Jennifer Lopez doesn’t have a problem crying. In fact, the question—How do you tear up on cue?—makes her smile with the same vexed compassion she shows wannabe pop stars as a judge on American Idol every week. “Everybody thinks that’s a difficult thing for actors to do, and it’s not, really,” she says. “It’s about finding the truth and making it real. That’s the most difficult thing, when you have cameras pointing at you, to find the actual, human truth.”
It’s late on a Wednesday night, and Lopez has been crying professionally for the past two hours, filming the emotional finale of Shades of Blue, her new cop drama on NBC. The scene is being filmed inside an old factory in Queens, and she is taking a break in her trailer, which is guarded by two beefy security men. Flameless votive candles and bright midcentury-modern-inspired furniture fill the interior, which includes a marble-topped kitchenette and a tiny bedroom for catnaps. “I brought some pictures of my kids,” she says, gesturing toward several framed photographs of her 8-year-old twins, Max and Emme.
Lopez, who is still in her cop getup—complete with a holster on her hip and a fake gash on her cheek carved out of makeup—is curled up on an L-shaped couch, drinking a green kale concoction through a straw. On an ottoman across from her, an open jewelry box displays a heart-shaped diamond necklace—a wrap gift from co-star Ray Liotta. “The nicest one I’ve ever gotten!” she says with a smile. Next to the TV hangs a framed Jack Nicholson quote given to her by an acting coach. She summarizes: “If you get an impulse in a scene, no matter how wrong it seems, follow the impulse. It may lead somewhere, it may not, and if not, do another take. So, in other words, there are no mistakes.”
It’s a philosophy that has helped her over the past two decades parlay a role as a Fly Girl dancer on In Living Color into the kind of multifaceted career—singing, dancing, acting—that belonged to an earlier era: Think Garland and Sinatra. “I’ve always wanted to be a singer and a dancer and an actress since I was very young,” Lopez says. And that she did, filming more than 30 movies and producing 10 albums (not to mention 30 singles). She’s also created a clothing line for Kohl’s and a collection of signature perfumes (22 in all). With a résumé like that, it’s a surprise we don’t have a regal nickname for Lopez in addition to “Jenny from the Block” and “J.Lo”—one that would indicate her rightful place in the pop-culture firmament alongside Queen Bey (Beyoncé) and the Queen of Pop (Madonna).
But it’s Lopez’s very prolificacy that makes it easy for haters to dismiss her, says her close friend (and producing partner) Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas. “She’s been criticized for doing too much. But for her, failure would be not trying.” Or giving up, says Lopez, who didn’t let a few box-office flops and lukewarm singles deter her at any point along the way. “People many years ago would think, ‘Oh, you’re done.’ But I felt like I hadn’t even reached my peak yet.”
To read the full feature, where she talks about how she balances her hectic schedule of filming for TV, prepping for her upcoming Vegas residency, and being a doting mom (plus where she sees romance fitting into it all), pick up the February issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download Jan. 8.