It’s now been 27 years since Jennifer Aniston debuted on Friends, hurtling at a speed she could not control into our pop cultural consciousness. It’s ironic that, against the odds, she is one of the more anchored people you will meet. That choice was early and deliberate: Aniston’s close circle of friends has remained largely consistent since she first moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1989. That said, she is not shut off, sitting in complacency behind her security gates in the L.A. hills. Aniston spent the pandemic both in review (of the rituals of her life, what could stay and what needed to go) and in action (filming the second season of The Morning Show, which premieres September 17, under demanding COVID protocols). She remains an optimist, her perspective couched in quick wit, wry humor, and an evocative way of describing emotional currency: “[With Friends], we created something that landed its little flag on a lot of people’s hearts around the world.” Whether she planned it or not, Aniston did too.
Laura Brown: Jen, congratulations on InStyle’s September cover, which will make your career. You were desperate, and I said, “Fine, you can have the cover.”
Jennifer Aniston: Please! Bring me back to life, Laura.
LB: How did you “net out” of the COVID pandemic, do you think?
JA: There was so much good and so much horror all happening at once. For me, the good was a big decompression and an inventory of “What’s it all about?” You and I, we like to work and be busy. Being idle is not preferable. It was important for those who were willing to let it be a reset to slowdown, take all of this in, reassess, reevaluate, and excavate. Literally cleaning out crap that we don’t need.
LB: What have you reset?
JA: My level of anxiety has gone down by eliminating the unnecessary sort of fat in life that I had thought was necessary. Also realizing that you can’t please everybody. And what good does that do if you’re just little bits of yourself? Let’s try to be the full all of who we are so we can come to the table. The way the media presents us folk in this business is like we’re always trotting around the world, on beaches having fun. But there are a lot of other, less obvious things that go into it.
LB: How will you approach things that make you anxious when you do press for The Morning Show?
JA: I call it the dog-and-pony show — traveling to do press junkets, red carpets, the shiny-penny things. Do people really need all that? The work is what I love to do. It’s the promotion of it that creates some stress in me. You get, like, a second of what it is that you’re promoting, and then the rest of it is salacious crap that you somehow got wrangled into talking about. There’s a big appetite for that — and listen, I get it. But if you don’t give it, then they make it up.
LB: In the trailer for Season 2 of The Morning Show, your character, Alex, very publicly says bye-bye to TV and retreats to a more private life. Could you imagine doing that?
JA: Well, we all kind of did. So, yes, I can imagine it, and it would be wonderful for about three months. Then you’re like, “This is good — I’ve rearranged and cleaned out everything; I’ve read; I’ve meditated. I feel great. Now I’d like to see a person.”
As my acting teacher used to say, “If you allow it to be, acting is a healing craft.”
LB: What was the biggest challenge filming in a pandemic?
JA: [As] actors, we were living in an alternate universe where COVID did not exist. I was able to walk into it pretty centered, knowing we had an incredible epidemiology team. I missed seeing my crew’s faces — that was tough. I also wasn’t with Reese [Witherspoon, her co-star] or the rest of the cast as often as in the first season. But the writing is incredible.
LB: How confident do you feel in your performance?
JA: I don’t know. [Alex] was not a fun headspace to live in — I’m not that insane or neurotic or inconsistent in my moods. I’d leave the set some days not able to shake it. Then it lifts like a cloud, and it’s like, “Wow. I feel lighter. The manhole cover has been taken off my back.” As my acting teacher used to say, “If you allow it to be, acting is a healing craft.”
LB: I understand wanting to be someone else for a minute and learning from it. What role are you most proud of in your career?
JA: I am very proud of this role. I also love Dr. Julia in Horrible Bosses — she was just wackadoodle. And I was proud of Cake.
LB: On the Friends reunion special, you said you almost lost the role of Rachel because you were on Muddling Through at the time. Can you imagine a universe where you couldn’t get off that show?
JA: No. Just one little moment — a last-minute audition [for Friends] that I got at 6 o’clock the night before I had to be there — and boom.
LB: Obviously, the reunion elicited many things for the audience, but what stayed with you afterward?
