Demure? Forget it. The Wedding Planner's Jennifer Lopez says "I Do" to revved-up (and romantic) bridal dresses.
By Rob Tannenbaum
Photographed by Sante D'Orazio
Get out the parent warning labels - Jennifer Lopez is going at it. Her cheeks flush, her eyelids dip to half-mast, and her hips sway in a hypnotic serpentine. Her delicately featured face contorts with every breath. She is feeling it. But wait. This five-foot-six embodiment of rife sensuality is not partaking in a passionate embrace or even letting loose on an ecstatic dance floor. In fact, she's in the Sony recording studio in midtown Manhattan, belting out a song from her second album, J.Lo, the much anticipated follow-up to her multiplatinum On the 6. And although this dance-driven album may contain its share of sexy riffs and provocative lyrics, the only rating it begs is R - for romantic. Whereas her last record was boppy and light, this time it's personal. "All the songs on this album are about love and relationships. Love is a big inspiration in my singing, in my acting, in my dancing," says the 30-year-old talent trifecta. "I operate from the heart - that's who I am. I was born a romantic."
Two huge speakers play back the take of her new single, Love Don't Cost a Thing, setting Lopez in motion again. The lyrics instruct a wealthy suitor to woo her not with money but with attention and devotion. During a break, Lopez settles onto a leather sofa, dressed in a grey cashmere cardigan, a lace-trimmed tank top, platinum-coloured Chloe jeans, clear Celine wedges and diamonds to spare (in her cross, her watch, her ringâ€¦). The album, she says, reflects her passions. She even considered titling it A Passionate Journey before settling on J.Lo, the nickname given her by fans. But those who know her best, she says, call her the Creature of Love.
Few would guess that beneath the sassy double-snap public image and well-documented penchant for navel-revealing, booty-hugging outfits, Jennifer Lopez is a softie. Though frequently photographed at hot spots around New York, L.A. and Miami, this late-night diva says she'd rather be a different kind of home girl - the sort who snuggles up on her living room couch with boyfriend Sean "Puffy" Combs and watches a video. She may be the fantasy of many men, but Lopez says she has never been much of a dater - for her, it's a full-bore relationship or nothing.
Perhaps its this old-fashioned attitude that attracted Lopez to her latest film, The Wedding Planner, which opened last month. She plays the title character, Maria, an overachiever so absorbed in her job - creating a feeling of romance for other people's nuptials - she barely notices that every night she goes home alone. But when she finds true love, watch out - like Lopez herself, Maria ultimately lets her emotions rule.
"Jen's definitely a romantic, a dreamer," says Matthew McConaughey, who plays her love interest in the film. "She has a real sweetness that not everyone sees, like an 8-year-old girl. She loves Rome and Juliet and the idea of a knight in shining armor coming over the hill to take her away - then it's till death do us part, until eternity."
Lopez's own steady Lancelot has been Combs. The two had been friends for some time before taking it up a level two and a half years ago. Their coming out party in 1998, including a public kiss on a balcony of Comb's East Hampton estate during his famous "all-white" Labor Day bash, was the talk of the season. Though the couple have been tabloid regulars (are they on the brink of marriage or a tearful separation?), they've hung together, even after being held overnight in a police precinct following a December 1999 incident in a New York City nightclub. (Lopez was released and cleared of any wrong-doing; Combs has been indicted for gun possession. At press time a trial is scheduled for January.) "She's a complete stand-by-your-man girl, which she has proven to the world over and over again," says Wedding Planner director Adam Shankman. He characterizes Combs, who visited the set twice, as "quiet and charming - he's kind, loving, incredibly attentive and cares deeply for her."
That description - in stark contrast to Combs' image - is seconded by Cory Rooney, co-producer of J.Lo. "What she really wants is someone soft and caring," says Rooney, who also co-wrote lyrics for If You Had My Love, Lopez' first hit single from On the 6. "Everyone sees Combs as hardcore and wonders what she sees in him. But it's the other side she's attracted to: he can be warm and sensitive. That's all she wants. She's a kitten."
When Lopez talks about her own love life, she does so in broad strokes. "I believe in unconditional love and doing things for people you care about," she says. "We always cry when people pass away, but it's like, Did you show them when they were here? Little things make such a difference - that's what's romantic, like making a big deal about somebody's birthday."
In fact, she and Combs have made celebration a grand tradition. For her 30th birthday last July, he threw her a surprise bash at New York City hot spot Lotus. "The whole place was full. It was crazy," she says. A few months later, when he turned 31, Lopez hosted two parties in Miami Beach. She commissioned a birthday cake that depicted Combs riding in his beloved Bentley (and had the cake flown down from New York in its own airplane seat). The previous year she dressed up a la Marilyn Monroe to croon Happy Birthday to him.
