TV Guide Cover Feature - July 26 ' 97


PERFECT WOMAN             [Jennifer Aniston]

                     Life is sweet for Jennifer
                     Aniston -- with a new movie
                     ("Picture Perfect"), an
                     adoring boyfriend, and, oh,
                     yeah, a pretty great day job.

                     B Y   J O H A N N A   S C H N E L L E R

                      It's 99 degrees in New
                     York City, but when
                     Jennifer Aniston opens the
                     door to her Greenwich
                     Village apartment, she looks
                     as crisp as romaine lettuce. She's wearing an
                     ankle-length green print sarong and a black tank top and
                     cardigan, her hair is tied back, and tiny oval glasses
                     frame her crystal-blue eyes. She leads the way through a
                     living room beautifully appointed with antiques and fresh
                     garden roses -- "If you're going to rent a furnished
                     apartment, rent it from a guy who owns an antique
                     store," she says, laughing -- and puts some quiet jazz on
                     the CD player. On TV, as Friends' fizzy Rachel Green,
                     Aniston is perpetually askew, clothes skidding off her
                     shoulders, wisps of hair flying, as if champagne runs
                     through her veins. In person, however, I'm the one
                     melting on her ecru linen sofa, and she's the one
                     soothing me with bottles of cold water and pats on the
                     arm. Apparently I'm not the first person to turn into a
                     puddle at Jennifer Aniston's feet.

                     "Jennifer is all about love," says her Friends costar Lisa
                     Kudrow. "Whatever you're doing, whatever you're
                     wearing, she loves it. If you hate your dress, she'll say,
                     'But wow, look at your hair!' She's good through and
                     through, and that comes out."

                     About 30 million people agree. Many of them tune in to
                     NBC's Friends (Thursdays, 8 P.M./ET) each week
                     expressly to watch Aniston curl herself around a coffee
                     cup. Aniston's character has evolved the farthest, from
                     what series cocreator David Crane calls an
                     "underdeveloped" princess-cum-coffee-waitress into an
                     emotionally mature woman with a fabulous job at
                     Bloomingdales. "Jennifer is wonderful at playing zany --
                     she's always pushing to do more physical comedy. But
                     she can also break your heart," Crane says.

                     "When we filmed our breakup scene last season, it was
                     so devastating that it caught us both by surprise," says
                     David Schwimmer, who plays Rachel's ex-boyfriend
                     Ross. "I was actually embarrassed by how long it took
                     me to recover from the first take. Jennifer made it so
                     real."

                     Now Aniston is building a thriving film career in her
                     summers off. Last year she dipped her toe in the water
                     with a small, well-received part in Ed Burns's ensemble
                     film "She's the One." This summer she dives all the way
                     in, starring in one big, juicy romantic comedy, "Picture
                     Perfect" (it opens August 1), while shooting another,
                     prestige director Nicholas Hytner's "The Object of My
                     Affection."

                     Aniston's career moves appear canny -- she has made
                     the transition to film more successfully than her Friends
                     castmates, and each project has been a step up from the
                     last. But Aniston insists it's all serendipity: "Someone is
                     watching out for me, or something," she says. "I wish I
                     could say that I had all these options mapped out and
                     that I made these smart choices. But I was really just
                     lucky."

                     Aniston, 28, appreciates her good fortune, but she is not
                     ruffled by it. She wants to take life as it comes, to stay
                     as cool as my bottle of Evian. She's unaware that she's
                     about to fall apart, most charmingly. For now, Aniston is
                     calm.

                     In "Picture Perfect," Aniston is Kate, an ambitious
                     junior advertising executive just weary enough of being a
                     good girl to be tempted by a bad guy (a co-worker,
                     played by Kevin Bacon). To drive Bacon's character
                     crazy and get ahead at the office, she lies about having a
                     picture-perfect boyfriend (Jay Mohr, the rival agent to
                     Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire"); complications ensue
                     when she tries to make him real. Along the way, Kate
                     faces the choices all young, gorgeous women face: work
                     vs. love, a cad vs. a lamb, a glamorous lie vs. mundane
                     truth.

