“Lila & Eve”? Let's just say it's a far cry from “The Wedding Planner.”
The gritty drama starring Jennifer Lopez and Viola Davis is premiering tonight at the Sundance Film Festival – and needless to say, it's not a feel-good time at the movies.
“It was a very intense shoot,” said Lopez when I spoke with her this afternoon. “I can't say I was happy the whole time, I wasn't. It was intense, and the scenes between Viola and I are intense. What we're doing is insane. …it's just a dark thing. You know what I mean? It's not like going to work on a romantic comedy.”
“And by the way,” she hastened to add of her previous rom-coms, “I love those films. But this is something different.”
Lopez, in case you were wondering, is the “Eve” part of the equation – the devastated mother of a murdered child who hooks up with Davis's Lila in a support group for grieving parents and sets her on a dark path of retribution.
“She's in pain,” she said of her character. “She is the personification of pain and hurt and anger, with no remorse for anything…just that total devastation of losing her child consumed her. It's funny when you play a character like that that's so singular, in a sense. Not that she's not a complex character, she is. It's just…there is just one focus, and that's to make people pay. Revenge. And in a way, it makes everything clear when you're playing it.”
“Lila & Eve” marked a reunion between Lopez and Davis, who had a brief scene together in 1998's “Out of Sight” – a film which netted Lopez some of the best reviews of her career. Now, of course, Davis is a giant Oscar-nominated star – a fact that Lopez swears made not one iota of difference in their dynamic on set.
“It was funny, it was kind of just like how when we worked together before,” she said. “Just two actresses, in the scene, digging in, and it just felt the same as it did – even though we only did one scene together on 'Out of Sight' – it still, you know, she leaves an impression.”
The timeliness of “Lila & Eve” certainly wasn't lost on me: post-Michael Brown/Trayvon Martin/Eric Garner, the premise of two minority women reeling helplessly in the wake of their sons' unsolved murders – about which they feel a sense of indifference from law enforcement – seems to tap into something larger. Lopez agreed – but only to a point.
“I mean, 'Lila and Eve' does hold a mirror to what's going on in society, and in the current cultural climate. It's a timely film,” she said. “But you know, it's tricky, because this is a movie. It's not real life. We're definitely not advocating what these women do, but we do explore the darkness and the desperation a mother goes through when she loses a child. Especially in an unjust way at the hands of another. It's tragic cases, you know what I mean? And that's what we're doing in the film. It's about two mothers trying to find a way to come to terms with their loss.”
Film-wise, at least, 2015 has been a dark year for the multi-hyphenate – and so far it's paid off. Her last film, the erotic thriller “The Boy Next Door,” premiered to a healthy $14.9 million gross at the box office last weekend – a feat that felt extra gratifying for Lopez given that she produced the project as well.
“When you're producing a film and you're on it from the beginning through the development of the script, and the rewrites, and the casting, and the bringing on of all the crew…and then you're in a theater watching an audience jump and scream and coo and go 'Oh!', there's a different weight to it,” she gushed. “There's a different level of satisfaction when you make something that people are actually enjoying while they're watching it.”
Lopez's behind-the-scenes output has ramped up over the past several years, with producer credits on films like “El cantante” and “Feel the Noise” and TV series including ABC Family's “The Fosters.” In the vein of the 2006 Hector Lavoe biopic “El Cantante,” which she produced as a starring vehicle for herself and then-husband Marc Anthony, Lopez now appears to be in the mode of creating her own opportunities in Hollywood.
“I really understand things in a different way than when I first started off as a dancer, a singer, an actress,” she said. “I have enough experience at this point and now in producing things… you just, you feel it, you go 'okay.' Being part of this in that way is important for me and works for me and helps me be better. And helps me explore my creativity in a different way, and understand the process more in a different way.”
Lopez's jack-of-all-trades approach to the business has been modeled, in part, on the career of a person she calls her biggest influence – another multi-hyphenate who conquered the entertainment business in a variety of different capacities.
“I think my idol of all time because of my mom and everything is probably Barbra Streisand,” said Lopez, who also noted Jodie Foster as a favorite. “She was a singer and an actor and a producer and a director. Just watching her career evolve. I've gotten to speak to her a couple times over the years.”
So will she follow in Streisand and Foster's footsteps by stepping behind the camera? Lopez remained non-committal.
“You know, people have asked me already…it's possible. We'll see. We're just taking it day by day.”
“Lila & Eve” premieres tonight at Sundance.