Jennifer Love Hewitt on her early career: interviewers asked ‘inappropriate, gross things’

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Jennifer Love Hewitt has a new interview with Vulture about the 20th anniversary of Heartbreakers. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since that movie came out. Hewitt starred as part of a mother-daughter con team with Sigourney Weaver. There’s a renewed interest in the film in light of real life con artists like Ana Delvey. Hewitt had just turned 21 when Heartbreakers came out, and she remembers well how the press used to focus on her body. It was so common at the time that she took it for granted and kind of hoped journalists would get around to talking about her acting for a few minutes. The way she described it to Vulture is so matter-of-fact that it’s sad. Hewitt said that the Britney Spears documentary made her remember what it was like for her around that time.

She felt too young to play that part
People thought that I was more ready to play Page in how comfortable she is in her sexuality in the movie than I really was. I was very young, and I think people thought that I was more that person because I did Maxim covers. There were lots of conversations between David [Mirkin, the director] and I where he’d be like, “Page is feeling a little bit sexier this time,” and I would be like, “How do I pull that off?” We had such funny moments where he was like, “Okay, now I’m going to be a grown man who’s going to try to show a very young girl how to be sexy as a woman.”

She had her mom and grandmother on set for a scene where her hair was caught in Ray Liotta’s zipper
It was the perfect day to bring your fam. I don’t really know why I did that, except that they were the two biggest female influences in my life. I wanted to feel comfortable. There was a part of me, also, that wanted them to feel comfortable with what I was going to be doing, and I knew if I can do this scene in front of my mom and my grandmother and they’re cool with it, the rest of the movie is gonna be just fine. Because it was really the most provocative thing that I had done at that moment besides a [Maxim] photo shoot. My grandmother thought it was hilarious.

On how the media focused on her body
It’s interesting, I just watched the Britney Spears documentary [Framing Britney Spears], and there’s that whole section in there talking about her breasts. At the time that I was going through it, and interviewers were asking what now would be incredibly inappropriate, gross things, it didn’t feel that way. I mean, I was in barely any clothing the whole movie. For some reason, in my brain, I was able to just go, Okay, well, I guess they wouldn’t be asking if it was inappropriate.

The conversation for a very long time in my career was always about [my body] first — then, “Oh yeah, you were really great in the movie, too,” later. I didn’t get it. That’s just what I looked like, and I was doing my job. I just started to [prepare myself], like, I know I’m doing an interview today, so I’m pretty sure at least 20 of the 40 minutes is going to be about boobs and body stuff, so we’ll just get that out of the way and then maybe they’ll ask me something else. When I watched that Britney Spears documentary, it hurt my heart a little bit, because I remember in hindsight having that feeling. I’m really grateful that we’re in a time where, hopefully, that narrative is going to change for young girls who are coming up now, and they won’t have to have those conversations.

[From Vulture]

Some of the sexism I dealt with early in my tech career was despicable, but I dealt with it because there was nothing I cold do. Like Hewitt, I took it for granted and didn’t realize how bad it was until years later when I was out of it. It must have been so much worse for her as an actress whose body was so much of the focus. It is sad and depressing to think about.

Another thing I got out of this interview was that Jennifer kept her mom and grandmother close to her on set, even though she technically wasn’t a minor and had been in the industry since she was young in shows like Kids Incorporated and Party of Five. Hewitt wanted her family to be there during awkward scenes where she felt vulnerable. This isn’t a comment about that particular movie or set, but that instinct probably protected her more than she realized.

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27 Responses to “Jennifer Love Hewitt on her early career: interviewers asked ‘inappropriate, gross things’”

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  1. Watson says:

    Sounds like she had solid family around her which kept her protected way more than her other peers.

    I remember when JLH and Britney were all being hounded about the size of their boobs. At the time it was SO normal, like I didn’t even realize the questions being asked were a violation of self. Thankfully no one would ever dare ask a teen about her virginity anymore or force women to discuss their boobs. Just even writing this grossed me out. What type of hell scape was that period of time?

