go, ‘Yeah! Very different.’ So we kind of… well, we both had our own lives, so that made a real difference.”
Given that Lopez has no doubt recalled only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the come-ons she’s gotten in Hollywood, I ask her,“What one thing should any woman in Hollywood never be without?” On cue, she deadpans, “Mace.”
At 27, Lopez has, clearly, spent years honing the fine art of the tease, the shoot-down and the snappy comeback. Born and raised in the tough-as-nails Bronx by a kindergarten teacher and a businessman, she hails from a whole house of lookers, including two sisters. “When did you first notice guys being attracted to you?” I ask. “I had a very voluptuous body from the time I was 11,” she says. “My mother used to say, ‘I’m so worried about Jennifer because she’s so sexy. I’m afraid she’s going to get pregnant.’ The taste in my neighborhood was for voluptuous women, see? I knew guys liked me. Back then, in the third, fourth grade, there were girls who already had tits and boyfriends, they were always kissing in the school closet. Not me. I was more of a late bloomer, like I didn’t get into it until seventh grade, 12 years old.”
Her first boyfriend, David Cruz, was to become much more than just her neighborhood Romeo. “We started dating when I was 15 and dated only each other for nine years. We were very careful. I’m not saying we weren’t having sex, because we were. We lived in the same neighborhood and he’d see me in, like, a weird hat, wearing something I’d cut together from a picture I’d seen in a magazine and I’d be just going to the track to run. I was creating my own style. Everybody would look at me, like I was a nerd, ‘What is she doing? What is she wearing?’ Because people didn’t do that in my neighborhood. People didn’t work out or take care of their bodies. If people see you striving for things, it threatens them. I was into, ‘This two-bit town isn’t big enough for me.’ My boyfriend would say, ‘Jennifer has bigger plans.'”
Plans that, once Lopez got hired in 1991 as a Fly Girl on In Living Color, began winning roles on short-lived TV series like Second Chances, South Central and Hotel Malibu, and finally landed Gregory Nava’s My Family, didn’t feature a nice guy from the old hood? She reflects, “He came out here with me and was here with me the whole time when I first started doing television and breaking into movies. Career-wise, we weren’t in the same place. He just didn’t know what he wanted to do. But I had a fire under my ass, I was so fast. I was like a rocket, he was like a rock.” She laughs at her own turn of phrase, but it’s obvious that talking about Cruz opens something raw in her, and with that remark, she closes the book on the subject.
Lopez surprised the people around her by hitching herself in 1996 to the striking Ojani Noa a year after she first saw him waiting tables at Gloria Estefan’s hip Cuban restaurant in Miami Beach while she was there shooting Blood and Wine. They began dating seriously and, during the wrap party for Selena, Noa popped the question on the dance floor. Now, with her movie star mojo working overtime, does Lopez harbor the slightest regret at getting married when she did? “A lot of people in my personal life said that I shouldn’t have gotten married so fast,” she admits quietly. “This business is tougher on women who are doing better than men because men are raised to be the supporters. We still live with those sensibilities. It’s tough for me because the men I’m attracted to, for some reason, haven’t gotten it together. Even my husband, I feel, has a lot of potential but he’s not at the point where… I mean, even though he has lots of contacts, even though he’s doing his own thing, opening a club and restaurant here, whatever business he gets in, he’s not gonna make as much money as me. That’s something he has to deal with and to live with, which is tough for someone like him.
“And, see, I’m not a good example because I’m not normal. I sure wasn’t normal at 23, when I was on television and making more than my mom and dad. It’s hard for me to find normal contemporaries and it’s hard for men to deal with. The man I’ve married is Latin and they, more than any other type of man, are very macho. I always joke with him, because he’s like, ‘You can see through that dress!’ or ‘Is there going to be a love scene in that next movie? You’re my wife. I don’t want anybody to think of you in that way.’ It’s just a sweet thing. But I go, ‘Look, the love scenes, the see-through dresses–all that stuff is good. As long as people like you, they’re going to keep coming to see your movies. Do you want that house in Miami–yes or no?’ I mean, this is what it’s going to be, it’s part of the business.”
I remark to Lopez, “But there’s a long, nasty history of husbands and lovers of sexy Hollywood stars who decided that if that stuff is part of the business, they want no part of that business.” “Ojani gets it, though,” she persists. “But, I have to say, if you asked him right now, he’d rather have me home washing dishes, with us living in a small apartment, with him making the money rather than me making millions of dollars a year, living in a house that I mostly pay for. It’s tough for me to try and show him that even though I make a lot of money, I feel I still need him.” She’s struggling with this one. Her feeling for her husband and awareness of the inequities of their situation are palpable.
I also perceive that although the sassy, swaggering Lopez wants to soar higher, she does, like any other mortal, have her insecurities. What scares her? “I have fear about the weirdest things,” she admits. “I’ve always had a huge fear of dying or becoming ill. The thing I’m most afraid of, though, is being alone, which I think a lot of performers fear. It’s why we seek the limelight–so we’re not alone, we’re adored. We’re loved, so people want to be around us. The fear of being alone drives my life.”
