Interview: Jennifer Lopez on Second Act and her return to the big screen
Jennifer Lopez wears many hats — actor, singer, film and television producer, fashion designer, bestselling author, entrepreneur and humanitarian. And that is just the beginning. With her unmatched global appeal, and a kitty full of projects, she’s showing no signs of slowing down. The last year has been a big one for her – with her Dance Again tour selling over a million tickets, her TV series Shades of Blue premiering its final season, her one-of-a-kind show on Vegas, All I Have, earning her the title of the ‘Queen of Strip’ and of course, filming for her upcoming movie, Second Act — a Peter Segal directorial where she plays an enterprising woman faced with a troubled past. Excerpts from an interaction with the star:
Jennifer Lopez made her feature film debut in the highly acclaimed 1995 drama, Mi Familia, which got her an Independent Spirit Award nomination. Next up was playing a Latin music sensation in Selena, which earned her much acclaim, including a Golden Globe nod and an ALMA Award. Five of her films opened at No 1 at the box office, including Maid in Manhattan, Monster in Law, Anaconda, The Cell, and Antz. Her 2015 film, The Boy Next Door, which she starred in and produced, was one of her highest grossing films.
After a break from the big screen, Lopez is now back with Second Act, where she plays an enterprising woman named Maya, who’s looking to upgrade her life and at the same time, deal with issues from her past. Helping Maya is her best friend Joan (Leah Remini) and her boyfriend Trey (Milo Ventimiglia), while her boss’s daughter, Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens) remains sceptical of her intentions.
Talking about her character, Jen says, “Maya learns she does not have to be stuck forever — you can always reinvent. You can always make a change. You can always keep growing and to me, that message has so much relevance for everybody, but especially for women. The mantra for Second Act is ‘the only thing stopping you is you’.”
Friends like these...
The film is written by veteran writer Justin Zackman (The Bucket List fame) and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, but it was Jen (also the producer of the film) who suggested that Milo Ventimiglia (award-winning actor of This Is Us fame) play Trey, Maya’s boyfriend and a football coach.“His face always popped into my mind. He’s so busy now with his hit show and probably one of the biggest moments in his career, but he read the script and once we spoke, we both knew it was something we wanted to do together,” says Jen. She adds, “An actor like Milo, whose heart and emotions are so wide open to whatever might happen in the moment, is a real pleasure to work with. You don’t have to hide. You can really just let all the feelings go.”
Also co-starring with Jen is Leah Remini (King of Queens), who plays her foul-mouthed best friend, who is instrumental in keeping her grounded. Interestingly, the two are besties off the screen too. “I have a relationship like this with one person in my life. That’s Leah. We laugh until we pee our pants and we don’t bull***t each other. We’re solid rock, there for each other in tough times, and she’s who I can
be the most vulnerable with. I wanted to capture what we have in real life on-screen. We’d been trying to work together for a long time, and this time, it just clicked,” she enthuses.
The two are such good friends in real life that Lopez insists that they have lived their friendship, both on and off screen. “We were laughing, acting silly, getting emotional, and everything like we usually do. The more it got real, the better it was. Either way, it was perfect.”
Made in Manhattan
The film is shot in Manhattan, not a strange city to Jen, who was born and raised in the Bronx. “I remember when I was coming up as a dancer, taking that train into the city, and how profound it was
to leave the Bronx,” reminisces the Jenny From The Block singer. “It’s like going to another planet.
It changes you. It’s almost like, okay, I’ve made it. You know, as they say in the song, if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”
As Maya, Lopez portrays a born-and-bred Queens girl who is having her ‘Is that all there is?’ moment. So, shooting in Manhattan, that too during holiday season, was nothing short of a delight for the whole crew. “We shot everything from Central Park to Hayden Planet-arium on the Upper West Side, to Grand Central Station to the World Trade Center, to Brooklyn Bridge, to Queens and Long Island City,” notes Jen. For some trivia, she informs, the fictional shop where she’s seen working in the film was actually a Food Bazaar store in Queens — a store that’s open 24 hours a day, and did not close for filming. “There was a lot of people walking around, but it was great,” recalls Jen.
