- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

NEW YORK CITY — Wayne Wang, director of Sony-Columbia's "Maid in Manhattan," which opens today with Jennifer Lopez in the title role, clearly wasn't prepared for the effect his star would have on his shooting schedule.
Perhaps imprudently, the first scenes shot in New York were in locations in the Bronx, and the company was disrupted by a mob scene on its first day.
"We got hit by paparazzi," the director recalls. "That afternoon was my first Beatles experience. The kids got out of school, and they surrounded us. Screaming, pushing our cars. The cops had to come and save us, basically. I wasn't prepared for it. Nobody was.
"That sank our first day. We regrouped and hired a lot more security, blocked off more territory, had diversions. Shooting down here around the Waldorf wasn't so bad. There are some long sequences along Park Avenue, but people didn't care as much. They just walked on to the next appointments."
The film would appear to be a holiday crowd-pleaser: an agreeable romantic comedy with Miss Lopez as a hotel maid who becomes romantically involved with a guest and local celebrity: Ralph Fiennes as a bachelor assemblyman with a distinguished political pedigree.
The Waldorf-Astoria hotel served as the movie's principal backdrop, although disguised with a fictional handle, the Beresford. It is here at the Waldorf that Mr. Wang, along with Miss Lopez and a trio of producers, sit down with a reporter to discuss the film.
How did his leading lady react to the Bronx uproar? "She was upset," Mr. Wang recalls, "first by the paparazzi not letting us work and then by how crazy the crowd was getting. That's my read on it.
"Otherwise, she was the most professional person to work with. She was always prepared. Jennifer never flubbed one line. I couldn't find an outtake on her that was a mistake. She was also very supportive and protective of me. From the start, I liked the fact that she was so down-to-earth very tough and direct, but down-to-earth."

Miss Lopez is a bemusing combination of the dreamy and down-to-earth when she joins the group, dressed in a party frock with a very short scalloped skirt that evidently proved inadequate for the season. She has added a practical but incongruous item of clothing to her ensemble: a capacious cable-knit sweater, providing some warmth from shoulder to hemline.
Her memories of the first day differ somewhat from Mr. Wang's.
"It was a difficult situation for shooting, but there was a tremendous show of affection involved, too," Miss Lopez says. "There were so many people out there. Sometimes it's hard enough to block out the movie crew when you're doing a scene, and they have all the incentive in the world to make things go as smoothly as possible. The crowds made for a challenging shoot."
A question about the latest pretext for J.Lo madness in the celebrity press her romance with and engagement to actor Ben Affleck is quickly deflected.
"I think I've said all I need to about the engagement," she insists. "If you need a copy of 'Prime Time Live,' we'll send it to you. Things are at fever pitch again, but I've learned that along with my job, which I love very much, this is part of it. Right now it's kind of strange, all the attention that's focused on us and the engagement. But I've gone through periods where it was so strange and weird that I felt like a panda in a zoo. That happened a while ago, and this is much easier to handle. You learn to adjust to it, or you won't be happy."
In fact, Miss Lopez reflects, "I don't necessarily want to get away from it all. You know what I mean? I like vacations and relaxation from time to time, but I enjoy what I do. It's fulfilling. It makes me whole. I wouldn't want it any other way. Like anyone else who works hard and kind of drives themselves to the point of exhaustion.
"I had very big dreams, a lot of aspirations, being from where I was in the Bronx, being Puerto Rican, being a minority. Some of this gets into the movie. It was like, 'What are you thinking? You obviously won't succeed in that business. You'll waste your life.' But I had such a will in me, such a passion to overcome that. So you go about proving yourself, little by little."
Mr. Wang, 52, has his own version of that story. A Chinese-American, he was born in Hong Kong and lives in San Francisco. His first American feature was the bargain-basement "Chan Is Missing" 20 years ago. Before "Maid in Manhattan," his most exploitable feature was the 1993 movie version of "The Joy Luck Club."
The director, who made his name in independent films, says "Maid" gave him a welcome chance at more mainstream comedy.
"This is a bad time for indies. No one is taking a lot of chances," he says. "I'd be satisfied if this movie does well enough to let me get back to some of my little independent projects.
"But I was also looking to branch out with a mainstream romantic comedy, and this offer was really well-timed. One of the producers, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, came to me. She had developed the story with Jennifer, as a matter of fact. I expected a quick meeting, but Elaine spent two hours talking about the story in detail. I was impressed by that."
Mrs. Goldsmith-Thomas, who is doing the rounds of the press with her producing partners, Deborah Schindler and Paul Schiff, had been associated with the pretext when it was a John Hughes script titled "Chambermaid," initially offered to Julia Roberts. At the time, Mrs. Goldsmith-Thomas was Miss Roberts' agent. She also was Jennifer Lopez's agent at one time and counts both actresses as fast friends.
Miss Roberts passed on the Hughes script, but it remained an active project when Mrs. Goldsmith-Thomas became the East Coast executive for Revolution, a production company owned by former 20th Century Fox chief executive and sometime film director Joe Roth.
"This was never by design," Mrs. Goldsmith-Thomas insists. "Jennifer happened to be staying at my house. We started talking about the 'Chambermaid' idea. She got interested and made some great suggestions.
"She told me about a working mother in the Bronx and what a struggle it was to raise her child and put in a long day commuting to work in Manhattan. A new sort of script evolved from those discussions. I asked if she'd be interested in playing the character who was taking shape and became our heroine, Marisa Ventura. She said yes."

Miss Lopez suspects that her success may be costing her some professional opportunities.
"It's funny, but when I first started and nobody knew who I was, I got movies with Oliver Stone and Francis Ford Coppola," she muses, alluding to "U-Turn" and "Jack" respectively, which were not those directors' best by a long shot.
"Now it's harder for me to get the attention of really big directors," she says. "Not that I haven't been working with really good directors, people like Wayne and Michael Apted and Steven Soderbergh. But you know what I mean. For certain things, you have be kind of a blank slate. I'm not that anymore. It can work against you when some roles are being considered, and it's something I have to combat. I need to be able to get into a room and make a face-to-face case for myself, change a few minds about what I can do.
"It's weird, you know what I mean? People think they know everything about me. With so much wrong information out there, doors can stay closed on you that you'd like to keep open."

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