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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"Thanks, hon, that was great," Aniston says, peeling his
arms away. "But I don't want to talk about my
"Why not? Oh, she's ashamed of me," says Donovan.
"I'm more unabashedly in love with her, I guess." He
"Tate!" she says. He skedaddles. "Oh, God, where was
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
"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
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