Jennifer Aniston is known for her alluring beauty, but what I truly find most captivating about her when we meet is the infectious smile that is invariably printed on her face, shedding light on all round her. She often colours her words with convivial banter even when she discusses earnest issues, insisting that humor is the remedy for every malady. No wonder that several magazines have voted her the world’s most beautiful woman and America’s darling.
Born in California to a Greek actor father and fashion model/photographer mother, Aniston grew up in New York where she discovered acting at the age of 11. Following her graduation from the Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Art, she performed in off-Broadway productions. At the age of 20, she moved to Los Angeles, where she was cast in several TV shows that failed to attract attention, prompting the aspiring actress in 1993 to consider quitting acting. But after shedding 15 kg of her weight, at her manager’s behest, she was chosen in 1994 to play the role of Rachel in the TV show, “Friends,” which later bestowed her with international fame and great fortune, turning her into the brightest TV star in Hollywood. Aniston’s brilliant performance in the show, which lasted 10 years, and the popularity of her character also gained her an Emmy and a Golden Globe award. “Those were the most important 10 years in my career, and I’m very grateful for the show,” Aniston remarks.
Indeed, Aniston parlayed her success in “Friends” to embark on a career in feature films, starring in movies such as “Office Space (1999),”The Good Girl (2002),” and “Friends with Money (2006).” The box office success of her movies catapulted her to the upper echelon of Hollywood stardom, becoming the highest paid actress in Hollywood in 2003 with a salary of $35 million per movie according to Forbes magazine.
Soon, Aniston turned her eyes to producing movies through her company, Echo Films, which she established in order to make movies underpinned by strong female characters. Taking the leading roles in her own productions, Aniston played mostly comedic roles, but this year she produced a dark picture titled “Cake,” in which she inhabits a tragic figure, Claire, who succumbs to painkillers and alcohol in order to tame her physical and psychological pains that resulted from a car accident which claimed her son’s life and left her physically and emotionally scarred.
Sensing a golden opportunity to delve into a character that is so vastly different from her familiar comedic roles, Aniston decided to fight for it and campaigned for the director to cast her for it. Of course, the director was surprised by her enthusiasm to play such a role that was so different from her, but relented to her persuasion. “I told him that I was ready to go to the moon and back to earth with him if he gave me the role, and I would not let him down and that’s how the love affair began,” Aniston laughs. “This was an actor’s dream in terms of being able to just completely escape and really embody someone who’s having an emotional and physical experience and really tell this story as honestly as possible.”
Indeed, Aniston melts emotionally and physically into this gloomy character, obscuring her alluring beauty behind hideous scars, erasing her charming smile with an untamed anger, stifling her endearing spirit with alienating depression, and transforming her elastic, lean figure into a limping heavy frame. “As actors, we all have an arsenal of characters in our bodies, and accessing the pain is really honestly what we do. I put a lot of work into understanding the physicality of where her pain was located and how it would affect her. Also knowing dark and angry people in my life helped me tap into her emotional pain and her sense of alienation,” Aniston explains.
Other than gaining 5 kgs for the role, Aniston spent time with a friend, who had become addicted to painkillers and alcohol following a traumatic accident in which her leg was shattered in a boat propeller and consequently had to undergo over 20 surgeries and endure excruciating agony. Being a stuntwomen, her friend’s trauma was exacerbated by the loss of her livelihood, which alienated her from society. Furthermore, Aniston consulted with doctors who helped her understand the impact of analgesics on the addict’s psychology and behaviour.
Evidently, Aniston’s prepping was not in vain, gaining critical praise when the film premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in September for her courage to take such a challenging role, physically and emotionally, and completely vanish into it. “The more uncomfortable a role the more I enjoy playing it,” laughs Aniston.
Ironically, it was Claire’s sense of humour, not her dark side, that attracted Aniston to her. “When I read the script, I found myself laughing,” Aniston marvels. “She has a wonderful acerbic sense of humour that helps her at times and it doesn’t help her at times. There’s so much about her experience and her journey that is just polar opposites of anything that I’ve ever could imagine walking through but I do understand. We all experience pain and we’ve all experienced a loss to some degree and I know that for me I would always go to humour to brighten up the moment of the times.”
One of Aniston’s painful experiences was when her then husband Brad Pitt, left her for Angelina Jolie and subsequently divorced her in 2005, after 4 years of marriage. At the time, she found herself in the centre of a media tempest, which portrayed her as too desperate to hold on to Pitt, who was traipsed around the world with Jolie, prompting her to give a tearful interview to Vanity Fair, in which she vented her agony over Pitt’s betrayal.
“Time healed,” smiles Aniston. “All of us who’ve gone through loss of a parent, of a brother, of a partner to war, to a lover, knows that time heals and the decision to move forward and live and keep living and not let that loss just take you to your knees builds up a quite a lot of muscle scar tissue.”
Upon wrapping up “Cake”, the 45-year-old actress returned to comedy, reprising the role of sex-addict dentist, Dr. Julia, in “Horrible Bosses 2.” “I love Dr. Julia a lot. I think she is a fun girl to get to play and approach her as I approach anything from the truth: who this character is? she just happens to be a sex addict, and in her mind there is nothing wrong with that. It’s fun to disappear into character, and when I say disappear I mean just boldly go where I have never gone before,” Aniston says.
The superstar’s comedies have gained a glorious success in the box office and made her a great fortune, but her work is yet to be recognised by awards. Will “Cake” be her path to award recognition this awards season?
Follow me on twitter @husamasi / Facebook