By now everybody knows the story about how a Fly Girl from The Bronx conquered the world, jumping from dancer to actor to singer. What the world sometimes forgets is that what Jennifer Lopez has accomplished has been no easy feat—she just made it look that way. While the world has fixated on her famous butt or on the crazy tabloid headlines, less attention has been paid to her multimillion-dollar work ethic.

Regardless of how you feel about J.Lo, you can’t knock her hustle. After a career slump that started with the maligned movie Gigli (2003), Lopez came back strong in 2011 as a judge on American Idol. She was ranked No. 1 on the Forbes Celebrity 100 List the following year and is currently the chief creative officer of the cable network NuvoTV. Last June, she released her eighth studio album, A.K.A., and in September broke the Internet with the slippery wet video for “Booty,” her track with the equally curvaceous Iggy Azalea, garnering more than 80 million views as of press time. (Pardon the fixation, but talk about longevity—in November, Sir Mix-A-Lot told TMZ that it was J.Lo’s shapely rear that inspired him to write his megahit “Baby Got Back” way back in 1992.)

But of all her accomplishments, a long acting career is arguably the most impressive. Simply succeeding in Hollywood, which hasn’t exactly hung a “Mi Casa Es Su Casa” sign at its studio doors for Latin talent, is substantial in itself. Her presence alone certainly made it just a little bit easier for Eva Mendes, Michelle Rodriguez, and Zoe Saldana to reach the silver screen.

It’s been 20 years since Lopez’s pivotal role in Mi Familia, a memorable indie turn that lead not only to her star-making biopic Selena, but also to working with acclaimed directors Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, and Steven Soderbergh, whose Out of Sight is one of the true highlights of Lopez’s film career. She’s also acted opposite the likes of Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn, Robin Williams (RIP), Jane Fonda, Al Pacino, and Robert Redford. Known to many for doing rom-coms, Lopez has appeared in several underrated pictures like Blood and Wine, U-Turn, The Cell, and An Unfinished Life.

Her newest movie, The Boy Next Door, is an erotic thriller in the same vein as Fatal Attraction, only with the roles reversed. Lopez portrays Claire Peterson, an unhappy wife who's estranged from her cheating husband. She gets wooed by the studly young neighbor and succumbs to him in a moment of passion, only for the guy to go nuts after she cuts him off.

Off-screen, it's evident that Lopez still embodies the inner toughness of her old-school, New York City roots. After all, the beautiful and ageless Nuyorican, now 45, grew up when her hometown was still known as the Rotten Apple and has no qualms about calling bullshit in an interview. So it came as a surprise when she revealed in her 2014 autobiography, True Love, that she has long battled low self-esteem. It's a problem she's focused on fixing so she can share herself and her art with the world.

“I’m not allowed to be sexy because I’m a mom? It’s like, how do you think I got my children?”

These days, J.Lo's block is in a pleasant Los Angeles gated community, an hour from downtown. On a Monday afternoon, Lopez, fresh off her sizzling performance at the American Music Awards and an overseas gig in China, is in the middle of a long meeting detailing an upcoming show she's planning. A small army of busy employees swarms her pristine residence.

Our interview takes place after dinner, in a book-lined office/study neatly crammed with all types of J.Lo memorabilia-but not before Lopez reminds her kids, twins Emme and Max, that they have school tomorrow, and have to be in bed by 8 p.m. When she finally enters, Jennifer is barefoot and looking super comfortable in ready-for-bed wear. Yes, the icon wears regular pajamas, and she looks great. Speaking with the aura of a seasoned self-help guru, she reveals how she got to this happy place.

As a mother and someone who's been through divorce, you have things in common with your character in The Boy Next Door. What was the biggest challenge with this role?

The role itself is just every woman. She's a relatable character. She's at a bad point in her life. Obviously, we've all had moments like that where our relationship is falling apart, you're at the verge of divorce, and your life is changing. And you're feeling vulnerable and unwanted and in need of some validation. I mean, it's always challenging, any role you take on. But it's funny, the [roles] that seem closest to you sometimes are more challenging, because it's not you.

From your book, it’s clear that divorce affected you deeply, especially because your parents stayed together through thick and thin for more than 30 years. For them, divorce was not an option.

They stayed together for a long time, and when they did divorce, it was shocking. But [that was] what we were taught: that you got married and stayed married. Talking about self-esteem, when my first marriage didn’t work out, my second marriage didn’t work out, and I was with Marc [Anthony] and I was trying to make it work, and that didn’t work out, it was devastating. Each time I felt like such a failure, from what I’d been taught. Those are things that grate on your self-esteem. “OK, I failed. Why can’t I make this work?” But it forces you to look at yourself in the best way possible. I’m grateful for all those trials and tribulations because with that you gain perseverance and the desire to learn and grow. So I’m happy about those experiences now. They’re painful in the moment, but now I see myself as a brave warrior princess who keeps going no matter what, and who has learned to cherish the things that matter in life, which is finding my own happiness first and then being able to share that with not just people in my life but with the world.

