I met Jen (don’t roll your eyes at me — that’s what we call her) in my kitchen about six years ago when my husband, Jimmy [Kimmel], and I invited our friend Justin [Theroux] over for pizza with his new girlfriend. At first I was a bit starstruck that Rachel Green was standing near my bananas. She was wearing black jeans, a black tank top, and wedge sandals, and she smelled like vacation. But my nerves faded as soon as she hugged me, pulled a lime off our tree for her vodka rocks, and dissected The Bachelor. I was expecting pretension (that’s on me). I got authenticity and real connection. She was immediately warm, like an old friend. She’s magnetic like that. At 49, she knows who she is. That means no boundaries, no bullshit, and a lot of laughing.
MOLLY MCNEARNEY: I want to start this interview off light. When are you getting back together with Brad? Did Justin ever wear your jeans? And when are the twins due?
JENNIFER ANISTON: [laughs] You’re the only person who could start an interview like that and actually send me into hysterics and not hives.
MM: Well, I admire your ability to remain poised and balanced even while others desperately try to tell your story for you. How do you do it?
JA: There are definitely moments of not being balanced and poised, but I do that all in my own personal space. For the most part I can sit back and laugh at the ridiculous headlines because they have gotten more and more absurd. I guess they’re feeding into some sort of need the public has, but I focus on my work, my friends, my animals, and how we can make the world a better place. That other stuff is junk food that needs to go back in its drawer.
MM: What is the biggest misconception about you?
JA: Oh, boy, there are so many. Let’s see. I’ll just Google myself and find out. [starts typing] Oh, look, I’m having a $100,000 revenge makeover!
MM: I didn’t want to say anything, but you really need one. But wow, the tabloids are relentless.
JA: It’s pretty crazy. The misconceptions are “Jen can’t keep a man,” and “Jen refuses to have a baby because she’s selfish and committed to her career.” Or that I’m sad and heartbroken. First, with all due respect, I’m not heartbroken. And second, those are reckless assumptions. No one knows what’s going on behind closed doors. No one considers how sensitive that might be for my partner and me. They don’t know what I’ve been through medically or emotionally. There is a pressure on women to be mothers, and if they are not, then they’re deemed damaged goods. Maybe my purpose on this planet isn’t to procreate. Maybe I have other things I’m supposed to do.
MM: Yes! For starters you have this new movie coming up, Dumplin’. You play an ex–pageant queen, and you do it beautifully. Did you ever want to be in a beauty pageant when you were younger?
JA: That’s hysterical. No. Do you know what I looked like as a kid? The truth is, that’s all changing now. That’s what this movie is all about. It’s about redefining beauty and how we as a society interpret what beauty is. I love that the Miss America pageant is going to get rid of the swimsuit competition altogether.
MM: Me too. I’m sure my daughter will be shocked when I tell her that was actually a quantifiable form of judging women in my lifetime.
JA: Definitely! You know, a swimsuit body is a body in a swimsuit, no matter what that body is. It’s time to just stop thinking beauty is in the shape of a size 4 and the right butt size and the right waist size and the right measurements. It’s just old. We’ve done it. We’ve been there. Let’s move on.
MM: What was it like exploring the pageant world to prepare for Dumplin'?
JA: I had so much fun. There are women devoting their lives to training young girls for pageants, and it’s the real deal. I loved those women and really enjoyed getting into their minds. My character is an ex–pageant queen who is fun but broken. It’s a beautiful mother-daughter story. And, of course, there’s the amazing musical element: Dumplin’ is an homage to Dolly Parton, who wrote a few original songs for this film.
MM: Dolly is incredible.
JA: She’s magic. I remember the first thing she said to me when she walked into my house. I said, “I don’t know how you do everything you’re still doing.” She said, “Well, I dreamed myself into a corner, and now I gotta live up to it.”
MM: Everything she says is a bumper sticker.
JA: When Dolly and I watched the movie together, we were in a theater full of people who didn’t know we were sitting in the back. During one of the funnier parts, she’s stifling her laugh and whispers to me, “They can’t hear my laugh. They’ll know my laugh.” A couple of minutes later I look over and she’s crying, and she says, “But they don’t know my tears.”
MM: I really wish there were an audio button on this page that readers could push right now to hear the impression you just did of Dolly Parton. It was flawless.
VIDEO: Steal Jennifer Aniston's Pre-Photo Shoot Routine
JA: [in Parton’s voice] Aw, thank you, darlin’.
