Over the course of her 20-year career, Jennifer Lopez has gone from being a back-up dancer, to a Golden Globe-nominated actor, to an international music icon, to a tabloid obsession, to a reality television judge, to a film and television producer, to the soon-to-be star of her own NBC cop drama.
Of all the mediums Lopez has dabbled in, however, her on-screen career has been the one filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows. "It's always great to have commercial successes, but at the end of the day, that stuff doesn't matter," the 45-year-old quintuple threat told BuzzFeed News recently at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California, while promoting her latest movie, The Boy Next Door. "The reason we're artists, the reason we make art, is to make people feel things and to inspire them and to motivate them. That's what I do with my work, and I'm proud of that."
Before her 27th film opens on Jan. 23, Lopez took a look back at her most popular, most talked about, and most personally significant movie roles, revealing the lessons she's learned along the way.
In her first major leading role, Lopez earned widespread acclaim (including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical) for her uncanny portrayal of the late queen of Tejano music.
"I loved making the movie. I was obsessed with doing a good job. I knew that I had a huge responsibility and I wanted to do great. The more I got to know about her and how people felt about her — and not just her fans, which was awesome — but her as a person, I really just felt like, I need to do this woman's memory justice. And it was a great honor," Lopez said, adding that Selena the movie and Selena the woman still resonate with her. "That was the movie that helped me go gracefully into this life. She taught me a lot. I took a lot of my cues from her."
While the film made $136 million globally and spawned a sequel, Anaconda is generally considered to be a movie that — thanks to the less-than-stellar snake special effects, equally unconvincing character development, and Jon Voight's insane accent — is so bad, it's good.
"It's sooo campy," Lopez said of the horror-thriller. "We had a great cast — Eric Stoltz and Ice Cube and Owen Wilson and Jon Voight and Kari Wuhrer — and we had a really great time making that film. We were out in the middle of the Amazon on that boat every single day. It was crazy."
As for Voight's oft-discussed accent, Lopez said, with a laugh, "I remember a few of the actors talking about it and saying 'What's he doing?' He's like a mix of like, Portuguese — I don't know wherever [the character is] from ... but I just love [Voight]. He's amazing, an amazing risk-taker as an actor, and always has been."
Out of Sight (1998)
As U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco, Lopez starred opposite George Clooney's charismatic bank robber Jack Foley in Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name.
"Working with Steven Soderbergh for me was a real blessing," said Lopez. "I love his style of working. He's the type of director that sits right by the camera — or did when we shot. It feels like he's right in the scene with you and it was one of the best roles that I've ever gotten to do."
While Out of Sight was named Best Film of 1998 by the National Society of Film Critics, it failed to connect at the box office, earning $77 million globally. "It wasn't a hit," Lopez said. "It was reviewed OK, but not phenomenal. And I think now is when people appreciate it. It's always on the best movies list and all these kinds of things, but at the time, it wasn't lauded as that at all."
The Cell (2000)
In Tarsem's visually striking psychological thriller, Lopez played child psychologist Catherine Deane, who enters the mind of a comatose serial killer (Vincent D'Onofrio) in an attempt to locate his last victim.
"Tarsem is really a visual genius," Lopez said of The Cell's director. "He is quirky and brings a different kind of sensibility to his visuals; he's kind of [David] Fincher-esque. He just has a whole different thing going on ... I wish he would do actually more films, but it all comes down to money. If your stuff doesn't hit money-wise, then they give you less opportunities. And it's unfortunate. But the truth is, he is a really great filmmaker and a visual genius."
The Wedding Planner (2001)
In her first foray into the romantic comedy world, Lopez played Mary, a Type A wedding planner who meets — and falls for — a charming doctor (Matthew McConaughey), before learning he's engaged to her newest client.
"I love comedy. I'm not afraid to look stupid and I think that's a big part of being a comedian," Lopez said. "You kind of have to put yourself out there, feel dumb, and push the envelope to go far; look stupid so you can get to the funny. I really enjoy it."
With the simultaneous release of The Wedding Planner and her second album, J.Lo, Lopez became the first artist to ever have a No. 1 film and a No. 1 album in the same week. "It's amazing. Even now I think about it, and I always go, 'Are you sure so-and-so didn't do that? What about so-and-so?' It was an amazing feat," Lopez said. "The two studios — it was Sony Pictures and Sony Music; I was on Epic — just decided to release it in the same week and it went crazy."
With Enough, Lopez tackled a topic not often seen in major motion pictures: domestic violence. While the film became a revenge tale, the self-empowerment message interwoven throughout continues to resonate with Lopez's fans.
