Livin' La Vida Lopez

Be afraid. Be very afraid. So went the oft-repeated warning to director Michael Apted as he prepared to shoot the thriller Enough with Jennifer Lopez in the lead. “I was told lots of urban legends about how difficult she would be,” he says. Among the demands attributed to Lopez in the gossip pages: a dressing room fitted out with white orchids, white walls, a white sofa and an endless stock of Evian—room-temperature only, thank you. So when Lopez went AWOL in winter 2000, the warnings seemed prophetic. “I lost track of her,” Apted says. “It was a huge job, and all the meetings were either rescheduled or canceled. I thought, ‘This is going to be very difficult.'”

Turns out Apted simply needed a lesson in advanced diva management. “Once we started, I figured it out: That’s how she does her life,” he says. Noting that she was then juggling several different projects, he says, “She focuses on what’s in front of her.” And for those stuck in the periphery? Says Apted: “Tough luck.”

Welcome to the World According to J.Lo, a one-woman three-ring circus—She sings! She dances! She runs a business empire!—where the 32-year-old makes some of her pop-star peers look like one-trick ponies. In the past three years she has made two multiplatinum albums, introduced a clothing line with projected annual sales of $100 million and opened a new restaurant in Pasadena. Enough opens May 24; her latest film, The Chambermaid, is being shot on the streets of New York City; and there’s a perfume on the way this fall. “She’s become a brand and can do it all—sing, dance, make movies, clothes,” says box office analyst Robert Bucksbaum. “She’s a vertically integrated star: J.Lo Inc.”

This level of activity makes it hard enough to find quality time with her husband of eight months, Cris Judd—let alone time to have a baby. Don’t be fooled by the $400 blouse Lopez recently ordered from New York City designer Mara Hoffman, who says its eggshell motif is a Kenyan fertility symbol. Not only were recent reports that Lopez was pregnant unfounded—”No, no, again, no,” she says when asked—but they added to a level of stress and exhaustion that prompted her to see a doctor while filming Enough last spring. “I was like, ‘Can you write a note that says I have to stop?'” says Lopez, who felt drained by her role as an abused wife. “And the doctor was like, ‘No, you’re fine. You need to rest, that’s all.’ I stayed in bed the whole weekend just relaxing, and people came over and cooked for me. I was back that Monday and was fine.”

No doubt Judd, 32, was the supervising nurse. Friends say the former backup dancer is trying to teach his Type-A wife to take a breather every now and then. “They can relax together,” says choreographer Tina Landon, who has known Lopez for 10 years. “And when you’re around Jennifer, that’s amazing, because I never thought that girl could relax.” Lately the pair have had to steal time together between takes. While filming her upcoming music video for “I’m Gonna Be Alright” in East Harlem in April, Lopez worked from 8 a.m. one morning until 1:30 a.m. the next. “She was tired, so Cris rubbed her back,” says her hairstylist Oribe. “It made her feel good.” At a rehearsal for her live special last year, Lopez “was chatting about the next dance move, and she jumped on his back and he gave her a piggyback ride,” says Landon. “She was talking away while he was carrying her around on his back.”

While Lopez is busy shooting The Chambermaid with Ralph Fiennes in New York City, she and Judd are building a Los Angeles estate. And they’ve just purchased a $9.5 million Mediterranean-style Miami Beach villa—all the more space to indulge their favorite off-hour pastimes: snuggling in front of the TV and playing with their dogs Reina, a Chihuahua, Buster, a 13-month-old chocolate Lab, and a cocker spaniel named Boots. The homebody cover is blown as soon as they hit the road, she in a $90,000-plus customized Jaguar XKR 3.8 sports car and he in a Mercedes SUV with his name embroidered on the driver’s seat. Says Judd’s father, Larry, 58, who owns an egg-roll restaurant in Cris’s home town of Niceville, Fla., with his wife Violeta, 54: “When they’re together, they forget how busy they are and just focus on each other.”

Perhaps most important, Judd, who helps choreograph Lopez’s dance routines, “doesn’t have a problem with her being the star in the relationship,” says Landon. “He’s a very secure person.”

Good thing, given the fact that his wife’s derriere sometimes gets as much press attention as her do-remi’s. “Curves ahead” might describe Lopez’s romantic history as well. In 1998 she was divorced from model and waiter Ojani Noa after just 13 months of marriage. In 1999 she landed at the center of a media frenzy when she and her then boyfriend, rap mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs, were detained after fleeing the scene of a shooting at a Manhattan club. Although Lopez was never charged and Combs, 32, was acquitted on charges of bribery and possessing a concealed weapon, the incident fueled her reputation as a Bronx-bred tough girl. “It was extremely painful and draining,” Lopez told Vanity Fair.

