MAID IN MANHATTAN - Q&A with JENNIFER LOPEZ
As this is another type of Cinderella story, what is your own relationship to that classic fairy tale?
I loved Cinderella. I remember when I was little, I had this Cinderella coloring book. She had this blonde hair but I always painted it black and gave her blue eyes. I imagined that Cinderella should have dark hair (laugh). I remember loving fairy tales and even as I got older, into my teenage years, I started loving all those Brat Pack films and PRETTY IN PINK. I just loved being the girl that didn't seem like she was going to get Prince Charming but ended up getting him, you know what I mean?
Why do you think girls respond so strongly to the tale of Cinderella?
Because everyone wants to be a Queen or a Princess. You know what I mean?
Absolutely! It's just a fantasy that you will have this great Prince or King who loves you and will do anything for you. He will have a great palace for you to live in and you will live happily ever after.
Where did you dream that Prince Charming might take you?
I don't know. I didn't picture a place. I just pictured the palace would look like something in the coloring book (laugh).
Do you recall the first time you ever felt like you were a Cinderella?
I would say there was one year at the Oscars. I had this big black ball gown on and I felt like a princess. I went by myself because I wasn't dating anyone. I felt like Cinderella because I went from rags to riches and got to dress up to go to the ball. I had a great time that night and that was the first time I ever felt like Cinderella.
Unlike Cinderella who wore a glass slipper, you have different shoes in MAID IN MANHATTAN that let you turn into a princess.
Yeah, I put on the ones that match the dress (laugh). I guess it was a little Cinderella moment but I don't think of this film as a Cinderella movie in that way. It's more WORKING GIRL meets PRETTY WOMAN. It's based in reality. This woman is a single mom and she lives up in the Bronx and commutes into the city everyday. It's about that working class that makes the city work and then it's about the people who stay at the hotel who kind of run the city, you know what I mean? It's about all those types of things.
Marissa walks the same streets that you did growing up in the Bronx. How did that help you find who she was as a character?
It was great for me. It was great for me to go back there and plays this type of character even though I know it. It is so much apart of who I am but being back there gave me such a different feeling. It was like when I lived there and took the train into the city to work or whatever. We also shot on the streets where I grew up.
One of the more complex aspects of the character was her relationship with her mother. Usually parents are constant sources of encouragement but here we have this woman who constantly tells her daughter that she will never rise above her station in life.
That is a mentality of a lot of the working class people, especially those that weren't born in this country and came here. I was born here but my mom and dad weren't but they grew up here. My grandmother didn't and they have that mentality that this is there lot in life. You work hard but these are the only kind of jobs we can do and don't go beyond that. As long as you are good person and you support your family and you are a good wife and mother, then your life is fulfilled. The problem with that is that it limits you. I don't think it is out of anything but fear. Her mother is afraid and so it is safe in that little world of the Bronx for her.
Marissa is even afraid to try and move up the ladder.
She is afraid because her mother put that fear in her. But going into the city, it has given her a new perspective and she realizes that there is possibility out there. She knows she is just as much a human being and as good as everyone else, why can't she aspire to be more? What is wrong with that? That is the struggle of the character. She has these fears inside her but at the same time, she has desires and dreams for more for her and her son.
How did your parents handle your dreams?
They wanted me to do something more stable at first. It's all out of love in a weird way. They want you to be okay and not to suffer in your life. You have to go for what you want at the end of the day otherwise you won't be a happy person. My parents also realized that I needed something to do for myself.
One of the most touching moments in the film is when you get to be a parent and have to tuck your son into bed and sing him a song. Was that your idea to have that moment?
No, it was in the script but they tried to take it out at one point. I liked it. I am glad that it is there because that is one of those sweet moments that you remember as a child that you connect with your parents. I don't have children now but I will definitely try to do things like that with my kids when I do have them.
Do you remember what songs were sung to you?
My mom was just very musical anyway and she played all kinds of music. She would act out plays, like WEST SIDE STORY or do an opera (laugh). She would do whatever. I have a lot of great memories actually.
As you did in ENOUGH, once again you play a mother. Not having kids yourself, are these maternal instincts just inherent or are you acting?
