Jennifer Lopez

Interviews

"If you watch the films I've been in, you can see what my figure's like. It's not like you can hide it."

By Julian Ives

Mr. Showbiz: When she died two years ago, Selena was poised for crossover success in the English- language music business. Will the movie bring her that success in another form, by convincing Hollywood that Latin American stories appeal to broad audiences?

Jennifer Lopez: I hope so. Some people consider it a Latin movie, which it's not. It's a movie that everyone can enjoy. If it does well, it shows to Hollywood that we can do more movies. It's also important for me because it's a really great role. And it's important to Selena and her fans, to have this memory of her.

Warner Bros. conducted a huge casting call for this film, not just for the role of Selena, but for everyone in her band and in the Quintanilla family. Did you have to fight hard to win your part?

I got a call saying that Gregory Nava was going to direct the Selena story. Now, I knew she was about my age and they might be considering me for it. But it wasn't this thing like, "I have to get this part." I think it wasn't until I auditioned that I really wanted it. That's when I realized that there was all the dancing and singing, and then I got really excited about it. We had to do four scenes from the movie, and five minutes of dancing to her numbers for concert scenes.

You were the best- known actress considered for the role, but you were still asked to audition. How did you feel about that?

I'm still at the stage of my career where I have to go after things that I want. It would be stupid not to. Even if I was at the caliber of Sandra Bullock or Michelle Pfeiffer or Julia Roberts, if there was a role I wanted, I'd say, "Can I come in and read for that?" That's how you get to do the good roles. You can't let it get offered to everyone else before it comes to you.

What did you like best about Selena's personality?

One of the things that made her so popular was that she was always just herself. She didn't try to hide her figure, all that stuff. She was Latin, she had dark hair, and she dyed her hair even blacker than it was. She wore bright red lipstick. It was never a thing with her to say, "Maybe I won't wear this miniskirt, maybe my butt won't look so big if I wear this instead." She accentuated what she had. And women look up at her and say, "My body's just like that. She's showing it, so why should I feel ashamed of it?"

Selena was famous for her body- baring costumes. Did you ever feel self- conscious?

Well, if you watch the films I've been in, you can see what my figure's like. It's not like you can hide it. But when I get in with the wardrobe designer, they're thinking, "Let's see, she's looking a little hippy, she's got a big butt, what should we do?" They're always trying to minimize-- put it that way-- and it's because we see all those actresses who are so thin and white. Latinas have a certain body type. Even the thin ones, we are curvy. I've always had trouble with wardrobe people!

Selena was Mexican- American; you're a Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx. What similarities are there between your backgrounds?

Being Latina in this country, that's the parallel. Of course, there's a lot of differences. There is the Nuyorican culture here in New York City, and there is a whole different Tejana culture. But there are parallels between us: growing up and being treated a certain way, or not being treated a certain way. Being a minority. Being a woman.

What did Selena's life teach you about being a celebrity?

I used her as an example when I was making this movie. She was very good with her fans. She was always very gracious, and always took time to talk to them. She realized that her fans were the most important thing. There were a lot of ad-libs in the movie, and one of them was at the Grammy speech when she thanks her fans. It did happen in real life, but that wasn't in the script. I made sure to end the speech with a thank you to her fans. It was a constant thing with her, from the time she won her first Tejano music award when she was sixteen years old.

What actresses did you admire as you were growing up?

I didn't have a lot of role models. There weren't a lot of actresses I could identify with, being Puerto Rican. But I loved West Side Story, and that says it all right there. I identified with it. It was my favorite movie and I wanted to be Rita Moreno. Not Maria: she was kind of wimpy and she blamed her brother for things. But actually, now, if I could ever do West Side Story, I would want to play Maria. I think that's the actress in me, wanting to be the center of attention and the star of the show.

"To learn how Selena moved, I had to watch a lot of videos for hours every night, and try to unlearn how I moved."


When you portray a real person, you're obliged to do a lot of research. Where did you start?

