A Bronx Tale

The indefatigable Bronx-born Jennifer Lopez comes home for a new movie

Sometimes, parents really do know best. Just ask Bronx-born-and-raised superstar Jennifer Lopez. Now a stunning mega-success, the multitalented, 49-year-old entertainer decided to drop out of NYC’s Baruch College at 18 to pursue her passion for the performing arts. While her Puerto Rican-born parents, David Lopez and Guadalupe Rodriguez, were initially less than thrilled with her choice, her mother’s words have guided Lopez’s spectacular career. “My mom always told me that if you work hard, you can achieve anything,” says Lopez. “And it’s turned out to be one of the truest things ever.”

And if Jennifer Lopez is anything, it is hardworking. After earning early success as a dancer, working with such artists as Janet Jackson and New Kids on the Block, along with being featured as a “Fly Girl” on FOX’s “In Living Color,” Lopez is now known for a string of movies (including the 1997 biopic “Selena” and 2005’s “Monster-in-Law” alongside Jane Fonda); a recording career so illustrious, she was given MTV’s Video Vanguard Award earlier this year; a recently completed three-year residency in Las Vegas; and the distinction of having two hit TV shows on the air at the same time (NBC’s “Shades of Blue” and “World of Dance”)—along with being named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People this year.

With all that success, Lopez—who seems to treasure her “Jenny from the Block” moniker—has nonetheless never forgotten her roots. She has frequently returned to the Bronx, to visit her childhood home in Castle Hill or to spend time working with local charities. “I still have friends who live there and people my mom hangs out with,” she has said. “No matter how much I travel and where I go, I always feel connected to the working class I grew up in. It so affected me to see my dad working nights for 20 years, and I think that’s why I work so many jobs. I always feel like a working girl.”

Moreover, she credits just being from her hometown in large part for her success. “I didn’t get kissed into this business. I’m just a girl from the Bronx,” says Lopez. “I had to find my way, so I’ve always felt like I had to prove myself.”

That attitude explains, in part, why she’s so choosy about her acting roles. Now, four years after she last graced the big screen, Lopez finally returns this month in “Second Act,” a film she also produced. In it, she plays Maya, a 40-year-old woman struggling with unfulfilled dreams who, under unusual circumstances, finally gets the chance to prove her worth to the world of NYC high finance. The film was shot in Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan (including Michael Jordan’s the Steak House in Grand Central Terminal). 

“Maya’s an underdog. And I think most people feel that way at times. You’re always trying to get ahead, asking yourself: What if I had gone to this school or got that job, what if I hadn’t made that choice?” she notes. “What we don’t realize is that everything we go through leads us to exactly where we’re supposed to be. That’s what I love most about my character: It’s her discovering that, after thinking her mistakes had led her to a place she wasn’t happy with, she’s exactly where she was supposed to be!”

That final statement resonates in her personal life as well. After three marriages, to chef Ojani Noa, dancer Cris Judd and singer Marc Anthony (father of her 10-year-old twins, Max and Emme), as well as romances with media mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs and actor-director Ben Affleck, Lopez seems to have found true happiness with ex-New York Yankees superstar Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez. 

The pair recently bought a $15 million apartment on Park Avenue (Lopez owns several residences, including a sprawling home in Los Angeles), and can often be spotted dining around town at such top-notch eateries as Marea, Quality Meats, Carbone and Cipriani Downtown. Lopez has also been seen shopping in SoHo or on Madison Avenue, sometimes with the pair’s kids joining the adventure. (Rodriguez shares custody of his daughters Ella, 10, and Natasha, 13, with his ex-wife, Cynthia.)

Lopez is also one of the country’s great fashion icons, dazzling the red carpet in daring designer fashions and looking fit wherever she goes. “Part of my business is about being in shape and looking good. You can’t lie to yourself about it,” she notes.

Still, Lopez is also the first to acknowledge that the inside is just as important as the outside. “Age is all in your mind. But what’s just as important is to remember that there’s no substitute for feeling great inside. My life is full of loving, joyful people; and my work is filled with adventure. That’s what really counts.”