"Another movie that wasn't a big hit but that people to this day come up to me about," Lopez said. "A lot of battered women are like, 'Wow, I'm so glad you did that film. I love that film. That film really inspired me' — not to go and do something terrible to their husbands or whoever was their abuser, but to stand up for themselves and to get out of a bad situation. Sometimes, that's all it's about."
Maid in Manhattan (2002)
In the biggest live-action hit of Lopez's career ($94 million domestically), she played Marisa, a single mother and maid who — thanks to a twist of fate, and some couture — is mistaken for a socialite by politician Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes), who attempts to woo her.
"That's probably my favorite of the romantic comedies," Lopez said. "That whole idea of being a maid and wanting a better life for yourself and Bob Hoskins' character in that movie saying, 'Just because we serve people doesn't mean we're servants. There's dignity in everything that you do so long as you do it well.' That all people are equal — I think that's what Maid in Manhattan is about. People are people. It doesn't matter if you're going to be the president of the United States or if you're a maid at a hotel. It's the quality and character of the person that you are that matters."
The film — about a shady mobster duo (Ben Affleck and Lopez) that kidnaps a powerful prosecutor's younger brother (Justin Bartha) in hopes of saving a mob boss from prison — may have been a critical disaster and a commercial flop, but after Affleck and Lopez, who met on the film, began dating, the title became a part of the pop culture lexicon.
"It was funny," Lopez said, sighing as she looked back on the attention the project garnered. "It was just one of those moments — a moment in time, where things are not lining up in the best way. And it is what it is. I look back on it as a great time in my life 'cause, you know, I obviously had an important relationship in my life that came from working on that movie."
While the publicity surrounding Lopez and Affleck's real-life relationship may have, in many ways, doomed the film, Lopez has no regrets about Gigli. "At the end of the day, you need those failures sometimes to grow and to learn and to realize what you did wrong, what you did right, what does it all really mean," she said. "You need those moments and it definitely was one of those learning experiences for all of us."
Jane Fonda returned to acting after a 15-year hiatus to play Viola Fields, an accomplished, respected newscaster who, following an on-air meltdown, focuses a little too much energy on driving away her son Kevin's (Michael Vartan) new fiancée, Charlie (Lopez).
"I love Monster-in-Law," Lopez said through a mile-wide smile. "That was so fun. [Fonda] was amazing — so amazing. I'd work with her any day of the week at any time. She's just such a star."
In addition to working with Fonda, Lopez's love of Monster-in-Law also stems from her character, Charlie. "She was soft. She had a nice outlook on the world — that people were good, that they weren't trying to hurt her," Lopez said. "She wasn't in competition with anybody, only with herself. And then, this crazy lady comes in, and all of a sudden, she's in the battle for her man. It was just crazy for her."
El cantante (2006)
Lopez produced and starred alongside her then-husband Marc Anthony in this biopic of salsa singer Hector Lavoe. The film was told from the perspective of Hector's wife, Puchi, whom Lopez played.
"A favorite of mine," Lopez said of El cantante, the first film she ever produced. "The character that I got to play and that Marc got to play was something that I'm very proud of. I don't think it was a perfect film by any means, but I think it did show the portrait of a tortured and doomed artist that left behind a legacy of music that still matters today.
"And I think their relationship was so dysfunctional in the long line of dysfunctional relationships, like Sid and Nancy. This was really interesting to play for me and I think that's why I liked it. I kind of got lost in that character for a little while. And as an actress, that's all you can hope for: a juicy character to work on."
The Boy Next Door (2015)
In this Rob Cohen thriller, Lopez stars as Claire Peterson, an English teacher who is still reeling from the revelation that her husband (John Corbett) has been having an affair for years. As she grapples with the possibility of a divorce, Claire's son (Ian Nelson) befriends their new next-door neighbor, Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman) — and following a regrettable one-night stand, Claire finds herself the object of Noah's obsession.
"It's a very, very, very fun movie," Lopez said. "When I read the script, I was like, Oh this is gonna be such a roller-coaster ride. But what made it good was that it had a really believable setup. I just felt like, I get this girl. I know this woman, this person at this point in their life, feeling not desirable, feeling discarded, trying to figure out, 'Do I stay? Do I go?' Being so scarred and scorned [when] somebody comes along and fills that void and helps you feel desired again, and then making a huge mistake, crossing that line — we all do stuff like that. It was very human, very real.
"You start with a broken family. This situation — this awful, traumatic situation — makes them realize that that family is worth fighting for, to the death. And this awful thing restores them in the weirdest way. Kind of like how life is: Sometimes you have to go through the tough times to realize what you have."