                     "Jennifer exudes an extraordinary humanity, which you
                     need to do this kind of comedy," says Moonlighting
                     creator Glenn Gordon Caron, who directed "Picture
                     Perfect." "No matter what kind of ridiculous or morally
                     questionable things Kate does, you can always hear her
                     heart beating."

                     Aniston's father, John (ex-Days of Our Lives villain
                     Victor Kiriakis), gave her the script, written by his friend
                     (and former Days of Our Lives colleague) Arleen
                     Sorkin, and the movie was made on the strength of
                     Aniston's interest. It was the first time Aniston realized
                     she had that kind of clout. "When I told Jennifer that
                     Kevin Bacon had signed on, she went, 'I can't act with
                     Kevin Bacon! I love Kevin Bacon!'" says Caron. "She
                     was so humble, so adorable."

                     Aniston identified with the movie's themes because she
                     remembered what it was like to be "someone wanting to
                     be different than who she was. Wanting to get out of a
                     rut, and what do I have to do to make that happen?"
                     After graduating from New YorkCity's High School for
                     the Performing Arts in 1987, she wanted to act -- but
                     she also regretted not going to college. "So I was taking
                     classes at night in psychology, waitressing during the
                     day, auditioning when I could. I was like, 'I've got to get
                     out of here.'"

                     Suddenly a key turns in the front door, and in bounds
                     Tate Donovan, Aniston's boyfriend of over a year, and
                     their terrier, Enzo. Though Donovan is an actor (he
                     starred in Fox's Partners in 1995-96 and is the voice of
                     Hercules in the current Disney movie), he had never
                     even seen Friends until mutual pals introduced him to
                     Aniston. Despite their matching Irish Claddagh rings
                     (coincidentally, they both bought one for each other's
                     first anniversary present), and tabloid tales of his
                     proposals ("That p----- me off," Aniston says. "Don't
                     take that away from me!"), and Enzo, whom Donovan
                     gave to Aniston last Valentine's Day, they maintain
                     separate residences in L.A. and have only cohabited in
                     New York for about a week.

                     Man and dog greet Aniston, then snuffle noisily around
                     the apartment. Donovan lopes into the kitchen and
                     bangs away on the taps, then pops out to the living room
                     to say, "There's no water in this apartment."

                     "It's coming. They're reinstalling the water heater," says
                     Aniston. "Uh, why don't I go into the dining room so
                     you can have some privacy?"

                     "No, no, no, stay," Donovan says, wrapping his arms
                     around Aniston from behind. "She's the most
                     unbelievably great…actress. I was going to say, 'thing
                     that ever happened to me,' but I was just trying to make
                     it topical."

                     "Thanks, hon, that was great," Aniston says, peeling his
                     arms away. "But I don't want to talk about my
                     relationship, so.…"

                     "Why not? Oh, she's ashamed of me," says Donovan.
                     "I'm more unabashedly in love with her, I guess." He
                     mock-pouts.

                     "Tate!" she says. He skedaddles. "Oh, God, where was
                     I?"

                     You wanted to act.…

                     "I wanted to be self-sufficient. I wanted to have
                     something of my own that I loved to do," she says,
                     instantly back on track. "So many of our parents and
                     grandparents, the women especially, didn't have that. I
                     was determined not to be chained to my home. I respect
                     those people tremendously, but I know my mom
                     [Nancy, a former model] would have been a happier
                     person if she'd blossomed to her full potential. And you
                     never get that time back. So I'm really trying to enjoy it.
                     Can you imagine that feeling, to be 65 years old and to
                     have missed whatever it is you've dreamed of?"

                     Has Aniston talked about this with her mother? "No. I
                     accused her of it, as a bratty teenager. Shame on me.
                     Who knew it was something that was really happening?"

