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In a Good Place
After decades in the spotlight, Jennifer Aniston is staying true to herself.

by Evan Jameson

For those of us who have followed Jennifer Aniston over the years, she epitomizes one of the industry’s most curious juxtapositions—an actress so often represented on screen by bubbly, buoyant, energetic and humorous antics, yet someone who, away from the flashbulbs and the premieres has found the challenges of settling down and finding the right partner slightly more challenging. It follows then, that one of the actress’ biggest frustrations has been her inability to start a family, and that is a tale that rumbles on in the life of someone who, seemingly, has everything else, including an estimated $300 million fortune.
On the subject of children, Aniston has often admitted to being “fed up” with the incessant and clearly unfounded reports about her being pregnant. Indeed, she even issued a public denunciation (via a letter to The Huffington Post) of the media’s intrusive behaviour and the kind of “unfair” shaming that takes place with respect to women who for whatever reason remain childless “as if you’ve failed yourself as a female.”
And speaking at the 2016 Giffoni Film Festival in Italy, Aniston took matters a step further by urging women to stand up for themselves in supporting one another: “The world is starting to realize that women are not only clothes, makeup and selfies,” Aniston said. “Sometimes we as women are our own worst enemies and that’s why we have to support each other. When I was a teenager I grew up with a great circle of friends who always supported me and were like family to me. As women, we should accept every aspect of ourselves and embrace ourselves for who and what we are, including our faults. That will make you strong.”
Public statements aside, what the 51-year-old also retains is the rare ability to enchant and engage an audience some 25 years after she first appeared on the scene. Numerous careers have been and gone in a fraction of that time, yet Aniston’s girl next door image has carried her through generations, genres and a crossover from comedy into more serious roles with flowing ease.
Now entering a new phase of her career with the success of TV drama projects, she has an almost nagging acceptance that these are the rules of the game. And if that is so, she continues to play out the drama with a shrug, a smile and the unerring ability to deliver a devastating rebuke to any journalist question that strays off-track… albeit, she will follow it with a laugh and smile.
A jewel in Hollywood’s horribly tarnished crown, she’s been in the spotlight recently thanks to her role as Alex Levy on The Morning Show, a drama that streams on Apple TV+ and co-stars Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell. She’ll also be taking part in The One Where They Got Back Together, the hugely-anticipated Friends reunion. All of the original cast members have gathered for this nostalgic special, though production has been temporarily halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You are the latest to step across from film into TV, although really for you this is a case of coming full circle.
Absolutely, although of course the landscape is so different now. When we were working on Friends and when we started to appreciate the magnitude of what it was that we were doing, there was a feeling that this was probably the biggest thing traditional TV entertainment could do in terms of drama or comedy. And we didn’t speculate on that in a way that was to put ourselves at the top, it’s just you have a sense that you are in something big and you can’t see how that would be different in future, albeit you’ll be replaced by something else … but the format will stay the same.
And yet, you look at it now with premium channels, boxsets, and these big-budget TV projects that are now leading the way, and you realize how everything did indeed change from the way it was. It’s like saying TV has evolved in itself, while film has just carried on doing the same thing in the same format.
So it’s a very interesting and very exciting time, and I’m just glad I’m still involved—on both sides of the camera—because you have actors who have had their whole career in film switching across to experience something really different and really unique.
Before Friends, you struggled to find work and took a lot of odd jobs in New York to help you pay the rent. What kept you going through those tough times?
Stubbornness and determination keep you going. You’re also spending a lot of time with other actors who are going through the same thing and you’re all dealing with rejection and disappointment. So you tell yourself to just hang in there and have faith in yourself and persevere.
But you never forget the tough times—it makes you respect your success and everything good that happens to you and I’m just very grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had. I have never found any other job to be as exciting as acting. I never had any doubts about what I wanted to do in life.
It’s ironic in a way that your father (actor John Aniston) never wanted you to become an actress?
No, never. He was worried that I was going to get my heart broken and spend years living with all the anxieties and stresses that come with trying to get your career going. I think in a way that I wanted to prove to him and to myself that I had what it takes to make it in the business and that I wasn’t to back down even when things would get tough.
Did you ever ask your father for help getting parts?
I once appeared as an extra on Search for Tomorrow but somehow I never got a regular part on his show. I think he was trying to discourage me from following in his footsteps and I don’t blame him. I know how he struggled to get roles and for several years I couldn’t buy myself an audition for anything.
How did you begin to sense that maybe comedy was your forte as an actress?
I was studying at the [Fiorella H. LaGuardia] High School for the Performing Arts and one time, while I was performing a Chekhov play, the audience was laughing at certain points instead of taking my performance very seriously as I expected. I was offended at first, but then my teacher told me that I was unintentionally funny but in a good way.
That’s when I started to understand that I had a gift for comedy and that I could make audiences laugh. That experience also helped lead me to appreciate that I should not only be willing to expose that lighter side of me but also those other feelings that I tended to hide.
You originally wanted to become a dramatic actress as opposed to doing comedy. Is that what made such a devastatingly good, but sad, performance in the film Cake so important to you?
I was in love with that story. I felt that I understood the pain and depression that this woman was experiencing and that I could do justice to that kind of role. I have no qualms about exploring the darker sides of human nature. I’ve lived through dark times myself. We all have.
Did you ever wonder whether the public would accept you in darker roles because your Friends character, Rachel, is so beloved?
I’m very grateful for what that role gave me back then—we all are; it was a gift for all of us. Sometime Rachel seems like three lifetimes ago and it is scary to think of her as coming back.
That said; I’m at a point in my life and career where I can say: who cares about my image?
In all, I’m ready to play characters that reveal the painful and ugly sides of life rather than just playing more glamorous or attractive kinds of roles. There is something very liberating about being able to just let go and throw yourself into characters where you can reveal those darker and sadder emotional sides to yourself.
You’ve spoken out against sexism in Hollywood and about how women have to hang in there and not give up even in the face of bullying or pressure. How have you dealt with the pressure during your own career?
The actor’s craft can overwhelm people who are too sensitive, but I’ve always found the strength to keep fighting. So many times I felt stressed out because I wasn’t connecting with the director or I couldn’t quite play a scene the way I wanted to, but I never thought of giving up.
That’s not to say that this job or life for that matter is easy. We are human beings and sometimes we feel that we can’t endure those painful moments in your lives, but eventually you realize that you can survive. It’s like a miracle. And in times of crisis it’s important to turn to your friends for support.
You seem to have a very positive outlook and perspective on life. Have you always been that way?
Even before I had success as an actress I was always able to look forward. Sure, I went through some difficult periods where you only see obstacles blocking your path. But even as a waitress I still felt happy and was able to tell myself to keep trying and eventually something good would come along. I have looked for ways to overcome those obstacles that crop up in life.
You said you clashed with your dad over what you wanted to do in life, but did you ever keep any secrets from your parents?
Oh wow—well my mom … taking money from her purse, like $1 and thinking I was stealing large sums of cash. It was for video games in the arcade.

