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May 2005
Monster-in-Law: An Interview with Jennifer Lopez

Monster-in-Law: An Interview with Jennifer Lopez

By Todd Gilchrist

Jennifer Lopez has turned up everywhere in the past five years- at the movies, on the runway, on the radio- and shows no signs of slowing down. Her latest project, Monster-in-Law, however, puts her at odds with perhaps the only woman who could give Lopez a run for her over-exposed money: Jane Fonda. Lopez recently sat down with blackfilm.com to discuss her role in the new romantic comedy, and explained that as fun as it may sometimes seem, it ain't always easy being the once and future J.Lo.

Can you talk about your own 'monster-in-law' experiences ?

Jennifer Lopez: I have a lot of monster-in-law- like war stories, just from getting beat up a lot by Miss Rhonda, but it was fun. We really did have a lot of fun. It was the type of set where you actually looked forward to going there everyday. She made it a great experience from a working standpoint, you know, every scene - pushing every scene. I was just thinking upstairs today as I was getting ready [about] all the scenes that didn't make it in the movie that were very funny, and how we did so many crazy things; there wasn't room in the movie for all the crazy things that we did, so you got what you got, but it was a lot fun.

Do you relate to this character very closely?

JL: In a way I do because she does do a lot of different things. I mean we do them for different reasons; I think Charlie the character is more indecisive about her life, doesn't want to commit to anything. I'm a little bit more decisive about the things I want to do, but we're both creative. We're both involved in a lot of different jobs and different things that we do, so we're multi-taskers, both of us, but for different reasons.

One of the most memorable scenes in the film was your slap fight with Jane Fonda. Can you describe the process of shooting that- was any of that real?

JL: Yes that was very real. It's funny, you know, Jane is really tough and I like to think that I'm tough sometimes too, and we got there and we were like 'how are we going to do this?' We knew it was a timing thing, and you want to catch a rhythm on it. So there's a stunt coordinator there to make sure you don't hurt each other, and basically we said 'let's just go for it- both of us just go for it.' She was like you slap me, I'll slap you, okay? So that's what we did, and we were slapping each other a lot - a "lot". I did get her bad in the eye right here [on the cheek].

Was it with your ring?

JL: She says with my ring, but I don't even remember doing it to her because there were times when we we'd like hit each other on the forehead. That happened after doing it a few times, you know- I'd just hit her on the forehead and she'd hit me on the forehead.

What did you do when you realized you had actually connected with her face?

JL: I didn't know, but she was like look! Blood blister! I was like oh my God- I said 'was that me?' [She said] 'Yes it was you,' but my face was also swollen- you could see it, I think, in one of the takes; in one of the takes they use I actually just had the little swollen thing, she was tough on me.

What was it like to wear the prosthetic lips for the scene where you get a food allergy?

JL: I hate prosthetics- they are so freaky when you see yourself like that. I don't like that, but it was funny, the actual kind of blowing up of the lips and the tongue and everything. I got to do a lot of fun, goofy stuff which I haven't got to do before. I've done romantic comedies, and I've got to play like the sweet girl struggling and all this kind of stuff, but this got me more a little bit into the physical side of comedy, and I really enjoyed it. I had a good time with it.

Have you tried to take yourself out of the public eye a bit to stave off paparazzi and press interest in your private life?

JL: Yes. I've been good at it, but I mean eventually they figure out where you live, and I have to leave the house sometimes, but I actually did pull back a little bit where you stopped seeing me everywhere all the time- I just stopped leaving my house. That's the crazy part of it, you know what I mean? They're like, you're not in the press, and it's [because] I don't go anywhere. But now I'm working a little bit more again, so they kind of have followed us here and there. I know, it's a weird, weird dynamic. I don't like to talk about it. Nobody likes to hear, you know, like somebody in the public eye who they feel makes a lot of money, complain, so we don't, but it is a very strange thing. Nobody writes books about how to deal with it; maybe I'll do that next! I'll write a book just for [celebrities] (laughs). No. I'll make no money, it's not worth it; it's a losing business!

What did you like about working with Jane?

JL: You know one of the great things about working with Jane was that it really gave me a glimpse into into what it must have been like when movies were different. She worked in a different era where it was more about plays and stories and midnight cowboys and all kinds stuff like that, working with Dustin Hoffman, that kind of very actor-ish, all-about-the-work method. I worked with Robert Redford as well, in a move called "An Unfinished Life"- that will be out July 22nd- and we were talking one day, and I was telling him how "The Way We Were" was one of my favorite movies because I loved Barbara Streisand and I love him and he was like, you know, it's a shame, you guys don't have scripts like that these days, that are about like politics and Hollywood and social issues and a love story all combined into one. It was just a great movie in that sense, if you think about it, and her music and just the whole kind of package deal that they used to get back then. And you know, they don't make movies like that; it's about big commercial blockbusters a little bit more now and people take less chances on the independent stuff, and you know, it's a tougher kind of thing. So I guess what was great about working with Jane was that I kind of got a glimpse into what that was, so everyday on the set it was about how do we push this scene. She would come very prepared. I like to be very prepared. We'd get there, we'd talk about what we were going to do and she'd have almost like what was on the page and what that was and what we were going to do, and then like the craziest thing she could think of. We would run the gamut of trying all these different things and it was a lot of fun, you know, just kind of thinking about how it was just about the work everyday and making each scene as great as we could with what we had to work with.

