Jennifer Lopez spills the beans on choosing Milo Ventimiglia as her love interest

Cape Town – Writer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas had always envisioned Jennifer Lopez as Maya in the movie Second Act.

The idea for the film in which a 40-something-year-old woman reinvents herself started incubating with her and co-writer Justin Zackman over six years ago.

“We cooked up this story about a woman who feels she never got a fair shake. But then she gets an amazing opportunity, albeit not entirely honestly, that changes everything for her. She gets to know what life is like when your dreams come true,” says Zackman.

The pair pitched the idea to STX entertainment and a couple of drafts later, with Jennifer Lopez attached, director Peter Segal entered the picture and the rest as they say is history.

In this Q&A Jennifer talks about her role, acting alongside her friend Leah Remini, and second chances at life.

What was it about this project that drew you in and made you want to be involved?

Honestly, when I read a script I almost imagine myself doing it as I’m reading it. If that starts happening I know that I probably want to do it unless it sucks at the end and goes downhill. But if it holds up I finish it and go ‘OK’. There’s a relation to it immediately. It is almost right away like, ‘OK, I can do this’.

Second Act has a wonderful message. A lot of women and men reach their 40s and find themselves having to change career paths for various reasons.

I just loved the idea of being able, with every new day, having a chance to accomplish whatever you want to accomplish and the only thing holding you back is you. You just have to decide. I love this character. I related to her obviously very much. She is from the outer boroughs of New York. I grew up in the Bronx. She’s a Queens girl. She doesn’t have the education, but she has talent, drive and, again, the only thing holding her back was her. Once she kind of finds her way in she starts to realise all of the mistakes she made and the potential she has. The mistakes she made were not that bad and the potential is greater and she starts thinking about her life in a different way and having her own second act.

Leah Remini and Jennifer Lopez in the film Second

What is it like working on a movie with your friend Leah?

It was really great. We wound up drawing a lot from just us. I would say to her, ‘You know what this scene is like? Remember when you were in your garage four years ago and we were talking about this – a big conversation. She said, ‘Yes,’. I said, ‘That’s what this scene is’. She said, ‘OK. Let’s do that’. It would come very naturally.

You and Leah are hilarious together. How much of what we see on screen was scripted because it seemed like you guys did a lot of improv?

We have been friends for a long time. It was funny. A lot of things happened that were improv. Two of my favourite moments were things we talked about. It was as simple as there’s a scene we do in the kitchen and she unbuttoned her pants between scenes. I said, ‘You should do that in the scene?’ She said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘You should unbutton your pants in the scene’. She was like, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yeah’. She said, ‘OK’ so she unbuttoned it and it was one of the biggest laughs in the movie. Then when we did our slapping scene and she said, ‘Let’s do our Who’s the Champ thing’. I was like, ‘OK, let’s do it’. She said, ‘Let’s see where it goes’. We started doing it and they were two of my favourite things in the movie with her.

Your love interest in Second Act is played by Milo Ventimiglia. You specifically casted him in the role. Why did you want him to play Trey?

I was such a huge fan of This Is Us in its first season. When I read the first finished draft of this script I said this character has to be Milo. It has to be Milo. I can’t see anyone else doing it. He has that every good neighbourhood guy type of feel. I thought he would fit in our New York world really well because that was important. I didn’t want someone who wasn’t from New York or didn’t have that feeling. I felt like he really had that feeling. When we put him in there with his cap and on a baseball field in Queens he looks like he belongs. It was great. I loved working with him. He was awesome.

Milo Ventimiglia in the film Second Act.

This movie contrasts traditional education versus the education you pick up from the street. You also embody that and are an inspiration for others. How important is it for you to inspire others so they can be successful?

I think it is really important. People need to know there is not just one way to a path to success. There is many, many different routes. That’s why I love this movie because I grew up in the Bronx and didn’t have much of an education. I didn’t go to college. Even with dance, I had no way into the business. I didn’t know anybody who was in show business or knew somebody who was in show business or had been to Hollywood. There was just no entry point, but you have to find your own way. It can be done. I think you just have to work hard. Hopefully you have some talent and work your ass off. The secret to my success, I feel, is I work harder than anyone else. I don’t stop.


The film releases in SA cinemas on Friday, 14 December.