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Jan 15, 2010

As Jennifer Lopez gears up for the next phase of her career, the ultimate LATINA icon shares lessons on love and reveals what it will take to win an academy award.

By Photographs by Nino Muñoz

Jennifer Lopez is one confident chica. Even when she falls, she gets up faster than the blink of an eye. Watching her 20-month-old twins Max and Emme draw on paper in the spacious guest house of her husband Marc Anthony’s french chateau-style home in Bel-Air, Calif., you can’t help but wonder if the kids inherited some of Lopez’s drive. On this warm afternoon in October, they color with the same fierce determination their mami is known for.

When Max decides he wants his sister’s yellow marker, and Emme refuses, he screams and stomps his feet. Lopez jumps right up and knows exactly how to calm her son down. “Ooh, you dancing? Let’s put on music,” she tells Max. With a quick tap of a button, Lopez’s hit song “Louboutins” starts up on a small CD player. Both children look in the direction of the music and smile. Lopez melts, forgets about the dancing and smothers them with kisses. “Everybody says it, but the best thing about motherhood is just how much you love them,” she says. “I’m always thinking about them—always, always worried.”

Like any new mom, she’s obsessed with making sure her children have everything they need, especially quality time with her. As she gets ready to promote the April releases of her seventh new studio album, Love? (Epic), and a new romantic comedy, The Back-Up Plan (CBS Films), hanging out with the twins is just as much a priority. If anyone can figure out how to do it all, it’s La Lopez.

LATINA’s Mimi Valdés talks with Jennifer Lopez

HOW DID YOU START WORKING ON THE ALBUM THIS TIME AROUND?
I started recording some random records just to get back into it after I had taken some time off. Inspiration doesn’t come because you’re like, “Okay, I’m ready to make an album.” It wasn’t probably until about eight months into the process that I really knew what I wanted to do.

WHY DID YOU PICK LOVE? AS THE TITLE?
I’ve always been a lover of love; I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I’ve always been in search of that perfect thing. This album is very much about that. Kind of like: What is love, what are these things we do when we’re in love, and is that love? You know, love! What the hell? [Laughs] That’s what my life and, I think, what my message is about. It doesn’t matter if you live in a small apartment in the Bronx or a mansion in Bel-Air, you’re still a person who needs love. People need love for survival almost as much as they need air.

DO YOU EVER LOOK AT YOUR PAST WORK, LIKE MUSIC VIDEOS WITH EXES AND FEEL….
Exposed? Vulnerable? Do I cringe? [Laughs] No, no, it’s a literal snapshot. Every one of my albums is very spot-on with who I was at the time. I’ve always been a person who is guided by my gut, my heart, and I love that about myself. I think the day I don’t do that is when I lose my way. I can’t regret the things I did in the past, like putting somebody in a video that I was with. Who cares? I think people relate to me because they know that I’m not being phony.

THE THEME OF LOVE IS ALSO PRESENT IN YOUR NEW MOVIE, THE BACK-UP PLAN
The thing with romantic comedies is that you know how it ends up, so it’s always about the ride and the obstacles. I liked this one [about a woman who meets the love of her life the same day that she becomes artificially inseminated], probably because I had just gone through giving birth myself. I really loved that it was something I could relate to right now. It was interesting, funny and it was also not the typical romantic comedy where it was just about me. It was about the guy too, and their shared experience.

YOUR FANS LOVE SEEING YOU IN ROMANTIC COMEDIES, BUT SELENA IS STILL MY FAVORITE. IF THAT MOVIE CAME OUT NOW, WITH LATINOS BEING SO MUCH MORE IN THE MAINSTREAM, DO YOU THINK YOU COULD HAVE NABBED AN OSCAR NOMINATION?
I don’t really look back that far. I feel like that was a good performance, something that holds up and I’m very proud of. I mean, it could’ve been, but I look at a movie like El Cantante, which I felt was an even better performance for me.

