A star in both Hollywood and the music industry, Jennifer Lopez is reaping the benefits of years of hard work and an unwavering determination to succeed.
Jennifer Lopez is much more determined and ambitious than anyone could possibly imagine. Though her public image is that of the poor Bronx beauty who became a mega-selling pop star and movie star, deep down she’s a highly motivated woman equipped with a keen business sense. That is obvious with her new film Hustlers, a movie she helped usher to the screen with a female-centered cast and a female director, Lorene Scafaria.
Lopez is not only the star but one of the producers of Hustlers, in which a group of savvy former strip club employees band together to turn the tables on their former Wall Street clients. With the film—which is generating Oscar buzz—she has shown herself to be as slick and dynamic behind the camera as she is in front of it.
The 50-year-old Lopez lives in Los Angeles with her two children, 11-year-old twins Emme and Max from her former marriage to singer Marc Anthony. J.Lo, as she’s affectionately known, is now engaged to former baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez.
While J.Lo polarizes opinion, what has become apparent as the years have gone by is this is someone with much more humility than she is given credit for. She is a devoted mom, passionate creative force and workaholic, and combining the three has made her, in her own words, the happiest she has ever been.
Lopez recently performed in Philadelphia, as she brought her “It’s My Party” tour to a sold-out Wells Fargo Center in late July to kick off her 50th birthday celebration. A one-time Jersey Girl – she starred in the 2004 film that shot in Paulsboro- she spoke with South Jersey Magazine about her new movie, getting engaged again and how her self-confidence has grown as she’s gotten older.
You’ve spoken over the past year about feeling much stronger and having a renewed sense of direction in life. What have you learned about yourself that has brought about this change?
Oh my God, so many things. I continue to learn about myself and try to keep evolving as a woman and as a person and as a human being. But I think that the most important lesson I’ve learned is to love yourself first.
You’ve always stated that you have a fierce work ethic. Where do you get that drive and determination from?
My mother and grandmother have been great role models for me. My mom was the one who taught me that if your worked hard in life then you can achieve your dreams. My mom and dad both worked different jobs so we could have a better life and I really appreciated how they accepted their responsibilities and never complained. You learn that if you want to be successful at anything you’re going to have to work for it. No one is going to give it to you.
My mom gave me all her support when I was starting out [in show business] but she also told me that she didn’t want to hear me crying or complaining about my choice to be a performer. She also impressed upon me the need to be very independent and learn to take care of yourself. She helped me to believe in myself. So all those things have been important in helping me succeed and accomplish things I always dreamed of doing.
You’re a very devoted mother to your twins and very dedicated when it comes to your work. Do you ever find time to relax?
Not very often! [Laughs] I try to make some time for myself at night. I like taking long baths with candles and special aromas. I also enjoy getting massages and spending time by myself with no phones or any interruptions. A lot of little things.
Those are the moments where I can think a bit and just enjoy being my myself the way I used to be able to when I was younger. But it’s not as if I’m ever going to have a whole week to myself. But I’m used to being active and I enjoy my work and doing a lot of different creative things. I need that.
As your children grow up, they become more independent and you can let them be on their own more and as twins there’s a close connection between them. But it’s so beautiful for me to watch Emme and Max develop their own interests and explore their individual creativity. It’s interesting to see how they’re very different from each other, also.
Emme is kind of quieter, she’s always drawing, and loves to play with my shoes. Max never stands still and is always up to some mischief. They’re total opposites. Just watching them makes me realize how different men are from women even at a young age.
You’ve stated in the past that you don’t pretend to be a superwoman when it comes to looking after your children.
It’s been a long while that I’ve accepted that I can’t be with them as much as I would like. But I’m not alone as a working mother when it comes to that. I am very conscious of trying to be as hands-on a mom as I can possibly be. They’re very happy and well-adjusted kids and I’m so proud of them and they always come first in my life. It’s up to me to figure out the best way of making them feel loved and secure. … I take it one day at a time.
In preparation for your new movie, Hustlers, is it true you went to a strip club in the Bronx?
Yeah, I went to the city to Scores, and what you do as an actress is observe. I was really just trying to soak up behavior, the feel of the place, the atmosphere in there.
There was real money there, as opposed to chips or silver dollars. I was watching how they did lap dances, how different girls performed on stage. I was looking at how they interacted with each other, how their attitude was. What I got from just seeing what was going on was that they were happy and that they were pulling off a certain atmosphere.
Then, I was trying to talk to some of them and tried to see what they really thought about being there, working there.
The theme of the film seems like it’s a very empowering one for women. Is that how you see it?
I think sometimes in the movies, when you get famous people in the press acting, they want to make it about the person. With this film, this is me playing a role and this is us telling stories about slices of life and that’s how I see this piece. For example, with the film Goodfellas, you saw a movie that went inside the Mafia. You delve into that world, which is an underground one that you don’t know about and there are things that are going on.
I see this movie pretty much the same where we go into the world and we see it from a woman’s point of view. We see what it’s like and we see the things that they do, you see what makes them feel empowered and what makes them kind of desperate—it’s a myriad of complex emotions and many levels and layers of things going on in this story.
I find that very interesting, for example what people will do and what they won’t do—we see where they will cross the line. The last TV show that I did, Shades of Blue, was also very much like that and it’s interesting to me why people do what they do.
