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Jennifer Makes Good

6 minute read
Jess Cagle

True or false? Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt have stopped smoking in order to have a baby. “False,” says Aniston. “We do want to have a baby. We will eventually quit smoking.”

Aniston, 33, is perched on her living-room sofa in her little house tucked into the Hollywood Hills. The only thing smoking at the moment is a stick of incense on the coffee table. Aniston is playing a game of true or false, in which the reporter reads aloud some factoids gleaned from the tabloids. True or false? Aniston and her husband exist in a perpetually stoned state, barely visible to each other through a haze of marijuana smoke.

“False,” says Aniston, adding that if she were stoned, “I’d barely be able to have a conversation with you.” Aniston likes this game, and soon she is recalling all the outlandish things she has read about herself. “Also,” she says, “I don’t crush aspirin into my shampoo for my flaky scalp.”

Right now, Aniston is one of the most recognizable and written-about women on the planet. Even as she was winning raves from critics last week for her performance in The Good Girl, a dark little independent comedy, she could be seen on the front page of a tabloid that promised details of her STORMY MARRIAGE to the equally photogenic Pitt. (According to the tab, she hates her movie-star husband’s scraggly beard. “False,” she says.)

Amid all the hullabaloo surrounding her personal life–entire forests have been denuded in order to detail her grooming habits–Aniston’s impressive traits as an actress are often ignored: her unfailing comic timing and her surprising range. Friends, NBC’s impeccably prepared weekly meal of comfort food, seemed to be rediscovered by audiences after Sept. 11, and what they found was Aniston’s Rachel, pregnant and torn between two suitors; in the cliff-hanger season finale, she gave birth. Soon thereafter, Aniston scored an Emmy nomination. She has been likened to Mary Tyler Moore, who as Mary Richards created a similar mixture of yearning, courage and frustration. “Jen doesn’t like to overwork things,” says Friends co-star Matt LeBlanc. “She has a real fresh loose-cannon-y thing about her that’s real exciting to work with.”

During her breaks from the series, Aniston has journeyed to the big screen, usually in romantic comedies, but like the five other Friends, she has had trouble convincing the world she can play something beyond her cute TV persona. “Yeah, keep your day job,” says Aniston, laughing. “If we didn’t have that pressure of being the Friends cast, we’d get away scot-free.”

All that changed last week with the release of The Good Girl. Now Aniston is getting the best reviews of her career–the kind of reviews that can lead to Oscar nominations. In the film, she stars as Justine, a small-town Texas woman with a dead-end job behind the makeup counter of a discount store called the Retail Rodeo. Married to a lug (John C. Reilly) who is lacking in both smarts and sperm count, Justine embarks on a disastrous affair with a troubled young co-worker (Jake Gyllenhaal).

It was screenwriter Mike White (see box) who came up with the idea of casting Aniston. “I thought it would be fresh,” he says. “Who wouldn’t want to see America’s sweetheart get blackmailed for sex and try to institutionalize her boyfriend and cheat on her husband? I just wasn’t sure she’d respond to the material.” Aniston responded immediately: “It felt like an opportunity–a terrifying opportunity–to go out there on a limb.”

With a salary of $1 million per episode of Friends, she knew that she would have to take a drastic pay cut for the low-budget movie, and that she would have to de-Rachel herself–drop the bouncy walk and the fluttery hand movements. “There’s no lilt in Justine,” says Aniston. “Life is hanging on her shoulders. On our first day of rehearsing, my acting coach said, ‘Sit on your hands.’ You don’t realize you do these things. No wonder everybody says, ‘She’s Rachel, she’s Rachel, she’s Rachel.'”

Aniston swears she doesn’t know if Rachel will end up with Joey or Ross, or neither (shooting on the series resumes this week), but she is certain the ninth season of Friends will be its last. “Enough with the ‘We’re gonna stay, we’re leaving,’ and then ‘No, we’re not,'” she says. The success of The Good Girl is a good omen for her post-Friends employment prospects. Her movie career got another boost recently when she signed to co-star in the new Jim Carrey comedy, Bruce Almighty.

True or false? The Aniston-Pitt marriage is on the rocks; he’s a homebody, and she prefers parties and premieres. “False,” says Aniston. “What’s fun about a premiere?” Aniston’s most endearing trait may be that she’s wholly lacking in movie-star pretension. She and Pitt are frequently spotted hanging out in L.A., easygoing and accessible, without an entourage or phalanx of bodyguards. They are often trailed by a photographer, but she doesn’t gripe about the press. Not usually, anyway. Aniston recently settled–“amicably”–a lawsuit against two magazine publishers for running topless photos of her in 1999. “You pick your battles,” she says. “I drew the line when someone crawled into my backyard and took a naked photo of me.”

Except for the dozens of pricey sunglasses on a table by the front door, you wouldn’t know a star lived in this modest house high above Sunset Boulevard. Books and papers are stacked everywhere. Part of the living room is a makeshift office. She has outgrown the place, yet her eyes well up when she talks about selling it. “I’m having moving-on anxiety,” she says. “But it will be on the market when we get closer to moving into our damn home.” That home is a stately mansion she and Pitt purchased in Beverly Hills for a reported $14 million. True or false? “That’s something else,” she says. “How expensive this mansion is. I’m not going to tell you how much it cost, but it’s not…” She stops herself, feeling silly for complaining. “It’s funny to me,” she says. “Whatever.” With that, she shrugs and moves on to the next question.

–With reporting by Heather Won Tesoriero/New York

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