With Jane's over-the-top approach to her character and Wanda Sykes' wisecracks, did you ever worry about being upstaged?

JL: No. No, not at all. I always love when everybody else is really bringing their game, because it's only going to make the movie better; it just makes you work harder and they work harder and everybody is trying to get their little bit in. It's competitive in a constructive way. All of us got along really well and I know you guys hear that all the time, it's so boring, but it's true- we did. Jane and I really had a great respect for one another and we really got to like each other and know each other. She's a lovely woman. Wanda is so nice and just crazy and funny and you just want to be around her always in between takes because she's that funny. Michael is lovely.

How did you develop chemistry with Michael Vartan?

JL: Michael always kind of scores in these kinds of roles. You just know if you get Michael Vartan you're lucky because he is just like the perfect boyfriend person, just because he's so sweet. He's very genuine, he's very real. He doesn't have a bunch of phony airs about him. He speaks French all of a sudden and you're like, 'ooh, he speaks French!' There's just something about him that's very kind, I think, and that comes across innately.

How did you hold your own doing improvisation with Wanda and Jane?

JL: I love improv-ing, you know, from very early on when I started acting the school that I went to and everything was very big on ad-libbing and improv-ing and messing things up, so I feel very comfortable doing stuff like that. We had a lot of fun playing, and we had, you know people who like improv like Wanda and Jane and myself and so, you know, Rob was like mess up and make it funnier.

How do you continue to be purely creative and yet generate all of these business ventures like you have done in recent years with music, fashion, etc.?

JL: It's hard when you have a lot of things going on to kind of get the clear space that you need sometimes to let inspiration come or creativity happen. It's a difficult task, but I've learned because I do many different things, that there is time for everything, and the most important thing for me has always been acting and my music. That's my first priority, so when I get ready, like now I'm getting ready to do a movie in Mexico called Border Town so already you just start kind of clearing out space to have time to just be by yourself, to go over things. You know what I mean? You have to really mark out the time, I guess, is the answer to that question, because you can get very bogged down with the everyday things that come up in all of those different ventures that I'm involved with.

Some of your co-stars described you as ambitious. How do you organize your life to achieve your goals?

JL: I think when people see you doing a lot of different things, it's like oh gosh she's so ambitious, she wants to do so many things, but it's not that, it's just kind of who I am. I'm a creative person, I like doing a lot of different things, and I'm also a very passionate person, [but] it's hard to describe yourself [and] why you do what you do. I don't know, I just do and I like doing it, and I don't know why I'm so driven in that sense; I think it has a little bit to do with passion, a little bit to do with creativity, with the way you're born, what or how you enjoy spending your time, you know, and I really enjoy doing the work that I do and I'm lucky enough to be able to do it so I do.

What do you do to relax?

JL: You know what? I do nothing. I really love doing nothing. I really love just being at home and taking a couple of days, you know, doing nothing. You know what I mean? Just getting up, being around the house, going outside the back yard, coming back in; I really like to do nothing because I travel a lot. There's a lot of travelling. There's a lot of on the phone all the time. There's a lot of looking at papers and reading things and so you don't want to read magazines and you don't want to do anything; you don't want to read books, you just want to just kind of shut down a little bit.

Who instilled this drive in you to succeed and believe in yourself?

JL: I think my mom was very integral in that part of my life because she just kind of made us believe that we could do anything. She always was very big on us being independent, not having to depend on any man, not having to depend on anybody, just being able to kind of survive on your own no matter what. And one of the things that went along with that was working hard - always working hard. And they were great examples. My dad worked nights most of my life. My mom worked at the school and had a Tupperware job; that was how our upbringing was, so work was always a very big part of my life and also, she really made us believe that we could do anything. You know, we could be the President of the United States if we wanted to, if we worked hard enough- a Puerto Rican girl from New York- and it seems so far-fetched, but when people make you believe that, you do. You're less afraid to try things, anyway.

Your co-stars also mentioned you were very sweet and nice. Do you still have concerns that people might perceive you as a diva because of the press you receive?

JL: I always felt like eventually all that stuff would kind of fall away, because I think it was something that was a little bit exaggerated and fabricated to make things interesting, and like I've said I never know why they pick certain people for this- and it could be the way my management was, or how we did things- and I take full responsibility for those things, but who I am as a person to me never jibed with how I've been described or portrayed in the press, so it was always kind of weird to me. I always felt like eventually people would get it, even if I was 40 at the time, or 50. Eventually you were going to see me for who I really am, so I'm glad that they're saying that- it's very nice.

