It is exhausting just thinking about Jennifer Lopez’s schedule: In the past year, the movie star, singer, dancer and producer has been juggling her first major television role – in police drama Shades Of Blue – with the rigours of a Las Vegas residency, where she will perform 58 concerts in 18 months.
And if that is not enough, she is also preparing for the lead role in a live TV musical, Bye Bye Birdie Live!, and will produce, star in and judge World Of Dance, a new competition show launching this spring.
Yet, the 47-year-old Lopez shows up at a recent press event in Los Angeles looking as radiant and impeccably turned out as always.
She says she maintains a laser-like focus on whatever project is at hand and still feels “very creatively motivated to do a lot of things”.
In the second season of Shades Of Blue, Lopez reprises the role of Harlee Santos, a New York City police detective and single mother torn between covering up for her corrupt fellow officers and doing the right thing.
“The first season was so challenging because it was emotionally taxing,” she says of the series, which co-stars Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, 1990) as Lieutenant Wozniak, her character’s corrupt boss.
The stakes for Harlee – who in Season One became a reluctant informant in a Federal Bureau of Investigation case against Wozniak – are set to get even higher this season.
“The mess just becomes even bigger, the moral lines and ethical lines are pushed even further and the struggle becomes even more intense for her because of her daughter and because of who she is as a person and her beliefs,” says the star.
She hints that Harlee will have to get her hands even dirtier in the upcoming episodes.
“I knew when I read the first page of the first scene of this season. I was, like, ‘OK, we are burying the body. Wrap him up in a curtain and then knock his teeth out’. So I knew that, emotionally, it wasn’t going to get any easier for her.”
But her goal is to keep the character relatable no matter what. “I think my job is to always keep her truthful, but beyond that, even though you are seeing her do the most outrageous, heinous things, that you still believe she’s a good person.”
The character’s troubled past as a victim of domestic abuse adds to the layers of complexity because it means she feels trapped in toxic relationships such as the one she has with Wozniak.
“I think it’s a key element to her character. It’s like that vicious circle of abuse that she can’t get out of. She can’t get out of the relationship and really wants to and really is trying to. So, she compromises herself constantly. It is kind of an abused-woman mentality that she’s trying to heal.”
This is the first major role in a TV drama for Lopez, who cut her teeth as one of the Fly Girls – the team of backup dancers on In Living Color (1990 to 1994), the comedy sketch show that launched the careers of actors Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx.
She landed her breakout role playing the murdered Tejano singer Selena in the acclaimed 1997 biopic of the same name, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
Lopez quickly moved on to bigger films and soon became a bankable name on the marquee, with hits in the romantic comedy genre (Maid In Manhattan, 2002) and thrillers (The Boy Next Door, 2015), all the while cranking out chart-topping pop hits such as If You Had My Love (1999) and On The Floor (2011).
How does she find time for it all? Lopez says she has learnt to focus on the task in front of her and tune out everything else.
This includes, presumably, the glare of media attention, which has long fixated on her personal life, including a romance and broken engagement with actor Ben Affleck (2002 to 2004) and her subsequent marriage and divorce from singer Marc Anthony (2004 to 2014), the father of her nine-year-old twins, Max and Emme.
“You know, there are only so many hours in the day and somehow I always am able to focus and get it done,” she says.
“I do one thing at a time and I put my full attention on whatever I’m doing at that moment,” says the star, who also executive-produces many of her projects these days, including Shades Of Blue, musical Bye Bye Birdie Live! and reality show World Of Dance.
“Even if I’m filming all day on Shades Of Blue, at lunch, when I know I’m not in the next scene and I’m going to have a free hour or two, I do a voice session to learn a new song that I’m going to have to do for Bye Bye Birdie.
“I’m just able to compartmentalise that way and go, ‘OK, I need to switch now and concentrate on this’.”
For Shades Of Blue, Lopez is not an executive producer in name only. “I’m involved in all aspects of it. I’m there as Harlee and I concentrate on that, I know that’s my main job. But I’ve always been side by side with the director and writers working on every scene and all the characters, making sure everything makes sense and looks right.
“I’ve developed a thing with every director this season, which was really nice – they would come to me and ask my advice on the show and where this is going or where that’s going and how things should be. It’s a great role to have, to be that involved in the whole vision of it as opposed to just playing my role.”
On top of all this, the former American Idol judge is two-thirds of the way through her first Las Vegas residency, which launched in January last year and ends in June, by which time she would have performed 58 concerts at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.
But she says this is not part of some career master plan: “I don’t think about what I did five years ago or what I might do five years from now. I just go with what I feel right now.”
Through it all, her drive remains undimmed. “It’s a full year, but it’s creatively fulfilling for me as an actor, as a singer, as a performer, as a dancer and I couldn’t be more excited about tackling each one of those projects.”
She adds with a smile: “How I’m going to feel in a year from now, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll want to take a year off.”
Shades Of Blue airs every Monday at 8pm on Universal Channel (HyppTV Ch 612). – The Straits Times/Asia News Network/Alison De Souza