MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Later this month, Jennifer Lopez is out with a new movie, the latest entry in her long career. Altogether, J.Lo has been in more than 30 films. She has had top 10 singles. She's been on hit TV shows. She's even launched a top-selling perfume. NPR's Sam Sanders recently sat down with Lopez. He wanted to figure out the secret to her continued success.
SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: NPR was last on the list for a full day of press for Jennifer Lopez's newest movie. She had a lot to get through - photo shoots, hours of interviews. At one point, I saw her before I was allowed to speak to her, whizzing from one room to the next in a bathrobe. And then, like magic, J.Lo was with me...
JENNIFER LOPEZ: Hi, are we sitting here?
SANDERS: I'll sit right there.
LOPEZ: Thank you.
...Looking refreshed, not complaining at all about her day.
LOPEZ: One of many that we'll have the next few days.
SANDERS: Yeah, yeah, it's a big push for the movie.
LOPEZ: It's go time.
SANDERS: It's go time. It's go time, which you're used to go time.
LOPEZ: I'm used to go time.
SANDERS: You've been on go time for...
LOPEZ: For many years now.
LOPEZ: Yeah, for a lot of years now.
SANDERS: J.Lo has been doing junkets like this for years. That means years of practice making every interview like this one a chance to preach what you could call the gospel of J.Lo.
LOPEZ: The only thing stopping you is you and your actual - the whole path was leading you to your purpose.
Nothing was a mistake.
I am limitless. I can do and make anything happen that I want to make happen. It's just up to me.
I actually do deserve to get this or have that or get paid that or deserve to own part of that.
SANDERS: Eventually mid-interview, she notices how it all sounds.
LOPEZ: I got to stop talking like a motivational speaker.
SANDERS: But you know what? People need that.
LOPEZ: That's not my goal. That is not my goal. I'm just trying to live my life and...
SANDERS: That make-it-work-no-matter-what mentality, it's the theme of her latest movie, "Second Act." In the film, J.Lo covers familiar territory. She plays a driven woman from modest means who proves she can do anything anyone else can and find lasting love in the process. Lopez's character is Maya. She works at a big-box store, and she wants a promotion.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SECOND ACT")
DAN BUCATINSKY: (As Arthur) It's not easy getting a job for a woman your age.
LOPEZ: (As Maya) Watch me.
SANDERS: I'll let J.Lo explain more.
LOPEZ: She wants to progress. She's been at the store for 15 years, assistant manager for six.
LOPEZ: You know, she's about to give up.
SANDERS: She wants - you guessed it - a second act. Through a series of wacky events and some help from a fairy godson, this character Maya ends up in the C-Suite, unconstrained by her education or her gender or her race. This character, like a lot of other Jennifer Lopez film characters, she's pretty colorblind. She could be Latina or not. That's been a feature of J.Lo's film career for a while now.
ISABEL MOLINA-GUZMAN: "Enough" and "The Wedding Planner" and "Jersey Girl" and all these other movies that there was nothing about her that would say to a mainstream audience, oh, this is an ethnic movie.
SANDERS: Isabel Molina-Guzman is a professor of Latina/Latino studies at the University of Illinois. She's also written a book called "Dangerous Curves: Latina Bodies In The Media." J.Lo is on the cover of that book. Molina-Guzman says that maybe the biggest secret to J.Lo's success has been her ability to code switch, giving different audiences different versions of herself.
MOLINA-GUZMAN: She could pull in the ethnic audiences because people know who she is. And then in the music, she could be more urban. She can be more ethnic.
SANDERS: That may have maximized her reach, but it may have kept J.Lo from getting some of the credit she's due as a Latina groundbreaker. And Molina-Guzman thinks J.Lo deserves a lot of credit.
MOLINA-GUZMAN: You know, I think Jennifer Lopez opened up the door to just about every other Latina actress that's out there now.
SANDERS: At first, J.Lo really isn't into talking about how her race or gender might have shaped her career or other careers, but I push her, and then she tells me maybe it has. Maybe a lot of the way the media talks about her body and her presentation - she says maybe it's been a bit racist. Maybe the way you're less likely to see J.Lo as a shrewd businesswoman with her own production company, executive producer credits, in charge of her own empire - maybe that's sexist.
Do you think you got it worse because you're Latina?
LOPEZ: Yep. Because a woman - yep, yeah.
SANDERS: But J.Lo told me she will not define herself with that, just like a lot of the characters she plays in her movies.
LOPEZ: I want to prove to myself that I belong here and that I deserve to be here. So the fun in it now to me is going, yep, see, Jen?
LOPEZ: You were right.
SANDERS: The gospel of Jennifer Lopez - the constant hustle, all the motivational talk - maybe it worked. Maybe she is right. No matter how you see her, in whatever medium, almost 30 years in, Jennifer Lopez is still here. Sam Sanders, NPR News.
KELLY: And you can hear the rest of Sam's conversation with Jennifer Lopez - and there is a lot of it - in the latest episode of our podcast It's Been A Minute.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRAMATIK'S "MUY TRANQUILO")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.