Is it important for your weight and appearance to run contrary to Hollywood's fascination with stick-thin women?

JL: I think since the beginning and since I've come into the public eye, there's always been something about [the fact] that I'm not kind of your typical size 3, very tall and thin type of actress, and I think that's always been a good, positive message that I've been able to be associated with, which I'm very proud of. So I like making fun of myself, I like making people laugh, talking about Jane Fonda calling me fat - I mean she could, Jane Fonda's workouts and the whole thing - so I think it's nice to poke fun at that and know that you can still be attractive and beautiful and no matter if you do eat that extra cake, so I think it's a positive thing and hopefully those type of things people won't take them in a bad way, but they'll see them as a positive thing that I'm willing to kind of make fun of myself in that way.

Do you have concerns about potentially negative reception of your films? Are you changing your game plan to compensate or counter that possibility?

JL: No, not really. You know I always felt like as an actress my job was to do good work and I've been able to keep doing that, improving myself in my movies. You don't have control over this type of thing; you try to pick the best material you can that you can get your hands on- it's a very competitive business- and then you do your best in that movie and you hope for the best. I've done about 20 movies now and I don't know an actor's career where every move they do is great. It's like you have one and then you have five and then you have one and then you have ten, if you're lucky enough to be around doing it that long! I just feel fortunate to still be doing it, that my work has been something that people still believe in, and I think so long as I keep challenging myself and doing good work and doing the best that I can in that movie, then I think I'll be okay. So hopefully I'll have some great classics along the way and be able to make that one movie that everybody will remember. Who knows? We'll see. It's very early in my career.

Did you have any input in the make-up or the wardrobe for your character?

JL: Yes, always. One of the fun things about acting is you get to build the character from the ground up and always the wardrobe and the hair and the make-up is very important for the look, because once you slip into that, it really makes you feel that you're walking in the shoes of somebody else. You start walking different and it's the same thing if you put on a pair of heels and a sexy dress; the way you walk is very different than if you have your sneakers on and your jeans. It's the same premise as when you're working with a character, you wear a different type of shirt, or go with different whimsy for this character, and I wanted her to have like a little weird whimsy-ness to her clothing like long dresses with jeans underneath, or whatever it was, to kind of show that she did things just a little different.

At this point in your career are you beyond being intimidated by working with someone like Jane Fonda? Are there movies of hers you consider favorites?

JL: You're not beyond being intimidated by people I don't think ever, especially when you respect them and you know their name- you know who they are. It doesn't intimidate me to the point where I can't do what I have to, do that's for sure- I've been in the business long enough for that- [but] I know I'm there to do a job and I'm being paid and there's something that's expected of me; in that sense, I can stand on my own. But, you know, you do get the butterflies when Jane Fonda walks in the room, or if Jack Nicholson walks in the room, you're like 'holy shit, it's Jane Fonda.' You can't help that, because you're used to seeing them like huge on the big screen and all that kind of stuff. I guess one of my favorites is "Barbarella" like everybody else, and there's one other one that she did, "Klute", almost in a way it's like a fashion icon to me, you know, for when she takes off her helmet and the hair and the whole thing. It's silly I know, but that's why.

What if any sacrifices have you made in the name of establishing your career?

JL: I think the biggest sacrifice you make when you're in this business is your life, the rest of your life in general. I don't know how to explain that except that maybe it's something you do understand because you travel with your work, you sacrifice relationships, you sacrifice seeing your family as much as you'd like to, you sacrifice weekends, you sacrifice having kind of the normal pleasures that everybody else takes for granted. You give that up and it doesn't matter to you when you're in your twenties- you kind of just go, 'okay,' and then all of a sudden you're like, 'I missed out on a lot!' But it is what it is. I have a lot to be thankful for, too.

Given your success at creating an iconography for yourself in fashion, movies and music, how difficult is it then for you to find roles you identify with, and what specifically was it about this role that stood out?

JL: You want to find roles not so much that you identify with, but that challenge you and inspire you. I don't identify with every single character, but that's the fun thing about it, just to kind of learn about different people and different ways of thinking and things like that. This role, you know, I love romantic comedies and I've said this a million times, I love watching them, if I have my choice, you know, I'd rather watch a romantic comedy at home than the great new drama that's out. I know it's silly, but I'm very girly that way and so I like making them as well. It's hard to find romantic comedies with some sort of premise that you know is going to be funny that a lot of people can relate to, and I just felt in this script with the mother in law aspect, there's nothing about that people are not going to understand- the dynamic between a mother and a son, the dynamic between the daughter in law- and it just lent for a lot of comedy and also a lot of feeling.


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