Even in the dim light of Hollywood’s Sunset Tower Hotel, the couple’s ease with one another was instantly apparent. Nestled in a corner booth of the stylish Art Deco-style bar, favoured by A-listers for its strict no-paparazzi policy, Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux made no attempt to hide their affection as they sipped their chablis.
“I can honestly say I’ve never seen her looking more relaxed or happier,” says George Blodwell, a celebrity stylist who has known the actress since the mid-’90s, after seeing the pair together last month.
“She looked more at ease than I’ve ever seen her. She was beaming at Justin and looked so content and secure. Justin couldn’t stop smiling either. He had his arm protectively around her and was as gracious to me as she was. They looked like a little island of love, in a world of their own.”
At the age of 43, Aniston is marrying Theroux, an actor, director and screenwriter who proposed recently on his 41st birthday with an eight-carat emerald-cut diamond engagement ring.
After a series of failed high-profile romances, most notably her marriage to Brad Pitt which ended in 2005 when he began a relationship with Angelina Jolie, Aniston’s friends and family hope she has finally found lasting happiness.
On the face of it they are an odd couple — she the Hollywood golden girl who has built a phenomenally lucrative film career since starring as Rachel in TV sitcom Friends, commanding £8.2 million (Dh47.27 million) per movie; he the virtual nobody whose struggle to find success has only recently begun to pay off. While her image is one of clean-cut, Californian healthy living, he exclusively wears black, is heavily tattooed and rides motorcycles.
Moreover, until he began dating Aniston in May 2011, Theroux was in a 14-year relationship with stylist Heidi Bivens. Rumours that he left her for Aniston were problematic for a woman whom the public sided with after Pitt’s alleged infidelity was said to have ended their marriage.
Yet it is in Theroux’s eccentricities that his appeal seems to lie.
Unlike her former boyfriends, including Gerard Butler and Vince Vaughn, he comes from an illustrious academic and literary family, whose influence can be seen in his thoughtful and cultured personality.
According to a friend: “Jennifer admires him because he is seriously intelligent and so different from most of the men you meet in Hollywood. He’s an edgy New Yorker and can talk with ease about anything from the latest plays and books to cutting-edge music. The fact that he is drop-dead gorgeous only adds to his allure.”
Theroux is the cousin of British TV presenter Louis and author Marcel Theroux and the nephew of famed travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux, whose book The Mosquito Coast was turned into an award-winning film starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren. His other uncles, Peter and Alexander Theroux, are also novelists.
Following the family’s tradition, his mother Phyllis forged a career as a feature writer for The Washington Post, while his father Eugene, from whom his mother has long been divorced, is a corporate lawyer in Washington DC.
Phyllis now lives in Virginia with her second husband, retired businessman and community theatre organiser Ragan Phillips.
Growing up in Washington DC, Theroux was a rebel from an early age, and was arrested for vandalism aged 12. He has spoken of being “tossed out of several schools” before being sent to a liberal arts boarding school called Buxton in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he discovered his passion for acting in school plays.
Theroux has spoken of his father’s decision to pursue a corporate career making him determined to follow his own artistic ambitions. He said: “My dad was a very good painter but somewhere around his mid-20s he got worried he wouldn’t have money. He went to law school and now he’s had 30 years of zero-artistic experience.
“He’s a very wealthy guy but, man, is that sad because you have to really climb down deep and kill something inside you to do that. I’m not slamming him. It’s just instructive to me in the choice I don’t want to make.”
Of course, his father’s wealth gave Justin a privileged start, allowing him to attend Vermont’s Bennington College, one of America’s most expensive universities, where contemporaries included the author Bret Easton Ellis and wild parties were frequent.
After graduating in 1993 with a degree in visual art and theatre — he also studied Chinese and speaks Mandarin fluently — Theroux entered what friends call “his dark years” in New York. He supported himself painting murals and working in a variety of low-paying bar jobs, including at New York’s notorious nightclub The Limelight, which hit the headlines in 1996 when party promotor Michael Alig was arrested and later convicted of killing and dismembering Angel Melendez, a drug dealer at the club.