DO YOU THINK PEOPLE DISMISSED THE PROJECT BECAUSE IT WAS YOU AND MARC?
I honestly don’t think it was because both of us were in it. Whether the movie was a perfect movie or not is a different story, but I feel proud of my performance. A month after the Oscars aired, I got a call from one of the head people at the academy, who said I should have been nominated—that’s devastating. Those types of roles don’t come around every single day.

IT WOULD BE NICE IF YOU COULD WIN AN OSCAR, TO BRING ONE HOME FOR THE BRONX.
My time ain’t up though, don’t you worry. I know there’s gonna be that opportunity in my life many times.of the head people at the academy, who said I should have been nominated—that’s devastating. Those types of roles don’t come around every single day.

WHAT KIND OF ROLE DO YOU THINK WOULD WIN YOU AN OSCAR?
A great one in a great movie. It’s not just the role, although every once in a while they’ll pick out somebody they feel has credibility. But they mostly go for movies as a whole, like this was a great film and now let’s pick out the actors who had great performances in it. Then there are the big studios that do a massive campaign. If you’re not a big studio film, you better hope that your little studio or your little independent-financed company is gonna mount a campaign, and that your performance is big enough, among everything else that year. Everyone who wins an Oscar, they really earn it. [Laughs] By their performance, by being in the right movie. The whole entity earns it: the production company, the studio.

YOU NEED ONE OF THOSE DOWN AND DIRTY ROLES…
I feel like I had that in El Cantante, but I don’t even think the academy members saw it. I feel like it’s their responsibility to do that, to see everything that’s out there, everything that could be great.

IS THAT FRUSTRATING FOR YOU?
Well, it is a little bit frustrating. It was funny; when the Oscars were on, I had just given birth on the 22nd, and the Oscars, I think, were a day or two later. I was sitting there with my twins—I couldn’t have been happier—but I was like, “How dope would it have been if I would’ve won the Oscar and been here in my hospital bed accepting the award?” [Laughs] “Thank you so much! I just want to thank the academy!” But we joked about it. It’s all good. Things will happen when they’re supposed to happen. I have the utmost faith and no doubt that it will one day, when and if it’s supposed to. You can’t get all crazy twisted over it.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED ABOUT LOVE?
What people don’t talk about, which is interesting to me, is how you have to put as much work into your relationships as you do into anything else. We put so much into our careers, and I’m all for that, but there’s also a lot of work that goes into making a successful partnership and marriage. It’s not easy, and anybody who’s successful at it deserves a pat on the back. You’ve got to grow with each other; you’ve gotta bend over backwards for each other. It’s a lot of stuff. Women have to find a balance where you can stand on your own so you don’t lose your individual power. I can’t just become “us,” and I think women do that a lot—become his wife, his girlfriend.

THAT’S ESPECIALLY COMMON AMONG LATINAS – WE’RE OFTEN RAISED TO CATER TO OUR MEN.
Yeah, we’re raised that way—and by the way, I find a lot of joy in that. But he can’t be like, “Serve my food, rub my feet.” He’s got to appreciate it. Some guys in our culture don’t appreciate it, and they should. It’s our job to say to the person, “Hey, I’m worth something here. I’m doing this because I love you. Acknowledge that I have other choices, but I choose to do this.”

ONCE A BAD ROUTINE IS ESTABLISHED, IT’S HARD TO CORRECT IT.
You have to be like, “No, this is not okay. This hurts me, and if you love me, then don’t do that.” Unfortunately, I don’t think this message is out there enough. It’s more like complaining about what they do to us—that’s old and boring. Love yourself enough so you’re not that girl who’s a victim of not being appreciated or loved the way that she should be. You can’t get all crazy twisted over it.

MOVIES, MUSIC, FASHION, PERFUME – IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO GET INTO?
Philanthropy. We’re trying to figure out how to do that in the right way because it’s a very difficult area. The Maribel Foundation has only been up for a few months. My sister, Lynda, and I had talked about doing this for years. We were both pregnant and spending a lot of time at home when we said, “Let’s just do it.” It’s been a tough road, I’m not gonna lie. It’s hard to figure out how to do that in the right way and really make a difference. I know we’re going to have a great foundation that will help in the areas we want to concentrate on: women, children and health care.

