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The Sunday Times

Jennifer Reborn

Interview with Jennifer Lopez

By Chris Iley

13 February 2005
Copyright © 2005 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved.

I've always thought Jennifer Lopez defines herself by how hard she can fall in love. We all want to believe in love, but few people can have more of a voracious appetite for it than Lopez.

I have seen her in love many times. I first met her at the end of her relationship with Sean Combs, when she seemed exhausted, like she had given too much. Months later, she was in the cosy harbour that was her choreographer Cris Judd. She told me she would always be friends with him, even when I met her two years later, while she was shooting Maid in Manhattan, and Ben Affleck kept coming out onto her patio because he couldn't leave her alone, not even for a few minutes.

This time, she is married again, to Marc Anthony. She is still only 35, looks relaxed, her skin like satin, even though she is not wearing any make-up. The wedding took place just six months after the break-up with Affleck, under a simple rose canopy, minus the paparazzi. Anthony, like Lopez, is the child of parents who emigrated from Puerto Rico. Like Lopez, he grew up in New York, became a superstar in the Latin community and crossed over. And, like Lopez, whom he married four days after he finalised his divorce to the former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres, he acts and sings. From what I can see, this relationship is a different kind of thing for her. It is underplayed, all about knowing glances. He likes to check that she is doing okay.

She seems happy and nurtured by that.

Her look is less bling now than in the past -still hoop earrings, but rings only on the wedding finger; still tight jeans, but not low cut. She is back in New York, having got rid of her movie-star house in LA, and is even wearing clothes that she has rediscovered in her old cupboards. I tell her she is having so many rebirths. Lopez says, excited: "You know, that's right. I think that's what I should call my album, because this really is a rebirth for me." It was just an off-the-cuff remark, and the next thing we know, she is announcing it as the album title. She hasn't lost any of her spontaneity.

Is going back to Anthony, her childhood sweetheart, another rebirth? "Perhaps I never realised how important that Latin part was," she says. "I've worked with Marc for many years. We always had a great chemistry."

After taking time off, Lopez has several new projects coming out: a single, Get Right, and movie, Shall We Dance?, in which she makes her co-star, Richard Gere, look sexy again. It is a long way from the horrible Gigli, in which, opposite Affleck, she stumbled through ugly lines and cliches, and displayed as much sexual charisma as a box of hair. Then there is Monster-in-Law, with Jane Fonda, and An Unfinished Life, with Robert Redford. On Friday, she made her debut at New York fashion week with her first catwalk collection.

The other day, I watched one of her first movies, Selena, and there is a line in it where she says: "I just want to make the whole world dance to my music and wear my clothes." How prophetic. There is no doubt that, like Selena, she is doubly driven to prove herself: as a Latin star and as an outsider, you have to go the extra mile, be as dazzling in Spanish as in English. She has worked hard to get there, but she has also used work as a refuge, perhaps to anaesthetise her pain.

"Yes, work was a refuge for me if things were not great, but it wasn't until I took time off recently that I realised how to put things in perspective," Lopez says. "I actually need eight hours sleep. There was a time in my life where I would just get five or six, and that was for years."

I think she realised that working was not just going to anaesthetise her, it was going to finish her. She has drawn back from trying to explain herself in public, and there is a big sense of going back to her roots. "I was always very worried about the business changing me," she says. "I was born in the Bronx and had a regular lower-middle-class upbringing. I came to the business an outsider. I was determined to stay grounded."

From the outside, this may look like the opposite of the truth, but having known Lopez for the past few years, I can testify that a part of her is very normal. She has never demanded any particular type of sheet or candle in my presence. All she did was fall for the wrong person in public. Her only solution when it went wrong was to fall as hard again. "I still believe in love. That is all I'm guilty of."

Her eyes widen in a melting kind of way.

How do you recover from the soap opera that was Bennifer? Lopez sighs, then says, laughing: "I've made a lot of mistakes, and I thought what I should do is take responsibility for myself, draw some boundaries." She is talking about the end of last year, when she appeared on Oprah and wouldn't answer questions about Affleck, then she burst into tears. "You never expect people to understand what you're going through, because they're not in your position. But when I did Oprah and explained I couldn't answer what I felt uncomfortable with, the audience started cheering. I just got emotional and started crying because it felt so good. It made me realise people out there are with you."

Does she think that it was harder for her because all her mistakes were made in public? "Yeah, that part sucks," she says. "I never claim to be anything except human -everybody makes mistakes." Maybe her problem is being too human, too all-emotional. "I take disappointment hard, then I try to pick myself up. I'm the type of person who has to keep going forward and try very hard to see good, even when the bad stuff happens." That makes you sound superhuman and fearless. "I'm fearless in that I'm not afraid to throw myself into things; in other ways, I'm a big baby. I'm afraid of silly things, like the dark. I'm also very afraid of ...How can I put this? Maybe it's because I'm from a large family, but I developed this thing where I didn't want to be alone. So I'm afraid of that."

So this is J.Lo: brave and tough, yet vulnerable and terrified. There is a song on her new album called This Is Me, a Latin ballad full of drama. She sings it like Streisand. "It's about how we deceive ourselves because we want to believe in someone." It's a song discovered by Anthony for his Spanish language album and translated by Lopez. It's about being so confused that you don't know if you're living a dream, that you don't know what's real and what isn't. It seems a poignant allusion to the Affleck relationship -somehow made sense of by Anthony.

"I think we've all been in situations when you believe something is one thing and it turns out to be another," Lopez says.

You want very much to believe that with Anthony what you see is what you get - that what she believes is finally true.

The single Get Right is released tomorrow, the album Rebirth on February 28. Shall We Dance? is released on Friday

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