FEELIN SO GOOD
By Linda Friedman
Despite her troubles, like the loss of good friend Big Pun and the legal woes of boyfriend Puff Daddy, Jennifer Lopez manages to keep smiling, thanks to friends, family and her unwavering self-confidence.
Jennifer Lopez is not alone. "It's crowded in there; she's with her entourage," this visitor is warned before entering the Los Angeles hotel suite where she's filming scenes for her upcoming romantic comedy, The Wedding Planner. Is she surrounded by a slew of fashionable friends? A throng of professional handlers? Nope. Jennifer's "entourage," it turns out, includes a mere three people: her best friend since second grade back in the Bronx and her godparents.
It all seems too, well, normal. After all, this is a woman who makes headlines as often as most people change clothes. One of Hollywood's brightest lights since starring in 1997's Selena, Jennifer has turned heads in almost a dozen films, with her latest, The Cell, costarring Vince Vaughn, due this summer. And the 30-year-old's star keeps rising: Her payday for The Wedding Planner was reportedly between $8 million and $9 million - the highest salary ever paid to a Latina actress. She's making big radio waves too. Jennifer's 1999 debut album, On the 6, spawned a pair of hits and has been certified double platinum. It was even rumored last year that she had insured her famous derriere for a six-digit figure, a charge she denies today with a laugh.
But amid the professional highs, there have been some personal lows. In December, Jennifer and her boyfriend, hip-hop mogul Scan "Puffy" Combs, were taken into police custody for gun possession after fleeing a melee at a New York City nightclub where three people were shot. Six weeks later, on February 7, she learned that hei friend and fellow Bronx native Big Pun (rap star Christopher Rios), who appears in her "Feelin' So Good" video, had died suddenly, reportedly due to complications brought on by his 698-pound girth So what does Jennifer think of her recent travails? "It's par for the course,' she says with a quick laugh and a don't-you-know-it glance toward her loved ones, who are keeping her company in her trailer during lunch break on the set. "My life has always been a wonderful life, but it's a big life, and you get big problems. It's always, a struggle. It's an uphill battle the whole time. But you know what? The rewards are so great, I wouldn't trade it for the world."
In the nightclub incident, Jennifer wasn't charged with anything, but she spent the night handcuffed to a bench, reportedly sobbing uncontrollably, concerned about her morn's reaction to the news. Yet she's dealt with Puffy's latest legal woes - he has been charged with illegal handgun possession in the December 27 incident and faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted of the most serious charges - by sticking with him, as she has since the two publicly confirmed their love connection last September. (Sources say Jennifer, who was divorced from model Ojani Noa in 1998 after one year of marriage, secretly began seeing Puffy a year before they went public with their relationship.) In fact, at Arista Records' annual pre-Grammy bash in February, Jennifer and Puffy were so inseparable that when she went to the ladies' room, he waited for her right outside the door.
"He visits me [on the set]. I visit him. We support each other very much and everything, just like any boyfriend and girifriend would," Jennifer says, and for a second it sounds as if their relationship is nothing out of the ordinary. Still, people who know her are concerned. "When [Puffy's] around, he's the manager," Jennifer's former manager Eric Gold recently told Talk magazine.
But Jennifer has learned to trust her own instincts - which is why she ignored the naysayers who warned her that it would be a bad career move to release a pop album hot on the heels of the rave reviews she received for her performance opposite George Clooney in 1998's Out of Sight.
"I just didn't care," she says with a smile and in a tone that's more confident than defiant. "It was a natural step. People had concerns, but I knew they'd understand later. Sometimes it's not about beating them down at the onset, saying, 'You gotta believe me!' Sometimes it's just about showing people." And show them she has - to the tune of 2 million albums sold, and counting. Released last summer, On the 6 was named for the New York City subway train that took her from anonymity in the Bronx to fame and fortune in Manhattan and beyond. The CD soon generated the No. I single "If You Had My Love," which replaced Ricky Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca" atop Billboard's Hot 100 last summer. "Waiting for Tonight" followed and also went Top 10.
To shoot the video for her third single, "Feelin' So Good," Jennifer returned to some of her old haunts in the Bronx, including a local beauty parlor. "Because of where I'm from, that's the kind of music I make and who I am, so it was very important for me to go back and do it in that neighborhood," she says. "[The video team] were like, 'We don't have anything good to shoot here. How do we make it pretty?' And I was like, 'Well, this is it. It's not about being pretty. It's about being real.'"
Shortly after the video began airing, Jennifer's costar Big Pun (short for Big Punisher), the first Latino rapper to go
double platinum, passed away. "I had just done Saturday Night Live," she says, referring to her February 5 appearance. "He was supposed to do it with us [Jennifer and fellow Latino rapper Fat Joe, who also appears in the video]. And at the last minute, they said he wasn't going to be able to do it. And I was like, 'Oh, God.' In my head I was like, I wonder if he's OK."' She was back in L.A. when she heard that he'd died. "That was a really tough day," she says, sighing heavily. "I was leaving the [Wedding Planner] set, and everybody knew I'd had a tough day. They were like, 'Feel good, feel better.' I was like, 'Tomorrow's another day.' That's just the attitude you have to have. Like, tomorrow's got to be better." (Soon after,
Jennifer guest-starred in the video for Big Pun's single "It's So Hard," from his new album, Yeeeah Baby.) Jennifer started developing her inner strength while growing up the middle daughter of Puerto Rican parents in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx. "I think it grounded me in a way," she says. "It made me really downto-earth." Her mom, Guadalupe, a teacher, and her dad, David, a computer specialist, gave Jennifer and her sisters - Lynda, now 28, a New York City radio personality, and Leslie, 32, a music teacher - a strict Catholic upbringing. "My parents were very protective of us. But my mom still let us be very independent," says Jennifer. "We all grew up with [a sense] that you don't have to depend on anybody but yourself and you can do anything you want to do."
When Jennifer was a teenager at Preston, an all-girls' high school in the Bronx, her independent spirit took hold - and proved to be a sign of things to come. "I was always very strong-minded," she says. "People couldn't influence me to do something that I didn't want to do or that I knew could be hurtful to me, whether it was drugs or drinking or hanging out at a certain hour. I just didn't do it."
By that time, she was already too focused on her performing goals to pay much attention. After school, she'd hop the 6 train into Manhattan, where she took dance lessons. Her efforts certainly paid off. "We have this tango scene [in The Wedding Planner],'" says her costar Matthew McConaughey. "As you know, this woman can dance. She sees the steps once and does them like she's known them all her life. I have to do ten rehearsals."
After Jennifer graduated from high school in 1987, one of her first jobs was dancing with the European tour of Golden Musicals of Broadway. During her stint abroad, she got a wake-up call that still resonates with her to this day.
"My mom told me, 'Don't be a wuss,"' Jennifer remembers. "She didn't say it in those words. But I had called her, and I was sad being away from home. I was like, 'Everybody has a solo in the show except me, and I don't understand.' And she said, 'You chose that business, and you better toughen up. Don't ever call me crying about that again.' I expected her to be like, 'Oh, it'll be OK, little Jenny.'" The spotlight began to shine on Jennifer's career in 1991 when she beat out 2,000 contenders for a spot as a Fly Girl, one of the dancers on Keenen Ivory Wayans's hit television comedy In Living Color. "That was a big break," Jennifer says. "It brought me out to Los Angeles, and it put me in the center of the business. I saw the way in at that point."