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he year: 1998. The town: Hol­ly­wood. Jen­nifer Lopez, an am­bi­tious new­comer, is strate­gis­ing her way to the top of the heap, but she’s not there yet, not even close. Sure, she scored a Golden Globe nom­i­na­tion for her first lead­ing role in Se­lena the year be­fore and has just man­aged to steal the spot­light from Ge­orge Clooney in Out Of Sight. But Lopez has big­ger plans. She wants to change things, she tells any­one who will lis­ten.

In the era of the waif, when su­per-slen­der English model Kate Moss is the epit­ome of beauty and Kim Kar­dashian’s rear end is still sit­ting be­hind a high-school desk, Lopez is unashamedly flaunt­ing her curves. When Clooney is paid mil­lions more than she is, she calls out the gen­der pay gap. At a time when most faces on tele­vi­sion and in films are still over­whelm­ingly white, Lopez proudly cel­e­brates her His­panic roots and cam­paigns for roles be­yond the stan­dard maid or best friend. And this is all be­fore Lopez de­buts mu­sic that drives the Latin pop break­through in the West­ern world, shifts the celebrity fra­grance in­dus­try into over­drive and in­ad­ver­tently in­spires the cre­ation of Google Im­ages when she wears that now-fa­mous eye-pop­ping green dress to the Gram­mys.

Two decades af­ter that late-’90s foray into an in­dus­try she would in­deed help to change, as the now-49 year old sits down with Stel­lar she re­flects that the goal she set for her­self way back at the be­gin­ning has been well and truly kicked. “I do feel like things have changed,” she says. “There are so many Latina ac­tresses and ac­tors from dif­fer­ent back­grounds work­ing now, and the bod­ies we see have changed dra­mat­i­cally from 20 years ago. I feel like I was at the fore­front of that, not by try­ing to do that, but just by be­ing my­self and say­ing: ‘ This is how I grew up, and this is who I am.’ I iden­tify with the women in my fam­ily, the girls I grew up with. It’s a dif­fer­ent thing [to the main­stream]. I was made to feel good about that by my fam­ily, so I was able to go out into the world and be proud of that.”

Lopez may have been many things – dancer, ac­tor, singer, pro­ducer, ta­lent judge, en­tre­pre­neur, wife, mother – over the 20-some­thing years she’s been in the spot­light, but the one thing she’s been through­out it all is, fiercely, her­self. “Peo­ple say, ‘Oh, one per­son can’t change things…’ but it’s not true. If I just con­cen­trate on be­ing my best self, and do­ing my best, some­how that im­pacts other peo­ple.”

With her goal of chang­ing the face of pop­u­lar cul­ture now achieved, Lopez would be for­given for want­ing to have a lit­tle rest. But, on the cusp of 50, she in­sists she’s only hit­ting her stride, with projects aplenty in the pipe­line, 10-year-old twins to raise, and a ro­mance that is re­fresh­ingly short on drama.

T he world Lopez now in­hab­its is far re­moved from New York’s work­ing­class Bronx, where she was raised with two sis­ters by her Puerto Ri­can par­ents be­fore catch­ing her first break in 1991 as one of the Fly Girls who danced be­tween seg­ments on the US sketch com­edy se­ries In Liv­ing Color. (Her chore­og­ra­pher? An­other Puerto Ri­canAmer­i­can named Rosie Perez.) Yet all these years and mil­lions of dol­lars later, Lopez is stick­ing to the credo that de­fines one of her most recog­nis­able pop hits: we shouldn’t be fooled by the rocks that she’s got. She may no longer be work­ing class, Lopez con­cedes, “But I am still work­ing my arse off,” she in­sists. “Lis­ten, I lived in the Bronx un­til I was 23 years old. It’s like when you’re from Italy. Just be­cause you don’t live there any­more, you’re still very Ital­ian. That’s who you are. It’s like it was yes­ter­day that I was there. And even though I’ve trav­elled the world and been ev­ery­where and I live now in Los An­ge­les, I’m still just a girl from the Bronx deep down. I love work­ing the way I do, and luck­ily I have a good work ethic.”

And it has paid off. Lopez has earned $65 mil­lion this year – in part thanks to a record-break­ing Las Ve­gas res­i­dency that wrapped just a few days be­fore she joined Stel­lar on a sunny ter­race at the Four Sea­sons Ho­tel in Bev­erly Hills.

She’s tired, she ad­mits, but Lopez Inc. never takes a break: yes­ter­day she was con­tin­u­ing to shoot the se­cond sea­son of TV com­pe­ti­tion World Of Dance, which she ex­ec­u­tive pro­duces and judges. And then there is her new film Se­cond Act, which marks an­other dou­ble whammy: she pro­duced it and she’s also the star.

The fish-out-of-wa­ter tale fol­lows Maya Var­gas, a 40-year-old as­sis­tant man­ager at a su­per­mar­ket whose street smarts aren’t giv­ing her the op­por­tu­ni­ties she wants, and don’t of­ten come the way of older Latina women with­out a higher ed­u­ca­tion.

Lopez im­me­di­ately re­lated to the sto­ry­line, de­vel­oped by her long­time pro­duc­ing part­ner Elaine Gold­smith-thomas. “If you don’t get those op­por­tu­ni­ties from your par­ents, [but] you’re tal­ented, you’re smart, you’re am­bi­tious… you have to find your own way in,” she says, be­fore paus­ing and open­ing the dis­cus­sion to in­clude her boyfriend, for­mer New York Yan­kees base­ball player Alex Ro­driguez. “It’s funny; Alex loved it the most be­cause he got drafted when he was 18 and al­ways hated that he didn’t go to col­lege. He is in the pri­vate-eq­uity world now. And ev­ery­body we meet, all the peo­ple that work for him and me, are all [ed­u­cated at] Har­vard. We found our way, you know, and that’s what Maya does.”

Since the start of her ca­reer, Lopez’s ro­man­tic life has been an end­less source of fas­ci­na­tion. She has been mar­ried three times: there was Ojani Noa, the Cuban waiter from the early

(above­above, from top) Jen­nifer Lopez and part­ner Alex Ro­drigeuz with theirthei re­spec­tive chil­dren chil­dre Natasha, Max, Ella and Emme in Mi­ami in March;m with her close co-star Leahl Rem­ini Se­cond Act; at the 2000 Grammy Awawards in the now-fam­fa­mous green Ver­sace cap­tured and im­imag­i­na­tions, around

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