Five hours and sixteen minutes. That’s all it took for Jennifer Aniston to hit one million followers on Instagram last fall. Most people would be shell-shocked by that record-setting rush of attention. But not Aniston, who knows a thing or two about being followed. A paparazzi magnet and tabloid fixture since the mid-’90s, when she launched a thousand haircuts as Rachel Green on the generational sitcom Friends, the Emmy-winning actor, now 51, has been an object of our affection and fascination for half her life. Her made-for-Us Weekly romances aside, Aniston is one of the few actors of her era to seamlessly transition her superstardom from the small screen to the big one and back again. She brought the same pinpoint timing and breezy sarcasm that made her one of TV’s highest-paid entertainers to broad comedies such as Office Space, Along Came Polly, and The Break-Up, while recalibrating expectations with quietly devastating turns in dramas including The Good Girl and Cake.
And just when we thought we had America’s Sweetheart figured out, she surprised everyone by returning to television in the palace-intrigue drama The Morning Show, to play a fiery anchor, alongside Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, grappling with age and power dynamics in the #MeToo era. And while the parallels between Aniston and her character might be tempting to draw, the truth, she tells her friend and drinking buddy Sandra Bullock, is stranger than tabloids.
JENNIFER ANISTON: Hi, mama.
SANDRA BULLOCK: Hi, sweetheart. Are you in your jammies?
ANISTON: No, I’m in jeans and a sweater and a black t-shirt. Do you feel good about that?
BULLOCK: Who are you wearing?
ANISTON: [Laughs] I’m wearing Rag & Bone jeans and an Elder Statesman sweater.
ANISTON: Of course. And a James Perse t-shirt underneath the sweater.
ANISTON: And then Hanky Panky underwear if we want to get real specific.
BULLOCK: So can I say, “Jen was casually chic for the interview, layered in light cottons and some cashmere, with her legs tucked up under her, as she snuggled on the couch?”
ANISTON: Let me jump up and get snuggly, hold on. Yes, now you can say that.
BULLOCK: I already said it. It’s been recorded and I’m not going to repeat myself. We were trying to remember how we first met, and you and I had completely different memories.
ANISTON: Let’s journey back. I’m trying to remember the year of the Golden Globes, at that little restaurant. CAA always had that party.
BULLOCK: Yes, and we were introduced by our former boyfriend. I say “our” because you and I both partook of this one human being.
ANISTON: Yes, we did. That’s a beautiful way of saying it.
BULLOCK: We both partook of Tate [Donovan, the actor].
ANISTON: We both partook of Tate.
BULLOCK: Who was a very patient human being, given that he dated us both.
ANISTON: He seems to have a type.
BULLOCK: Talented. Funny. Kind. Introspective. Generous.
ANISTON: Lovers of architecture, lovers of interior design.
BULLOCK: That was the first time we met. The second time was at our friend Lorenzo’s wedding.
ANISTON: I sent you a note and you sent me a shot.
BULLOCK: I was looking for tequila, but for some reason there was just Jack Daniels. Who drinks Jack Daniels at a wedding?
ANISTON: And only Jack Daniels. If you’re going to have a specialty liquor, you would think tequila, which is pretty much loved by the masses, would be it.
BULLOCK: Maybe brown liquors were in at that time. Maybe tequila hadn’t found its groove like it has now.
BULLOCK: I sent you a shot, and I recall that we went back and forth a few times, and if I’m not mistaken, that was the first time I got sick drinking with you.
ANISTON: I’d never had Jack Daniels until then, and I have not had a sip of it since.
BULLOCK: You and me both, sister. All these years later, here we are, and we get along so well now; why did it take so long for us to connect?
ANISTON: Why did it take so long?
BULLOCK: Jennifer, I’m asking you. I’m the interviewer. Don’t ask me questions. You are to respond. Let’s just stick to the protocol.
ANISTON: Stick to the protocol. Yes, Sandy.
BULLOCK: Jennifer, why do you think it took so long for you and Sandra to connect?
ANISTON: I think everything happens in its own time, and I think for whatever reason, life had to happen in both of our worlds the way it did.
BULLOCK: I was trying to think of my first impression of you, and, like almost everyone’s first impression of you, it was on the television. And I was trying to remember if that was the person who I got to meet. I remember the first thing I thought of you was, “A beautiful woman who has extraordinary timing is almost impossible to find.” You allowed yourself to look foolish, heartbroken, clumsy, like an idiot. I think that’s why everyone feels so comfortable in your presence. You said, “Yeah, I might look like this, but guess what? I have the same failings and insecurities you do.” I remember thinking, “God, I hope she’s really like that. If she’s not, I’m going to be so bummed.”
ANISTON: So pissed.
BULLOCK: I mean, you can be an asshole but you’re so charming! You really have a way of pushing joy and positivity. You do that in your work, but you also do it so effortlessly with everyone you allow into your home and into your life. Anyone who has the honor of being in your home and in your life doesn’t want to leave because it’s safe, it’s emotional, it’s joyous. What is it that allows you to stay buoyant and keep from getting discouraged when things don’t go the right way?
