The star gets down to earth

Times Staff Writer

Movies, Jennifer Lopez has come to realize, are a roll of the dice. With no control over the editing, the marketing or the release date, she said, actors would be well advised to let go of “results” and concentrate on “process.”

“If you start wondering what each movie will do for you, you’ll be miserable,” the actress said during a long phone conversation from New York. “What counts is whether you enjoyed the experience, whether you gave 100%. Box office and critical acclaim are fine -- but just gravy in the end.”

That philosophy should come in handy with Lasse Hallstrom’s “An Unfinished Life,” a $33-million film released domestically Sept. 9 by Miramax Films and Revolution Studios. In it, Lopez plays a battered woman trying to reunite with her estranged father-in-law (Robert Redford), a cantankerous rancher who blames her for the death of his son.

Lopez and Co. had to table their hopes for the picture while it sat for two years on Miramax’s shelf. In the first year, it took a back seat to releases that company co-founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein considered more likely to generate year-end awards, the director suggested -- a notion Miramax denies.


After that, the distributor and Hallstrom agree, the film was delayed by the rupture between the Walt Disney Co. and the Weinsteins, who are striking out on their own.

Commercially, the film has yet to catch on. Last weekend it took in about $2.1 million, bringing the total to about $3.5 million since it opened. Critical reaction has been all over the map, from glowing to dismissive.

Still, Lopez said she enjoyed the experience. For starters, the project was a chance to work with Redford and Morgan Freeman, who plays a kindly ranch hand recovering from a bear attack. And the set, five hours outside Vancouver, was a “sanctuary,” she said -- a break from the “game of cops and robbers” that aggressive paparazzi had made of her life.

Lopez had just become engaged to actor Ben Affleck and, in the wake of the media frenzy, she said the isolation felt good.


In general, she finds acting -- “the study of human behavior,” as she puts it -- very therapeutic. Being part of a crowd, inhabiting a character, gets her out of herself.

“People assume I’m out there having this great life, but money doesn’t erase the pain,” said Lopez, 36. “When you’re young you barrel through life, making choices without thinking of repercussions. A few years down the line, you wake up in a certain place and wonder how the hell you got there.”

The stink over the 2003 bomb “Gigli,” in which she costarred with Affleck, “made me wonder not only about the [skewed priorities] of the world, [but] whether I was contributing to that,” she said.

If Lopez didn’t seem the likeliest candidate for the “Unfinished” role, said Hallstrom, watching her in Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight” convinced him she had the chops. The 1998 movie, in which she plays a tough and sexy federal marshal locked in a car trunk with an escaped convict (George Clooney), came on the heels of a Golden Globe nomination for “Selena,” the story of the slain Tejano singer, and raised her profile considerably. That year, she also plunged into the music business, signing with Epic Records.


Because of public “perceptions and misperceptions,” Hallstrom maintained, “People don’t believe me when I tell them that Jennifer is a very ambitious, hardworking actress with good timing, good taste and good choices. Romantic comedies such as ‘Maid in Manhattan’ and ‘Monster-in-Law’ don’t begin to show her range.”

That range has been limited, in part, by Hollywood’s tunnel vision, said Lopez, a Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent. Not everyone is as open as Hallstrom to casting Latinas when the role doesn’t call for one. Lopez has begun to take the reins, generating projects of her own. She’s executive producing Gregory Nava’s “Bordertown,” in which she stars as a reporter investigating abuse of female factory workers in Juarez, Mexico.

She’s also producing and costarring in Leon Ichaso’s “Who Killed Hector Lavoe?,” the tale of the 1970s Puerto Rican salsa legend. (The title role will be played by Lopez’s husband, Latin pop singer Marc Anthony, whom she married after splitting up with Affleck.)

UPN has picked up “South Beach,” the first TV pilot from her company, Nuyorican Productions. And director Taylor Hackford (“Ray”) is working with her on “Carmen,” in which she and Anthony will appear.


As a self-described perfectionist, she likes to have control. Though the media has painted her as a diva, she said, what she really wants is to be pushed.

“Stars are treated differently,” she said. “People are afraid to cross a line. When I arrive, I roll up my sleeves and say to the director, ‘Please don’t let me fall short.’ ”