-- On her own
Can this star jump from TV's
Friend-ly confines into a movie
career? Audiences will decide
By Gayle Jo Carter
Like many A star before her, including
all of her "Friends" on the hit TV
sitcom, Jennifer Aniston is treading in
treacherous territory. Not even the
smartest of Hollywood insiders can
explain why some TV stars -- think John
Travolta -- make it as movie stars while
others -- think Shelley Long -- don't.
Aniston, 28, gets
her shot. She's the
in the romantic
up by screen
Aniston is well
aware of the
break she's catching: "I couldn't get a
movie to save my life," she says of her
pre-Friends days, cozying into a sofa in
her summer sublet in New York's artsy
(i.e., expensive) Greenwich Village.
Aniston peppers me for my opinions of
Picture Perfect, which I saw that
morning. "Does anything seem hard to
believe? You thought it was real?" Even
when I tell her it was a lot of fun, held my
interest and could put her on the
Hollywood map, she still seems unsure,
perhaps afraid I was being nice for the
sake of the interview.
Who can blame Aniston, especially after
the other "Friends" found the box office
less friendly than the Nielsen ratings?
Does anyone even remember The
Pallbearer (with David Schwimmer) or
Ed (with Matt LeBlanc)? "You have to
be very careful, because you want to
make the right choice. You want to hang
around for a while," Aniston says.
Her concerns reflect more than mere
TV-to-movie angst. Today's Hollywood
produces "disposable stars," says
when-are-you-getting-married mother in
Picture Perfect. "They're so vulnerable,
so criticized. You're hearing people say,
'This is a young Julia Roberts.' Now,
how old is Julia Roberts?  What is
that all about?" Regardless, Dukakis
believes Aniston has what it takes for the
long run. "Stupider people than me know
that," she quips.
JUST BACK FROM a bike tour of
Provence with her boyfriend, actor Tate
Donovan, Aniston -- in baggy sweats, a
trademark tight black T-shirt and
just-pedicured bare feet -- has landed in
New York for the summer to film her
next movie, Object of My Affection.
Not long ago a struggling
actress-waitress, Aniston knows that the
to-die-for apartment, the assistant named
Heather and the starring movie roles
have a price: aggressive paparazzi,
tabloid tales of anorexia and breast
implants, and the backlash that followed
America's initial Friends lovefest.
"We were just doing a job and loving it.
It had great success, and we were
thrilled. Then it got bigger and bigger,
and then, out of nowhere, one day you're
reading that people are really annoyed."
She couldn't put it out of her mind until
Steven Spielberg offered her this advice:
"This [backlash] happens to everybody.
Don't think you're so special."
But sometimes Hollywood is too much to handle, and the price
of fame is high for young stars testing the waters in public view.
Possible evidence: Friends co-star Matthew Perry's recent
acknowledgement, after months of speculation about his drastic
weight loss, of an addiction to prescription painkillers, for which
he sought treatment. "I'm sure it's a combination of a lot of
things," Aniston says, wiping away tears. "Unfortunately, he's in
the public eye, so his experimentation is out there, and I guess it
went too far. Matthew is not even a drinker. He's, like, a pure
person. He'd almost frown on you if you had one too many
glasses of wine and were getting silly."
LIKE MANY of her Gen-X peers, Aniston was shaped by her
parents' divorce -- and that may partly explain her
sure-footedness so far in Hollywood. "I learned a lot about
human relations and emotions at a young age, dealing with
adults who were all of a sudden children. It's definitely hard.
You deal with them fighting through you. That's a drag."
While her actor dad, John Aniston, was in Los Angeles taping
his soap opera, Days of Our Lives, Aniston was living in New
York with her mom, a sometime actress-model, and attending
the performing arts high school made famous by Fame. Dad
did his best to dissuade her from going into show business.
"Why trust your kid into that? You try to protect them from all
the bad people out there," John Aniston says. In show business,
"you get chewed up and spit out."
But it was futile with her family ties -- Dad on a soap, and Telly
Savalas as her godfather. Now she says his advice is: "This is a
business. Be smart. Choose wisely." He's the one, in fact, who
gave her the Picture Perfect script, trying to help her pick the
few good movies that come with all the stinkers.
After high school graduation, Aniston headed to L.A. with big
acting dreams. Before Friends, her claims to fame were five
years of many failed TV shows -- including Molloy, Herman's
Head and The Edge -- and the better-to-forget horror movie
Leprechaun. With Friends came a better class of movie roles,
starting with a supporting part in independent filmmaker Ed
Burns' She's the One last summer. Aniston earned good
reviews, though some said her character wasn't much of a
stretch from Rachel, the coffee server-turned-Bloomingdale's
fashion buyer she plays on NBC's "must-see TV" Thursday
nights. "Because you're in the spotlight, there's so much
pressure on you to see how you're going to do. Are you going
to fail, or are you going to do good?"
Friends co-star Matt LeBlanc -- calling from the London
movie set of Lost in Space -- colorfully describes it this way:
"It's like you're caught naked hanging from a tree branch with
the wind blowing."
Picture Perfect director Glenn Gordon Caron, who worked
with Cybill Shepherd in television's Moonlighting and Annette
Bening in Love Affair, believes Aniston will make the leap to
movie stardom, noting that "very few people can be funny and
intelligent." Aniston, he says, can. "She's got the chops to be a
wonderful dramatic actress."
Yet no one knows better than Aniston how superficial it all can
be. It wasn't until she lost 30 pounds, at her agent's suggestion,
that she landed Friends. And she worries about the cumulative
impact of TV's thin, glamorous stars on young girls. "TV is
definitely guilty of putting out unrealistic images of what is
socially acceptable. I'm guilty of it, too."
Dukakis points out there's never been a time when actresses'
looks weren't an obsession. "It's just that the images today that
everybody likes are so questionable," she says of the rail-thin,
shapeless look of so many Hollywood women. John Aniston
tells me it's not just a woman thing. He calls Hollywood "an
equal opportunity deflator" -- and he should know: After 12
years, Days of Our Lives recently opted not to renew his
IN PICTURE PERFECT, Aniston plays Kate, a young ad
executive who invents a fiancé to make her promotable in the
eyes of her male bosses, who think being single means she can't
be depended on. After being thrown into a picture with the
video guy at a friend's wedding, she has a Picture Perfect
made-up fiancé until he becomes famous and the honchos at
work insist on meeting him.
"Her character does things that are not very nice, [but] we
forgive her," director Caron says. "That's a quality that's rare
among actors. Jack Lemmon had it; we let him sin and then
redeem himself. Tom Hanks has it. But women, as a rule, are
not afforded the opportunity, or we don't recognize it as quickly
in them. It's a great gift that she has."
Still, Hollywood demands more than good acting, Dukakis
says. "The staying power is very mercurial. [Stars] have to
really keep analyzing where they're at and what's happening and
what they're doing and what they should be doing."
Aniston herself isn't clear on the magic formula: "I don't know
what it is, why some people will make it in movies and some
won't." As for her next steps in Hollywood? "I'm still learning
what the rules are. Like, when does your time run out? I'm
hoping you get to a place when you are comfortable enough in
your body of work that you can look behind you and go, 'This
is what I want to do; this feels close to me.' "
As much as she wants a long-term Hollywood career, she also
wants a happy marriage and kids -- basically, a life she never
had. "I have always been somebody that really wants to be
married. And I don't know if that's just so I can do it differently
than my parents did and prove marriage does work." That kind
of success, she seems to be saying, is well within her control.
Entertainment editor Gayle Jo Carter last profiled Michael J Fox.
Photo Credit: THEO WESTENBERGER FOR USA WEEKEND