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Entertainment

Set for an image makeover

SIX YEARS ago, Jennifer Aniston was the type of interview subject who'd fling open the door to her messy ``Friends'' dressing room, survey the dead flowers, balled-up Kleenex and rumpled clothing on the floor and admit self-consciously, ``I guess this is part of who I am.'' Who she is these days is harder to discern. She and her husband Brad Pitt live in a French-Normandy-style home in Beverly Hills. But on a warm April afternoon, she spoke freely about her new movie, ``The Good Girl,'' at their hi-tech Hollywood Hills retreat.

The cultivated anonymity plays like a strategy for a couple whose most insignificant acts seem to end up as tabloid fodder. Last January, for example, Aniston was driving in Hollywood when a motorist in a Volkswagen Jetta backed into her silver Jaguar. ``Nobody walked away harmed - except the paparazzi who caused the accident, because I was driving away from him like a maniac,'' she said. Yet the incident was covered as if she'd barely escaped with her life. Worse yet, Aniston has been ribbed about her reckless driving on the ``Friends'' set since she arrived there at 25. She is now 33, and the show is scheduled to end next year. ``Eight years, ``I still can't believe it.'' Back in 1994, just as ``Friends'' was starting to explode, Aniston could go out with any of her five ``Friends'' co-stars and be treated like a friend of a Friend. These days, she finds herself wrestling with a different problem: she is too well known. ``Friends'' is not only an enduring hit in the U. S. but also popular overseas, where viewers in more than 100 countries are well versed in the quirks and obsessions of Aniston's coddled-from-birth character, Rachel Green. ``No, we don't want a TV personality,'' is her summary of how she's been rejected by some of the top directors in Hollywood. In fact, when the director Miguel Arteta sent her Mike White's screenplay for ``The Good Girl,'' Aniston had a couple of theories as to why the team would be interested in having her play the lead in their bleakly funny low-budget collaboration. ``I thought, `Is this a mistake? Or has this guy never seen `Friends'?''' Within the first few scenes of ``The Good Girl,'' which opens August 7, it is quickly established that Aniston has expunged much of what defines Rachel Green. Absent are the warm smiles, comically raised eyebrows and sympathetic wrinkling of the forehead. And how did she manage to lose the habitual gesticulations that Aniston, as well as Rachel, uses while speaking? ``My acting coach had me sit on my hands,'' she said, adding that she had also spent time walking around with three-pound weights strapped to her wrists and ankles to develop Justine's slumping posture and her shuffling loser gait. Filming her first semi-explicit sex scene was another matter entirely. ``That was hard,'' she said. ``I don't like watching them, I don't like doing them.''

Arteta views Ainston as a talented actress who has been unfairly confined to doing big-screen variations on her Rachel character in romantic fluff like ``Picture Perfect'' and ``'Til There Was You.'' In 1999, however, she was fleetingly featured as a grim waitress in ``Office Space,'' a box-office and critical dud that can count Arteta among its few advocates.


Time to leave Rachel Green and Friends behind.

Aniston was born in the San Fernando Valley. After her parents divorced, when she was nine, she moved with her mother, Nancy, to an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She would soon find solace in the kind of drama that involved being onstage and reciting lines. Today, some of her most vivid childhood recollections are of serving as a peacemaker when her parents squabbled.

Aniston's first exposure to acting was while she was still in elementary school. Her father, the actor John Aniston, arranged for her to appear as an ice-skating extra on the soap opera he was then starring in, ``Search for Tomorrow.''

Whether she likes it or not, Aniston's fame and wealth - she now earns $1 million per episode of ``Friends'' - can be tough to hide. For all of her earnest attempts to be just another underpaid employee on ``The Good Girl,'' she was the only one who started off the day having to figure out where to stash her white-gold, multi-carat diamond wedding ring. ``She'd give it to one of the producers and say, `Will you keep this while I act today?' '' Arteta said. When ``Friends'' ends, so will a regular regimen of table readings, rehearsal days and filming that has eaten up almost 10 years of her life. Now she finds herself pondering what she may have missed in the interval.

Throughout the interview, Aniston had shown a wariness about disclosing anything too personal. But suddenly her demeanour changed, and she was more like the woman of six years before, who was unafraid to throw back the door of her unkempt dressing room.

New York Times

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