Shall We Dance?: An Interview with Jennifer Lopez
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By Wilson Morales
Was ballroom a little alien to you before making this movie?
JL: It was as alien as it could be. I felt like I was from Mars. I mean it was tough. Being a dance I was naturally able to do some things but it's such a different art form. It's very technical and just different from any type of movement I've ever done. I've done flamenco and jazz and hip hop dancing and all kinds of stuff but this was really challenging.
Did you take dance lessons when you started out in your career?
JL:I started when I was very young. I did ballet, jazz and flamenco from when I was five years old. And my professional career started with dancing in musicals.
This movie was shot around the same time that "Gigli" came out. Did filming in Winnipeg offer you any insularity from the media?
JL: Is there such a thing as insularity from the media? I don't know. As much as I've tried I don't think I've ever achieved that. I'm trying different tactics nowŠa new approach.
But shooting in Winnipeg?
JL: Winnipeg was wonderful. It was very far from home but it didn't feel like I was on another planet.
The director said there weren't a lot of distractionsŠ
JL: No there wasn't. And I didn't get to see as much of Winnipeg as I would have liked. Usually when I go on location I get to travel around a bit but with this movie I had to shoot and then I had to dance at night, because I came directly from shooting another movieŠin Canada. So I had rehearsals before I got to the set, after I got through shooting, during lighting set ups, whenever we could fit it in. It was intense.
Richard was telling us yesterday that you rehearsed with someone in Winnipeg and he rehearsed with someone in LA and then you got together to dance for the first time on the day of the shoot. Was there ever any fear that he would drop you or anything like that?
JL: Luckily he didn't have to lift me. But he was fantastic and it's true, because I was working on this other movie and he was working with a teacher we didn't rehearse together. They though I was going to be the ringer, but because I had never done it before, I ended up rehearsing a lot. So it wasn't until the day that we filmed the tango that we actually danced together.
And so how did it measure up?
JL: It was good. I'm sure I wasn't as professional as his partner and he wasn't as professional as my partner but we both somehow pulled it together. It was about what was happening to the characters in the scene more than anything else. I think it came off as sexy, but that's just the surface of it. What's really happening is that those two people come alive for the first time during that dance. She realizes he has to let go, that he has the steps and knows the routine. It's all there but he has to live it, to live in the moment and she takes him to a place where he can get that passion going and live in the moment. What happens is that at the same time it happens for her. She comes alive at the same moment.
Your fashion is so fantastic in this movie. How much of a hand did you have in picking out the outfits? Why do you think they worked so well for you? And what were your favorites?
JL: Sophie Carbonell is a really great costume designer and she had a specific idea of colors - mauves and purples and such. I have an idea of what looks good on me and honestly didn't know if what she picked was going to work but she was right on. The clothes were very feminine and of a classic kind of style. She stayed away from a hard, modern edge and combined wit with soft make-up for the character. It came from the dancer. It came from the idea of the dancer as a classical performer not so much of a today modern dancer.
People are going to look at this movie and see your role as a woman who's going through heartbreak and looking for happiness and try to find parallels to your personal life. Was that something you thought of as you were making it? Do you see it that way now?
JL: When I'm making a movie it always seems that there is something about that time in your life that works for you. This character is very introverted and kind of turned off and given up on everything at that point in her life. And for me I wasn't exactly at that point in my life but I can understand it because of just having been through different difficulties. I didn't have to draw on things happening at that point in my life but I've had others points in my life when things weren't going well that I could draw on. I can understand her passion for her art and what happens when things don't work out and your faced with figuring out were do you go from there. It happens to most people. Things don't always turn out exactly the way you want them to be and you feel disappointed. You are not always going to be the winner. That's when you have to stop and figure out why things happened the way they did and what you can do to change them.
After "Gigli" did you feel you had to make those kinds of decisions about your film career?
JL: I don't look at "Gigli" the way the rest of the world looks at "Gigli." I gauge my success on whether or not I have done my job and how well I did it. And I can consider that movie a success in that sense. I went in there with a certain amount of material that I could work with and I did the best I could. When I come away from a movie thinking I didn't do that and I could have done that - which thank God I have never done, that's when I consider myself a failure.
Given all the talents that you have what do you consider the hardest thing that you've done? Is it dance? Is it acting? Is it singing? What do you consider the toughest moment in your career and what do you consider the greatest moment in your career?
JL: I've always felt pretty good about my career and the choices I have made and how I've challenge myself to do things that are difficult at times, but I think the biggest challenge I've faced over the past few years is keeping the image away from the artist. You know what I mean? Separating the work from the actual person. I used to think it was so much more sexy back in the day when it wasn't so much about people's personal lives as it was about the work that they do. It was controlled - I hate to say that in front of the press - but it was more controlled by the studio system. There was a mystery to our stars back then. That's' why we can look at them still. Yeah, we find things out about them eventually - Elvis Presley was really this - but it's OK because we had the illusion for a while. When you watch their movies there is so much more impact because you didn't know who they were dating or if they were married or if they were walking around barefoot acting stupid. It doesn't matter to the work, but it does now. And that's been the biggest challenge for me.