Romantic expressions, Lopez says, are "a two-way street - I enjoy giving as much as receiving them." Of course, in her case, the street is often paved with gold: she has given Combs a $40,000 pinkie ring, and he has reportedly reciprocated with a stash of jewelry, including a diamond cross and a $60,000 Franck Muller watch. But as Love Don't Cost a Thing warns, an overflowing bank account is not a free pass to Lopez's heart. Lavish gifts "are overwhelming, but a note means more," she says. "I know people hear that and go, 'Oh yeah, right." But I'm telling you, I was moved to tears getting a rose and card from my boyfriend on Valentine's Day when I was 19. It takes more time to go to a card store and find the right one than it does to pick up the phone and order a car.
"I have very little time - that's why its precious. Like at the end of the day, when you're really tired and you go for a walk together, even though its late. Those 15 minutes can mean more than anything you did the whole day."
Lopez says her faith in thoughtful gestures was shaped by watching her Puerto Rico-born parents - David, a computer technician, and Guadalupe, a kindergarten teacher - who raised three daughters in the Bronx (they're now separated). "We didn't have a lot of money, so it wasn't extravagant things. Like, my dad knew my mom liked grapes, so he'd bring them home in the summer when they were perfect and plump and ripe. Or he'd bring candies she liked from downtown. Those things struck a chord." She admits the teen movies of the eighties also affected her views of romance. "I loved the Brat Pack movies and the music in them, like Pretty In Pink. They influenced what I think love should be."
Lopez's one try at marriage had its own screenplay-perfect beginnings. In 1996, while she was in Miami filming Blood & Wine, Lopez went out to dinner one night and feel head-over-heels in love with her waiter, Ojani Noa. Just months later, he was proposing. The marriage lasted a year, but that hasn't kept Lopez from dreaming of another wedding ("I'd like to look like a princess next time, with a big ball gown") and a family.
But right now, career is first. Even as a child, Lopez knew what she wanted to achieve. She started taking dance lessons at age 5. She and her sisters - Lynda, now a VJ, and Leslie, a teacher - shared a bedroom, and when the others weren't around, Lopez would try on different outfits, play records, and sing along. "Those are some of my most treasured times, when I had the room to myself, fantasizing in front of the mirror," she says. From her start as a Fly Girl on In Living Color to her big break landing a starring role in the film Money Train, "I had to assert myself and not be afraid to go after it. My mother taught me to be independent. I have a certain strength to me." McConaughey was so struck by Lopez's on-set focus and energy that he likened her to "an atom: she's very dynamic. People ask, 'Was she a diva?' Absolutely! She leads a glamorous life. She's not always on time - that's the diva - but once she's there, she'll get her elbows dirty. The diva leaves when she's working."
Now, having starred in such hit films as Out Of Sight opposite George Clooney and The Cell with Vince Vaughn, Lopez has another fantasy: long, easy, stirring evenings at home. For her, there are three key ingredients: music ("I like R&B, like Luther Vandross or Sade"), laughter ("It means you're comfortable with the person"), and polish ("If I'm seeing somebody I care about, I always try to look nice, though it only takes me an hour to get ready"). Not that every day can't be a spa day for Jennifer, who admits to loving pedicures, manicures and other forms of pampering. "I just feel good being soft and feminine," she says. As for clothes, the woman whose deep V-neck Versace gown brought down the house at last year's Grammys says, "I like things sexy but comfortable - nothing black. Black is drab. I enjoy softer things: light, bright, shimmery. I don't like to wear black leather - I think it looks hard on me."
The engineer cues up another new song, "I'm Real," which Lopez co-wrote. As the bass line bombs, Lopez sings along: "I'm real / what you get is what you see." She closes her eyes, her right hand moving to her heart as she sways. The beat has a Latin pulse, which Lopez loves. "In the Spanish language, the lyrics are passionate - desperate almost. There's the feeling of the music: 'You left me and I'm gonna die.' It's so intense and romantic." Spoken like a modern-day Juliet. As Lopez says, "In love everything's not a fairy tale, but there's nothing wrong with striving for that." Quotes from the pictures:
"I don't think there's a man who can compare to my father...he's the best."
"I picture this dress at a beach wedding - holding hands at sunset."
"Last time I married, I did something like this. It reminds me of a traditional Spanish dress - all I need is a mantilla with a comb in my hair."
"It 'flamencos' at the bottom."
"Growing up, all girls fantasize about what their husband will look like, who he's going to be."
"It's so fun and sparkly. It's for the reception, not the ceremony."
"This is gorgeous. It's a princess or ballerina dress."
"The Puerto Rican culture is a passionate one, definitely. We love hard, fight hard, work hard."More of the shootCOPYRIGHT SUPERFLYGIRL 2007!