I think so. As I get older, I do feel that some are more maternal than others. I feel like I take care of a lot of people in my life. Whoever works for me calls me mom (laugh). My manager Bennie, who is older than me, to B.O.B who runs my security, they all call me ma. I think it is because I have this motherly instinct about me. I make sure that they are okay, that they are taken care of. If anything is wrong, they come to me. I am the one who gives them hugs. I think I am a very maternal person in that way so it is not such a big deal for me to do those roles. I understand them. As I get older and feel that I do want to start a family of my own, you feel it even more. It is a natural biological thing. It is part of who I am.
Okay, let's talk dirty. How good of a cleaner are you?
Oh my God, I am so meticulous. I am a little bit like my character in THE WEDDING PLANNER, just a little bit too much. I like things really clean and neat. I don't like to see papers and I don't like to see lots of bottles out in the bathroom. I want to see everything in its place - tucked and folded.
Did you hang out with any chambermaids to see how they do their job?
I have lived in hotels. I have seen my share of maids and how they do things. I lived in hotels for three years so I did not have to hang out with them. I did get some tapes that they have called 'How to make the bed properly' and 'How to clean the bathroom properly' so I watched them to get all the details. But I do have a lot of experience.
Do you think you have a different appreciation for their jobs now?
Absolutely. I really do. They do try and fade into the background. Part of their job is to seem like they are not there, in a way. They are not to get in the way of people staying in the hotel. You go about your own business and so you don't really notice them. When I was doing this movie, it made me realize how these people are in and out of my room all the time and making things run.
Don't you think that there are those in society who are demeaning to the staff?
Yeah but that is not my style. In general, there is an attitude that they are not there. You don't think of them as being there but after doing this part, I did notice them. They are very quiet. They come in really quiet and sneak out really quiet. In the halls they don't say hello, they just kind of turn away. Now, I say 'hello' and ask how they are doing.
What about the scene when you go to buy the pantyhose and get dismissed by the sales girl? Have you ever had that experience?
I think everyone has had that experience at one point or another. Even if you are dressed down, it doesn't matter whom you are, if you don't have the right clothing on and it doesn't matter your ethnicity, you will be dismissed. It's judging a book by its cover and that is wrong.
In regard to clothes, for most of this film, Marissa wears nothing more than the traditional maids uniform. But then she puts on this white cashmere outfit and she becomes this swan. Why do clothes make such a difference?
It's like playing dress-up. It's almost like acting and playing a character. When you wear certain clothes, you feel different. If you dress like a bum, you feel like a bum (laugh). So, when you put on these amazing designer clothes, it just lifts you up to this magical place and it is fun. It affects how you carry yourself and how you feel.
How hands on are you in what wardrobe you need to wear?
Very. I worked very closely with Albert, who did the costumes in the movie. He told me 'great, you have style' and I told him that I really loved clothes. That was the bottom line. We tried on a lot of clothes. That white outfit took a long time to put together. We tried on so many different things. We tried on everything from skirts to dresses to suits. With the one dress, we wondered what would be the one dress. At the end of the day, you put on the one that fits the best.
Let's talk about 'that dress'. When you stood at the top of the stairs for that party sequence, you looked like an Egyptian Princess. It took my breath away.
We thought about that look a long time. I brought in a different hair and make-up person for that. I wanted to look really different and everyone does hair and make-up differently. There were people who were doing me for the rest of the film but I wanted this to be different. I told the new team that I wanted my hair up and how I wanted a whole new different look. They went with it. I told them that those old Hollywood films like GIGI inspired me. I wanted my style to evoke that. I wanted this to feel like a modern day fantastical movie like those 1950's musicals.
But those women from those films really didn't speak their mind like Marissa does. She doesn't hold back. She says what is on her mind.
Yeah. That is one of the things that Ralph's character is intrigued with. He comes from a political world where you say the right things and do the right things because that is what you should do. She comes from a world that questions 'why would you do that?' You got to do the right thing for the right reason. It gets very cloudy for her and so she is no bullshit. If you don't like this person, then you don't go there. If this person is nice to you, then you are nice to them. It is really simple and something that you don't come across every day - especially in his world.
How are you with your opinion?