ANISTON: First of all, that was the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me. I think that it comes from growing up in a household that was destabilized and felt unsafe, watching adults being unkind to each other, and witnessing certain things about human behavior that made me think: “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to experience this feeling I’m having in my body right now. I don’t want anyone else that I ever come in contact with ever to feel that.” So I guess I have my parents to thank. You can either be angry or be a martyr, or you can say, “You’ve got lemons? Let’s make lemonade.”
BULLOCK: That’s another way we can relate to each other, in that the destabilizing things in life can either sink you or invigorate you to change and do better. I look at you at your dinner table, because you sit at the same place all the time, and you are surrounded by these extraordinary people that you’ve known for so long. Everyone is along for the journey, and you share. The conversation about women supporting each other and coming together is new.
ANISTON: The conversation is new.
BULLOCK: And in your world the action is not. Everyone sits at that table as the head of the table. Everyone has a voice. And I just get to sit back and go, “I’m so lucky to sit here with my family and be a part of this world.” You share your wealth, the wealth of your friendships. You literally go, “Here are my friends, they’re going to love you, too. Here’s my family, they’re going to love you, too. Here’s my home, stay as long as you want.” That’s a rare thing. A lot of people don’t have that. They’re afraid to share because they’re afraid to lose something. You go through life as though you’re not afraid to lose anything, and that’s really inspiring.
ANISTON: I feel that same way about you. Like you said, this conversation of women supporting women is new, but I think we have been doing it for a long time. When I landed in Los Angeles at 20 years old and I fell into those girls who are still sitting around the table today, they were on a different path. I’d never had a circle of women who got together and talked forever. I was like, “God, these California people don’t shut up. They talk about their feelings and cry in front of each other.” I said to myself, “Here I am, a girl who grew up in New York City, and now I find myself in Laurel Canyon, wearing a flowery dress and someone put a crystal around my neck and is burning sage around my head. I have landed on Mars.” But I really think it was something that saved me. This is a really tough business that we’re in that is not always kind or inclusive or supportive. A lot of the time, it’s the opposite. I remember going to auditions and girls would never want to share anything. Or they would talk to you during your auditions to distract you when they knew you were trying to work on your stuff.
BULLOCK: That was me, by the way, who did that to you.
ANISTON: That bone does not exist in that body of yours.
BULLOCK: “Hey Jen! Hey Jen! Hey Jen! Hey Jen!”
ANISTON: “What ya reading? What ya reading?”
BULLOCK: “What are you reading for? Is that the lead? Is that the lead? Is that the lead?” [Both laugh]
ANISTON: But that’s the truth!
BULLOCK: With The Morning Show, so many pieces had to work together for it to be a success. And then lightning has to strike. We all strive to make good work, but sometimes they’re stinkers. And I know you worked your ass off on this one. How does it feel to be given this second massive chapter?
ANISTON: I don’t know.
BULLOCK: Okay, fair enough. Is that your final answer?
ANISTON: Yeah, that’s it.
BULLOCK: That’s a terrible answer for my article.
ANISTON: D-U-N-N-O. Honestly, I think there was no attachment to a result, and I think that’s a real key to success in life, to not worry about the landing, but enjoy the experience. That’s what we did. We were focused on making something really great and interesting and a bit daring, and trying to be as honest as we could. But I think it’s about not having an attachment to the outcome.
BULLOCK: Which is not easy.
ANISTON: It’s not. I’ve never been that person pacing around on opening night saying, “What is the box-office?” I try to put it away when it’s done. We were having a writers’ meeting yesterday, and I was saying, “I feel so proud to be a part of something that people say so many nice things about.” It’s so rare. I mean, for some people it’s not that rare, but in my case, it’s hit or miss, and that’s okay. I’ve never had it take me down because, well, that’s not gonna be the thing that takes me down.
BULLOCK: You say you let it go, that you don’t worry about box-office, but as a woman, we don’t often get second chances. But you’ve maintained a career for all these years, and have arrived at a time when all of a sudden women are realizing their value at the box office.
ANISTON: Yes, and isn’t that exciting?
BULLOCK: We get to keep going. We don’t have a shelf life anymore. Our shelf life is whatever we want.
ANISTON: We create that. Our industry has expanded its horizons in that way, and I think it’s because women have stood up and said, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”
BULLOCK: That’s a great line, Jen.
ANISTON: I should write that into my first screenplay.
BULLOCK: Write it down. Don’t forget. Oh, it’s recorded. [Both laugh]
ANISTON: Think of the generation ahead of us. So many of those women were put out to pasture when they were 40, and the fact that we get to still be working and are actually coming into our most creative adventures ever at this point in our life—we’re rewriting that narrative that society sort of plastered on us. I remember the messaging to me even in my 30s was, “Don’t play a mom, and if you do play a mom make sure it’s to a 3-year-old kid.”
BULLOCK: Make sure you’re a hot mom.
ANISTON: And single! And the kid is just a baby.
BULLOCK: It’s just adorable.
