God love you, Jennifer, you are very entertaining whether you mean it or not. This is from the Sunday Times, 2002. Again a personal favourite.
Sunday Times, November 17, 2002
Cover Story: Just call me Jennifer
Whichever name she now prefers, has J.Lo sacrificed her identity to get to the top, asks Jeff Dawson
Jennifer Lopez is no stranger to the fashion police. (Nor, lest we forget, rozzers of the more traditional variety.) Remember that green acrylic bedsheet she wore to the Grammys? Sad to say, today's sartorial transgression is more heinous. Twenty storeys below, amid the exhaust fumes of Manhattan's canyons, a wail of sirens swells. It could be the FP on their way. Not that there's anything wrong with Lopez's outfit per se. "Dolce & Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli," she coos. Which translates as a frilly orange blouse, clinging floral-print skirt and chunky coral jewellery. It's just that there on the telly in the hotel suite, in the video of her new single, she's wearing - shock! - the exact same thing. No self-respecting diva sports the same outfit twice.
The ditty in question - Alive, from the soundtrack of her new film, Enough (let's keep these titles simple, people) - features some computer-tweaked balladeering about "searching for your sooouul" and "the strength to stand aloooooone". The irony is that Lopez wrote it with Cris Judd, the very bloke she recently stiffed after 10 short months of marriage. "I was on my honeymoon, and Cris was, like, tinkering around on the piano, and I just added an intro," she simpers, all whitewashed visions of lace, doves and eternal bliss (not legal separation due to "irreconcilable differences", and divorce proceedings that will render Lopez an eligible spinster on January 26). It's not just Lopez's bottom you have to admire, but her front, too.
At 32, these are interesting times for the bouncing bonita, and not just for the advent of Ben Affleck - of whom more later. The metamorphosis of Jennifer Lopez: Person into J.Lo: Brand is a wonder to behold. There are the studiously offhand plugs for her clothes label. There's her LA restaurant, Madre's; the new perfume, Glow. There is the fact that this interview, in a swish hotel on Park Avenue, is conducted in the company of Benny Medina, the imposing manager who nurtured the careers of Will Smith and Lopez's ex, Puff Daddy/P Diddy/Po Diddley. Yes, the stock at J.Lo Inc is rising fast. Last year, she became the first woman to have a simultaneous US No 1 film (The Wedding Planner) and album (J.Lo). Hard to believe that, just three years ago, she was nudging into the B-list play-offs, with nary a whiff of global domination in the air.
"First I'm an artist, then I'm a businesswoman," she asserts, tossing a mane of highlighted curls. "But everything has to be weighted, you know what I mean? Or they'll have you working seven days a week, 24 hours a day." She adds something about her "creative drive", and the army of elves ready to act when she comes up with a good idea, or bat away the bad ones. "She doesn't have a bad idea," chips in Benny, just to ensure we're on message. Ay caramba! The diversions have come at a cost - the promise of movies like Out of Sight followed by fluff like The Cell, Angel Eyes and others that have assumed a secondary, even tertiary position to other ventures. With two double-platinum solo albums, though, and a third platter of dance remixes, J to tha L-O, recently a US No 1, Lopez's career reprioritisation is hardly in need of vindication. (Her new album, This Is Me ... Then, will be in Woolies for Christmas.)
But you can't help feeling she yearns for a bit of her old self back. "This J.Lo thing is like a nickname," she tuts. "People will get back to Jennifer eventually, you know what I mean? The J.Lo thing is fun, but it was just, like, the name of that album, you know?" Make of Enough what you will. As a revenge thriller, it's not a million miles away from Sleeping with the Enemy, in that a battered wife goes on the run from a hubby (Billy Campbell) so cartoonishly evil, he might as well be wearing a cape and twiddling his moustache. "It's supposed to be fun and keep you on the edge of your seat. But it has some heavy stakes in it," says Lopez. The victim bones up on martial arts to wreak vengeance on the cruel chap. "I read this script, and it was like: 'This is like a female Rocky, this could be cool.'" At the screening I attended, the wife-beating, disturbingly, elicited plenty of cheers. That is hardly Lopez's fault. She is far more capable than much of her recent material.
In person, Lopez is perfectly pleasant. There's a grating tendency to conclude every sentence with some habitual affirmation-seeking (if you know what I mean?), making her Hispanic-Bronx patter veer dangerously into Rosie Perez territory. But she is polite and, judging by Medina's wincing, quite open. It goes without saying that she is also extremely attractive. With that many "world's sexiest woman" awards crammed onto your mantelpiece, it could certainly go to a girl's head. Lopez, though, embraces it in good spirit. "I think all women like to be called sexy," she gurgles. "It's a compliment. I just know that that's not all of me, you know what I mean? I have more to offer than that." Which is true.