JA: That this is eternal. It’s not just out there in the ether or on a television set you’ve passed by, but in our actual bodies — our DNA, our bloodstream, our cells. It was a unicorn of an experience. For whatever reason, we were all at the right place at the right time, and we created something that landed its little flag on a lot of people’s hearts around the world.
LB: And you hadn’t been together shooting something in 17 years, but you see Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox all the time in L.A. And then the guys, you know, Ross—
JA: [David] Schwimmer? You can call him Ross. He lives in New York.
LB: Because you’re on a break.
JA: Yeah, still. It’s the longest break.
LB: Did you all have any time together that wasn’t filmed?
JA: We tried, but we didn’t get a chance. We had endless Zooms. I had a couple of people over [that] Sunday, just with the kids and stuff. Schwimmer stopped by, so I got to meet his amazing little girl. But we really did make a commitment to each other. We were like, “That’s the last time we wait that long to see each other.”
LB: And when you do that, bring a camera.
JA: You know, Courteney and David are the directors in the group, so they can probably figure out how to set up even three cameras.
LB: Well, if Courteney directs it like she does her epic Instagram…
JA: I know! It’s like, “Did you bring a dolly [camera] to Disneyland?”
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LB: You didn’t join Instagram until late 2019, but now you are very deft with it. Would you ever join TikTok?
JA: No. But I also said that about Instagram.
LB: Did you know you have a TikTok doppelgänger who lipsynchs your Friends lines?
JA: A friend sent that to me — I watched it, and it freaked me out. She’s not exactly like me, but of all the people who have said, “I look just like you,” she was pretty close. Sometimes you say, “Thanks?” And other times it’s, “Wow, thank you.”
LB: Who has done the best impression of you?
JA: Vanessa Bayer on Saturday Night Live. I remember someone saying, “Did you see the impression of you on SNL?” My first response was, “What? No, I’m not impression [-worthy].” They played it for me and [gasps], “That is so not the way I sound.” Then I was like, “Uh, oh. Oh, I see.” Everyone said it was a compliment, but I had to really get my brain around that and tuck my little tail between my legs, thinking I’m being made fun of. That’s always the gut instinct: “They’re making fun of me.”
LB: How does it feel to see impressions of or posts about you? Like the New Yorker cartoon about mock turtlenecks, Rachel Green’s go-to. Do you ever get used to it?
JA: Oh, yes, I re-posted that. When I see those things, I think it’s funny. I’m an easy laugh. I like off-color humor and self-deprecation and humanity. Dumb things I do make me laugh.
LB: On the red carpet, you give this compelling look of faint interest. I remember taking a picture with you once and whispering with a clenched jaw, “I don’t know how you do this.”
JA: And I said, “This is how we do it. We clench jaws together, say fake nothings, and make each other laugh eventually!”
LB: How did you figure out your best red-carpet pose?
JA: It depends on your stylist, because they go, “Never do this! Always do this!” I’m like, “Well, that feels weird.” I don’t know how to stand on a red carpet, but you do the best you can. I also try to connect with those people holding cameras. Some of them I’ve known a long time, so I’ll say hello. If I’m having an honest interaction with someone, it makes it easier. You know who I think masters the red carpet?
JA: J.Lo. I want to know what gives her the look like she’s about to be seething. It’s amazing. She’s almost stuck getting mad at somebody, but she’s just so gorgeous. She’s like, “I can’t believe I’m standing here.” But I don’t think she’s trying; she fell out of bed that way. She’s a performer.
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LB: It’s a lifestyle. [laughs] A lot of actresses around our age say that the ’90s were the greatest because there wasn’t social media. But then you see how some women, like Britney Spears, were treated by the media. How do you look back on that time now?
JA: [They were] feeding on young, impressionable girls. Half of these kids started on The Mickey Mouse Club. I was lucky enough to be raised by a very strict mother. The priorities were not about becoming a famous person. It was, “Study your craft, learn what you’re doing, don’t just go out there and get lucky.” I waitressed for years. I got a Bob’s Big Boy commercial on my 900th commercial audition. I was doing theater on, like, Long Island. I think that [Spears’s] group of girls as teens didn’t have any kind of “Who am I?” They were being defined by this outside source. The media took advantage of that, capitalized on them, and it ultimately cost them their sanity. It’s so heartbreaking.