MM: What would your talent be if you were a pageant girl?
JA: My talents are not baton twirling or Hula-Hooping or tap dancing or ventriloquism or yodeling. I would be eliminated right away. Out. No talent.
MM: How about you get up on stage and make a margarita? You’re really good at that. Tell us how.
JA: Oh, lord, it’s barely a recipe. It’s basically silver tequila with lime juice shaken and over rocks. And some people like a little Cointreau, some don’t. It’s a cleaner margarita. No sugar, no mixes, no agave. I don’t like sweet drinks.
MM: I like mine with a Twizzler as a straw. Dumplin’ is written, produced, and directed primarily by women. The leads are all women. The timing is perfect for such a film.
JA: Yes, lots of great women in front of and behind the camera. All extraordinarily qualified. This wasn’t because it was mandatory; it wasn’t because of a movement. They’re a part of this movie because they are exceptionally talented. Rachel Morrison was our DP on Cake and the first woman nominated for best cinematography [for Mudbound] at the Oscars. She’s a badass. We need to find more women like her and give them the opportunities. It’s like mining for gold. We shouldn’t be shoving female directors and producers down each other’s throats because we have to. Then we’re making those decisions from a place of fear.
MM: Have you ever been sexually harassed in the workplace?
JA: I’ve definitely had some sloppy moves made on me by other actors, and I handled it by walking away. I’ve never had anyone in a position of power make me feel uncomfortable and leverage that over me. In my personal experience I’ve been treated worse verbally and energetically by some women in this industry.
MM: Have you experienced sexism in your career?
JA: I’ve definitely had my fair share of sexism in the media. Women are picked apart and pitted against one another based on looks and clothing and superficial stuff. When a couple breaks up in Hollywood, it’s the woman who is scorned. The woman is left sad and alone. She’s the failure. F that. When was the last time you read about a divorced, childless man referred to as a spinster?
MM: Never happens. Do you have hope for change as a result of Time’s Up and #MeToo?
JA: Yes, and it’s long overdue. But we also need to be better at listening to one another. That includes men. They need to be part of this conversation. When everyone is mad and aggressive, people become too afraid to speak and there is no conversation. Same goes for politics. We need to include each other, to hear each other out. We can’t stoop to the anger. Michelle Obama said it best: “When they go low, we go high.” We should all be living by that if we want real progress.
MM: I worry social media may be slowing that progress with its expectation that everyone look good all the time. Are you active on social media, or do you just turn all that off?
JA: I don’t have Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram accounts. I will totally admit that I can dip into Instagram and sort of be a secret voyeur.
MM: You’re a creeper!
JA: I’m a creeper. There are times when I’ll look through and think, “Oh my god, what a time suck!” I’ve been with people who spend maybe an hour figuring out this one post, and you’re like, “That just took up an hour of your life, and it’s gone in 60 seconds.” It feels like we are losing connection. I think we’re losing conversation. It’s hard enough being a teenager and feeling like you fit in. Now we’re actively creating an environment and a platform for you to tell someone, “I like you” or “I don’t like you.” That seems like an unhealthy formula for already-insecure adolescents. We’re pouring fuel on a fire.
MM: I couldn’t imagine dealing with that pressure when I was a teenager.
JA: Our friends have 10- and 11-year-olds on Instagram. They’re starting way younger than when I even gave a crap about what I looked like or what makeup I wore or what guy I liked. I think iPhones and Snapchat and all this stuff is just fueling narcissism. People are using filters and all sorts of tools to mask who they really are.
MM: How was your confidence as a kid?
JA: I was one of those kids who got sort of bullied, and I don’t know why.
MM: No one’s going to believe that.
JA: Ha! But they will believe I’m pregnant three times a year. I was one of the kids who the others would decide to make fun of. It was an odd period of time during fifth, sixth, seventh grades. I was a little on the chubby side, so I was just that kid. Childhood is such a vulnerable time, and I’m sure a part of me believed all that they teased me about. Thankfully, I didn’t have a phone or social media to look at and think, “Oh, I’m not this, I’m not that.” I just wanted to have fun and play capture the flag.
MM: Did you ever imagine yourself as an actor?
JA: I didn’t see myself as anything. I was just trying to get through the day. [laughs] In sixth grade I would write skits and act them out with a couple of friends, and we thought we were hilarious. Or we would go to Central Park, and when the cherry blossoms were in bloom we would act out scenes from The Wizard of Oz. We went to the Rudolf Steiner School, which is one of those arts-and-craftsy schools. It wasn’t big on academics, but I can whittle you a lion out of a piece of mahogany like nobody’s business.