To curvy women everywhere, the arrival of "La Guitarra" was a merciful blow against the spiky creatures coming out of Hollywood in the 1990s. "When I was young, my mom, all the women, being Latin, were like that (well-rounded), so that was kind of my ideal. It was never like the magazines - Cheryl Tiegs, very blonde, blue eyes, very thin," she says. "I never looked at that and wanted it, because my mother made me so comfortable with my body. I feel very good to be the advocate for the voluptuous women in the world. I think it's nice, you know?" Heroin chic or Latina chica? Brother, it's no contest. Don't forget, though, that such stuff is relatively new. At $12m a pop, Lopez may now be the highest-paid Latina in the movies, but she's the first since her anglicised forebears, Rita Hayworth (Margarita Carmen Cansino) and Raquel Welch (Jo Raquel Tejada), to have been able to get there fully liberated from the cultural cabana.
She bangs her leg on the table and rubs the ankle just above her gold Gucci pump. "Ouch!" It's all right, I joke, it's insured, though she thinks I mean the table. In case her accountant neglected to tell her, her body is protected by a policy worth $1 billion, her botty $300m. That's $150m a buttock. Only Kylie's bum could be similarly underwritten.
Lopez's career trajectory has been well traced: grew up in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, the middle of three daughters; was athletic but not academic ("Nail polish" is what she got on her high-school exams). "I didn't imagine it would be like this, but I was always a performer," she says. After travelling to Manhattan dance schools on the subway (source of her debut album's title, On the 6), she got a break as a hoofer on the TV show In Living Color. A couple of films, Mi Familia and Money Train, displayed her promise. Soon, top directors like Bob Rafelson (Blood and Wine), Francis Ford Coppola (Jack) and Oliver Stone (U Turn) were scrapping for her. There was a lack of clear intention (Anaconda?), but her stellar burst came in 1997, with Out of Sight and the US hit Selena, a biopic of the slain Tejano singer. Before Lopez knew it, she had a musical career of her own.
Her arrival on the dance-pop scene in 1999 brought her into contact with Sean Combs, a gaudy showbiz pairing that culminated in the infamous nightclub shooting, a high-speed car chase and a charge of weapons possession (he was acquitted, and Lopez exonerated). Now, after making two films with Affleck - a crime thriller, Gigli, and a Kevin Smith comedy, Jersey Girl - she's into the high-profile coupling thing again. The allegedly prematurely toupéed action hero is engaged to Lopez now, and makes a cameo in her next pop video. "Love," as Lopez once sang, "don't cost a thing." Though a spot of gift-shopping always helps - a £95,000 Aston Martin for him, a £140,000 Ferrari Spider for her. Bling follows bling. Poor old impecunious Judd, just a humble choreographer (read "backing dancer").
There is an element of déjà vu to this, of course. In 1997-8, Lopez enjoyed a similarly short betrothal (13 months) to a Cuban waiter, Ojani Noa. Added to her wealth and power, this reputation as a man-eater has been apt to strike the fear of God into showbiz minions. Accusations of diva-ish behaviour abound - that she must sleep on sheets with a minimum thread count of 250; that film extras are instructed to avoid eye contact; that, after her arrest, chained to a police-station bench, she demanded a cop procure some cuticle cream. Most of it is rubbish. "There were obviously a lot of rumours about how difficult Jennifer was," admits Enough's director, Michael Apted. "Until I started rehearsing, I could never get hold of her. She would cancel meetings. I learnt that the key to how she manages to stay in this very complicated life is that she only really focuses on what she has in front of her. If you're in her peripheral vision, forget it."
"That's a fair assessment of the situation," concedes Lopez. "I work hard. I have a lot going on, and it's my own fault. I take on a lot of stuff." But she has seemingly set her sights on the movies again. If all goes to plan, the next few months will see her re-established as an A-list actress. The Cinderella fable Maid in Manhattan (co-starring Ralph Fiennes) is tipped to be the big US Christmas hit; then come the two films with Affleck. On the horizon, intriguingly, sits a modern screen version of Carmen, which, Lopez says, will give her the opportunity to merge her career strands, Madonna-style. Talks are also under way for a (fourth) remake of A Star Is Born, with Will Smith.
"Singing is more of an intimate thing, it's more of a kind of personal expression," she says. "And with the acting, you're just playing a character. It is different, but you get a lot out of that too. There's such a satisfaction in that, you know?" For the meantime, though, all ventures will be eclipsed by her love life - the producers of her new movies must be thrilled at all the free publicity. Last time, she spent her honeymoon with the world's press at Donatella Versace's mansion on Lake Como. Word is that decks are now being cleared for a £1m Valentine's Day Puerto Rican extravaganza. She has reportedly booked San Juan's Ritz-Carlton resort for the biggest, baddest nuptials in the history of opulence. After the divorce comes through, of course. "Marriage is hard," says Lopez. "Absolutely. I've been married before, I know how hard it is. You know what I mean? It's a fight, for sure." We hear you, sister, really we do. Let's just hope it's not because you've got a couple of movies to promote. And do remember to change your outfit.