Growing more pensive and uncharacteristically still, Lopez mentions some of the new problems and limitations her growing fame has imposed. Demands on her time. A shrinking sphere of privacy. Being suspicious of people who suddenly want to get to know her. “I have to say that the kind of upbringing I had, getting beat up a little bit, growing up with all different kinds of different people, is the best upbringing for show business,” she offers. “The people who grew up softer, who don’t have what it takes to really survive in this business– that’s why you find so many people on drugs here.”
Although she stresses that she’s battled no such problem, she admits, “It gave me a lot of anxiety when I began to get so much more recognized. It was like, ‘What the hell have I done? Have I made a deal with the devil here?’ This stuff of people invading your life, like when you’re eating at a restaurant or just walking around, it freaks you out. You’re like, ‘I don’t want that person coming up to me to ask for an autograph.’ But if you’re stressed, you attract it even more. It’s just easier not to fight things so much. Just fucking go with the flow. It’s easier to just sign the autograph quick instead of turning it into a bigger thing. Now I step back and go, ‘Hey, I’m from the Bronx, I’m tough and I’m not going to let this get to me.'”
Other things have gotten to her, though. “Having your life judged in the press is a tough thing,” she admits, alluding to the published reports, for instance, that had her contemplating divorce practically days after she and her husband exchanged vows. “It was in the paper and all over the Spanish news reports that he was throwing things at me, that I was throwing him out, that he was asking me for money. I was like, ‘Where do these people get these stories from?’ My husband’s mother actually called from Cuba, where they don’t even get news all the time, saying, ‘What happened? Are you guys getting a divorce?’ Dealing with these things is tough, but nobody sympathizes with you. And when I was on the other side, I didn’t sympathize either, because I’d be like, ‘What the hell is she complaining about with her Gucci shoes and her Dolce fur?'”
Riffing on how she’s been treated by the press, Lopez declares, “There are certain people that are marked for death already. I have my little list of journalists that have treated me unfairly. Like, I was totally happy, totally confident with my work in Selena, but out of the 700 reviews–and I read every single one–I can quote the one who said, The one thing you don’t do when you walk out of this movie is say, ‘Who’s that girl?‘ I was like, ‘You lying bitch!’ When another person from that same magazine came up to me, the first thing I said to her was, ‘You tell that other bitch that writes for your magazine that I’m never talking with her again.’ I definitely have my list of people that are going to get their justice.”
For all her love of playing the Diva, does Lopez ever take to the diva behaviors that make one loathed by costars? She shakes her head in a defiant no, observing, “Just because I know my strengths doesn’t mean I have a huge ego. The one thing I cannot tolerate in Hollywood is this trickle effect of every single person–from the top with your studio guys–pissing on whoever is below them. Nobody can say that I treat people like that ever. When it comes to my work, I am an ogre, because I want it to be so good. I won’t do interviews, I don’t want people bothering me. I need my time. But that’s the only thing anyone can say about me.”
When I ask about her career strategy, she says. “I’ve already started mapping that out. You’ve got to do your share of commercial movies–romantic comedies, action movies–the $100-million movies, because if you don’t you’re not going to have the power and Hollywood is not going to respect you. I would also do any small, independent movie that appeals to me dramatically, because it keeps everybody realizing that your acting chops are there. I think some actors are making a big mistake by doing one big commercial movie after another. It just looks like you’re for sale. People want to know that you’re selective.”
Unable to say enough about how swell a time she had working with Oliver Stone, Lopez declares they’re actively discussing a rematch. She adds that the director suggested she do a major stage revival of West Side Story with the hope that they could later pitch a movie musical remake. There’s a hitch, though: “I would love to play Anita, but, since Maria is the star role, I would have to play her, too.” She’d also like to play a character who’s neither Anita nor Maria–someone who is, in other words, not Latina. “Oliver was talking with one of his coproducers on this new movie project he’s preparing, and they mentioned an actor they think I’d make a great couple with. Oliver talked about the female role in the movie being perhaps for me and said, ‘Maybe the character could be Latin,’ and I said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t make the character Latin because you’re thinking of me to play it.’ When the other producer said, ‘Let’s make her Greek, let’s make her Italian,’ I said, ‘You know I have the chops to do that, Oliver.’ And he took a few minutes to get there, even after I played an Apache Indian in his movie. I’ve said I want to be the Latina actress, but I also want to go beyond all that. I want to change things. Or at least, I can start that change.”
Lopez has no compunctions about admitting she’s grasping for the highest rung of stardom she can possibly attain. I ask, “Had you been around in the old Hollywood days when stars were publicized by the studios as the ‘It’ Girl, the ‘Oomph’ Girl, and the ‘Cherry Blonde,’ what would you have named yourself?” “The first thing that came into my head was the ‘Butt’ Girl because that separates me from everyone else. I love my body. I really, really dig my curves. It’s all me and men love it. Some guys like skinny girls, but they’re missing out. When a dress is on a woman, it shouldn’t look like it’s on a coat hanger. So many girls here are so thin–in fact nobody else in Hollywood really has my type of body. My husband calls it ‘La Guitarra,’ like the shape of a guitar, which I love because that was always my ideal woman growing up. So, call me the ‘Guitar Girl’!” Or maybe the Wow Girl.
Stephen Rebello interviewed Gillian Anderson for the Dec./Jan. 98 issue of Movieline.