From her humble beginning dancing as a Fly Girl on In Living Color, Jennifer Lopez has slowly, surely and steadily worked her way up the Hollywood ladder to become a superstar. Her head-turning performance as the Tijuana pop stinger Selena in the biopic of the same name paved the path for Jennifer, who after appearing in a few more films, exploded critically and commercially with Out of Sight. The following year, she released a pop album of her own, On the 6, which shot up the charts and secured her status as a high-profile celebrity, her popularity fueled further by her relationship with Bad Boy Records bad boy Puff Daddy. Currently, she is starring opposite Vincent D’Onofrio and Vince Vaughn in the lauded sci-fi thriller The Cell, in which she plays a child psychologist who enters the dreams of her patients.
Lopez spoke recently about making The Cell, keeping grounded and living out your dreams.
Was The Cell as freaky to make as it is to watch?
No, I thought it would be worse than it was. When I first read it I was like, “This is gonna be really creepy.” And then when I saw the visual references that (director) Tarsem was gonna use for the movie I was like, “Oh God, it’s gonna be creepy.” But when you’re filming it, it’s a different experience, you know? You’re concentrating on other things; it doesn’t really freak you out like that.
When you finally saw the final cut, were you disturbed by it?
It’s funny. For me it wasn’t as disturbing as U-Turn. When I first watched it, it was just really crazy for me. But this does have some images that are graphic and disturbing. Not as graphic as I think Tarsem would have. But it’s definitely not for the little girls who buy my album, who like to sing my songs. This is not for them. They have to wait for The Wedding Planner. This is something else. This is for adults. It’s about a serial killer. It’s not going to be pretty inside the head of a serial killer.
Is there anyone whose head you’d like to get inside?
I wouldn’t really want to be just hooked up to a machine with one person. I’d like the chip implanted and just be able to read everybody’s mind who passed by me.
What was your first reaction to the film the first time you saw it put together?
I was really blown away. I was really impressed with what Tarsem had done with the film. It’s the most visually beautiful movie I think I’ve seen. And the story… when I first sat there and watched the finished product from beginning to end, I was like, “First of all, It’s moving along and the story’s there.” And then when I’m watching these incredible images, halfway through I thought to myself, “This is something I’ve never seen before.”
All the Blessed Virgin Mary parallelism and Biblical symbolism is drawing some heat from Catholics…
That’s what people are telling me, but it’s not about religion or Catholicism or Christianity in any way. It’s not a reference to that. We weren’t trying to dress up like the Virgin Mary. That wasn’t supposed to be a Madonna figure. The costume was based on a Brazilian Sea Goddess.
Is costuming crucial to you as an actor in developing the character?
Absolutely. But it’s funny because in this one there were so many weird costumes, to find yourself was, like, schizophrenic. I was schizophrenic! (laughs) Forget about the little boy and the serial killer.
Did you meet with therapists to prepare for playing one?
I went to see a therapist as research for the character because I play a child therapist, and I just wanted to see how a woman therapist dealt with a patient. I had never been to a therapist before -- if I had, I wouldn’t have a problem saying it, either -- but I hadn’t. I guess, the thing that I learned from her was that your perspective on something is not always a true perspective. For us, and I think for most people, when you think of something -- like I went to her with a problem that I actually thought I had figured out. I just wanted to see her take on it. And she totally flipped it on me. She was like, “No, you are wrong and these are the reasons why…” I was like, “Oh. Okay…” It was nice to learn that.
Did you and D’onofrio interact a lot on set?
Vincent was great. Very intense. Very intense on the set. And he’s a very sweet, funny guy, so for him to play this character, I know he had to concentrate a lot. So we kind of kept our distance because we had this weird relationship in the movie. He was like this freak-of-nature to me and I was like this victim to him. It was better that we just stayed away from each other.
Did the original script call for you to be in your underwear, illuminated by the light of a refrigerator? And might I add, damn!?
I wasn’t in my underwear in the script. It was just when you’re at home alone and you’re hanging out. I don’t know about you, but I’d be in my underwear.
It’s obvious you maintain.
I take care of myself, I do. I think it’s important because I feel better that way. I feel it’s whatever works for you. I like feeling good, feeling healthy, eating right. I don’t feel good when I eat too much or the wrong things, or I don’t get to work out for months. That’s not good. You know, you have to do what works for you. I think drinking and smoking really wrecks you.