There is also no judgement in this film and when I read the script, this was very much something which came across. I get a lot of scripts that I have to choose between, and I just felt that this was a good and gritty role for me.
It’s also something which felt a little scary to me, I will tell you the truth about it. It was a pretty scary role for me to take on because I have never really exposed myself in this way, emotionally. I have also never before played a character like that; I am used to playing roles in romantic comedies and I am almost always a good person on the good side of the law.
Whereas with this movie, the role with regards to the line between good and bad was a little bit blurred, like when I played Harley from Shades of Blue. In that, I played a good person who was doing bad things. It makes you realize that quite a lot of people are like that in real life. We are good people—and most people are good—but we do things considered to be bad, sometimes.
How did you convince Cardi B to be in movie?
I called her up and told her I was doing this film which I was starring in and producing and told her that she could have done any role. It was more about her time commitments and I understood that she has a lot of things going on right now. She told me that she had never done a movie and we just talked about it.
I told her what the movie was about, and I didn’t know if she knew about things like this and she told me that she came from that world and that she understood it. So, I told her that she didn’t need to get an acting coach as I wanted her to just do what she did, because I didn’t want her to get out of her comfort zone, either.
So, I felt that she was better at this than I was, and I wanted to pick her brain, so we did have a conversation about it, about that type of life and what it was like and what it did for her. I wanted to know how she felt in that life and she was very happy to be a part of it, although she didn’t know how big a part of it, she could be. But she signed on and that was a great thing.
What did you learn about these women who are in these complex situations?
They are hustlers, but it’s hard to talk about it and I think people would be better off watching the movie. If I was to start talking about some of the situations, they may come across a little weird or out of context. It is going to be a very interesting film, and it’s also sexy and cool and it has all of those things that you want.
You got engaged again earlier this year. Did you know that Alex was going to propose?
Well, we had talked a little bit about it, and we had gone back and forth a little bit saying: ‘What are we doing? Where is this going? It’s been a couple of years.’ But I did not know that he was going to propose when he did. He just said that we should go away somewhere because we have so much for the rest of the year.
In January and February, we were setting everything up and doing everything as far as work was concerned. But we knew that once everything was in place, it was Hustlers, my tour, next movie, Sunday Night Baseball (Rodriguez is a commentator); it was just one thing after another.
So Alex just said in January, ‘Let’s go away and have a minute, just the two of us before everything start.’ And I was like, ‘OK.’
A lot has been written about how beautiful and fit you look these days.
Thank you! I’ve gotten in the habit of training very hard over the last few years.
What’s different about you today from who you were in years past?
I feel more secure and I’ve learned to feel good about myself. That’s been a big step for me. I don’t need anyone’s approval to be happy. I’ve also never felt better about my body or my appearance than I do now that I’m . I don’t have any longing for the past or wanting to be 20 again. Maybe that’s the secret of feeling freer and happier as you get older.
Why were you insecure about yourself?
It took me time to develop the kind of confidence and self-assurance that comes from truly believing in yourself. After my divorce, I went through a lot of self-questioning and soul-searching and I’m so much stronger now.
I needed to go through that kind of process where you learn that you need to love yourself before you can really feel truly open and free in your own life and the way you relate to the world. I feel much happier and good about so many things now in a way that I was never able to feel before.
Do you think all women should follow your example?
I think women should be proud of their bodies and there shouldn’t be one concept of what is beautiful or ideal-looking. I’ve had to overcome a lot of negative things that were said to me when I first started working in Hollywood. I was constantly being told to lose weight but I basically told people, ‘Look, I’m OK with my shape and the way I look.’ But it still affects you when you think that you’re being seen a certain way and after the birth of my twins it took me a whole year to get rid of that extra weight.
Are women subjected to too much pressure when it comes to their physical appearance?
We’re always beating ourselves up. If it’s not our bodies, it’s whether we’re spending enough time with our kids, are we doing a good job, are we making them happy? All those things are weighing on us. It’s hard. But I look at my mother and grandmother as examples of very strong women who have always inspired me.
How do you like to spend time when you’re by yourself or you need to be alone for a few hours?
I’ll sit by myself, watch a movie or read and not be disturbed during those moments. I love to be able to take a long bath or sit in my garden and look at the sky and just do nothing. I never did that before and it’s kind of an extraordinary feeling for me to be able to do that. Over the years I’ve been so used to working so hard, going to meetings, preparing new projects, going on set, that it was hard for me to keep still. Now I find it so good and calming to be able to be by myself and not worry if I don’t have something to do.
What’s the most important lesson you could offer to other people?
We have to learn to love each other and also to make the right choices. You need to have the right friends and also be able to feel good about yourself so that you can find the right partner and not make bad decisions.
Did you always dream of this kind of life?
As a child I always set big goals for myself. When I went to take dance class, I was always the first to arrive and the last to leave. I believed that if I worked hard enough I would one day get the chance to succeed.
My mom and dad taught me the lesson of hard work. My mom and grandmother also gave me the greatest example of hard-working, tough Puerto Rican women who never complained and also worked so hard to make sure you would be able to take care of yourself in life. They taught me that hard work is the basis of everything. I’ve always stayed true to that philosophy.
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 16, Issue 7 (October 2019).
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