ANISTON: That’s not the case anymore. You’ve sustained the same career from the time you were in your wee 20s. Is it just a fortunate window of time that we got to enter into the business when we did, and so this moment is happening? Whatever it is, we won’t ever be able to know because who gives a shit, it’s happening. Thirty years from now, we’ll get to look back—
BULLOCK: —And we’ll all be at the same nursing home. I’ll help you with your teeth, you’ll help me with my diapers.
ANISTON: I’m going to build it. You’re going to decorate it.
BULLOCK: We’ll all have a job.
ANISTON: We won’t even need those diapers and teeth because there’s so much new discovery in health and in our bodies and how we take care of ourselves.
BULLOCK: I’m so glad you brought that up because there’s something that you did—
ANISTON: Nice segue.
ANISTON: I said, “Nice segue.”
BULLOCK: You’re just talking too fucking much, Jennifer. Pipe down. You were just so intrigued by all this new health information that was coming out. It’s mental health, physical health, well-being, joy, and you started inviting us all to these lectures at your house where we could all learn together. You forced us out of our shells to participate. In this day and age, when everyone’s glued to their iPhone, it’s a great gift you’re giving everyone you love, because you’re like, “I plan on living to at least 115, and I’d like all my friends to be with me.”
ANISTON: I loved doing that. That came about right when The Morning Show came to a close, and I found myself going from a thousand miles an hour to zero. I was under my covers for a week going, “What do I do with my life?” It’s always been this dream of mine to have these little salons, where you find these wonderful minds to come in and speak and share the wealth. There’s no point in living to be 90 when you’re not thriving. If your body starts to break down then your mind breaks down, and your consciousness breaks down, and then you’re of no use to the world.
BULLOCK: What brings you sadness?
ANISTON: I thought you were going to say, “So, are you doing a reboot of Friends?”
BULLOCK: Speaking of Friends, everyone knows you as Rachel—buoyant, happy, always perky. What in real life is the thing that can take you down the quickest? Other than a pimple!
ANISTON: Turning on the television, listening to the news, reading the paper—that can make me really sad and really angry. The division that’s been taking place. The complete chaos that’s existing. When people show greed and bad behavior and a lack of gratitude. It’s so hard to put this in an eloquent way. When you see people behaving badly and hurting other people, that makes me very angry. And abuse of animals, obviously.
BULLOCK: I look at everyone who is trying to raise kids, and I go, “How are we supposed to raise children outside of a bubble? And show them the difference between right and wrong, and what kindness looks like, when it’s really hard to find it with all the noise on a screen?” Screens are everywhere.
BULLOCK: Do you just keep pointing to a higher power, going: “You have to answer to that thing. Don’t look at anything here on Earth. Just point up there”?
ANISTON: You can protect your children as much as possible, but they’re eventually going to become an 18-year old and go out in the world and they’re going to see all of it.
BULLOCK: Not my kids.
ANISTON: They’re living with you for the rest of your life.
BULLOCK: I gave them the places where they can go to college because that’s where mommy feels comfortable living. I said, “You can go to these three colleges because I’m going to buy an apartment down the street.”
ANISTON: You’re actually building a college at the bottom of the hill right now. By the time Louis and Laila are at the right ages, it’ll be: “I’ll just drive you there every single day. We can even walk and make it a physical experience.”
BULLOCK: “Jen says we need to get in 20,000 steps a day.” I know you and I like to stay at home and be surrounded by the things that we’ve cultivated that are safe. It’s scary entering the world, but when we do, we feel good and we’re glad we did it. But the dread of being around people, I need to get better with that.
ANISTON: Aren’t I helping you with that?
BULLOCK: You’re not allowed to work out of town because my social life comes to a screeching halt and I just stay home, and that’s just not healthy, Jennifer Aniston!
ANISTON: Well, you do have a lovely home and a stunning man and two gorgeous children.
BULLOCK: What is it that you haven’t done yet that you are looking forward to doing? Is it on a work level? Is it on a spiritual evolvement level? Is it all of the above?
ANISTON: My gut reaction was to say all of the above. It’s not so much what I see myself doing, but it’s more like a little screenshot in my brain, where I hear the ocean, I see the ocean, I hear laughter, I see kids running, I hear ice in a glass, I smell food being cooked. That’s the joyous snapshot in my head.
BULLOCK: Am I at the beach house with you?
ANISTON: You’re at the beach house with me.
This article appears in the March 2020 issue of Interview Magazine. Subscribe here.
Hair: Chris McMillan using Drunk Elephant at Solo Artists
Makeup: Gucci Westman at Westman Atelier
Set Design: David Davis
Production: Sarah Morrison at The Morrison Group
Digital Director: Dimitri Tijl Nijeboer
Manicure: Miwa Kobayashi
Photography Assistants: Jack Buster and Christophe Schumacher
Fashion Assistants: Christina Corso, Malaika Crawford, and Jake Obermeyer
Tailor: M’Lynn Hass
Hair Assistant: Skevo Zembillas
Makeup Assistant: Austin Evans
Set Design Assistants: Danny Dolan and Tylo Stewart
Production Assistant: Sarah Salovaara