Jennifer Lopez: exclusive meeting at the dawn of her rebirth

In “Marry Me”, Jennifer Lopez embodies an international pop star about to marry another. The concert-ceremony takes place in New York, with an audience of fans and a live worldwide broadcast. The lovers must sing their new single – titled, obviously, “Marry Me” – and say “yes”. But as Kat Valdez goes on stage all dressed in Zuhair Murad, she learns that her fiancé is cheating on her. Devastated, the star randomly chooses from the crowd a man whom she marries instead: a college-level math teacher (Owen Wilson), who has come to escort his daughter to the “concert of the century”. The rest, you already know it: these two great wounded of life that everything opposes end up falling in love.

Halfway between “Love at first sight in Notting Hill” and “The Proposal”, this romantic comedy where we dance, sing, cry and giggle was tailor-made for JLo. Labeled Nuyorican, her production company, the film is accompanied by an impeccable pop soundtrack, already available on all platforms, and full of nods to the brands – Coach, Guess – of which she is the muse in real life. Above all, the story barely mimics that of “Jenny from the Block”: a world-famous star, unlucky in love and who has made a finely marketed show out of her life… Does that remind you of anything?

Installed in her offices in Los Angeles, on a sofa covered with fuchsia sequined cushions, the divine quinqua, perfectly hair and makeup, answers us on Zoom in a burst of laughter. “You have to enjoy the absurdity of your life when you’re in the spotlight,” she said, smoothing the folds of her sublime powder pink dress. When you’re an actress, a singer, a dancer, when you do all these videos and these performances, you create a hyper reality. It’s all about knowing how to put real feelings behind it. She continues: “During the filming of “Marry Me”, I told myself that I knew this life perfectly. I didn’t need to play. Besides, that’s the goal: not to play a role but to create a human experience that connects you with people. Is she talking about the film or about herself? Because as far as we remember the arrival of Jennifer Lopez in the collective consciousness, she has always proclaimed her authenticity (she comes from the Bronx, drags her mother on TV sets and sings “I’m Real” from 2001 ), while multiplying the assumed stagings (the reunion with Ben Affleck on a yacht in Saint-Tropez). And if, ultimately, the greatest role of Jennifer Lopez, it was herself?

What if, in the end, her biggest role was herself?

Daughter of a Puerto Rican teacher and computer technician, Jennifer Lopez was born in the Bronx and danced endlessly. His life will be dedicated to show business. The ambitious becomes a dancer in music videos, and even lands the tour of Janet Jackson. She dropped everything to become an actress and, very quickly, we found her as a Latin bomb alongside Robin Williams (“Jack”, by Francis Ford Coppola), Jack Nicholson (“Blood & Wine”, by Bob Rafelson) or George Clooney ( “Out of Reach” by Steven Soderbergh). But the role that really revealed her is already that of a pop star: it’s Selena, in the eponymous film by Gregory Nava. Texan Selena Quintanilla, murdered by the president of her fan club at 23, is the first star revered by the Latino public in the United States. Jennifer then turns into a “tejana” queen, this musical genre at the crossroads of the guinguette and salsa. For the first time, she sings and dances in front of 30,000 extras, she loves it. The film is noticed; Hollywood extols her. And that’s where Lopez-style hyper-reality begins.

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We are in 1998, when a reporter from “Movieline” magazine rings the doorbell of his villa in Beverly Hills. The appointment has been made, the journalist is punctual and, however, we are slow to open the door to him. When he finally enters the premises, a strange picture awaits him: Jennifer is on a deck chair by the pool, Bikini undone, getting a massage. At the sight of him, the Hollywood darling gets up languidly, throws her hair back and lets go, suave as you wish: “Hmmm… I’ll be with you in a second. “Obviously, the scene was orchestrated for me, writes a hot Stephen Rebello, comparing the revelation of the year to Ava Gardner. She knows that I know I’m not fooled (…), but that Lopez dared such a maneuver says a lot about her strategy to play it big. »

Already the art of staging. This incredible interview will have short-term consequences (Jennifer, who, despite all her confidence, still lacks experience, insults half of her colleagues: Cameron Diaz is “a model who was lucky”, Claire Danes “a monotonous actress”, and “Gwyneth Paltrow has filmed what already?”), which will not prevent her from garnering roles or launching a musical career, encouraged by the experience of “Selena” and the popularity of Latin artists like Ricky Martin or Enrique Iglesias. This may be his stroke of genius. “It will make her an even bigger movie star: music will open even more doors for her,” enthused Tommy Mottola, boss of Sony Music (and husband of Mariah Carey) in the “Los Angeles Times. “. Released in 1999, “On the 6”, named after the subway line she took as a child to get to Manhattan, was a huge success. Avant-garde, the one we soon call JLo launches a video site in her name, where we see her dancing bachata, hip-hop and merengue, as in the clip “If You Had My Love”. In her strategy of world conquest, the 30-year-old does not forget the tabloids and appears on the red carpet with Puff Daddy in a low-cut Versace dress, which will lead to the creation of Google Images – there were then so many requests “dress + tropical + JLo” on the search engine that the computer scientists came to create the “Images” tab.

