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Allentown Morning Call

"Maid' In Heaven": Jennifer Lopez Finds Bliss After A Year Of Transition

By Amy Longsdorf, Special to The Morning Call

December 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Allentown Morning Call. All rights reserved. 

NEW YORK -- Jennifer Lopez has a hit single, an about-to-be-released movie, and a fresh engagement to People magazines Sexiest Man Alive.

So what else is new?

Ever since she became a household name with the 1999 CD smash On the 6 (Work) and its multiplatinum follow-up J.Lo (Epic), the 32-year-old performer has lived the kind of life that sends the tabloids into a frenzy.

As if her multimedia career, complete with clothing and perfume line, wasn't enough to merit loads of ink, her romance with fellow performer Ben Affleck has only made her star burn brighter. Not for nothing do her friends in the Bronx called her the Supernova.

"For me, it was a kind of transitional year, a year of growth," chirps Lopez, whose new CD, This is Me Then (Universal), is in stores and whose latest movie, Maid in Manhattan, opens Friday. "I feel like I went through something, came out the other side and was actually the person I was supposed to be my whole life."

What exactly Lopez went through, she is not revealing. But clearly, she credits Affleck with playing a major role in her metamorphosis.

You'd have to be living on Mars not to know that Lopez has enjoyed a series of high-profile relationships, including two short-lived marriages and a long-term fling with Sean P.Diddy Combs.

Already her fast-paced personal life has earned her comparisons to the multi-married Elizabeth Taylor.

"It's kind of funny how people look at you and say, 'Oh, youve been married a couple times before.' Living your life in public is a weird thing because people feel like they have the right to judge what you do," she fumes. "I think if you just turn the camera on any random person right now, like you, for instance, there would be the same kind of story. But my stories are on the front page, so it's a totally different thing."

Lopez is sitting in a cavernous suite at the Waldorf-Astoria at the beginning of a long day of publicity for Maid in Manhattan. Her get-up includes a bulky, beige Gap sweater and a coral chiffon skirt. "It might be Chanel," she says with a shrug.

Her most dazzling accessory is a six-carat pink diamond, an engagement ring from Affleck. Asked about the dazzling bauble, she flashes it with the enthusiasm of a lovestruck teenager.

Lopez and Affleck met while filming Gigli, a romantic comedy about con artists and hitmen set for release next summer. "You could tell there was a real connection there," says Lopez, who, at the time, was still married to dancer Chris Judd. "Ben was the first person who made me think to myself, 'Oh, Ill be friends with him after the movie is over, no matter what.'"

As for when the friendship transformed into something else, Lopez remains purposely vague. "I don't know if you can pinpoint stuff like that to a certain day, or to a certain moment, or to something he did," she says. "He really didn't do anything wrong. Maybe that was it."

Affleck and Lopez aren't afraid of mixing business with pleasure. They're already re-teamed for another movie, Kevin Smiths Jersey Girl, which also is due next year.

"Ben and I want to work together again," she gushes. "In fact, I think we want to do everything together at this point. But I don't know how many people will invest in it. "

Right now, Lopez is keen to talk about Maid in Manhattan, a romantic comedy in which she plays a Bronx single mom who works as a housekeeper at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Before you can say Cinderella, Lopez is being mistaken for a well-connected guest, and a wealthy politician (Ralph Fiennes) is falling in love with her.

In the movie, Lopez lives in the Bronx, not far from the Castle Hill neighborhood where she actually grew up. Going back to shoot the film was an experience J.Lo will never forget.

"The girls, especially, go crazy," she says. "They're very affectionate with me. They'll come up to me and hug me and hang on to me and all want to be in a big circle.

"Rita Moreno never came to the Bronx when I was growing up. That's not to say anything against her. But I think its important that I do that, so people have that \[inspiration\] in their lives. I think it makes a huge difference. "

As the daughter of parents born in Puerto Rico, Lopez was continually told growing up not to harbor big dreams. "When you grow up where I grew up, and you're a minority, there's this feeling, like, 'What are you doing? Where are you going? What are you trying to do with your life?'

"Because it's just not the norm. It's not expected. There's a fear of success because there's a fear of failure. The feeling is, 'Don't push it, lets stay right here, were eating, everybody is paying the bills, what are you going to mess it up for?' There's a risk that goes with wanting more. And to overcome that is very difficult, which is what this movie deals with."

Lopez always wanted more. After high school, she worked at a law office, a jeans store and a bootleg perfume booth. "I had so many jobs," she says. "But I got fired from all of them because I wasn't focused on them. I had bigger ideas in my head."

Her breakthrough came when she landed a role as one of the Fly Girls on In Living Color. When the TV show went off the air, she made the move to films, including Money Train with Wesley Snipes, Blood and Wine with Jack Nicholson, Selena, Out of Sight with George Clooney, and The Wedding Planner with Matthew McConaughey.

Now Lopez is so famous she cant go out shopping without bodyguards. For a hard-core shopaholic, it's the biggest sacrifice.

"There are times when I think to myself, 'I'd really love to go shopping right now,' but you have to think about it, because it's not going to be the shopping experience that you used to have," Lopez notes.

"You can't just concentrate on the clothes because people want your attention. And I have a real thing about people thinking I'm mean or that I'm not nice, so I want to be nice."

It's no accident, she says, that her latest single is called Jenny from the Block.

"For 20 years, I lived in the Bronx, OK? I grew up there," she explains. "I'm Puerto Rican -- that's not going to change. I just feel like that's going to manifest itself in everything I do.

"Sometimes it's going to be as overt as Jenny From the Block, and sometimes it's going to be as subtle as something else I've done, like this movie where the character has street smarts, like I had when I was growing up.

"When I was back in the Bronx shooting the movie, I realized that no matter where I live right, this is still who I am and this is who I'll always be. It's a good feeling, actually."

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