A friend who knew Theroux at that time says: “He was the quintessential tormented artist. He barely had enough money to eat but he’d write poetry and perform readings at these tiny clubs and coffee houses downtown.
“He also did bit parts and modelling gigs, anything that would pay the rent. He lived on ramen noodles and started getting tattoos.
“He wore all black. He smoked roll-up cigarettes and was seriously cool, a real hipster.”
In 1994, he was given the opportunity to audition for a new sitcom, entitled Friends but his reluctance to “sell out” led him to decline. The show made Aniston a household name, commanding $1 million (Dh3.67 millnion) per episode, her layered hairstyle copied by women all over the world. But Theroux has said of his decision: “Who wouldn’t want to be a bazillionaire? But I don’t really regret it.”
Instead, he joined a motorcycle gang called Die Fast, which originally went by the name of Satan’s Hooves. He is still passionate about motorbikes and owns a Ducati and BMW Roadster.
Success was a long time coming. His first acting role was in the 1996 independent film I Shot Andy Warhol, which he followed with a part in the adaptation of Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. He appeared in television shows including Sex And The City and Ally McBeal, and took advantage of his brooding looks to model for Gap.
Even after he won critical praise for the 2001 film Mulholland Drive, directed by David Lynch, and appearing in 2003’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, fame remained elusive.
He first met Aniston through his best friend, Ben Stiller, whom he met on the 2003 comedy flop Duplex. It was on the set of the 2008 film Tropic Thunder, co-written by Theroux, that Stiller introduced him to Aniston for the first time.
Of their first meeting, she recently admitted: “I remember thinking he was very dark. At first you think he could be, like, a serial killer. But he is actually the nicest person in the world.”
A source said: “People think Jennifer and Justin met on the set of the film they co-starred in together, Wanderlust, a couple of years ago. But they’ve known each other far longer than that.”
Another friend says: “Justin appealed to her because he’s quirky, very off-beat but very kind and genuine. He collects old medical equipment and has a real human skull and a candy dish of teeth. He’s weird and eccentric but adores her. He’s very protective of her and she loves it.”
Aniston has been at pains to point out that she and Theroux only began their relationship after he split with Bivens. The stylist, who has refused to discuss her ex, has since moved out of the dingy apartment she and Theroux shared and into a noticeably more upmarket building.
One Hollywood insider said: “Heidi’s career has definitely taken off recently and it could be that people in the industry appreciate her not putting the knife in when it would have been so easy to do.”
It has only been in the past couple of years that Theroux’s name has become well-known in Hollywood.
Partly as a result of his work on the screenplay for the 2010 film Iron Man 2, he is currently thought to be worth £5 million a sum dwarfed by Aniston’s reported £100 million fortune. But his star continues to rise, and he is currently working on his directorial debut, Swear to God, starring Will Ferrell and Steve Carell.
Theroux has shown his devotion to his fiancee by moving from New York to Los Angeles, where the pair recently purchased a 8,500 sq ft Bel Air property together, which will be their marital home.
At the moment they live in a modest rented 1,700 sq ft bungalow in the Hollywood Hills which they share with their pit bull puppy, Sophie.
The pair have yet to discuss wedding plans, but the timing of their engagement announcement on the eve of the date Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were rumoured to be marrying in France has had Hollywood buzzing.
One old friend of Aniston’s says: “Jen claims to have moved on from Brad and she truly has. But everyone thought last weekend was when Brad and Angie would tie the knot. Jen’s engagement announcement trumped the non-wedding of her ex. You can’t help but think the timing wasn’t coincidental.
“Jen is sick and tired of being portrayed as a victim.
“With Justin by her side she feels confident. She’s moved on from Brad. Now it’s ‘Brad who?’”