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Jennifer Lopez was first thrust into the spotlight when she won out in a nationwide search for an actress to play the lead role in Selena, director Gregory Nava's biopic about the slain Tejano singer. The film made a respectable showing at the box office, and Lopez's uncanny portrayal of the singer won her critical raves (she scored a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination) and a reported $1 million salary, a paycheck that made her the highest-paid Latina actress in history.

Although Lopez's rise to stardom seemed to happen overnight, in truth, the actress had earned her place at the top by consistently plying her exceptional talent. The daughter of a computer specialist and a kindergarten teacher, Lopez always knew she wanted to be a performer.

She started her showbiz career as a dancer in stage musicals — most notably in a European tour of Golden Musicals of Broadway and in a Japanese tour of Synchronicity — and in various music videos. But it was when she won a national competition of about two thousand contestants vying to become one of choreographer Rosie Perez's "fly girl" dancers on Fox's In Living Color that Lopez finally cracked into Hollywood. Lopez knew she wanted to make the transition to acting, but she followed Color producer Keenan Ivory Wayans' advice to stick with the show for a while before making any attempt to move on.
After a couple of seasons spent shaking her booty during the commercial segues on In Living Color, Lopez got her shot at acting when a co-worker, whose husband was writing and producing a pilot called South Central for Fox, suggested her for a part. The show was practically over before it started, but it did pave the actress's way into two more short-lived series, Second Chances and Malibu Road. Lopez effectively brought her television career to an end in 1993, with a role as a heroic nurse in Nurses on the Line: The Crash of Flight 7; the siren call of the big screen could no longer be ignored.

In 1995, Lopez appeared in Gregory Nava's critically acclaimed Mi Familia, a film that introduced the actress's talent to top filmmakers. In 1996, she beat out Ashley Judd and Lauren Holly for the supporting role of Robin Williams' teacher in the Francis Ford Coppola comedy Jack.

The movie was fairly embarrassing, but Lopez was unscathed by the experience, a feat she had previously accomplished with the sluggish Money Train, from which she emerged "smelling like a rose," while co-stars Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson took a critical trashing. Despite having previously worked with Nava on Mi Familia, Lopez was subjected to an intense auditioning process before she succeeded in landing the lead role in 1997's Selena.

The movie increased Lopez's Hollywood stock considerably, and the parallels between the actress and the singer, who was poised for break-out stardom at the time of her death, were unmistakable. Lopez drew certain lessons from Selena's life. "I used her as an example when I was making this movie," Lopez says. "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."

Selena marked a new beginning for Lopez in more than just career terms. At the wrap party for the film in San Antonio, Lopez's boyfriend, Ojani Noa, took the microphone and proposed to her on the dance floor. The couple married in early 1997; if Lopez didn't know that she had achieved stardom, she soon found out for sure when apparently false rumors of her imminent divorce were printed in mainstream newspapers after only two months of marriage. The marriage fell apart in less than a year.

Luckily, her newfound notoriety wasn't all negative: Lopez was named one of People magazine's Fifty Most Beautiful People for 1997, and her first post-Selena project, Anaconda, was the film that finally knocked Jim Carrey's Liar Liar out of its holding pattern at the top spot in the spring box office rankings.
Yes, 1997 certainly turned out to be a banner year for Lopez. She starred opposite Jack Nicholson in Bob Rafelson's well-received noir thriller Blood and Wine, and revisited the genre in the fall when she appeared opposite Sean Penn in Oliver Stone's U-Turn. Lopez beat out a bevy of A-list actresses to land the female lead in Steven Soderbergh's steamy 1998 crime film Out of Sight, in which she starred as a U.S. marshal who falls in love with one of her captors (played by George Clooney) after she is taken hostage during a prison break.

For her next outing, Lopez got ant-imated, in the DreamWorks tale Antz. Less successful was her co-starring turn opposite Vince Vaughn and Vincent D'Onofrio in the sci-fier The Cell, released in 2000.

In June 1999, the former fly girl filed a musical chapter with the release of the Latin pop album On the 6, which achieved platinum status within two months. Meanwhile, speculation about her personal life has continued to be rampant. Since her divorce from Noa, Lopez has been linked variously with Sony Records president (and former Mr. Mariah Carey) Tommy Mottola, Latin pop star Marc Anthony, and Sean "Puffy" Combs, with whom she carried on a two-year high-profile relationship.

The lavish Combs-Lopez affair ended in 2001 as Combs faced bribery and assault charges for a 1999 nightclub incident; the rapper apparently got the short end of the break-up stick. While Lopez moved on with one of her backup singers, Cris Judd, Combs gave interviews in which he compared his feelings for the Latina diva to those of Frank Sinatra for the love of his life, Ava Gardner.

