By Donna Freydkin, USA TODAY
NEW YORK - Behind the exhaustively styled hair, the pink glossed lips and soaring black Christian Louboutin thigh-high boots, Jennifer Lopez is really just a mama's girl.
The superstar who fronts her own film, music and beauty empire promptly picks up when Guadalupe calls midway during a morning conversation.
"Hi, Mommy. I've been in interviews all day. I was going to call you in a little bit. I'll call you in a little bit. I love you," says Lopez.
She smiles, shaking her head a bit at her protective mother, who's checking in on Lopez and her grandkids, Max and Emme, 4. "She's like, 'You haven't called me yet today.' It's 10 o'clock. Give me a chance!" says Lopez.
But Lopez is a mom herself and she gets it. She's in the midst of interviews, but says her "babies," as she refers to her son and daughter, have to fly back home today to attend school Wednesday while she remains in Manhattan to promote her latest film, Parker.
"I'm a workaholic. I love it and I don't see it as a negative thing. I don't see working and being productive as anything negative. You have to be fulfilled to be a great mom, to be a happy mom. I'd never let the work take over so much that I couldn't be there for my kids or be the mom they need me to be. I'm constantly worried about that. It's always right there," she says, tapping her head.
The last two years have been tumultuous for Lopez, 43, who netted a colossal $52 million last year and was named the most powerful entertainer by Forbes magazine.
In July 2011, she split from her third husband, Marc Anthony, the father of her twins. Later that fall, she began dating dancer Casper Smart. Last July, Lopez confirmed her exit from American Idol, where she had served as one of the celebrity judges, and promptly embarked on a massive world tour, with her family and Smart in tow. And now, she's back in front of the camera, playing a destitute divorcée with a stagnant real estate career in the heist thriller Parker, co-starring Jason Statham as a master criminal and opening Friday.
"When I did the movie, I had just decided to get divorced myself. I felt in that low place. It was the worst time in my life as well. This character was at the worst point in her life. I had that to use. Thank God I had that to use," says Lopez. "It was therapeutic. I know exactly what that feels like. Getting out of bed every day and getting to work is such a job. I'm not the type to do Ambien or wine or pills. When you go to work, you can't be the person who puts that on everybody. You have to be professional."
And that she always was, says director Taylor Hackford, who had known Lopez for years but had never worked with her. So he called her one day and told her he and wife Helen Mirren were fans of her on Idol, but that wasn't the version of Lopez he wanted in his film.
"I say that I'm doing a film starring Jason Statham and that I don't want the glamorous Jennifer Lopez. I want someone real and someone I know you are," says Hackford. "This character never gives up, and that's you. Jennifer is absolutely the real deal. She's an unbelievable worker. People have the sense that because she's famous that she's removed from the real world - and she's not."
In fact, Lopez is surprisingly revealing about her own relationship troubles, many of them well documented in the tabloids. "She's a real open person. She's fun. She finds a way to enjoy herself. She's full of beans, full of life. She's a cool chick. Salt of the earth, as we say in England," says Statham. "She's so approachable. If you knew how approachable she is and how open she is, you'd go up immediately."
She's certainly not her glam self in this movie. Playing Leslie, a woman who gets back up after being knocked down repeatedly, was healing for Lopez.
"What I needed in that moment was (to know) that it all gets better. You just have to hang in there. It gets better. When (Hackford) first called me, I wasn't thinking about divorce at all. Suddenly it happened and my whole world fell apart, and then there was this therapy of this character. Everything happens for a reason. It's true. It actually is true," she says.
Plus, despite it being more of a supporting role, Parker was a nice entrée back into acting. "She was a good, multi-layered character with a lot going on. That's the type of things I want to do. It harkens back to where my acting career started. I'm in a place where I have a lot to offer. I've lived a lot. I've lived heartbreak to incredibly passionate love," she says.
So speaking of love, what does Smart bring to the table? "What does he give me? I don't want to get into all that. I'm happy. I'm happy with me," says Lopez.
She says she has evolved as a person and now has a firm idea of what she wants from life.
"Peace. Inner peace. Feeling good about yourself and feeling good about where you are. Just getting to that place where I'm good right here, I'm doing what I love, my kids are healthy. I'm healthy. I'm surrounded by love and goodness. That's what I want. I just want to be happy and be fulfilled creatively," says Lopez. "Overall, I just want to be happy, me and my kids. It's a simple, difficult thing.
Doesn't everyone just want to feel comfortable in their own skin? None of that other (expletive) matters if you're not happy. You've got to be OK right here, by yourself. I'm good on my own and if someone wants to share this journey with me, cool, but it's gotta be great."
What she will say about Smart: "He's a nice person. My life is really good right now. I'm at a point where I'm able to make decisions based on what I really want to do. I'm making decisions based on what I feel, which is never wrong no matter what the outcome is. I have a lot of experience in the business now. I've gone through some personal things that have been real growth experiences. I know what I want, finally. That took a long time. Doing this film after doing TV and music for the past couple of years, it was so exciting for me."
And she has no regrets about leaving Idol, which has been making headlines (if not generating commensurate ratings) for an alleged feud between new judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. "Sitting on a panel with American Idol - even though I loved the show and the people and the journey - it was an uncomfortable feeling for me to just sit there and be the spectator and the judge instead of the performer. This return for me to that has been so creatively and personally fulfilling," she says.
She's working on new music and possibly a Christmas album, but says her focus is on movies. And her kids. "She brought her children to the set. She would spend every moment with them that she wasn't working, but she never put that on me," says Hackford.
Lopez is a pro at keeping up appearances. Emme and Max, she says, had continuity and stability throughout all the family turmoil, and she never let herself fall apart. "You have to be mommy and mommy is strong. They didn't know anything. They're starting to figure it out now, a year and a half later. They were just three at the time. They help you. They save you. As hard as it is. Just yesterday on the plane coming here, Max was acting up. It makes my life great. It just does. It's an amazing thing," she says.
So let's say it wasn't 19 degrees out, and Lopez didn't have to spend the next 24 hours fulfilling her promotional duties. How would she spend the day?
"I would go walk around with them. Emme loves to window shop and buy pencils. I'd take them to buy stuff for our dog. We just got a boxer puppy. Emme said we have to buy him clothes and shoes. She's very worried about what kind of leash is he going to have. She's really obsessed," says Lopez. "We'd sit down and have lunch. I'd take them to a park. I want them to run around outside. I really try to focus on them being physical, to run around and climb and be active. Come home, take a bath, and relax. On my days off, that's my routine with them."
Hackford confirms that under the glitzy exterior, Lopez is a real person. She spent three weeks dieting before shooting a semi-nude scene, and the day it was done, Hackford found her in her trailer, eating a Big Mac and fries. "I said to her, 'You really are from the Bronx,' " he laughs.