Her family was wonderful. They were on the set, and I spent time with them before we started. I watched every piece of videotape I could get, because you act different in interviews than you are off screen. I think anyone who does a film like this about a real person, you have to do your homework and find every insight, into who she was and what made her tick, and what was the flaw in her personality that led to her death. It was a good [casting match], because we were at the same kind of points in our careers: we were enjoying some success, but we weren't like hugely popular. We had a lot of parallels in our lives, and Selena and I were similar types of personalities. It was lucky for me, that way.

Can you elaborate on the idea that you and Selena were at similar stages in your careers?

Well, one of her friends said that at the end, Selena was always tired. And I could understand that. I thought, "Of course she was tired!" She had a boutique, she was recording her new album, she was touring and doing gigs all over Texas. We had a lot of things in common. I was flying in and out, working on four films at the same time. She also was a very big- hearted person. She was a fixer. That's one of the reasons that Yolanda [her murderer] slipped into her life.

With all these movies coming out, you are becoming a public figure. Does Selena's fate scare you at all?

Do I feel scared that something like that could happen to me? There's always that fear. I have managers in my life who are always telling me to be careful! I have protective people in my life. But you can't stop living because of it.

My parents came to the set one day and they talked with Selena's parents, and afterward my father goes, "I don't know what I would do if that happened to us, if we lost you." I said, "You can't think about things like that." Selena's father was always very protective of her, and then her killer turns out to be someone in their own backyard. Do you live your life in fear, not going out, being afraid all the time? You just can't tell.

Selena's dad pushed his kids very hard, making them practice their music when they'd rather be playing outside. Was there anyone in your life who pushed you to try harder?

My mom took us to dance classes when we were young. I was five when I started dance. My mother might have been a little of a frustrated actress, but she wasn't a stage mom. We went to dance classes every weekend. It wasn't till I got older that I started to pursue it myself. I went to different dance studios here in Manhattan.

Did your dancing background help you in imitating Selena's movements?

That was actually one of the hardest things. To learn how Selena moved, I had to watch a lot of videos for hours every night, and try to unlearn how I moved.

What kind of a relationship did you have with Selena's mother, and how did she help you prepare to play her daughter?

She's a very beautiful lady, and she was very protective of me. She was always saying, "You never eat, you don't want to look fat, you never drink enough water! You're just like Selena!"

The movie opens with Selena performing at the Houston Astrodome. Had you ever performed in front of a huge crowd like that?

No! I've almost forgotten how much I like to perform onstage, because I've been so caught up in doing films. It was great being in front of an audience, getting that immediate response. I was kind of spoiled: the first show I did, 35,000 people show up. I liked it! And that week I told my managers that I want to record something. I've gotta record an album. I love doing it so much. So maybe that's something to work on this year.

How difficult was it to learn to sing like Selena?

Well, I am a singer. I didn't think of it as lip- synching. I just learned to sing in her style, just as I learned to dance like her. I was actually singing, but of course they didn't record it.

When the movie introduces the woman whom we know is Selena's murderer, the audience at last night's screening started hissing. Were those difficult scenes to play?

One of the things I had to be careful of was that Selena never knew she was going to die. I had to approach it in a very "alive" sense. The way I portrayed her was very, very true to the way she was. She was a jokester. If you see any of her home videos, you'll see that. They were a very happy family. They still are. Of course, with the tragedy they have gone through, things have changed. But when you watch the videotapes, that comes through.

Selena's crossover fame came as a result of her being murdered. Why didn't the movie include that incident?

That would make it a TV movie of the week. That's not what this film was about. This is about Selena's life, and getting people to see what she was all about: her struggles, what she overcame and what made her who she is, and why she became such a phenomenon. That's what everybody is interested in-- why it's such a phenomenon. Why is everybody interested in this woman? This movie shows you why: she was funny, she was giving, she was loving, very different from many artists that we have in America. I want people to know who she was.

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