What exactly is going on in Jennifer Aniston’s head and heart these days? In an interview for NBC with Jay Leno this month the actress seemed low-key and dispirited. At the start of the interview Leno mentioned that it’s summer. Aniston looked taken aback and then seemed to realise that yes, it was indeed summer. “I’ve been working hard” she said, as if to explain why she was unaware of the good weather. And indeed she was still working hard. She was on the Tonight Show to plug her new movie The Switch – about a single, 40-year-old woman seeking a sperm donor – and also to plug her new perfume, Jennifer Aniston.
Leno then asked if she was taking a summer holiday. Again, Aniston looked a bit taken aback. No, she replied, no summer holiday.
He asked her about producing The Switch as well as starring in it. Wasn’t it just too much work? Aniston agreed that yes, producing is hard work. Sometimes, she said, “it feels like I’m carrying a manhole cover up a hill”.
That was an odd choice of image and words but very revealing given that it’s no secret that, for Jen, there’s a huge hole in her life where ‘her’ man Brad should be. It often seems these days that her frenetic workload – acting, producing, photoshoots, interviews, selling perfume – is some sort of attempt to cover that up.
Asked next what The Switch is about she said wearily “I don’t remember.” The audience took it as a joke and laughed but there was also a sense that she was just plain tired of all her work. She seemed uneasy as she described her character in the film. Stuttering a bit she said: “She wants to have a baby but she doesn’t yet have a husband…and a family….and society’s picture of how you’re supposed to have one.”
“She’s looking for a donor?” Jay cut in. “Could you ever do that? Just go down to the sperm bank?”
Aniston started stuttering again. Looking threatened, she replied:
“Jeez, that question’s never been asked of me…I don’t know honestly, exactly.”
She went on to promote her new perfume “available exclusively at Harrods.com” and ended by showing a clip of The Switch in which she tells best friend Wally (Jason Bateman) that she’s seeking a sperm donor.
Listening to Aniston these days, and seeing her work, it’s hard not to conclude that she’s chasing the wrong goals at this stage in her life. She’s everywhere online, on film, on TV and in the press. Her skirts seem to get increasingly shorter and her photos are increasingly airbrushed. She says that she works very hard to maintain her figure, shiny hair and looks and is extremely disciplined about what she eats.
All of which would be fine, except that she doesn’t seem remotely happy.
Contrasting Angelina Jolie with Jen at the moment you get the strange notion that somehow they’ve ended up leading each other’s lives. As if Jen was meant to be the one strolling through Narita airport with Brad’s smiling kids hanging onto her. As if Angelina was meant to be the single woman going from guy to guy and relentlessly promoting herself through films and products. But at some point after her divorce Aniston seems to have decided to focus solely on her career, even to the extent of playing on her single status by acting in The Switch and The Break-Up. Anglelina on the other hand, has transformed herself from an edgy, kind-of-weird predator into a softer, successful but less driven actress, mother and partner.
Angelina seems genuinely happy with her current life and seems to have a good balance between her career and family life. She says that she’s a mother to her six kids first and an actress and UNHCR goodwill ambassador second.
While Angelina has become ever more expansive – partnering Brad, adopting, giving birth three times, making films, doing many of her own stunts, winning awards, getting involved in charity and humanitarian work – Jen seems to have diminished, restricting her life to – well, mostly self-promotion, concern with her appearance and making money.
Losing Brad to Jolie was no doubt a very hard blow for Aniston. For Angie, her relationship with Brad seems to have opened a new, fuller life for her. As well as caring for her family she’s recently made The Tourist with Johnny Depp and Salt with Liev Schreiber. Her goodwill work continues. Even the recent emergence of some ‘scandalous’ photos from her past is unlikely to dent her new image.
It would be good to see Aniston overcome the past and be happy again, with a truly satisfying mix of work and personal life. The trouble is, though, that she seems to be mechanically chasing career goals in an unbalanced way without stopping to consider whether she has her priorities right. The question Jay Leno really should have asked Jen on the Tonight Show is this: At this point in your life, will selling more perfume and making more films really make you happy – or would you benefit from changing your goals?