Of the many talents you have, what was the toughest to get good at?
JL: I think where I've had the most growth is in my music career, from when I first started to where I am now with these two new albums I'm just finishing - and English language one and a Spanish language one that I'm so excited about.
Can you tell us more about these two albums?
JL: The English album is almost done - I've been working on it since January - and it's pop music with the same R&B and Latin flavor that have become sort of my thing. I added a little more funk this time. I think people will hear that. I went a little heavy on the drums, but its fun. I'm also thinking about doing my first tour which I've been talking about for a long time. But because of the movie thing I always get sidetracked. But this time I'm really going to try and get out there especially because of the Spanish album.
Any idea when the albums will be out?
JL: The album will be out January 25. The single will be out sometime in the next month or so.
What is it called?
JL: I don't know yet. I never know until I have the final master copy in my hands and I just listen to it for a few days. I have some ideas, but nothing is set yet.
Is Marc going to be on any of the CDs?
JL: No. Well, he produced my Spanish Album.
But we're not going to hear any duets or anything?
JL: No. We did a duet on his last album.
Are you trying to avoid the limelight these days? It certainly seems like that from our point of view. And if you are, what are you doing to achieve that? Is taking a supporting role in this movie part of that?
JL: Taking the role in this movie was, frankly, more about it being a really good script and a good role. I've always been open to whatever comes my way that's good. It doesn't matter if it's a small role or a big role as longs as it's a good role and is something that I will actually enjoy doing. In terms of avoiding the limelight, I'm just trying to get the focus back on what I do, what I do as an artist and not what I do when I'm at home. I've always had this kind of attitude - maybe it's the Bronx in me or whatever - where I've always been out there. I'm very open. I'm a free spirit by nature so I didn't think about what I was doing. But this business has changed me. I didn't want it to but it changed me. It made me a much more reclusive, private person. As you get older - and I've been in the business over 15 years now - and as you experience and go through different things you realize you have to set boundaries. You have to for your life. You have to say this is OK and this is not OK. This is what I do for a living and this is my life. It's the only one I get and so I have to set boundaries. That's the approach I'm trying to take now, to get the focus back on what I do. I'm a singer. I'm an actress. I'm a dancer. That's what I do.
Do you feel burned by last year? Does this come form feeling overexposed?
JL: It definitely reached a fever pitch. Absolutely. But I don't have to tell you guys that. I felt like there was a time there - and not just last year but building up - where it was out of control. What was this thing, this thing that had become me? I didn't like it. I always dealt well with it but it came to a point where, you know what? I'm at a different point in my life right now. I'm a little but older and I like to think a little bit wiser and more mature and I like to think I've learned from those experiences. And that's where I'm at. I think that's going to be reflected in the choices that I make.
There's a brief scene in the movie were you are teaching children how to dance and I know that you have a clothing line for kids. How do you like working with kids and being around kids in general?
JL: I love kids. I'd like to think they make all of thisŠwhen things get really crazy they are the best. When you meet a little girl and she gets so excited - and when I say little I mean form 4 or 5 years old to 18 - those are little girls to me now - it makes it worthwhile. They're who I make my movies for and who I make music for. I love kids. I always have.
How would you describe how dancing makes you feel?
JL: I think of all the things I do it's the one where I am most confident and I can let go the most. I have to really think when I'm acting or learn the part so well that I don't have to think, but I have to put a lot of work into it. The same goes for music. I always have to work hard to find a way to disconnect from the thinking until it becomes second nature to me because that's where you find the best moments. Dancing is like that for me all the time. It makes me feel free.
What would you say you are most thankful for?
JL: There are so many things. I think my philosophy on that is there isn't one thing. I'm grateful for everything I have. I'm grateful for it all. I'm grateful for love most of all because I have a lot of it in my life.
In terms of this movie what do you see as the connection between dance and love? What do you think this movie has to say about love?
JL: You know what I like about this movie? That it's realistic in the fact that all marriages and relationships end up falling into routines and things get boring sometimes. You go through ups and downs and the film is truthful in that sense. And you have to find the answer to whatever is wrong in yourself. It's not your partner's job to do that. It's internal. It's personal. It's intimate. You have to be happy within yourself to be good in a love relationship. And I like that aspect of the movie. I like that Richard Gere's character has a great life, but he's not happy. There no reason anyone can point to for him not being happy, but he isn't because there is something missing in him. He has to find a passion and a reason to get up everyday beyond all the things he needs to do to keep his life afloat. And that's very romantic, finding the love in yourself.
You've done a lot of different genres of movies in the past, including action and horror movies, but lately you seem to be concentrating on romantic material. Is that something you prefer to do or is it something that the studios want you to do?
