Belfast Telegraph

Jennifer: I let myself fall apart for a new role

Rom-com queen Jennifer Aniston may finally shake off that hairstyle with her latest movie

By Deirdre Reynolds

After decades as Hollywood's queen of romantic comedy, could Jennifer Aniston be about to have her Cake - and win an Oscar too?

In her upcoming movie, Cake, the actress plays a car crash survivor who becomes obsessed with the suicide of a woman in her chronic pain support group.

And the 45-year-old is already being tipped for Best Actress at next year's Academy Awards after the low-budget film was snapped up by Cinelou Releasing this week, and scheduled for an earlier release date - making it a hot contender in the 2015 Oscars race.

Debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, director Daniel Barnz's dramedy brought moviegoers to their feet, with critics praising Aniston's against-type performance, in particular.

Twenty years after first finding fame as Rachel Green on Friends, the star told how she jumped at the opportunity to play a depressed painkiller addict alongside Sam Worthington and Anna Kendrick.

"When I read it I knew it was the role of a lifetime," Aniston said at TIFF. "How could I turn that down?"

"Just reading (screenwriter Patrick Tobin's) script I actually saw myself doing it. I just felt like it was already happening and it was pretty easy to say 'Yes'.

"It was such a beautiful, complex, layered, tortured character," she explained. "I just tapped into something I was meant to do. It was a no-brainer."

Pictured on set with facial scars, a frumpy outfit and mousy hair, Aniston was almost unrecognisable recently in what's been described as her biggest anti-vanity project to date.

But the transformation could prove to be just as figurative as disfiguring for the talented-but-typecast star, last seen playing a stripper in comedy We're the Millers last year, and next seen playing a nymphomaniac dentist in another comedy, Horrible Bosses 2 later this month.

Having played the glammed-up love interest for so long, both on screen - in movies such as 2012's Wanderlust - and off - married to Brad Pitt from 2000 to 2005 - Aniston revealed how not having to work out for the role was just the icing on the Cake.

"As women, we do feel that we have to live up to an expectation whether it is on camera or going to the market," said the Greek-American beauty, who's engaged to actor Justin Theroux.

"The truth of the matter is that that is not always the way it is. We don't always have our high heels on. We don't always have our hair and make-up on.

"It actually was extremely liberating to let all that go," she continued, "and see yourself looking like that on a 50-foot screen.

"This character is basically someone who had just given up. I pretty much let myself fall apart physically and that was really important for me."

Despite being the third-highest paid actress in Hollywood, raking in an estimated $31m from June 2013 to June 2014 according to Forbes magazine, for many, Aniston is still better known as the owner of the world's most iconic haircut.

So could 'Rachel from Friends' really join the ranks of Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Dame Helen Mirren come February? Stranger things have happened in Tinseltown, where Sandra Bullock once won both a Best Actress Oscar and Worst Actress Razzie on the same night.

Just like Aniston, Bullock was formerly most famous for chick flicks including While You Were Sleeping (1995) and Miss Congeniality (2000). Since scoring an Academy Award for her portrayal of a Christian soccer mom in 2010 drama The Blind Side however, the 50-year-old has become equally synonymous with such critically-acclaimed fare as Gravity, for which she earned her second Oscar nomination last year.

Scooping her first Oscar for Erin Brockovich in 2001, American sweetheart Julia Roberts (47) similarly proved she's more than just a Pretty Woman, by getting her second nomination for August: Osage County last year.

Aniston has already shown glimpses of greatness in the past. In 2002's The Good Girl, another low-key indie flick, she shone as a small-town shop assistant trapped in a loveless marriage who embarks on a fling with a much younger co-worker, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Presenting his co-star with the GLAAD Vanguard Award for her contributions to the increased awareness and understanding of the United States' LGBT community in 2007, Gyllenhaal proclaimed: "Everybody falls in love with Jennifer and I have to say, it's always her fault.

"Her warmth, her integrity, her beauty, her fearlessness are evident to anyone lucky enough to spend enough time with her. And these qualities reach right out and grab you from the screen."

Any way you slice it, Cake director and executive producer Daniel Barnz insisted that Aniston, who's already bagged a Golden Globe and Emmy for her most famous TV role, was his first choice for the role of Claire.

"When my life and producing partner Ben Barnz and I first read Cake just 14 months ago, we knew we had to go to Jennifer Aniston," he told.

"It was the most obvious un-obvious choice - she's mega-talented, but we've never seen the whole range of her extraordinary comic and dramatic abilities showcased in one role."

Ultimately, with Gone Girl's Rosamund Pike and Wild star Reese Witherspoon also generating serious Oscar buzz, queen of comedy Aniston is still the underdog to land one of Hollywood's most coveted doorstops.

Indeed Irish bookmaker Paddy Power is currently offering odds of 33/1 on the Marley & Me star being crowned Best Actress at the 87th Academy Awards ceremony next year.

For Jen-An, as she's better known by the glossies, who made her big screen debut in B-grade slasher movie Leprechaun in 1993, getting the nod would be enough.

"Ever since I was at the High School of Performing Arts in New York and my Russian acting coach told me I was a disgrace to the Moscow theatre, I really wanted to do good work," she confessed earlier this year.

"I was determined to prove him wrong."

After wowing in floor-sweeping Valentino at last year's ceremony, a return to the Kodak Theatre with a nomination in the bag and The Leftovers star Theroux on her arm would therefore be especially sweet for the Cake star.

Not least because ex-husband Brad Pitt and new wife Angelina Jolie are also expected to hear their names called on the night - Pitt for World War II drama Fury and Jolie for Disney blockbuster Maleficent.

Even if she doesn't get the chance to omit the pair from her Oscar speech, Aniston confessed that getting a standing ovation for her performance at TIFF was the next best thing.

"It was such an emotional moment," recalled the star. "I was nearly brought to tears.

"It's just the farthest thing from anything I've ever done," she added of the movie, which hits cinemas here early next year. "I knew this would be an extraordinary challenge for me.

"And I was so excited and so ready to just dive in and take it on."

Aniston's big break

  • Born Jennifer Joanna Aniston in February, 1969, in Los Angeles to actor parents John Aniston and Nancy Dow. Her father is Greek and her godfather was Kojak star Telly Savalas, who was one of her father’s best friends
  • She discovered a love for acting as a child and studied drama at high school
  • While working in Off-Broadway productions she supported herself by working as a telemarketer, waitress, and bike messenger
  • She was cast in a few short-lived television flops and in the 1993 horror film Leprechaun, before landing her big break on new comedy show Friends as spoiled princess Rachel Green
  • She received a salary of $1m per episode for the last two seasons of the show
  • Since the final series of Friends in 2004, she has starred in several Hollywood films, such as Marley & Me, Horrible Bosses and The Bounty Hunter

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