Dress the part
Moving from Queens to Madison Avenue required her character to upgrade her wardrobe too. And the task was assigned to Patricia Fields, who’s won an Oscar and a BAFTA for her work in Devil Wears Prada, and an Emmy for her work on the TV show, Sex and the City. Fields has revealed in the past that working with Lopez was satisfying, as she would clearly tell her designers what she wasn’t comfortable wearing, and why. The Get on the Floor hitmaker too shares the same respect for Fields. “Working with Pat Fields was so much fun. I love fashion and I love being open to stuff you wouldn’t normally do — in the name of character, and in the name of painting a beautiful picture,” says the actress, who has launched her own line of perfumes in the past.
“I put total trust in Pat because she’s an artiste I really respect,” she continues. “She made me do things I would never do. When she said, ‘What about the loafers?’ I said, ‘I’ve never worn a loafer in my life’. She said, they’re five-inch loafers from Louis Vuitton. So I was like okay, maybe I’ll try that,” says Jen, with a laugh.
A woman of worth
Ask her about how she manages to divide her time between everything she does — singing, dancing, acting, and TV shows; doesn’t she want to pick just one? — and she says, “I’m not going to let anyone put me in a box or define me because I decided to do TV and produce for a few years, or because I decided to do Vegas. I forge my own path. I go where my heart takes me, and where I feel like the best, most authentic place for me to be is.” Finding her passion is what matters most to this entertainer, and that, she insists, helps her stay relevant even after 20 years in the business. “It’s just about working hard. I always tell my kids to work harder than everyone else. The people who were not successful are the ones who stopped halfway.”
At the end of the day, Jen says that this is a film she relates to on a personal level, as she feels like she’s in the second act of her life. “I had two little twins and I got divorced... I waited a long time to have kids and when I finally did, when I was married, and thought, ‘Okay, this is (what my) life is going to be for the next 50 years. And it didn’t work out that way. I knew that I had to start examining things — what am I not doing right? Where do I need to improve? Realising that you have to love yourself first — that you cannot look for your happiness or somebody else to fix you — that you have to fix yourself, and be your own best friend, and stand on your own two feet, and be happy on your own. Then you can share
a life with somebody. Then you can have a family... And in doing that — kind of becoming that whole person — all of a sudden your work transforms. I feel like that’s what happened to me,” she signs off.
JLO’s REEL LIFE
Ask any fan of JLo what their favourite movies of hers are, and familiar names like Maid in Manhattan, The Wedding Planner and Shall We Dance will surely pop up. If you’re noticing a pattern here, you’re not wrong, as Lopez has starred in a number of rom-coms, because she does know a thing or two about falling in love on-screen, and making us laugh along the way. But the actress has played a variety of characters in her two-decade long career. Here we pick some of her best performances, from her earlier films. Time to dust off the dirt on your DVD players — these three films will be worth it, we promise!
This 1997 film is about the life and career of Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, a recording artiste well known in the Latino community. Lopez’s portrayal of the character was emotional, moving and proved to the world that she was more than just a singer —she was a powerful performer and an inspired actress, all rolled into one.
Out of sight
A crime drama released in 1998, Out of Sight, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name. The story is of a bank robber (George Clooney) and a Federal Marshal (Jen) caught on the opposite sides of the law. As a tough cop, here’s Jen proving that she can pull of a mean, hardcore act too!
With an increasing number of women feeling empowered to come forward and recount their suffering of abuse, this film is even more timely today than it was in 2002, when it released. Jen plays a battered wife who musters the courage to leave her husband. Her transformative role from a defenseless housewife to a strong woman has come in for much praise.
Second Act is slated for release today.