I speak my mind, but in the same way that Marissa does. It is not too overbearing. There is a way to say things in the right way. If you are too opinionated or too kind of out there with your opinion, people turn off to you. There is a way to say things that will help people listen. I don't; say things just to say things. If someone is yelling all the time, it's not the squeaking wheel that gets the oil. It just stays squeaking. No one just uses that car anymore. If you speak at the right time, then people will listen.
When Ralph's character first lays eyes on you, one gets the sense that they know something is happening. Is there such a thing as love at first sight?
I think so. I think you can see someone and know that this person is it. I don't think it happens all the time but it does happen.
It does play into the myth of Prince Charming. Is that a dangerous expectation for young people to have?
No, because Prince Charming is a relative I think. It is not the King or the President. It is just someone who loves you and cherishes you and can take of you. With women growing up, especially if you are like me and have a great daddy, you want to find that type of man. You look for someone you know you are going to be safe with and they will take care of you and make you feel secure. That is what Prince Charming is. He is straightforward, honest and strong and when I think of my dad - that is what I see.
Is that still practical for a girl of 25 or 35?
I still think it is the same type of thing. You want an honest straightforward man who can provide and take care of you but at the same time, love and respect you. That never changes. It just becomes more complex because you know about love and respect and honesty, which you also know about when you are five in a way. It is just harder to find when you get older.
This film really required you to show a wide range of vulnerability. How secure is Jennifer Lopez as an actress to reach those levels of emotion? Do you still need to take classes to feel secure as an actress?
I think, as you get older, you live more and you have suffered more and had more joy and just experienced more. So you bring a different weight to things with experience. I still work with a coach. I want to challenge myself and don't like just sitting idly by and feeling that I know how to handle a movie. It is not fun for me that way and I want someone to be there pushing me saying 'did you think about this?' That is the exciting part of acting for me to make the character honest and complex. There are a lot of layers where there are dreams and hopes but fears and complexes as well and everything in between.
Do you need to find a moment to get yourself worked up for a dramatic scene?
I do like to concentrate and I do get to myself and think about what I am doing. I will know the script before we start shooting. So when I go in in the morning, I will think about it what we are shooting that day while I am in my hair and make-up and I will stay focused. It is not about chitchatting in between scenes. Everyone is really respectful and they know that I am working. It's about staying focused and doing my job well.
You celebrated your birthday on set with the cast and crew. How was that?
It was fun. Everyone kept wishing you happy birthday all day and it was nice.
They say that art imitates life. How was it for you that scene where you watch the photographers peering out of the bushes to shoot your picture?
I thought one of the funniest lines I say in the film is when I say during that scene, 'I don't know how you do it, all these photographers all the time'. It was so surreal because all these paparazzi were on the other side of the street taking our picture as well. Ralph and I just laughed. It was so surreal. You can't get away from them.
How did you react with the oyster scene? It seemed very sweet where this man of the world tries to get you to eat this new food.
Yeah it was. It's a very worldly type of thing. It's like caviar, a food you would never really try growing up in the Bronx. I found this scene was another moment that showed the difference between them. She is eating steak and French fries and he is eating oysters.
Because you get inundated with so many offers, what does a script need to make you commit to investing your time in it?
I love romantic comedy and it is super hard to find good romantic comedies. You now how they are going to end, but how do you get there? There is the typical way, which I like, but at the same time it is all about the writing. The story was solid and I knew that if we hit all the beats, then I knew this would be something that people would enjoy.
You mentioned WORKING GIRL and PRETTY WOMEN, what is it about them that you liked?
There is a certain thing about them that life can be a fairy tale if you believe enough or make it that way. In PRETTY WOMAN, she believed enough and in WORKING GIRL, she made it happen. That is why I liked using those two together. This film is not either one of them but it lends itself to both.
You mentioned dreams. Is it a good thing to dream?
It's a good thing. If you are not dreaming, then what do you have to live for. You have got to want something like love or a job or an aspiration. They are dreams and without them, life wouldn't be worth living. I have accomplished a lot of stuff that I wanted but I am still dreaming. If that were it, then what would be after this? Then I would just sit here and go, 'that's it'.
Question and Answer Text Copyright Columbia Pictures