In 2001, Lopez, newly dubbed "J-Lo" from the title of her best-selling second record, became the first female artist to have both a No. 1 album and a No. 1 film (The Wedding Planner) at the same time. Her song "Love Don't Cost a Thing," in which she criticizes a free-spending boyfriend, has widely been interpreted as her kiss-off to the wealthy Mr. Combs.

The Bronx-born Lopez made a convincing federal marshal in Out of Sight, and called on her streetwise sense as a tough cop in the romantic drama Angel Eyes. After finishing her role as a woman fleeing an abusive boyfriend in Enough, she plans to play an FBI agent in two different thrillers, Taking Lives and Tick Tock. Her $10 million salary for Lives makes her the highest-paid Latina actress in Hollywood history.

 

"I thought she'd offer me some sympathy. Instead, she said, 'Don't you ever call me crying again! You wanted to be in this business, so you better toughen up!' And I did." - to Redbook magazine August 1999, on the lesson in tough love she got from her mother.

"You laugh it off, you get upset for a little while, you're human and you let it go." - on the "outrageous" tabloid stories she hears about herself, at a press conference to discuss her movie, "The Cell" in August 2000

"This film certainly is not meant for the girls who sing along with my songs" (about Cell, The (2000))

"I was always a singer and a dancer, and I always wanted to be an actress. For me, it's all just one thing."

"Nail Polish" (upon being asked what she got on her SAT's)

"When I'm not prepared, which is almost never." -when asked if she ever feels insecure

"I don't really check out other people's butts."

"I'm not mad about my ankles - they're too skinny."

"We've all had a love of our life and failed love affairs. I'm just the biggest romantic - it's really sad. I tell people that, but nobody listens."

"I've always had a huge fear of dying or becoming ill. The thing I'm most afraid of, though, is being alone, which I think a lot of performers fear. It's why we seek the limelight - so we're not alone, were adored. Were loved, so people want to be around us. The fear of being alone drives my life."

In every movie they want you to look as thin as you can look. In Selena, it was the other way around: "How can we shoot her butt so it looks like Selena's?"

I only do what my gut tells me to. I think it's smart to listen to other people's advice, but at the end of the day, you're the only one who can tell you what's right for you.

If you focus on the money, you're not going to get anywhere. You can want to be successful, but at the end of the day, if money is your motivation, if that's how shallow your outlook is on life, then you're going to be such an empty person. Because there's nothing driving you from the inside -- there's no passion...

My mom always told me that if you work hard, you can achieve anything. And it's true. It's one of the truest things ever.

I think crossroads come at many times during your life. Up to this point, I've had several. You get to a certain point in your life and you're like, Am I supposed to be doing this? And it's usually in the face of some failure - something that didn't work out the way you wanted it to. And you're faced with a decision: Do I keep trying to do this or do I give up?

"Beauty is only skin deep. I think what's really important is finding a balance of mind, body and spirit. Somebody said to me not too long ago, 'Until you're twenty, you have the face you are born with, and after that you have the face you deserve', and I really loved that - the idea that you wear who you are on your face."

"If you kiss on the first date and it's not right, then there will be no second date. Sometimes it's better to hold out and not kiss for a long time. I am a strong believer in kissing being very intimate, and the minute you kiss, the floodgates open for everything else."

"I was in third grade when Rapper's Delight changed my life. But when I came home, my mother would be listening to Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Diana Ross. I want to include all those elements in my music."

"I didn't expect it to happen like this, wrapping one film and flying out to do a new one the next day. But I'm fresh enough and ambitious enough to stay up all night for the sake of a job. I'm not gonna take it easy. I want to do so much more when I'm getting these great opportunities."

"I'm trying to get the focus back on what I do as an artist, not what I do at home."

"It was all a bit mad. For a girl like me, wearing gorgeous clothes and having all this attention was amazing. It was like being a princess. But it didn't take me long to realise that that sort of fame can be scary. The more the circus builds up around you, the more you start to lose all those intentions that get you there in the first place. I was always about being a good performer and working hard, doing movies, making music, but that started to get lost in all that crazy stuff."

"I throw myself into love because I believe in it, but when things don't work you have to take responsibility. You all know things have gone wrong for me. Everybody has laughed, everybody has had a knock at me. It hurts, it always does. There have been times when I didn't want to be me any more. From the outside looking in, it may have appeared that it was a glamorous exciting life, but I would have swapped places with anybody. It really did start to get to me and the easy thing to do would be to walk away."

"I'm not J.Lo, she's not a real person. She was just a bit of fun that got really crazy. I've never been anyone but Jennifer. I was going to call the album Call Me Jennifer because that would be my way of saying goodbye to the whole J.Lo thing. But Rebirth is perfect because it means so much more."

 

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