Since I’ve started down that road, is it true that you’ve insured your body, or at least parts of your body, for an astronomical sum?
Someone asked me what was the wildest rumor that anybody ever made up about me, and I couldn’t think and he was like, “Was it the 250-count thing?” Which was a lie about sheets -- that I take sheets to the hotel and they have to be 250-count, some ridiculousness like that. I said, “No.” Then Alan, my publicist came over, “What about the billion dollar butt.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s right.” That was the craziest one ever! Because it was on the front page of the paper here in New York, and I happened to be in New York that week. It was insane. But it was funny and it was great that I had the front page of the paper I could save it to show my kids.
So you haven’t insured your body?
I think that’s what I’m trying to say, yeah.
Do your friends send you all these bogus items as a joke?
Oh, yeah. Oh, they love it. And they like the negative stuff that they know is not true because they’re like, “Look what they wrote!” I’m like, “Ha ha ha, very funny.”
With your schedule and the limelight, is it difficult to keep in touch with these friends?
I value the private time that I get with them, and I value it more maybe than I would if I wasn’t doing this.
How do you balance the pressures of celebrity with maintaining relationships with your friends and family?
When the Selena thing happened that was like the weird time when I had to sit back and go, “Okay, what’s happening, and how can I deal with this?” And the conclusion I came to is that I’m still the same person that I was when I started, and I will always be that same person, and I have a great family that I came from and a great background, and I still have their loving support, and just because I work in movies and I’m an artist and I do music doesn’t mean that you’re any different than anybody else. Yes, you’re in the public eye and, you know, there’s that whole other animal but it’s not who I am. And staying grounded I think is the most important thing.
How difficult is it to stay grounded when you have an entourage devoted to catering to your every need?
I don’t really stand for that kind of stuff, you know what I mean? I see myself as a regular person, and I have great people around me who care about me as a person first. I have people who are very involved in and believe in what I’m trying to do and do everything they can to help me do that. People who help me manage everything that I have to do. People who I love that I call “my family.” They call me “Ma.” I don’t call them an entourage, you know? I have a manager. I have a publicist. I have an assistant who does so much for me. And I can’t do it without them. I would not be able to function. There’s just not enough hours in the day. I would love to be able to do it all by myself.
And yeah, I have security. I hate security, by the way. I’m always trying to escape without the security. And then like Puff will get so mad at me. He’s like, “You can’t go out without security! You don’t know what’s going to happen?!” And then he’ll get on Benny, my manager.
Earlier you had mentioned “the little girls that buy my album.” You are a role model to a lot of little girls out there. Do you feel a tremendous responsibility to them?
Yeah. I feel like you can’t take on the responsibility of the world. It’s destructive if you start thinking, “Oh God, I have to do this, I have to do that.” You have to live your life. I’m not gonna do anything wrong. I’m not gonna go rob a bank tomorrow. I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink or smoke or anything like that. Those are the types of things that people are like, “Role models. Oh, you can’t be human.” Well, you are human. Things are gonna happen. But I think it’s nice that girls feel they have someone to look up to in me. And I don’t think I’m gonna do anything in the near future that’s gonna disappoint anybody -- I hope.
When you were a little girl did your dreams involve all of this?
I had hoped. I’m really happy with where I am right now and as a little girl I always had dreams, and I still have a lot of big dreams that I wanna, hopefully, realize, so we’ll just wait and see, I guess.
I can imagine you’ve already realized your dreams as a pop singer. Did you expect that kind of response on your first album out?
You don’t expect that success. You just pour your heart and soul into your music. It’s really a reflection of who you are as a person as opposed to playing characters in a movie. You just hope for the best. You hope that somebody relates to it, somebody understands it -- that they like it and that they can dance to it. So I was actually pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
Was it weird to be heralded as a part of the Latin Music Boom?
You know, it’s funny that they create a movement thing because three people come out with an album at the same time or whatever it was. Yes, I’m Latin. Yes, I made an English pop album because I grew here in the United States, so I don’t know. It didn’t bother me in any way. I didn’t think of it as a negative thing, but I also didn’t think it was fair to do it because it makes it seem like people are a fad or culture is a fad and I think that’s unfair to do. I think that music should be separated and judged by individual artists. We don’t go, “Oh, all those artists are from Texas; let’s put all their music together,” you know what I mean? It’s just not done with any other cultures, and I think it was unfair that it was done. It’s not important. The music should speak for itself.