Oscar buzz for Jennifer Aniston in Cake

And Jennifer Aniston's turn as a scarred car-crash survivor in Cake puts her as an unlikely contender for the Oscars

Rom-com queen Jennifer Aniston loves doing comedy, such as her role as an in-your-face nymphomaniac dentist (above) in Horrible Bosses 2. -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS
Rom-com queen Jennifer Aniston loves doing comedy, such as her role as an in-your-face nymphomaniac dentist (above) in Horrible Bosses 2. -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS

For 10 years, Jennifer Aniston was the undisputed queen of the sitcom, her stint as the goofy-but-gorgeous Rachel on Friends (1994-2004) making her one of the biggest actresses on television.

When it ended, it made sense for her to do more of the same on the big screen - cue a succession of romantic comedies from The Break-Up (2006), Marley & Me (2008), Just Go With It (2011) and We're The Millers (2013).

None of these was particularly edgy or critically successful, but they cleaned up at the box office and reaffirmed her status as America's movie sweetheart.

Once in a while, though, Aniston likes to switch it up.

This year, she is doing it with the gritty indie drama Cake, where her role as a scarred car-crash survivor has led to talk of something most rom-com stars can only dream of - an Oscar.

She is also playing against type as a sex-crazed dentist in Horrible Bosses 2, which opens in Singapore tomorrow.

Speaking to reporters about the comedy in Los Angeles, the 45-year-old - who is as perkily radiant in person as she is on screen - says that there is a little bit of the outrageous Dr Julia Harris lurking inside her.

She says: "Because we're actors, we have access to a lot of crazy people in our heads. And she's one of them. I love her.''

Aniston, who won an Emmy (2002) and a Golden Globe (2003) for Friends, confesses she is thrilled whenever she gets a chance to do something different.

"I think it is what many actors hope for - that they are given the opportunity to find and show their range.

"It's quite extraordinary and I could not be more grateful to have both these things happening at once because they are both so different," she says of Horrible Bosses 2 and Cake, which will be released next year.

"I'm beyond grateful and humbled and excited," she adds.

The decision to make a sequel to the first Horrible Bosses, which grossed US$210 million worldwide in 2011 with its story of three disgruntled employees seeking revenge, was a no-brainer.

"All of us loved doing the first one so much," she says of herself and co-stars Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, who reprise their roles in the follow-up, which sees them becoming bosses themselves.

The fact that Dr Julia was a supporting part and not one of the main cast also left the actress wishing for more time to explore the character.

"The boys got to be there for the duration of the film, but the bosses only got to be there for bits and pieces. So usually at the end of the film, you feel like you're ready to put a character to bed, but this one left me wanting more.

"I loved playing Dr Julia, it ended too soon, there was more mining to do for her."

She is all too aware that few would have thought to cast her as an in-your-face nymphomaniac before this.

She says: "Sadly, I really got very excited when I was reading the script. I think they didn't think I would actually say yes and I certainly never thought that I would be reading something like that. So it was pretty instant that I jumped on board because who this person is goes against every fibre of my being."

But as startling as it is to see her play a sex addict, it may be even more shocking for her fans to see her without make-up.

In Cake, the normally immaculately groomed star - who has been a spokesman for beauty brands such as L'Oreal, and a fixture on "most beautiful" lists for the better part of two decades - decided to bare her wrinkles and pores, playing a woman left with facial scars and chronic pain after an accident.

Speaking to reporters about the film, which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in September, she says going sans make-up was "empowering and liberating".

Audiences have not seen her in a role like this since the black comedy The Good Girl (2002), where her performance as a dowdy cashier who cheats on her husband left many critics pleasantly surprised.

Aniston is enjoying a similar moment with Cake, which has seen her name being bandied about as an unlikely contender for a Best Actress Oscar next year.

"That's beyond flattering and humbling," she says of the Oscar buzz. "And I'm just so excited that because of this, this little movie will get to be seen. Because everyone worked so hard and we're so very proud of it. You couldn't ask for more."

Director Daniel Barnz reveals that she tirelessly rehearsed and researched the part, even interviewing real-life sufferers of chronic pain.

She also served as an executive producer on the film, making it via a production company that she co-founded.

She says: "I think just as the natural progression of being in the business, you want to become more involved in the creative process, other than just being an actor for hire.

"As you gain years and movies and experiences under your belt, you can find material and come on as a producer and be part of putting together the characters. And that's really fun... it's quite fulfilling to be part of the bigger picture and not just one element with it."

But even as she subtly remakes her professional image, she is not about to give up her bread and butter and stop doing comedies.

Although she says Cake "was the most challenging thing I have ever encountered" and "you're diving into that well that's a little darker and more complex, which is going to take a lot more focus and hard work", she maintains that the funny stuff is just as challenging.

"There's a rhythm, there's also timing. I think it's an underrated talent."

Her approach to pulling off funny is simply to look for "what the truth is for that character".

"If you're coming from an absolute place of truth, then the comedy is there," she says, adding that this means getting underneath a character's skin, whoever that is.

"Because the villain doesn't think he's the villain and the bad girl doesn't think she's bad."

Feeling at home in this genre can also be linked, perhaps, to her outlook on life, which is generally carefree.

"For me, it's about not looking at what lies ahead. Because then you work yourself up, like, 'It's the wreckage of the future, oh my god, how am I going to do this?'" says the actress, who was married to actor Brad Pitt from 2000 to 2005 but is now engaged to another actor, Justin Theroux, 43.

"Instead, you just stay right at this table here, talking to you and then we go to the next place, and we don't think about it so much."

This, along with adequate sleep and exercise, is what keeps her energised, she adds.

The performer in her also finds joy in keeping other people entertained, especially tickling their funny bone.

She adds: "I love comedy. It makes me so happy to entertain people and make people laugh. Drama accesses a part of the brain and comedy accesses another."


Horrible Bosses 2 opens in Singapore tomorrow.

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