You seem very comfortable in who you are at this point in your career.
You’re so careful and controlled in your 20s, and you’re just more aware of your every move. Now, I think there’s just more of a freedom and a comfort, and none of it really matters, as long as you’re enjoying yourself and having a really good time. Not hurting other people—of course, that goes without saying. I think that’s what’s great about these comedies is that there’s no apology.
Women in their 50s seem to have earned a new kind of respect. How do you feel about it?
I’ve never had a problem with that. I’m so much happier with how I feel about myself and things in general and about where my life is going now than I was when I was in my 20s or early 30s. I have an inner peace and calm that has guided me over the years—it’s really valuable to have that, even if it takes a while to find it.
I’ve never really thought about age, just like I’ve never thought too much about health or fitness or image. I find that those are the things the media talk about, whereas all I’m concerned about is wellbeing and being happy.
It’s not that I don’t consciously want to consider those things, but in my head I just get on with me being me. I can’t afford to spend every waking moment wondering what my body looks like … what’s the point?
You’ve had to deal with an enormous amount of media attention over the years, yet you’ve always maintained a pretty calm and cool attitude. How have you managed not to let yourself get caught up in all the hype and speculation?
[Laughs] Practice! You learn that you can’t get upset about what’s written about you. You’d go nuts. I’ve always had a certain amount of inner strength and confidence that gives me a level of immunity. There’s no point in becoming angry or bitter about things that go wrong in your life or what’s reported about you. You can only control what you do in your world and that’s the only reality you should think about. I’ve also been lucky to have great friends who I can talk to if I’m ever down or worried and who are there for me.
The main thing is to live each day as it comes and just imagine all the wonderful things that can happen to you as long as you’re open to enjoying your life and thinking creatively about what you want to do.

Five things you may or may not know about Jennifer Aniston
Although she is best known for her role as Rachel Green in Friends, she was originally cast to play Monica Geller and had to persuade the producers to let her swap with Courteney Cox. Aniston won an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award over the course of the sitcom’s run.

She received $1million each episode for the last two Friends seasons, which made her the then highest paid TV actress of all time, along with her female co-stars Cox and Lisa Kudrow.

Anniston was a pupil at progressive education centre Rudolf Steiner School in New York. Despite being the class clown, she had a painting exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when she was only 11 years old.

Before her big break, she worked as a bike messenger and in telemarketing. During 1987, she was a waitress at a burger bar in Manhattan called Jackson Hole.

Her father’s best friend, Telly Savalas, was her godfather. Anniston herself is the godmother of Coco Riley Arquette, daughter of Courteney Cox and David Arquette.

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Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 17, Issue 5 (August 2020).

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