Jennifer Lopez for “Maid in Manhattan”

Wearing a short, creamy Chanel dress “and some top I picked up at The Gap”, Jennifer Lopez prefers to laugh off all those recent engagement stories. Announcing her marriage plans on national television, there is a hint of regret that she chose that platform to tell the world that she is engaged to one Ben Affleck.

With her cover on a recent issue of the tabloid rag US Weekly staring at her, Lopez laughs at the ‘Proposals’ headline that has now dogged her since her true confessions went to air across America and around the world. “Just like any other person in the world, when you’re happy you’re gonna talk about things, like a girl. I’m a girl, forgive me, so I want to share things, you want to tell everybody, you just want to shout up at the rooftops, then after I did it I was like: What was I thinking?”

In a Manhattan hotel suite, the beautiful actress, here promoting her latest film Maid in Manhattan, may enjoy telling the world that she’s Jenny from the block, but her jewellery suggests otherwise. Her engagement ring looks every bit the $1.2m it cost. The large, obtrusive diamond matches a pair of large diamond earrings, all of which symbolise Lopez’s transition from one-time working class girl from New York’s The Bronx to wealthy superstar. Curiously, one realises that all of this is reflective in Maid in Manhattan. In a case of life imitating art, Lopez plays a working-class girl, in this case a hotel maid, who lives in the Bronx and finds herself falling for a wealthy politician [Ralph Fiennes].

We all know how it ends, this romantic of fairytales, much like Jennifer’s own life. Lopez doesn’t deny the parallels. “I lived in the Bronx for 20 years, which was two-thirds of my life, so going back there to film felt like normal. It felt like I never left, being on those streets. I know what it’s like to get up and go to work and get on a train.” Oh yes, at one time La Lopez did indeed travel the New York subway system. “I worked at a bank at one time and did the whole 9-5 thing,” Lopez says. “It was hard”, she recalls. Of course that was then, this is now, but Lopez laughingly adds that despite her fame and wealth, she works harder now than in the bad old days of banking and anonymity. “I work much more than I did then but I love what I do and that makes it a little better.”

Yet it is interesting that Lopez is attracted to working class heroes, on screen, characters such as Marisa Ventura in Maid in Manhattan, or Slim, her waitress in the previous Enough. Perhaps for Lopez playing roles reflective of her roots is important for the attraction. “No, for me it’s more when a good project comes along, I just respond to it.” She says that she is attracted to films such as Maid in Manhattan, a film that was written specifically for the actress, “Because I understand those characters. They bring out something in me that enable me to help tell that particular story.” Lopez adds that she can relate to it “and because of who I am and where I grew up, that always manifests itself in anything I do, whether it’s movies or music that comes through.”

Lopez has achieved extraordinary success in a relatively short time, but stardom didn’t come easy to the actress, who had been trying to carve a niche for herself since having appeared as a “fly girl” on the TV variety series “In Living Color” from 1991-1993. It was while promoting the animated Antz at the Toronto Film Festival, that Lopez first mentioned her desire to make the segue from acting to music. Looking back, Lopez remains surprised at how her dream of singing as well as acting, resulted in stardom on a mass hysterical level. “Of course I was surprised by all of that, not that I didn’t work hard for the idea of wanting to make music at that time. For me it was something that I HAD to do and wanted to do so badly, even with movies, wanting to do better ones and grow as an actress.”

Having that determination to succeed is one thing, but as Lopez also adds, “when you have that passion to act and sing, you don’t factor in becoming a celebrity in the public eye; it’s more about doing what you do, and that other stuff is just a by-product of it in a weird way and something else you have to accept and deal with.” And deal with it she does. When returning to the Bronx shooting Maid in Manhattan, Lopez was mobbed. Dealing with the intense craziness of her life, she likens to “being a Panda at a zoo. People just want to photograph you and stare at you, and at everything you do, from eating a peanut from taking a pee. It’s a weird, strange dynamic, but for me I’ve learned to deal with it. I’ve realised that it’s part of what I do and a job that I actually love doing, so I’ve learned to accept it and be fine with it.”

But like her character in Maid in Manhattan, Lopez is living her own real-life fairy tale with success, wealth and a new romance. It seems that for JLO, the fairy tale of her new life is never-ending, and continues to flourish with her relationship with Ben Affleck. Despite the publicity surrounding the failures of her first two marriages, Lopez insists that it’s not necessarily important for her to get married again “but it just happened, if you know what I mean. It’s mainly important to me in my life, because I don’t want to get to 70 and not have had a great marriage or a family. To me, that’s the greatest thing you can really do is to have a family and love; that’s what life is all about.” Lopez is optimistic that life with husband number 3, will be forever, laughingly admitting that “I hope I learned from my prior mistakes.” Playing a single mother of late has also brought out Lopez’s maternalism, she admits, and hopes for the real thing, eventually. “I think it’ll happen when it happens.” Much like her wedding to Ben Affleck. “No date yet but I promise you’ll be the first to know”, retorts a laughing Ms Lopez.

Professionally, Jennifer is on a roll. She still has two films due out next year and her latest album is about to hit stores. Lopez admits that it is music that remains her bigger passion these days, “now that the album is finally coming out.” Called This is Me, Then, it’s J LO at her most personal, she says. “I wrote one of the songs for Ben. It’s another case of putting your life out there for the world to see, but you have to go with your heart, right?”