NO SLOWING DOWN FOR YOU, HUH?
I’m at that point in my life where it’s time to take the next step, to go to the next level. It was three and a half years before I had the babies, where it was just me and Marc. I wasn’t working, and it was a choice. I wanted to really set the foundation on having a home. I’m glad I put that time in. I’m a mom and wife now, but I’m also still who I am, and I have to do that too. Even just getting back into acting again, I could tell that I’ve grown. The experience of living is very important for an artist, for somebody who has to express those emotions. I feel I’m about to leave my whole life behind and go to the next thing. I really mean that: Bye-bye, house [she just accepted an offer from a buyer on her Bel-Air home]; bye-bye, everything. Next thing, here I come. Let’s go. Maybe a year and a half ago, I wasn’t ready, but now I am. There’s no tentativeness, no doubt, no fear.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR MARRIAGE WITH MARC?
Everything is great about my marriage. First and foremost, we love each other, truly love each other in a way that’s very deep and meaningful, not in a superficial sort of way. There’s a deep respect, admiration and love for each other. We honestly believe that we make each other better people. I think that Marc would agree with that. We force each other to be better, and I think in a relationship, that’s how it should be. You shouldn’t be with somebody if he makes you feel less than who you are.

IT CAN BE HARD TO FIGURE OUT WHEN TO DO THE WORK AND WHEN TO BREAK OUT. LOOKING BACK, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU DIDN’T TRY HARD ENOUGH IN PAST RELATIONSHIPS?
It’s true. I think I was very focused on what I was doing in my life at the time. No one tells you that you have to work so hard at it. There’s a certain notion of the fairy tale that you talk about in your head, like, “If this is not working, then it’s not working, we’re not meant to be together.” [Laughs] But you don’t find Prince Charming where everything is perfect—like you’re never gonna fight, you’re never gonna disagree, you’re never gonna have opposing points of view. That’s ridiculous, and it doesn’t exist. You get to a point where you say, “I need to work on myself—and if I love this person, I’m gonna work on myself, and if he loves me, he’s gonna work on himself.”

DOES FAME GIVE YOU A WEIRD SENSE OF REALITY?
Your world becomes smaller, so yeah, it is a weird reality. You stop doing things like having a key in your pocket, opening the door for yourself because you become so busy. All of a sudden, somebody takes that over for you. You do lose touch a little bit; anybody who says they don’t is a liar. Your life is not like a person who goes to work, opens their door, goes to the grocery store. I lived that life for 20-something years, and now my life is different, but I have my foot in both worlds. I have found myself lately saying it needs to be more simple. I can’t have all these people around, especially once you have children. I’ve been able to always keep a good perspective. I’ve never, thank God, gone completely off into the stratosphere. I’m not saying I haven’t had my moments [laughs], but I’m always able to come back.

IN THE MEANTIME, YOU DO HAVE YOUR ICON STATUS. IS IT WEIRD TO LIVE LIFE KNOWING THAT SO MANY PEOPLE VIEW YOU THIS WAY?
I feel very much like the same girl who grew up in New York City, on Castle Hill. It’s mindblowing, but it’s mindblowing in such a “Wow!” type of way, not in a “Sigh, I can’t take this” way. It’s not overwhelming; it enriches my heart and my soul, really gives me a sense of accomplishment.

EVER FEEL LIKE YOU WANT TO RUN AWAY AND GO RIDE THE 6 TRAIN?
No! [Laughs] I don’t want to ride the train, not once you have a car! But I know what you’re saying—there’s a part of you that longs for that openness. Like, let’s say you get into a fight with your man and you just want to get some air. You go out of the hotel, and realize security is following you and your assistant’s calling you on the phone, saying, “Where are you? Don’t be silly, come back.” Then you walk around the corner and somebody is like, “Hey, Jennifer Lopez!” [Laughs] So yeah, you can’t have that free moment, but it’s okay. It’s a trade-off because I get to experience things that a lot of people in this world don’t get to.


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