LOS ANGELES — A hush fell over one of the banquet rooms at the Four Seasons recently when Janet Jackson strolled in.
Dressed in wide-legged black trousers with a form-fitting black-and-white shirt/sweater combo, Jackson had that sort of deer-in-the-headlights look in her eyes as about 30 reporters fired questions at her.
The rest of the cast of Tyler Perry’s new film “Why Did I Get Married?” were with her, but that didn’t seem to ease her nerves. Jackson answered the questions directed to her, but her largely unexpressive responses were rarely longer than a few soft-spoken sentences.
Jackson, 41, however, was much more revealing about an hour later during an exclusive interview in her hotel suite. She candidly responded to questions about her career, her dreams, walls, drama, love, marriage, divorce and the status of the Jackson Family Reunion tour.
That may or may not be coming to an arena near you.
“I don’t know, there’s been talk and I honestly don’t know and I’m one of them! I really would love to see it happen,” she said wistfully. “I’m such a fan of my brothers and to see them all on stage together, I would die for that, die for that.”
She was also dying to get back into acting after a six-year hiatus. Jackson plays a therapist in Perry’s latest film about eight married college friends trying to rise above all the drama they experience during a holiday in the Colorado mountains. Although Jackson is clearly the star with the most name recognition in this film, Perry said she checked her inner-diva at the door.
“Janet was very, very adamant going in that she wanted an ensemble piece,” said Perry, who has been trying to work with Jackson for years. “She said, ‘It’s perfect for me’ and she was very fair that way. I think the biggest hurdle was getting over Janet Jackson as you’re watching the movie. But if you watch it for longer than 15 minutes, you realize that Janet is not Janet. She’s Patricia. She’s the character and she totally surrendered to it.”
Off screen she just one of the girls.
“She’s so down to earth and genuine,” said Tasha Smith who plays one of Patricia’s girlfriends from college in the film. “When we weren’t working she’d kick it with us and we were just girls having fun. And while we were working I forgot it was Janet Jackson. I was like where’s ‘Rhythm Nation?’ Where’s ‘Pleasure Principle?’”
In no hurry to get married again
There’s no doubt that Jackson’s on-screen marriage to Malik Yoba was far more pleasurable than her real-life unions with James DeBarge and Rene Elizondo were. Jackson married DeBarge, who reportedly had issues with substance abuse, when she was 18. That bliss lasted just over a year. She wed Elizondo during a secret ceremony in 1991, they parted in 1999, and were divorced in 2001.
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Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings But now that she’s apparently found her true soul mate in hip-hop mogul Jermaine Dupri, Jackson is in no hurry to rush back into holy wedlock.
“I don’t know if I actually would sign the piece of paper and actually get married,” Jackson said. “I think for myself, going through it twice and being divorced twice, it would be more of a spiritual commitment — finding your soul mate and exchanging vows.”
It helps that Dupri is as successful as his mate, and that they can bond on the thing they love the most — music. They are currently partnering on Jackson’s 10th studio album, which will also include tracks produced by Ne-Yo and Rodney Jerkins. Noticeably absent so far are Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, the Grammy-winning hit makers who worked with Jackson on a string of successful collaborations including: “Control,” “Rhythm Nation,” “janet” and “The Velvet Rope.” Jackson told reporters that she was unsure at this point if Lewis and Jam would be involved at all.
Perhaps Jackson senses that she needs to try something new. Musically, the five-time Grammy winner, who scored 10 No. 1 hits during the previous two decades and is the third top-selling female artist of all time behind Madonna and Barbra Streisand, has been struggling to find her footing again after a series of largely panned efforts — particularly “Damita Jo,” which was released after Jackson’s controversial “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl.
Life behind walls
Jackson declined to discuss that incident or share her thoughts on the $550,000 FCC fine that CBS is currently appealing. She did, however, allude to it when talking about how she deals with all the negative media coverage of her family and her yo-yoing weight.
“I try not to pay attention to it,” she said with a little more edge in her soft voice. “People talking about me doesn’t hurt me as much as it does when I see them talking about other members of my family, because they don’t really know them or know where it’s all coming from. They don’t know if it’s true or if you can believe what you read or why things happen the way they do.
“You can’t know until you walk in that person’s shoes. And people are so quick to be judgmental. We’re all judgmental and I try my hardest not to be and just try and keep a clean slate, but you just never know what’s going on behind closed doors.”
Or in someone’s mind. The walls Jackson has built around her slender, but curvy frame will keep all the unwanted voyeurs on the outside trying to peep in. And her midlife epiphanies help her better understand the woman she’s evolved into after spending way too much time dealing with all the drama that surrounded her.
“When you hit a certain age, you don’t want to deal with no mess,” she said emphatically. “You don’t want to hear no mess. I think my last divorce did that for me. I’m over it. I’m done with the drama.”
Well, only off-screen. Jackson, who hasn’t lined up another acting project yet, said that she would love to “kick some ass” in an action film, or play an iconic musical star.
“I would love to and I don’t know if it will happen, but hopefully it will,” Jackson says with a nervous giggle. “I don’t even want to say who it is, or maybe I should. I would love to do the Eartha Kitt story. I met her for the first time when she played Carnegie Hall and it was such an amazing moment in my life. It’s my dream to play her.”
Maybe she will get that chance. But even if that doesn’t happen, or if she never has another hit record, it’s very likely that people will still continue to stop and stare every time Jackson enters a room. She’s the kind of person who can stun you with her beauty, awe you with presence and intrigue you with her legend.
“My friends still tell me that I’m very generous and I’m still loving, but I’m not quite as gentle or loving as I used to be after going through relationships and things like that,” Jackson said as she diverted her eyes momentarily toward the glass doors leading to the balcony. “There’s a little bit of a wall that I’m trying to work on, but yet I don’t want it to all come down.”
Miki Turner is an entertainment columnist for MSNBC.com. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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