A nonsmoking teetotaler, she often noted that the club scene was more Combs’s milieu than hers, and on Valentine’s Day last year she broke off their three-year romance. “There were problems in the relationship before the trial,” he told Newsweek. “Then during the trial we had to be apart a lot, which made it so easy to stray.” Soon Lopez started seeing more of Judd, whom she had met in 2000 when he danced in one of her music videos. And with him, says Landon, “she was very, very happy. I could tell a clear difference from when she was with Puffy. She seemed lighter.”

The pair married in a mountain-top ceremony in California last September. But wedded bliss has dulled none of Lopez’s drive. Now at work on her third album—she hits the studio at night after spending her days shooting The Chambermaid—Lopez has also been busy with Madre’s (“Mother’s” in Spanish), which opened in April, as well as her J.Lo clothing line. Last month she even handpicked the winner of the J.Lo Model Search contest. “Every single product is touched by her,” says Miyuki Takahashi, senior VP of design for the one-year-old J.Lo brand. At a photo shoot for the fall line, “she came in and started playing with the clothes, the models’ makeup, the lighting, the models’ poses—everything,” says Takahashi.

She is equally self-assured about her own fashion choices—like the much maligned bouffant hairdo she sported at this year’s Oscars. “The next day every TV channel called and said, ‘What did you do to her?'” says Oribe. “She said, ‘Tell them that I loved it and that it was very fashion forward for me.'”

That surplus of chutzpah has been her trademark since childhood. The middle of three daughters born to computer specialist David, 60, and his kindergarten-teacher wife, Guadalupe, 56 (they are now divorced), Lopez grew up in a modest four-bedroom home in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the Bronx. Churchgoing Catholics who had emigrated from Puerto Rico, Lopez’s parents—especially her mother—encouraged their daughters’ talents while also keeping a close watch on them. “She always said, ‘I want you to be able to take care of yourselves,'” recalls Lopez.

Lupe, as she is known to friends and family, also instilled a love of music in her daughters. (Older sister Leslie, 34, is a music teacher; younger sis Lynda, 30, is an NBC entertainment reporter in New York City.) “Her mother told me that they always played music at home, from Broadway to Latin,” says Harold Maldonado Jr. of the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club, where a preteen Jennifer first strutted her stuff in dance lessons. “After class she’d stick around and ask questions,” recalls Maldonado. “She wanted more.”

After graduating from Preston High School in 1987, Lopez briefly attended Baruch College in Manhattan before dropping out to pursue performing. Her big break arrived in 1990, when she snagged a spot as a Fly Girl dancer on the hit FOX comedy show In Living Color. Even then, her star potential was evident. “You knew that she wasn’t going to be part of the chorus very long,” says Landon, who cast Lopez as a dancer in a ’93 Janet Jackson video. “She exuded the attitude that one day she was going to be in front.”

By 1997 she was: Her powerhouse turn in Selena, based on the life of the slain Tejano singer, established Lopez as both a breakthrough talent and a role model in an industry where few Hispanics had yet hit the big time. But even as her film career heated up—starring roles in Out of Sight, The Cell and The Wedding Planner would follow—her love life hit the skids with her ’98 divorce from Noa. Lopez has chalked up the split to the couple’s youth, and today they are on such good terms that he is one of the managers of Madre’s. “We’re friends,” says Noa. Adds Rachel Ashwell, who designed the restaurant’s decor: “He speaks of her in a very respectful way.” Like most who know her, Ashwell marvels at Lopez’s laser-beam focus. At the restaurant, even the salt-and-pepper shakers came under scrutiny. “Her attention to detail,” says Ashwell, “is why she is who she is.”

That and a savvy awareness of her own limitations. “The first thing she admits to is, ‘Look, I don’t have a strong voice like Mary J. Blige or someone like that,'” says her record producer Cory Rooney. “She just comes out saying, ‘I’m here to entertain you, and I’m going to try and do my best.'” Producer Irv Gotti, who remixed Lopez’s hit “I’m Real,” put it more bluntly. Lopez “can’t make a record like Whitney or Mariah cause she ain’t got a big voice,” he recently told Elle magazine, adding that she had to rely on “guys like me who can…enhance that voice.”

What’s next on Lopez’s loaded agenda? In addition to The Chambermaid, which will be released this Christmas, she has also wrapped the comedy Gigli with Ben Affleck, and she is set to appear alongside Samuel L. Jackson in the thriller Tick-Tock next year. “She’ll say, ‘I need a vacation,’ but I think she’s enjoying her success,” says her stylist pal Oribe. But don’t rule out the possibility of little J.Los anytime soon. Says Oribe: “She wants it all!”

Michelle Tauber

Julie Jordan, Ulrica Wihlborg and Frank Swertlow in Los Angeles, Steve Helling in Niceville, Amy Longsdorf, Rachel Felder, Diane Herbst and Sarajane Sparks in New York City and Linda Trischitta in Miami Beach

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