Jennifer Lopez returns to the big screen in a slick action thriller, she talks to Susan Griffin about her surprise at being picked for the role.
As the queen of bling, Jennifer Lopez’s reputation for diva-like behaviour is legendary, so on meeting the megastar you’d expect a cool, aloof ice queen.
The reality is a woman who talks fast, laughs a lot and gestures wildly.
The mother of five-year-old twins Emme and Max (from her third marriage to Marc Anthony, though they’ve since separated and she’s now dating dancer Casper Smart) has recently finished an eight-month world music tour.
“I just toured so I feel like I got the music out of the way and I really want to focus on films,” says the 43-year-old, who’s immaculately made-up with a blow-dry of epic proportions - in contrast to her low-key ensemble of black polo neck and trousers.
She’s in town to promote her new movie Parker, an action thriller based on one of the 24 novels by Donald E Westlake following the exploits of a cold-blooded career criminal, played in the big-screen adaptation by British actor Jason Statham.
Parker is a man who lives by his own code of ethics - don’t steal from people who can’t afford it and don’t hurt people who don’t deserve it. When he’s double-crossed and left for dead by his own men, it’s time for payback.
Taking on a new persona, Parker heads to Florida, forges an unlikely alliance with Leslie, a local Palm Beach resident played by Lopez, and tracks down the gang with the intention of taking everyone out and hijacking their latest heist.
Divorced, pushing 40, and trapped in a no-win situation after being lumbered with her ex-husband’s debts, Leslie looks to Parker for a way out - but the film is far from your typical romance.
“I thought the relationship between them was complicated and quite realistic, which made this more interesting than just another action movie,” says Lopez, who remains the world’s highest-paid Latin actress.
Leslie’s not a glamour queen, nor a diva, and Lopez admits she questioned director Taylor Hackford on why he chose her for the role.
“In our first meeting, I asked Taylor why he wanted me to play this character because she’s not exactly like what people think of me,” she admits. “He told me that was exactly why he wanted me.
“The image that people have of me from my music or American Idol [she was a judge for two series] or the romantic comedies I’ve done is very different.”
It’s probably the most down-to-earth part Lopez has played since the steamy thriller Out Of Sight in which she and George Clooney sizzled on screen.
In his own words, Hackford’s take on casting is simple. “Leslie is a person who seems like she has reached the end of the road but she still refuses to give up. I think that is very definitely Jennifer Lopez,” says the man who helmed Ray and The Devil’s Advocate.
“She comes from the Bronx, she’s had highs and lows but she will survive. That’s why I chose her for the role.”
Lopez can’t speak highly enough of the Oscar-winning director - and husband of Dame Helen Mirren.
“He’s such an actor’s director,” she enthuses. “He was like, ‘What are you going to do?’ I’d say, ‘I don’t know’ and he’d go, ‘OK, great!’” recalls Lopez laughing loudly.
“We had so much freedom and he just trusted us. If Jason and I had anything to say, he was just so open to it. He’s not someone who’s locked into something. He wants it to be real and impactful and he knows the actors are bringing something to it that maybe he’s not thinking about.
“He just has a respect for it, maybe because he’s married to Helen but he knows what it is to be an actor and what it takes to do what we do and do it well.”
Aside from the opportunity to work with the revered director, Lopez says she was drawn to the chance to push herself.
“After a string of romantic comedies, it was a nice thing to do,” says Lopez who has starred in the likes of Maid In Manhattan, Monster-In-Law and The Back-Up Plan.
“I always say Parker’s like if Out Of Sight and Transport had a baby. You have the drama and character but with that kind of suspense and action and it was just a perfect combination,” she says.
And then there was Statham, the former diver turned Hollywood action guy. “He’s both a super-badass, action guy and a really good actor,” says Lopez.
“We had a great time pushing each other acting-wise. I don’t think even he and I realised how much of a journey these two characters were going to go on together until we went through it.”
Born in the Bronx in New York City to Puerto Rican parents, Lopez trained as a dancer and was a backing dancer for New Kids On The Block and Janet Jackson before turning to acting.
After a series of small roles, she made her feature film debut as a young mother in 1995’s acclaimed drama My Family.
Two years later she was nominated for a Golden Globe for the titular role in Selena, and in 1999 released her debut single If You Had My Life.
She’s gone on to sell more than 70 million albums worldwide as well as racking up more than $1.4 billion in worldwide box office receipts.
In 2001 Lopez became the first woman in history to have a number one movie and album in the same week. It’s little surprise that last year Forbes magazine named her the most powerful celebrity in the world.
“Doing this film with Jason and Taylor made me realise that, gosh, this is what I do.”