Jennifer Lopez, Mary Kay Place Discuss "Sheer Will and Grit" Required to Realize Low-Budget Films

Jennifer Lopez LAFCA - Getty - H 2020
Rachel Luna/FilmMagic

At the 2020 Los Angeles Film Critics Awards ceremony, the 'Hustlers' and 'Diane' actresses were honored alongside Noah Baumbach, Antonio Banderas and others.

However film critics have reviewed her various movies, Jennifer Lopez says she’s always gotten a sense that they’ve appreciated what she’s tried to put on the screen.

“From the beginning, I feel like people took me seriously as an actress, and that was great,” Lopez told The Hollywood Reporter on the way into the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, where she collected the latest in a growing collection of best supporting actress accolades for her much-praised turn in Hustlers.

“It's incredible to be recognized by L.A. film critics — I mean, this is the industry. This is the town,” Lopez said on the red carpet. “I feel like sometimes I'm not on this planet, and I'm in an alternate universe right now, but I'm just trying to be present in the moment. I'm so grateful for everything. You know, Hustlers was a movie we made in 29 days on a low budget. I didn't take any money for it because I believed in the material, I believed that it was a great role for me. And so to be standing here tonight is just, like, mind-blowing.”

The actress, who was joined at the ceremony at the Intercontinental Hotel in Century City by her fiancé Alex Rodriguez and her Hustlers director Lorene Scafaria, elaborated on the unique qualities of Hustlers among the projects spanning her substantial, multifaceted career.

“There was something that spoke to me about this film and this role, not only at this time in my life, but this time in our world,” she said. “I was offered an opportunity to shine a light on women who are usually spinning on the periphery of the action. Complicated multi-dimensional women, beautifully drawn, who were both heroes and victims of a system that proceeded them. And I immediately felt like I had to get this film made.”

Calling her role as a savvy stripper with an ambitious illegal schemes, “a female character with the type of depth that is usually reserved for the men in Hollywood,” Lopez received whoops of recognition from the audience.

“Getting this movie made was not only a labor of love, but one of sheer will and grit. We women banded together and every time we heard, ‘No way’ — and we heard it often — we just pushed harder,” Lopez added. “To all of you talented women out there writing films, producing films, directing films, support one another. Support one another, please, and tell your stories. And remember, 'no' is not an answer. It's an opportunity.”

Lopez wasn’t the only one enjoying a victory lap of critical favor at the LAFCA ceremony after a lengthy career. Mary Kay Place, named best actress for her turn in the indie Diane, was pleased to be recognized for delivering career-high work after over four decades on the business.

“I've hung in there. I work cheap,” she chuckled. “I have had interesting projects throughout the years and challenging ones and funny ones and serious ones. And I just am very grateful for it.” And also like Lopez, she was still processing that Diane was the project that re-thrust her into the limelight. “It was really a very, very, very low-budget film, and we are an unusual unconventional film. And it's not everybody's cup of tea, but the people that are moved by it seemed to be profoundly moved by it ... It's like the little movie that could. It slowly built up steam, it's just mind-blowing.”

Although he was not able to attend in person to collect his best actor trophy for the Spanish film Pain and Glory, Antonio Banderas provided a pre-recorded note to the critics group of his adopted hometown. “I lived in this city for 25 years — the concentration of the cinema universe is here in Los Angeles, in one way or another. It makes me very proud, actually,” said Banderas, who recalled the latest in his 40-year collaboration with filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. “He was very, very loyal to the way that he made movies and communicated with people all around the world. That is very important nowadays.”

Almodovar was on hand at the ceremony to accept both Banderas’ honor and his own, for the best foreign language film. “I’d like to congratulate you, the critics, for the display of diversity in these awards,” the filmmaker said, noting that a wealth of the evening’s awards were bestowed on foreign artists and projects. “You’ve shown great sensitivity to foreign culture, in contrast to your government.”

Marriage Story filmmaker Noah Baumbach, who won for best screenplay, noted that both of his parents were professional film critics, and “whenever I get a bad review, it feels like my parents criticizing me.”

He explained that “because L.A. and New York play significant roles in Marriage Story, I've been asked many times about which city I prefer. I grew up in Brooklyn and lived primarily in New York City, and I've made no secret of where my heart lies. But after the New York Film Critics Circle gave [Quentin] Tarantino this award, I have to do some soul-searching. I want to thank the L.A. Film Critics for this great honor, and also apologize to the city of Los Angeles. At least for tonight, I got it wrong.”

Speaking of Tarantino, production designer Barbara Ling was honored for her work on Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, and on the red carpet told THR she was pleased that the film has sparked renewed interest in enduring Hollywood landmarks like Musso & Frank Grill and Casa Vega. “Casa Vegas told me, ‘Oh, my god, we're overwhelmed every weekend!’”

Asked if she might talk Tarantino out of his oft-stated plan to shoot one more film and then move on to other pursuits, Ling said she was actually quite intrigued to see where new roads might take him.

“He's a renaissance person,” she said, noting that she expects him to turn to novels and, especially, television. “Episodic is getting very exciting to him and I think that's were we're going to see another whole world open up for Quentin … I think we'll see a lot of things that will come out of him. It'll be many movies, so to speak, but they'll be done as an episodic. I think.”

Greta Gerwig took the stage to pay tribute to the evening’s Career Achievement Award honoree, actress/writer/director Elaine May. “She gave me in so many ways permission to be monomaniacal and relentless and committed to my vision. In short, she allowed me to be a director,” said Gerwig, who bypassed a flowery speech to deliver a direct message from the in absentia filmmaker. “I'm just going to say what she said because she's smarter and better than everyone, and she said: ‘Thank you for my lifetime achievement award. I look forward to many more.’”

Throughout the ceremony, the evening’s hands-down champion was the darkly comedic South Korean thriller Parasite, which was named best picture, as well as delivering best director honors to filmmaker Boon-Joon Ho and best supporting actor to Boon’s frequent collaborator Song Kang Ho.

The director noted that the critics group’s acronym LAFCA reminded him of the call letters of the American Forces Korea Network, which he watched devotedly in his youth, sometimes sneaking down to the television to absorb Hollywood-made films otherwise on rare display in his home country. The experience sparked his imagination and set him to constructing his own narrative images. “I think that's when I started cultivating the cinematic cells in my body.”