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And then comes Ben Affleck. When the two meet on the set of “Gigli” in 2002, they are at the height of glory. And each as a couple. Ben Affleck, from the working class of Boston, was crowned at the age of 25 with an Oscar for the screenplay of “Good Will Hunting” and, since then, he has been playing blockbusters (“Arma geddon”, “Pearl Harbor”). As is customary in Hollywood, production companies buy newspaper advertisements to highlight their successes. But that year, in the “Hollywood Reporter” appeared a somewhat bizarre insert, dedicated to JLo: “You have shown kindness, devotion, humility, generosity, beauty in your courage, empathy, tremendous talent, genuine elegance and grace… Working with you has been nothing but an honor and a great pleasure. If only I had the chance to be in all your films…” Signed: “With love, respect and gratitude, Ben Affleck. Three months later, Lopez has moved on from her (second) husband, girlfriend Affleck, and the two are cooing on red carpets. “Bennifer” is born, and the public is invited to watch.

“The hardest part of this crazy celebrity world is having something authentic of your own”

In her new album “This Is Me… Then”, JLo devotes three songs to her lover: “I’m Glad” (which she will no longer sing live after their breakup), “The One” and “Perfect”, which she renamed “Dear Ben” a few hours before sending the record to press. The newspapers gargle and comment on their blingbling gifts (a toilet bowl encrusted with precious stones, a 6.1-carat pink diamond, a very very expensive Aston Martin…). Soon, “Vanity Fair” mocked the “voracious ambition” of Jennifer Lopez, the “New York Times” of her “ghettoness”, while the “Hollywood Reporter” judged that “JLo does not have the class of Julia Roberts”, whose sentimental life is also displayed in the newspapers. “Roberts would never go to the Oscars in cling film. Nor would anyone rave about Roberts’ behind as an intrinsic part of his success. »

So many racist and classist comments to which JLo decides to respond in song. Since the paparazzi pursue the couple day and night and get rich on her back, she will denounce them in a staging of her own: this gives “Jenny from the Block”, where, under the lens of real/fake paparazzi , Ben Affleck caresses her famous bottom while she sings “nothing is wrong with us, we make money, we buy the villa and we bring the friends back”. What was meant to be a commentary on the surveillance society completely fails; they are even more reproached for their bad taste. Media pressure will soon get the better of their engagement. In 2004, the couple broke up.

The years that follow are those of decline. Jennifer Lopez marries Puerto Rican singer Marc Anthony, with whom she has twins. If she continues to work for cinema and music, it is on TV that she is picking up the hair of the beast. From 2010, and for six years, she was a judge on “American Idol”, where, by her own admission, she spent more time crying than the contestants. America discovers (finally) all the qualities that Affleck attributed to it. At 40, she divorces Anthony (too macho, too jealous). She has never been so beautiful, so physical. On the music side, JLo, clever, joins the producer Pitbull to create hits cut for the dance floor (“On The Floor”, “Dance Again”…), which say nothing more about her.

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In 2017, the couple she formed with baseball player Alex Rodriguez propelled her into another sphere. This protege of billionaire Warren Buffett no longer encourages her to lend her name in the form of a license, as she has done since 2002 when she launched lines of cosmetics or clothing, but to produce them herself. Which pays a lot more. It was the era of JLo, the businesswoman, whose fortune amounted to 400 million dollars (which made her the 56th richest star in the world, according to “Forbes”). If the message was not clear, she released the singles “Dinero” (“Money”, in Spanish) and “El Anillo” (“The Ring”). Among Nuyorican’s successes is the film “Queens “. Jennifer Lopez plays Ramona, matriarch of a group of strippers. She is spectacular. Her scam act against a background of pole dancing thrilled the critics, who predicted (in vain) an Oscar for her. In full promo, she gives the keys to her own life: “Ramona is always in the performance and, however, it is the most authentic person that you can meet”, she declares to the “New York Times. »

It’s a rebirth. At 50, she marches for Versace in the dress that made her a global sex symbol, gives the most muscular show in Super Bowl history, sings for the inauguration of President Joe Biden and lines up projects . This year alone, she is showing three films. Above all, social networks have given her the power to free herself from the media that criticized her so much twenty years earlier. The hyper reality of Jennifer Lopez is now displayed in large on Instagram, followed by 192 million subscribers. This is also one of the themes of the film “Marry Me”. “People often look at celebrities thinking, they have a wonderful life, but like everyone else, we just want to be loved by someone and have a real home,” Jennifer Lopez explains. For six months, she has recovered with Ben Affleck. If we’re not allowed to broach the subject, we can’t help but think that’s him she’s talking about when she says, “The hardest part of this crazy celebrity world, it’s having something authentic of your own, without pretense, without exaggeration, without having to wear a mask every day. » Escape from hyper reality to simply live.

“Marry Me” by Kat Coiro. In theaters February 9