    • Anners says:

      It’s funny, I remember at that time not really liking JLH because the conversation was always about her body and how hot she was and I remember dismissing her as someone of little substance. I didn’t realize how little control she had over how she was treated and presented. Makes me sad.

      • Chaine says:

        Same.

      • lucy2 says:

        Same here.
        Yes her early career was very body focused, but I’m guessing that’s all that was available to her. Even today there’s not a ton of great characters out there for young women that aren’t focused on their looks.

    • Gab says:

      I read the Jessica Simpson book and so many of those same things happened to her. I remember growing up at that time and feeling so much hype around all that who is a virgin and who isn’t conversation. It was just an open topic for adult male journalists to ask sexual questions to young girls. So gross!

      • Amanda says:

        You must be around my age. I remember that being a thing in the late 90′s-early ’00s. It was gross then and it’s gross now. Even when I was 12/13 years old, I thought it was weird.

  2. Nina Simone says:

    Women go through so much. I’m just glad these conversations are being had now. So the future generations don’t suffer in silence and are able to use their voices. That’s my hope.

  3. Jess says:

    I watched the Britney Spears episode with my 13 year old daughter and she couldn’t believe they asked about her virginity and talked about her body so much, it’s not ok or normal and I’m so glad things are finally changing. But Jennifer is right, it did seem normal at that time, and looking back on it you realize how disgusting and inappropriate it really was.

    Heartbreakers is secretly one of my favorite movies, it’s one of those stupid/silly movies that makes me laugh out loud, along with the movie Tomcats. Sometimes you need mindless entertainment. There’s a scene in the beginning where Ray Liotta is running down the hall carrying Sigourney and the way he’s breathing is so fkng funny, I need to watch that again soon!

  4. Lizzie Bathory says:

    Poor Jennifer. It breaks my heart to think that she was so young, just doing her job & hoping she’d be asked about her acting. And instead having people focus on her body. I’m glad this is less normalized now, but it’s still so awful.

  5. Sigmund says:

    Poor Jennifer indeed. Just…ugh. The way young women celebrities were treated back then makes my skin crawl. Not sure if it’s gotten better now exactly, they probably just get harassed in more subtle and creative ways.

  6. FITTB85 says:

    I think one of the biggest disservices we did to young women in the 90s-00s was not giving them the tools to shut down this type of question.
    I wish someone had taught Britney to say “That’s an inappropriate question, I feel personally violated by that question.”
    Or
    “I’m a performer, a production team chooses what I wear, if I contradicted their choices I would be inconveniencing a lot of people, and deemed “difficult to work with” THAT’S why I wear such revealing clothing!”

  7. ItReallyIsYouNotMe says:

    The late 90s and early aughts were so terrible for the objectification of women. I came of age in that period and I remember how it was so “expected “ to be skinny everywhere except have enormous boobs and wear super low-rise pants like Britney and show lots of cleavage. I remember thinking that women in the 70s and 80s had it so much easier because the standard was for women to be slim but not toned with zero fat plus big boobs and show it all off at once. (I know there was also objectification then too, I just remember thinking this at the time). Now we hear that not only was this the image projected, but interviewers, producers, and other stars were actually asking these women about it or talking about it in their own interviews too. How gross. I am glad it’s changing, but I would love it if some of these interviewers even today would ask deeper questions. How about asking what your best business move was or if you play the stock market or something? Women have more to talk about than family, sex, wellness/exercise, etc.

    • Gab says:

      I’m that same age too. I would be interested to hear from any Gen Z people on whether or not they feel this has changed. Is Billie Eilish asked about her body/sex life? I there a countdown until the girls from Stranger things turn 18, like there was for the Olsens? I actually don’t know if this is still going on or not.

      • Amando says:

        Unfortunately, there’s still criticism and impossible beauty standards for today’s young women. For me, in the 90′s, we were expected to look like Pamela Anderson or Kate Moss. Today, girls are expected to look like Kylie Jenner or Nicki Minaj.

    • Jess says:

      I was watching law and order with my husband last night and commented on how business attire for men has them covered head to toe in suits, while women were wearing short skirts and low cut blouses or shirts that show their arms and cleavage. He says that’s just feminine and I said but WHY? Why are women not covered up like men in the business world, why are we expected to look “sexy” and feminine at work.

