There seems to be several Janet Jacksons floating around in the collective public memory.
There's the apple-cheeked adolescent who went through puberty on Good Times.
There's the assured young woman who was part of the cast of Diff'rent Strokes,
and the eager young performer who appeared in Fame. There's also the self-assured,
mature artist who proclaimed independence with her breakthrough 1986 album, Control, and
subsequent hit albums, Rhythm Nation 1814 and The Velvet Rope. At 34, Jackson has an
elegance and restraint that translates to acting roles as well. Whether it was the tough,
romantic young writer in Poetic Justice or the beautiful young geneticist in The Nutty
Professor II: The Klumps, Jackson commands the camera's attention--though it took her a while
to get from her first movie role to her second, as the recently-divorced diva explained
DD: Your last film was 1993's Poetic Justice. Why did you take so long between films?
JJ: I got a lot of scripts after Poetic Justice, but they were parts like Justice and I wanted to do something completely different. Or if it was a script I liked, there was a scheduling conflict.
DD: Nutty Professor II is certainly something completely different.
JJ: I jumped at the chance to do this because it's a comedy and the character is so different from anything I've done. When this film came along, I was just starting my next album, but I put it aside to do this.
DD: How long did it take to film that dinner-table scene in the restaurant, where you're having dinner with the whole Klump clan, all played by Eddie Murphy?
JJ: It took, like, a week, a week and a half, to do that one scene. And it wound up being 12 minutes long. Eddie loves to ad lib and when he would, then the other characters would have to respond to what he said.
DD: How difficult was it for him to get into the various characters?
JJ: Even when he's in the heavy makeup, he walks onto the set and he's Eddie. You hear that familiar laugh and that voice. But when the cameras roll, it all clicks in and he's right into character. It's really incredible to watch. It's amazing how he has each character down, so Sherman Klump has his own little thing--and you can see how he looks like his mother but the mother has her own thing that's slightly different. And all the while he's doing that, I never saw him slip, never saw him become Eddie.
DD: What happened to the album you put aside to make this film?
JJ: I'm still working on it. I'm in the continuing process of making an album.
DD: Popular music seems to change quickly. How do you bring back your audience when you've taken a couple of years between albums?
JJ: Things really do change quickly, with the way kids turn albums around these days. Groups like N'Sync and Britney Spears--they're recording on their days off from touring. The minute they're finished touring with one album, it's seems like a week later here's a new one. It is different today; it's always switching up.
DD: If you hadn't been from a performing family, what do you think you'd be doing now?
JJ: I would probably be in business law. That was always a passion of mine. I still want to go back to school, just to learn that end of it. It was what I wanted to do coming out of high school.
DD: What stopped you?
JJ: Well, my father wanted me to do a TV show (Fame), so I did it--and I hated it. I was married and going through changes and trying to find my little niche. I had a group of friends and we'd all promised each other we'd go to Pepperdine University together. I was the one who didn't make it.
DD: What's the hardest part of making a marriage work?
JJ: Oh, communication is so important--you've got to keep those doors open. A lot of issues come out and you have to communicate.
DD: Is it tough to balance a relationship with a career?
JJ: That wasn't that difficult for me. He (ex-husband Rene Elizondo) had been directing videos for me and was always working with me. I was fortunate that way. That was something else we had on our side: we were best friends for four or five years before we ever started dating. I used to pour my heart out to him. We grew up together. I guess that's what makes it so hard as well. We grew up together and now I'm losing a friend of 15 or 16 years. You go through a grieving process.