It was supposed to be Jennifer Lopez’s day off. Cue visions of her lounging by her infinity pool in Bel-Air, friends hanging, tunes turned up. Instead, Lopez, the multi-hyphenate performer, producer and branding maven, held a half-dozen business meetings in her home, from early morning until sundown, on ambitious ventures ranging from real estate to fitness.
A studio head was there, some developer types, marketing people, her TV and film producing partner, her manager and Alex Rodriguez, her boyfriend. The couple were hoping to have dinner together, but “you see what goes on around here,” she said, unapologetically, as they went over the day’s agenda.
A gracious Bel-Air mansion — complete with mini-waterfalls (yes, plural), fireplaces blazing in even empty rooms, and two bunnies that belong to Lopez’s 10-year-old twins — might seem an unlikely spot to transform into a C-suite. But when Lopez moved in two years ago, she designed an office like a boardroom, complete with big conference table. It just happens to be next to the couture-filled space where she gets her hair and make-up done. And so she whisks in, half-dolled up, to present her opinions and outsize ideas, and she sells them: J Lo Inc, in action.
And now, at the end of this non-day off, she strode over on glossy Louboutins, with the posture of an equestrian and a CEO’s firm handshake, to crisply discuss how her latest movie, ‘Second Act,’ fits into her new entrepreneurial strategy. It all hinges on an acknowledgment of her power bossness.
Here’s what Lopez, 49, has recently come to realize: that J Lo — the artist, the brand, the astonishingly dewy face and buffed physique — is even more valuable than the entertainment industry has given her credit for. Which is not to say she is after a bigger paycheck, exactly — although as the chorus of her recent single with Cardi B and DJ Khaled goes, “Yo quiero dinero” (I want money). But like a lot of people in her world who have experienced Hollywood inequity, what she is demanding, vocally all of a sudden, is her fair share. “I want what I deserve,” she said.
To hear her tell it, that stance has been hard-won. Over the past few years, as a divorced parent, she took painstaking stock of her trajectory and decided she could level up.
“Understanding my own worth and value as a person made me understand it differently in my work, as well,” she said. It “has been a long journey for me. And so I’m very proud to stand in the shoes of, yes, I think I do deserve more. All artists do deserve more. We are the scarce asset. They can’t do anything without us. They have no product. So we have to understand that.”
That Lopez now openly mentions private equity as breezily as other actresses discuss character development may be thanks to Rodriguez, 43. The Yankee-turned-sports commentator is a longtime investor with a sizable real estate portfolio spread across 14 states — A-Rod Inc. He had organised several of her meetings that day and some for himself.
“He just opened up our vision to other ways of doing” business, she said, “that were not only more lucrative but gave us more freedom, gave us more control over our own image and our own ideas, instead of giving them away.”
In ‘Second Act,’ the movie Lopez stars in and produced with her company, she plays Maya de la Vargas, a 40-year-old assistant manager at a Queens big-box store whose life hasn’t unfolded as she imagined and who now dreams of better opportunities — opportunities usually not afforded to 40-plus women of colour.
It co-stars Lopez’s real-life BFF Leah Remini as her on-screen BFF and Milo Ventimiglia as her (ahem) itching-to-get-hitched baseball manager boyfriend, and puts Lopez back in the sights of the kind of broad fare that cemented her stardom: romantic comedies about hypercompetent strivers from the wrong side of the tracks who move (or rather, marry) up. It was developed and co-written by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Lopez’s producing partner, who conceived it before the two even began working together. She was also a producer of ‘Maid in Manhattan,’ Lopez’s 2002 blockbuster.
‘Second Act’ is more of a workplace comedy, with a dramatic family subplot; for once, the relationship is secondary to the character’s evolution, which Lopez loved. “The thing is her,” she said. “She realises that she hasn’t been treating herself well and that the little mistakes she thought made her not worthy were actually the things that led her to her purpose.”
It sounds like a description lifted from her 2014 memoir, ‘True Love,’ in which she chronicled the tumultuous year after she announced her divorce from singer Marc Anthony, father of her daughter, Emme, and son, Max, and did her first international concert tour. At Remini’s urging, she went to therapy, too. And she realised that she didn’t prioritise her own needs enough, compared with those of the men in her life; growing up, she’d internalised some Cinderella fantasies. When Emme suggested not long ago that she might not get married, Lopez took it as a parental victory: “I’ve always been trying to tell her, love yourself. You don’t need anybody to complete you.” She added: “She don’t need no fairy tale.”
The hustle instilled in her, as one of three daughters of a computer technician and a kindergarten teacher, has served her well professionally. Nuyorican, the production company she founded nearly two decades ago, has lately been on an upswing, with TV series (‘Shades of Blue,’ the NBC cop drama that she starred in for three seasons, until it ended in August; ‘Good Trouble,’ a spin-off of her Freeform family show ‘The Fosters;’ and the popular reality series ‘World of Dance,’ on which Lopez is a judge) and many movie projects in the works.
For Lopez, a turning point came in 2011, when she signed on as a judge for the then-top rated ‘American Idol.’ She considered it a career resuscitation and a way to reintroduce herself to a public that had cooled on her supposed diva reputation, earned in the years of Bennifer and contract riders demanding all-white dressing rooms. With ‘Idol,’ “people were saying they liked me, which made me realise how many years I’d spent thinking they didn’t, and that affected how I felt about myself,” Lopez wrote in her book. (Bennifer, her failed engagement to Ben Affleck, seems like a tabloid eon ago but exacted a heavy emotional toll; she wed Anthony in the aftermath.) Her five-season tenure on ‘Idol’ “was the first time in a long time that I felt good about just being me,” she wrote.
Between therapy and reality TV were the epiphanies that brought her to a new awareness of her cultural clout; to her recently concluded Las Vegas concert residency, when she earned a record $1.43 million (Dh5.2 million) in ticket sales on one night and danced her famous butt off for three years; to her energised business mindset; to A-Rod.
The couple post first-blush-of-love messages about the other constantly. Both have been burned by the public lens on their love lives before but view this era of social media differently: “We’re just solid,” Lopez said, and sharing that feels natural. Rodriguez described it as “a chance to have a direct-to-consumer control of your narrative.”
Rodriguez, who took business classes at Columbia University and counts Warren Buffett as a mentor and friend, has counselled Lopez to go “narrow and deep” with her projects — to do less but own more.
Lopez said she hoped to leave a mark on “the world I want my daughter to live in and my son, who’s going to be a man who respects women and understands women and gives them their worth.”
As a professional who carved out a path where there was none, “I’m only with people who understand that we’re in the history-making business,” she added. “We’re in the trailblazing business, we’re in the break-down-the-walls, kick-the-glass-ceiling business. That’s the business that we’re in. If you’re not on board for that, then we can’t work together.”
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Second Act releases in the UAE on December 13.