      I’m just so fkng sick of it all.

      • K says:

        Women are constantly sent the message that we’re expected to dress for the approval or interest of others, and men are mostly just told nonspecifically to dress either casually or formally (like for a business or big life event), and that’s about it. Men aren’t usually harangued or objectified for their clothing choices and how they’re presenting their body parts (or not) to the world. Women can’t help but enter a room boobs first, so superficial/horny/childish assholes evaluate us that way. It’s gross and sad because everyone is worth more than just their sex appeal or beauty.

      • WithTheAmerican says:

        Same in cable news, all of the women hosts have to bear arms and legs and snow some cleavage. Men get to hide in suits.

        Thanks Roger Ailes!

  8. Yeahwhat says:

    Its good to hear this truth as it was not ok how Jen was treated. Her instinct to have her family with her when she felt vulnerable was good. Instincts keep women safe so thank goodness for them. In certain situations I feel my brain is unconsciously checking in and asking me if I am comfortable and feel safe.
    Also having grown up in the late 90s and early 2000′s this behaviour of people commenting on women’s bodies was rife. I struggled with body image and feel commenting on young women’s bodies is hugely damaging and completely unacceptable nowadays and call out anyone who does it.

  9. Skyblue121 says:

    I don’t think there has been a moment in time when women haven’t been objectified and degraded. I look back at my own experiences as a teenager in the 80s and my twenties/thirties throughout the 90s and into the 00s. Comments by men of all ages and walks of life. Comments about my boobs, my looks, pretty/not pretty, my weight fat/not fat, pinched, grabbed, threatened, flashed, dismissed…ugh! What really infuriates me is I was also taught to placate men. Don’t make them angry, don’t hurt their feelings. Enough!

    • AMA1977 says:

      I agree so deeply! When Me Too started trending and so many stories started coming out, I felt such grief at realizing that ALL WOMEN go through this bull$hit and how it’s so deeply ingrained in our society. How “less than” we all are to a certain segment of the population, just there to look pretty and keep quiet. I am fortunate to “only” have been groped and spoken to inappropriately, and not to have been assaulted or attacked, and I would never compare my minor incidents to more serious criminal acts against others, but DAMN. It’s exhausting being a woman, and things like this bring up such anger and sadness in me. I graduated from high school in 1995 and was a young woman in the midst of this misogynistic idiocy. My daughter is 8, and I hope and pray that the world will treat her and her peers with kindness and dignity, but I don’t know if that’s a realistic hope yet.

  10. CocoG says:

    All you need to do is Google the cover of her 1995 album Let’s Go Bang to see how deeply she was failed by many, many people.

    • molly says:

      It was so, so gross how famous women were treated in 00s. Obviously women have been treated terribly since the beginning of time, but tabloid culture and social media were especially appalling back then. I genuinely hope folks like Perez Hilton rot in hell for the role they played in it all.

      • Stef says:

        Molly,

        Thanks for mentioning how gross Perez Hilton was back then. He became famous for it and played a key role in objectifying women and ruthlessly tearing them to shreds, all while he was a gross pig of a “man”, hiding behind a keyboard. I’ll always hate him for that and refuse to support him in any way.

        Glad to see actresses like JLH talking about this now. Back then, I hated feeling objectified ain’t for being a young woman. Luckily, grunge was still popular and I could hide my skinny body behind bulky flannel.

        My heart still breaks for poor Britney…

    • Alissa says:

      jesus, the picture and the album title are atrocious.

      • CocoG says:

        I find it just as shocking every time I look at it – I believe she was 15 or 16 when those photos were taken. It is so gross.

  11. candy says:

    “I took it for granted and didn’t realize how bad it was until years later when I was out of it.” This really hit home for me, and I think all women live life carrying this type of trauma. Even if we think we’re over it, and we’ll be fine, there’s a lot of toxic baggage to live with. I think about this in terms of mental health, wellbeing, and physical health as well.