LB: You were in your mid-20s when Friends started. How did you build up your own mental fortress?
JA: Um, spiritual Teflon. People used to call it your “spiritual armor.” Once I moved to L.A. and [started] telemarketing and auditioning, that’s when I built the foundation of women who surround me. I went to my first Circle — someone said we were going to what they called at the time a Goddess Circle. I was like, “Sorry, a what?” They said, “We’re going to hold this thing called a sage stick and burn away dark energy.” I was like, “OK, I’ve really landed in Los Angeles. From New York City to Laurel Canyon.” It sounds woo-woo, but meeting creative women who are not all in this business was my touchstone. My social arena wasn’t in this [industry].
LB: And these women are still your closest friends. When ill winds would blow for you in the media, was it like an armadillo where they just covered you in a shell?
JA: Yeah. They protect you: “Bullshit. Don’t listen to that.” I remember the first time a story came out — back then there were ways you could find out the source, and it was people from high school. That’s when you realize people are capable of not-so-kind things. It was like, this is someone who’s feeling inferior toward someone who’s having success. And they handle it by trying to capitalize on some silly story [from] high school.
I’m ambitious to be a happy, content, fulfilled human being, without regrets.
LB: You could have decided, “I can’t trust anyone.” But you are extremely curious. How did you reconcile that — especially with marriage and divorce in between — and stay open to new things?
JA: Therapy. A wonderful amount of trying to understand it. Also, being given examples of what I do not want to become, seeing people I love get lost and lose the plot. You can only help someone as much as they’re willing to be helped. I believe that at the core of everyone, there is goodness. I’ve watched people in my life go through hardships and hold on to resentment that eats away [at them]. Forgiveness is not in their vocabulary. That’s a real shame, because it’s important to be able to forgive people. Certain things are unforgivable, and we can just put those in a little file. But there’s room for people to grow and change.
LB: Who have you enjoyed getting to know recently?
JA: I met [Harvard biologist and researcher on aging] Dr. David Sinclair a few years ago. I’ve really loved meeting doctors and scientists, especially given what we’ve been living through. I’m listening to this podcast [about maximizing productivity] right now called The Tim Ferriss Show. [Neuroscientist] Andrew Huberman too. I’m having a hard time sleeping, so I’m trying to understand our circadian rhythms.
LB: Are you not sleeping because you’re listening to the podcast about not sleeping?
JA: Probably. As soon as the Morning Show brain shutdown, I went under the covers to recover from that. But Murder Mystery 2 [with Adam Sandler, whom Aniston has been friends with for 30 years] just got green-lit, and we start filming in the fall, so that’s keeping my mind busy. I want it to be good. I want it to be different. It’s always, “How do we improve?”
LB: How many sleep apps do you have?
JA: Five, maybe? I have this little device just for sleep apps and meditations, and I’ve been trying to go to bed earlier. It’s hard. The world shuts down, the phone stops ringing, and that’s when I can have “me time.” I can watch a show and just sort of putter.
LB: But then you get up and exercise every day, right?
JA: I try to. I had an injury last fall and I was only able to do Pilates, which I absolutely love. But I was missing that kind of sweat when you just go for it. I’m going back to my 15-15-15, which is a 15-minute spin, elliptical, run. And then just old school: I can chase myself around a gym. I need some kind of movement, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day on a trampoline.
LB: What do you eat if you’re stressed?
JA: A chip. Crunch, crunch, crunch.LB: Just one chip?
JA: Usually. I’m good at that. I can have one M&M, one chip. I know, that’s so annoying.
LB: Can you feel my contempt ooze through the screen? What is your go-to drink?
JA: A margarita — clean, no sugar — or a dirty martini. I only have two to three drinks, tops, and I don’t do exotic. When someone asks, “Would you like a cranberry-coconut-cucumber-spiced or hibiscus whatever?” No, I would not. But when I moved into my house, a few people got me tequilas of the month as housewarming gifts. I have a cellar of all kinds of spirits — you could come here and probably order anything you wanted to.
LB: Besides tequila, what makes you feel your strongest?
JA: Good sleep. That’s when our cells are rejuvenating, right?
LB: You really do love science. Would you be a good doctor?
