Jennifer Aniston conquers self-doubts about drama

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Jennifer Aniston's on the phone. Time to ask her an Oscars question.

Does a competition between artists to see who's done the "best work" really make any sense?

"No," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't."

"I mean, how on earth? There are so many wonderful actors, there are so many interesting characters. Why narrow it down to five people and then one? I don't know.

"It kind of gives people a motivation and a drive — which I've never quite had to be honest — about winning that sort of golden ticket at the end of the road," Aniston says on the phone from New York. "A creative competition that pits people against each other ... I don't know how you can say one performance is better than another — they're all so different."

Aniston, who turns 46 next month, has won awards before. And she's up for a Screen Actors Guild award Sunday night for her performance in "Cake," which also garnered her a Golden Globe nomination, although it didn't score her an Oscar nomination. She doesn't seem terribly bothered by that perceived snub.

"Really, my goal is to entertain and bring joy to people. Even when we were doing 'Friends,' the Emmys were great, but 'Friends' the show never got an Emmy until the eighth season or ninth (actually it was the eighth)," she says. "But we knew we were one of the best shows on television. You can't take away what the fans say, and that's the real truth."

Another real truth is that Aniston has been working hard to promote "Cake," an indie film shot in just 25 days and which opened nationwide Friday. She plays a heavily scarred and damaged woman, Claire, overwhelmed by chronic pain and the loss of her son in an accident.

"Claire is very stuck because if she moves on, gets better ... She has such extreme survivor guilt of being the one who survived that accident and her baby didn't. It's almost as if she's giving up on him if she gets better," Aniston says.

As bad as things are for Claire, Aniston's trademark sense of humor also gets to shine in the film.

"If you didn't have moments of levity, which this movie does, you would just want to slit your wrists, it's so unrelenting in that way," she says. "(Screenwriter Patrick Tobin) was really smart to give us those moments where the audience is able to breathe, laugh for a moment. And I also was able to see a flicker of the woman she once was — this funny, acerbic, strong-willed lawyer of the people. We can see glimpses of that."

Aniston signed on to the movie last January; it was shot in April. Obviously, it was a change of pace from blockbuster comedies.

"I was looking for something that excited me. I really wanted to be challenged. I wanted to do something interesting that took a lot of work and exploration.

"Not that I don't love everything I've done — even the ones that weren't necessarily received well. I've always enjoyed myself and had a good time, but there were parts like this in the past, parts that were sort of a departure from what I'm normally known for, which is comedy, I wouldn't even be given an opportunity to get in the room," she says.

"You do start to kind of question your own abilities by saying, do they know something that I don't know? Can I do that?" she says. "That was a big part of wanting to take on this part, was just proving to myself that I was capable of doing it."

Mission accomplished. So what's the next mission?

As of now, nothing in particular. She has no movies lined up. She says she might consider returning to television after 10 years, but then she's up for considering a variety of things.

"I'm not against (TV) in any way. I think it would be great. I think television today is fantastic," she says.

"At this point in my life I don't think there's anything I would shun. Except for doing probably Shakespeare. I'm not great with iambic pentameter." She laughs.

No matter what, it's clear "Cake" has revitalized her, even if she doesn't know where she'll next put her energy.

"I could be taking a break. I'm also just trying to decide what I want to do next. I'm very up in the air at this moment. And excited about it," Aniston says.



Rated R for language, substance abuse and brief sexuality

Running time: 102 minutes