Jennifer Lopez: It makes perfect sense for younger men to be drawn to older women

Jennifer Lopez, whose last boyfriend was 17 years younger than her, plays a teacher who has a fling with a boy 20 years her junior in The Boy Next Door. -- PHOTO: UIP
Jennifer Lopez, whose last boyfriend was 17 years younger than her, plays a teacher who has a fling with a boy 20 years her junior in The Boy Next Door. -- PHOTO: UIP

Jennifer Lopez, 45, may not condone what her character does, but does not see what the fuss is over dating younger men

In The Boy Next Door, Jennifer Lopez plays a teacher who has an ill-advised fling with a boy about 20 years her junior.

Although her character ends up regretting it because he turns violent and goes all Fatal Attraction on her, the 45-year-old star says she does not understand the fuss made when younger men are drawn to older women.

"We're in a new era, I think. We used to be discarded in our 20s, we were done by 28 and it's not like that any more. I think people know that women are more interesting and beautiful and self-assured and realised in their 40s and 50s - and the most attractive. Which is why I think, 'Why is everybody freaking out that younger guys are into women that age?' To me, it makes perfect sense."

The actress, singer and American Idol judge has had some experience when it comes to people freaking out over her love life, of course.

Much was made of the 17-year age gap between her and her last beau, Casper Smart, the 27-year-old dancer she split from last year. And before that, there was the string of failed marriages - to singer Marc Anthony (2004-2014), choreographer Cris Judd (2001-2003) and actor Ojani Noa (1997-1998) - and high-profile dalliances (actor Ben Affleck and rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs), which led to some dubbing her a modern-day Elizabeth Taylor.

The Boy Next Door - in Singapore cinemas now - also hits close to home in that it charts a struggling relationship, with Lopez's character Claire shown succumbing to the charms of her son's friend Noah (Ryan Guzman) after husband Garrett (John Corbett) cheats on her.

Speaking to Life! and other press in Los Angeles, the actress - who is uncommonly beautiful in person - says the most important thing she has learnt about relationships over the years "is to always love yourself".

"That sounds like an egotistical, arrogant type of thing, but we don't do it - we're taught to take care of everybody else, we're not taught to take care of ourselves. And you can't be good for anybody if you're not good on your own."

With this in mind, she approaches romance differently now. "You can't seek happiness in this or that person... You can be happier, but you still have to be good on your own."

Whether one should forgive a cheating partner, she says, depends on the circumstances: "I don't know, every relationship is different - it can be somebody who cheated once and you want to give it a second chance; you can be dating for five months and it's not worth it; you can be married for 50 years and it is. You have to decide for yourself if that person's worth it because everybody makes mistakes."

Lopez also learnt a lesson or two over the course of her career, which has seen its share of ups and downs since she became a star in the 1990s.

A back-up dancer on the television comedy sketch show In Living Colour (1991-1993), she established herself as a "triple threat" with the acclaimed musical biopic Selena (1997), which showed she could act and sing too.

She then cemented that with successes such as the chart-topper If You Had My Love (1999) and Jenny From The Block (2001), along with movies that demonstrated her range as an actress, including Steven Soderbergh's artsy crime caper Out Of Sight (1998) and the more mainstream comedy Maid In Manhattan (2002).

The decade after she had both the No. 1 film (2001's romantic comedy The Wedding Planner) and No. 1 album (J. Lo) in the same year in the United States, however, was not quite as auspicious.

Cue box-office bombs such as Enough (2002) and Gigli (2003), several failed fashion and fragrance lines, and break-ups with both Affleck and her longtime manager Benny Medina.

Medina eventually came back, however, and helped Lopez parlay her American Idol exposure - which also humanised the mega-star, who emerged as the nurturing judge - into a platform to promote new music.

That and lucrative endorsements for brands such as L'Oreal led to Forbes magazine declaring her the single most powerful celebrity in 2012, after she earned US$52 million (S$70 million) in 12 months.

And even though she slid to 33rd place last year, she may well move up again because of her latest film.

The Boy Next Door was the top new movie in the US over the weekend, earning over US$15 million despite being panned by critics as a schlocky erotic thriller.

It is all the more impressive given the modest US$4 million budget of the film, which Lopez co-produced and is likely to have negotiated a substantial cut of the profits from in exchange for a smaller salary. The film's box-office success also boosts her film reputation after flops such as 2010's romantic comedy The Back-up Plan, her last leading role.

At the suggestion of director Rob Cohen (The Fast And The Furious, 2001), Lopez even agreed to re-shoot the sex scene between Claire and Noah to make it more explicit and intimate, which is one reason the film gets an R21 rating in Singapore.

She felt the scene was necessary to explain why her character, who feels unwanted because her husband has strayed, crosses that line with the boy, even though the actress herself does not necessarily condone those actions, noting that Claire is still technically married.

And she admits filming those torrid minutes - even in a closed set with just a few people admitted - was "super uncomfortable".

While she says she has "confidence in myself and in my body" because of having been a dancer for so many years, "that doesn't make those scenes any easier - they're nerve-racking and you're dreading them from the moment you say yes to the film because it's unnatural to do something like that in front of people".

"But at the end of the day, the whole thing is pretty unnatural, so as an actress, you kind of just have to go for it and hopefully have discussed it enough and have a great director and co-star who are considerate enough to choreograph and beat it out with you, so you know what you're going to film," she adds.

For now, Lopez is content to divide her time between movies and music, even though it often leaves her stretched thin. Guzman and Cohen vouch for this, telling reporters that the star - who is also a mother to Max and Emme, her six-year-old twins with Anthony - is one of the busiest people they know.

Music and acting are "so much a part of who I am", she explains. "I go, 'Maybe I'll just act for a few years', but then I'll want to make music and sing and perform live. And then I'll go, 'No, I need to do a movie, let's find something.' I think I'll always go back and forth."

As she juggles it all, though, Lopez is determined not to forget to take care of herself.

"I make sure I work on myself, meditate, write in a journal, work out... taking that time is super important.

"My first priority is my kids and, as I've realised, myself. Which used to be way down on the list at No. 7 or 8 - everything else came before my own well-being for a long time.

"Now I realise that I have to be No. 1 so I can then be good for my kids, who are my 1A," she says with a smile.

stlife@sph.com.sg

The Boy Next Door is in cinemas in Singapore.