JA: I’d be a great doctor. A dermatologist, or [specializing in] wellness or genetics or holistic [medicine]. The whole thing fascinates me.
LB: I think you should show up at a doctor’s office somewhere like, “Don’t mind me!”
JA: I’ve done that in my friends’ delivery rooms. I’ve gotten down there to see what was going on, held the foot. I had a front-row seat at the show; I was the first face the baby saw. The doctor said, “Excuse me, please. You’re in my light.”
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LB: Speaking of people who need doctors, you’re a notorious fan of The Bachelor.
JA: You think they need doctors? [laughs] They all need help.
LB: Would you ever guest-host now that it’s up for grabs?
JA: God, I don’t know. I think they need a psychologist or psychiatrist, not just Chris Harrison — or whoever the host is now. There should be someone they can go and talk to.
LB: That could be you.
JA: OK, well, I’ll do that. Gladly. I’ll be the one picking roses in the rose garden.
LB: Besides that, what are you ambitious for?
JA: Honestly, I have not ever been an ambitious person. [Ambition] just means happiness. I’m ambitious to be a happy, content, fulfilled human being, without regrets about things I knew I could have done and didn’t do.
LB: What women do you think are “badass”?
JA: Gloria Steinem. Diane Keaton. Oprah. Women who have lived a life — their authentic life — without apologies.
LB: When was the first time you really owned your shit?
JA: Probably when I moved to California. I thought, “I live on my own. I have a car. I’m a telemarketer. And I own that shit.” I was feeling kind of awesome. As you keep reaching new levels, it’s important to fall off that cloud to be reminded and humbled and to get back on it. Then you have something else to strive for.
LB: Speaking of striving, do you know there was a frenzy on the Deuxmoi Instagram account where people tried to figure out what dog collars you buy?
JA: It’s funny you should say that, because the collars are so cool. My trainer’s friend makes them — the brand is called RN Design. I’ve received a lot of questions about the dog collars. And what is Deuxmoi?
LB: It has posts like “Famous person spotted at restaurant.”
JA: What prompts the question about dog collars if I’m shown at dinner? That’s what I’d like to get to the bottom of.
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LB: Didn’t People magazine ask if you were going to go on [high-end dating site] Raya?
JA: Who did not ask me if I was going to go on Raya? Who would? Here’s the thing. These so-called anonymous places where so-called well-known people can go … I guess the reason well-known people go is because the people in the well-known areas don’t discuss well-known people. Please. No.
LB: The assumption is you guys want to date each other in your “safe, sanctioned space.”
JA: Yes. We have our own little island called the Celebrity Island.
LB: Imagine if all celebrities lived on one island and you couldn’t get off.
JA: I mean, that would not be great. For anybody. But honestly, the best version of The Bachelor is the island — Bachelor in Paradise.
LB: Besides Bachelor shows, what is usually on your TV?
JA: The news. CNN. I’ve really had to stop [keeping it on too much]. We all went through news fatigue, panic fatigue, during the pandemic because we were hoping one day we would wake up and hear something hopeful, and all we got was more insanity.
LB: Our worst of times. We could not see the way out.
JA: No. And there’s still a large group of people who are anti-vaxxers or just don’t listen to the facts. It’s a real shame. I’ve just lost a few people in my weekly routine who have refused or did not disclose [whether or not they had been vaccinated], and it was unfortunate. I feel it’s your moral and professional obligation to inform, since we’re not all podded up and being tested every single day. It’s tricky because everyone is entitled to their own opinion — but a lot of opinions don’t feel based in anything except fear or propaganda.
LB: Exactly. This whole time has been a real tell on people’s capacities. But you’ve managed to get a lot done during your time off. Plus, your hair is even blonder now.
JA: I know. I just sat out in the sun for 1,600 days straight and this is what happened.
Lead Image: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello turtleneck. Alberta Ferretti pants. Lisa Eisner Jewelry necklace.
Photography by Emma Summerton/Dawes+Co. Styling by Julia von Boehm. Hair by Chris McMillan/Solo Artists. Makeup by Gucci Westman/The Wall Group. Manicure by Diem Truong/Star Touch Agency. Set design by Robert Doran/Frank Reps. Production by Dana Brockman/Viewfinders.
For more stories like this, pick up the September 2021 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Aug. 13th.