USA Weekend - July 27th 1997

Jennifer Aniston
                                   -- On her own

                                   Can this star jump from TV's
                                   Friend-ly confines into a movie
                                   career? Audiences will decide
                                   this week.

                                   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.

                      In Picture
                                                    Perfect, opening
                                                    this week,
                                                    Aniston, 28, gets
                                                    her shot. She's the
                                                    central character
                                                    in the romantic
                                                    comedy, backed
                                                    up by screen
                                                    veterans Kevin
                                                    Bacon and
                                                    Olympia Dukakis.
                                                    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
                                   Dukakis, Aniston's
                                   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? [29] 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