JL: Well, it's all about the material. I respond to material. In the beginning you do what they offer you or whatever you can get. And that's still true now to an extent. I only get to look at what they are willing to give me, but you get to a point where you have the confidence to turns things down and wait for something better.
Are there kinds of films that you haven't had a chance to do that you want to try?
JL: There are too many to mention. I just want to keep growing and see what I'm capable of. Just because you've done a lot of movies or made a few albums doesn't mean you've conquered it. And that's the fun part of it.
You have a great solo dance in this movie and to make that work and be so emotional is it a matter or learning the steps so well that you can forget them and search for the character and the emotions in that dance?
JL: That's it exactly. Working with the choreographer for that scene he had me just walk around and do whatever I felt. When he saw something he liked he made note of it. That's how we built the dance and why it looks the way it does. It was a lot of fun to do it that way because it came out of me as I became that character. When it came to filming it was much more structured because of lighting and camera angles and we had to work hard to find that spontaneity.
Can you tell us more about why you've chosen not to tour with your music?
JL: It's not that I've chosen not to tour. I can't tell you how many times I've made plans and been set to head out and something has come up. It's always been a scheduling problem. I know tours are a lot of work. I did a music issue one time with Gwen Stefani and Sheryl Crowe and they were kidding me, 'You never tour.' I told them I wanted to and how much I love performing live, but it's a tough life and I think I know that so when a movie comes up I chose the movie. But before it is all said and done I will tour.
Is there any place you can just walk around and hang out, even it you have to wear a baseball cap?
JL: It's different on different days. I don't do it that much. Usually I'll get into the car and only go exactly where I need to go. I miss walking around so much. You don't know. When I get in the car I hang my head out the window like a dog so the air will hit me.
How has your music changed over the years?
JL: It's funny. I love the pop album that I'm doing and I feel like it's going to be a great one and I can't wait for people to hear it, but I feel that with the Spanish album I've explored a different side of me, the side that's more of a real singer. It's stuff that I don't get to do in English. The music has a little more depth to it, it's a little more passionate. It's what I imagined myself always doing when I first started. It lets me see that I can transition into something different, something a little bit more musical and deep. I don't know if I can do that sort of thing in English, but I know I'll be able to do it in Spanish. I love music. I'll always make music and I'll always make English music as well but I think it will evolve into something else. We'll have to see. I always go by what feels right.
I know you don't like to talk about your personal life these days, but can you just say whether you are looking forward to having children? And what is it about being a mom that you are looking forward to?
JL: I've always wanted children and I feel God will bless me when the time is right. I come from a very large, very loving family and grew up very happily. So I miss that.
What would you say is the most humbling experience that you've had and what is it that puts you back in line when you feel you're getting tooŠ
JL: Big for my britches? That's the good thing about having a family that does not give a hoot about anything to do with fame. Hey will keep you in line. As for my most humbling experienceŠI can't think of any one thing. Maybe it hasn't happened to me yet professionally. I've been lucky enough that I can keep creating opportunities for myself right now. Even when I go back to "Gigli" it's about doing your best. People will see that. You have to keep the focus on the work. It's not about what it did at the box office or if people consider it a great movie or not. It's not about anything else but doing your best.
Your life seems very intense under the media glare. When things get too intense is there a higher power that you look to or could you talk about your spirituality to the degree to which you feel comfortable?
JL: I went to Catholic school for 12 years and went to church every Sunday. I may not do that anymore but I think it gave me a good basis. I've also explored things on my own different philosophies and spiritual teachings and I use what works for me. I know that there is a force in the world and an energy that you can put out, and when you put out love it comes back to you. I think that's my basic philosophy.
It seems like you're not talking too much about Marc these days. Maybe I'm wrong, but if not, why not? Is that part of your new strategy?
JL: Don't think of it as a strategy. It's not a strategy. It's not a thing where I'm trying to control how things are going to happen. It's about my life and the quality of my life. What happens is that there is all this energy focused on you and all these people after you and you try to do what you can to keep it out of your life, but as much as you try stuff still sneaks under the door and through the cracks. It's an energy. It's not one specific thing or the other. It's having this kind of thing in your life. It's destructive. It just is. It's hard for people to understand and I get that. I do get that. I realize people are interested and it's not about me saying they have no right to know about my life. It's not about that. The reason I am in the public eye is because of what I do. None of these people thought I was an interesting person or wanted to know about my life before. It's because I'm in a movie or because I do an album. And I just want to get the focus back on that, on my career and not on my life. It isn't fun to have the focus of everything be your personal life. It affects everything. It affects the quality of your life and your relationships. It affects the way you feel. It affects your family and the way they feel. It's not fair. It's not good. It's not fun.
You say you spend more time at home. What do you do when you're home?
JL: Probably the same things you do. Sit and relax. Have dinner. Watch TV. Nothing too crazy. There's no swinging form the chandeliers or big parties at the house with all the rock stars coming over. It's a very mellow, normal existence.
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