                     Aniston is also, she says, just starting to talk to her
                     father about his life (her parents divorced when she was
                     9, and she lived with her mom) -- for example, how his
                     father, a Greek immigrant who owned a diner, worked
                     from 5 A.M. to 1 A.M. every day. "My dad didn't know
                     how to be a great dad. I was a clown, and always sort of
                     getting into trouble in school, and he thought I was a
                     failure and stupid. Whatever." Aniston heaves a sigh. "I
                     know, How did he know that was going to be disruptive
                     to me? But I started to doubt myself. The biggest gift he
                     gave me was to say, 'I'm sorry I wasn't there.' He
                     wasn't. He was bad. He wasn't a bad guy, but he was
                     typical of his generation. Now he's a great dad."

                     Donovan ambles back in and slips a new CD into the
                     multiple carriage. Aniston is instantly distracted. "There's
                     definitely that feeling of -- oh, what was I going to say?"

                     "Love?" Donovan says, grinning cheesily.

                     "Yeah, love," Aniston says, shaking her head.

                     "That you have for me.…"

                     "I do not want to talk about my relationship!" Aniston
                     wails.

                     "That fulfilled feeling…," Donovan continues dreamily.
                     She forces him out of the room.

                     In "Picture Perfect," Kate can't resist the guy who will
                     break her heart. Has Aniston suffered the same fate?
                     "No, I like good guys. Tate's a good guy," she says.
                     "I've been lucky that way. In high school I did go out
                     with a guy" -- here she breaks off, laughing, because
                     Donovan sticks his head back in -- "who was mysterious
                     and weird but would be nice when he was with me. I
                     thought I'd be able to change him. And if you can be the
                     one woman who can do that, how awesome are you?
                     But it never happened."

                     Donovan is now fully in the room. Aniston throws up
                     her hands. How much have they told each other about
                     their pasts? "I like to tell," she says. "You learned so
                     much from those other people. It's half of who you are."

                     "On our first date, all we did was talk about our
                     relationships," he says. (His most famous ex is Sandra
                     Bullock; hers, Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz.)

                     She nods. "We were like a mirror of each other. I was
                     with somebody who was very closed down, and
                     everything was always great, never a problem. If there
                     was something wrong, he would never talk about it. I
                     like to get rid of it. Why dwell on it, build up
                     resentment?"

                     So how are they different? "I'm a New York City girl,
                     and he's a suburban Jersey boy," Aniston says.

                     "And she's -- oh, I shouldn't say this…," Donovan says.

                     "What? I'm what?" Aniston asks.

                     "She's a lot wealthier than I am." He guffaws. Aniston
                     takes off her glasses and slams her face into her hands.
                     (Each Friends regular now makes close to $100,000 per
                     half-hour episode.) "In fact, she's a lot wealthier than
                     most people," he continues blissfully. "You can actually
                     be rich, and she'd still be wealthier." Do they plan to
                     move in together in L.A. soon? Donovan starts to say
                     yes, but Aniston blurts out, "No. NO."

                     "No?" he asks.

                     "We don't know, that's why I don't want to talk about
                     it!" she says.

                     "OK. I'm going to wash the dishes. That I just washed,"
                     Donovan says. He backs into the kitchen. Aniston rubs
                     the bridge of her nose. Her cardigan is crooked. Her hair
                     is starting to tumble down.

                     I try one last big question: Is this -- career, boyfriend,
                     dog, flowers -- what happiness looks like? "It's great,"
                     Aniston says slowly. "I never had an idea of what I
                     wanted my life to be, like a picture I painted in my head.
                     And your life doesn't stop happening to you. I wish I
                     had more time to see my family, and I don't like all the
                     tabloid stuff -- although the worst thing anybody said
                     about me was that I had breast implants." She rolls her
                     eyes. "Or that I was dating a wrestler."

                     A wrestler? "A married wrestler who wore a mask,
                     called the Phantom. I never met a wrestler in my entire
                     life." She pauses. "But I'm definitely happy, I must say.
                     Yeah, I'm the happiest now." She suddenly becomes
                     aware of the raucous choral music emanating from the
                     CD player. "Oh, my God, we're listening to 'Hercules'!"
                     she cries. "Tate!" She switches off my tape recorder and
                     laughs and laughs and laughs.

                     Johanna Schneller is a Toronto-based freelance writer.
 
 

                                Photo credit: Jennifer Aniston by Len Irish for TV Guide