MM: I’ve seen that lion. Now, for some silly questions. Have you ever punched someone?
JA: OK, let’s be honest. I’ve had a moment when I’ve totally wanted to do it, yes, but it’s in your fantasy, it’s in your head. I wouldn’t actually go through with it.
MM: No, you’re too zen for that. What is a fear you wish you could overcome?
JA: Fear of flying. It started in my 20s. It was a weird, scary flight. Afterward I began noticing the stories on the news about plane crashes, and I became all-consumed with the idea of dying on an airplane. It was so out of control in my brain. So, yeah, that’s something I’d like to get rid of. It’s so irrational.
MM: What hobby would you like to master?
JA: Sculpting. Twelve years ago I had a beautiful art studio, and that was my dream then. I still want to take the time to have those moments for myself. I had a wheel, and I had a bunch of clay.
MM: Let’s get you back on the wheel. If your house were on fire, dogs are out, you are out, all the people you love are out, what is the one thing you grab?
JA: This actually happened. When we had to be evacuated in December for the wildfires, I took my dogs, I grabbed underwear, my toothbrush, and a change of clothes. Just get my dogs and me out of here. They’re my kids!
MM: You’re a good dog person. You just light up when you’re around them.
JA: I do. They make me happy. But so do your kids.
MM: You are so good with my children. When I did not have children, I liked people’s kids, but they were fun for, like, 10 minutes. But you are so genuinely invested in your friends’ children that the kids end up buying you Mother’s Day presents. You also have a home that kids want to go to. You have really mastered hosting families at your house.
JA: I love those rascals. Also, they’re good kids. I have to say, we’re lucky. There’s not one kid in the group where you think, “That little brat.”
MM: What’s your exercise of choice?
JA: Last year I discovered boxing, and I love it. I have this trainer named Leyon, who I believe hung the moon. It’s the longest workout I’ve actually stayed with consistently other than yoga. There’s something about the mental aspect of boxing — the drills, your brain has to work, you’re not just sitting on a bike. It’s amazing.
MM: I knew you wanted to punch someone!
JA: Boxing is a great way to get aggression out. You get a mental release of all this crap you’re taking into your ears and eyes every day and have little fantasy moments imagining who you’re punching. I’m just grateful it’s not actually the person, even though there’s one person. You know what I mean. It’s all good.
MM: What about Friends? Will Friends ever come back?
JA: Before that show ended, people were asking if we were coming back. Courteney [Cox] and Lisa [Kudrow] and I talk about it. I fantasize about it. It really was the greatest job I ever had. I don’t know what it would look like today, but you never know. So many shows are being successfully rebooted. I know Matt LeBlanc doesn’t want to be asked that question anymore. But maybe we could talk him into it. If we give it some time, Lisa, Courteney, and I could reboot The Golden Girls and spend our last years together on wicker furniture.
MM: I feel like if you choose to, you will have the longest career you want. Do you think you’re going to do this forever?
JA: I’ve never been someone who knows how to answer, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I do know that lately I’ve had moments. The world we’re in is so challenging right now, the scrutiny, the way people interact. There’s just bad behavior around us a lot. There have been moments when I would just love to get out of Dodge and move to Switzerland — or somewhere — and start anew. Just have this shit behind me. Does it really matter? Are we really doing anything? What is my life’s purpose? Every seven years I try to sum up what I am doing and what I want to make my focus. I’m trying to make better choices. I went through a period of saying yes to projects that I shouldn’t have, but I felt like, “How dare I say no?” Now I’m trying to get better at saying no and to be a part of projects that actually, really matter à la Dumplin’ or The Goree Girls or this other film we’re working on called The Fixer, about an amazing crisis manager named Denise White.
MM: Good. You need to keep going. The world is shit right now, and we need some Aniston movie escape.
JA: I’m grateful as long as people still want me to come to the party. I think I’ll always want to keep acting as long as there’s a desire for me to do it. As long as I’m fulfilled in other ways creatively, spiritually, and all of that stuff, I know that I could do this until they put me in a home.
Fashion editor: Julia Von Boehm. Hair: Chris McMillan/Kérastase/Starworks Group. Makeup: Gucci Westman/Westman Atelier/Home Agency. Manicure: Miwa Kobayashi. Production: Brandon Zagha.
For more stories like this, pick up the September issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download Aug. 10.