In a 2001 Chicago Tribune article, you said, “Deep down I am a romantic—and much more traditional than probably anybody would imagine. I believe in the whole fairy tale, and I’m not ashamed to say it.” Do you still feel that way?

Yeah. I’m still the same.

Doesn’t the notion that relationships should be like fairy tales with happily-ever-after endings mess people up?

Yeah, well, that’s what we’re taught when we’re little. Little girls are taught that especially. Prince Charming is gonna come along. You’re going to live happily ever after, and then that doesn’t happen. You have your first boyfriend in high school and that falls apart and you’re like, “What’s going on?” [Laughs.] All of these things get shattered one by one. It’s so unfair. Nobody teaches us the important thing from when we’re young, which is to value yourself and love yourself, and then you can share happiness and love with other people. That’s what we should be teaching kids, not fairy tales about Prince Charming rescuing you. Or that you have to be Prince Charming and rescue this girl. It’s funny, we’re formed from the time we’re 0 to 7. We’re battling the rest of our lives trying to figure that out. And now that I have my own kids, I think about that stuff a lot, like, what do I want to teach them? I want them to have fantasies and the fairy tales and all that, but at the same time I want them to know what is important, which is to have a great sense of self and to be good on their own.

The stereotype is that women are more emotional than men. In the movie, it’s the guy who’s unhinged by the relationship ending. Have you found men are as emotional as women in that regard?

That goes both ways. Women are known to be more emotional and needy or clingy, but that type of obsession is in both men and women. It’s not gender specific. It’s one of those things where your feelings for someone overtake you and you can’t control yourself—in this case, to the highest extreme. But all of us have felt a little bit of that at some point in our life, for sure.

The “boy next door” in the film is younger than you and you’ve dated younger guys in real life— Yeah, I’ve gone out with one younger guy. [Laughs.]

Sorry, just one. Do you think a relationship between an older woman and a younger man can work?

Is it possible for relationships to work when the guy is older than the girl?


Well, then I would say yes. [Laughs.] What would be different?

The younger girl usually isn’t truly interested in the older guy, to be honest.

I guess it depends on the people and whether they have chemistry and if they have things in common.

At one point in the movie, the crazy guy plasters your character’s classroom with intimate photos of the two of them. That brings to mind when people hack celebrities and leak their nude photos on the Internet. What’s been your reaction when you hear about other celebrities getting hacked?

It’s an invasion of privacy. You want to think that you can have privacy in this world—even with your devices. When people think it’s OK to do stuff like that for entertainment purposes and to embarrass people or take their intimate private moments, it’s cruel. It should be punishable.

Unfortunately, there are people out there who believe that when things like hacking happen, that’s the trade-off for being rich and famous.

[Laughs.] Oh! When you become rich and famous, you don’t have feelings anymore?! That’s what it is. OK! C’mon. It’s not about having money in the bank. You can have all the money in the world and it doesn’t mean you’re a happy person. Money doesn’t solve problems. It makes some things easier but it just gives you a different set of problems. Everything has a trade-off in this world. I’ve learned that from being broke as hell and having money.

It gets creepy when people argue that they don’t feel empathy for actresses when they get hacked because they’ve done nude scenes in movies.

Again, we should have a choice about what we do. Nobody should be stolen from. You shouldn’t be stolen from just because you decided to take a crazy picture with your girlfriend or your boyfriend one day. We decide what we do with our private things.

“I see myself as a brave warrior princess who keeps going, no matter what.”

As someone who’s been open about having low self-esteem in the past, why do you think so many beautiful women are insecure?

It’s not just beautiful women. It’s all women. And it’s all men, too. It’s everyone. People are more surprised when they hear that somebody who is attractive is insecure. I don’t understand that because, again, we’re all human. Nobody looks in the mirror and goes, “That person is so perfect!” It’s just the nature of a human being that they have insecurities. You try to do things that you’re proud of to boost up your self-esteem and your integrity. At the end of the day, you’re the only person who can give that to you. That’s something that everybody struggles with at one time or another. I’m no different than anybody else in that sense.

But you’ve had to endure all sorts of public criticism that other people haven’t. There was even a backlash when a rumor started that you had legally changed your name to J.Lo and you were insisting that everybody call you that.

The rumors at that time were so endless. I still haven’t figured that all out completely. I’ve thought sometimes, “Was it because I was a woman? Was it because I was a minority?” [Laughs.] I was like, “Why me? Why are they picking on me so much? What have I done?” It’s funny. Men get praise when they are successful, like, “Look how great he’s doing.” Women get criticized for some reason. I don’t understand it. All I know is that because I’ve stuck around for so long people realize, “Oh, that must not be true.” [Laughs.] “We finally got to know the real her.”

“I always felt out of place in hollywood. But the street smarts i had from growing up in new york served me well out here.”

“Jenny From the Block” was a huge hit for you. Did it also create resentment toward you?

People are dumb enough to have thought that you meant it literally, like you were still in the ’hood, or “She’s changed, she’s different, she’s so rich now, she’s not the same.” It was a huge hit at the time, so I never thought of it in any negative way. I didn’t feel like people were saying that—it’s probably better that I didn’t know. And it’s become that defining song for me. In every concert I play, when I say, “I’m still Jenny from the block,” people love it. [Laughs.] And they know I’ve been successful. Thank God I’ve been blessed in that way. But I’m the same person. They know that I’m still Bronx-y. [Laughs.] I still wear hoops. I still like to rock sneakers and sweats. I always felt like I was out of place in Hollywood. But I also felt that the street smarts I had from growing up in New York served me well out here.

Was your reported request for all-white dressing rooms real?

It wasn’t really a request from me. [Laughs.] You have managers and record company people saying, “It’s always dirty backstage in those little studios. Let’s make it nice for her.” And they’re attempting to make it nice because I was one of the hardest-working people at that time. I was literally working nonstop until I had a breakdown. In their attempt to [make things nice for me], they got me a reputation for asking for things like that. It used to bother me [but] I feel people know who I am now.

Do you read reviews about your work?

Sometimes. People send me nice stuff. Bad news, you don’t need it. I don’t go on the Internet and read comments. I’m sure everybody gets curious and does it, but I don’t. Why would I? If you want to look for something negative you’re going to find it. And the truth is the negative comments are so small compared to the love that I get.

You said in an interview with Movieline magazine in 1998: “The thing I’m most afraid of, though, is being alone, which a lot of performers fear. It’s why we seek the limelight—so we’re not alone, we’re adored. We’re loved, so people want to be around us. The fear of being alone drives my life.” Do you still feel that way?

I’ve changed a lot since then. I was afraid to be alone. And I was probably much more raw when I did those interviews and more off the cuff. But now, as I’ve grown and matured, you realize that being alone is liberating. It’s freeing and you need it. Whether or not you’re afraid of it, as I was, it’s a fear that is to be conquered, not to be soothed with adulation from other people. It comes back to loving yourself and being happy on your own. Then you can go to another level of sharing something amazing with the world. And that’s why I keep growing.

How do you respond to people who criticized your “Booty” video and asked what your kids will say when they see it?

I’m not allowed to be sexy because I’m a mom? It’s like, How do you think I got my children? [Laughs.] The truth is I don’t want to do anything that they would be embarrassed of in the long run. But at the end of the day, they care more about me being there, taking care of them, than if I’m sexy in a video. And I’m not saying that one day they may not be like, “Mom! Why did you do that?!” [Laughs.] But I don’t think that in 10 years I’m going to be doing that either. Again, it’s about what feels good to me in this moment. It felt right. It’s a good message for women. I’m standing next to this girl who is 24 years old and I’m in my 40s and there’s no difference. Women need to see that and feel that. You can’t let the fear of what people might say or think stop you from doing what you want to do or else we would never do anything.

You’ve maintained an all-natural look, but nowadays even young women are getting plastic surgery.

Yeah, the bodies right now are…unreal.

That must concern you as a parent of a daughter.

Yeah, what is she gonna want to do, or how good is she gonna feel about herself? I hope to show her from example that you have to love yourself for who you are. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t do things to enhance yourself, like work out, or if somebody wants to get a nose job. I don’t know. You can take a hard stance on things and then eat your words later. All I’m saying is, at the end of the day, you got to feel happy about who you are inside, and then you can make good choices for yourself.

What’s it like being middle-aged in Hollywood? Is it a struggle to get non-mom roles?

It’s not like that anymore. Look at all the actresses who are working. I remember a couple of years back every actress on the cover of the September issues was over 40, because each one of them had a big film coming out. It was me, Halle Berry, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, and Jennifer Aniston. That was a defining moment. The world has changed. Women maintain themselves. We live in a different time.

So, do you feel good about getting older?

I feel great about being able to do everything that I did in my 20s better now. That’s what happens as you mature, you get better. You have more experience. And I’m proud of that. That other rhetoric, like the fairy tale rhetoric, in your mind can defeat you. And this generation of women said, “No. We have a lot to offer.” Probably more than we ever have. And it’s great for girls that are young right now to go, “I have time.” It’s a long road. And for me, I feel like mine has just begun.