Home / Fashion & Style / Jennifer Love Hewitt Wondered If There Was Something More, So She Went Looking for It

Jennifer Love Hewitt Wondered If There Was Something More, So She Went Looking for It

Jennifer Love Hewitt once planked for five minutes. She tells me this while holding the position for three minutes. We’re at Gloveworx, the Los Angeles boxing gym where she works out six days a week. Leyon—Hewitt’s go-to instructor, the sculpted sweetheart of a man who owns the place—wants to see us engaging our core. My face is dripping, my hips are drooping, and my body is shaking like a metal ruler that’s been whacked across a palm. Hewitt, meanwhile, is cracking jokes.

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“9-1-1, what is your emergency?” she says.

This is my emergency. This I didn’t prepare for. When I arrived just before 8:00 a.m., Hewitt popped out of the waiting area in glittery pink high-tops, with a handshake and a cold bottle of water. “You ready?” she’d asked. Sure. I didn’t think we’d break much of a sweat. I figured we’d discuss Hewitt’s return to television on Ryan Murphy’s 9-1-1 while making leisurely jabs at a punching bag. Maybe we’d chat about her days on Ghost Whisperer and The Client List over a green juice. Then as we walked back to the car, maybe I’d pepper in a few nostalgic questions about Party of Five, the show that launched Hewitt’s career and introduced fans to the cathartic power of BoDeans’ “Closer to Free.”

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Instead, by 8:01, we’re jogging the width of the gym, back and forth, back and forth, as part of an exhaustive warm-up that includes lunges, squats, more squats, more squats, and three minutes on the Mount Everest of “total body cardio equipment” called the VersaClimber. “Welcome to the death machine,” Hewitt says. She has one in her garage.

But the real challenge comes next, in the ring, where we take turns going up against Leyon’s hand pads. I keep forgetting to keep my gloves up and tripping over the footwork, while Hewitt moves with skill and determination, jabbing and ducking like Dolph Lundgren. She breaks form only briefly, once to hop around to Cardi B’s “I Do,” and once to laugh at an inside joke with Leyon, who’s become a loyal friend. He calls her “JLH” and has taken to posting screenshots of 9-1-1 to his Instagram Stories. She owns a pair of leggings with his face on them.

“You can’t replace Connie Britton,” says ‘9-1-1’ showrunner Tim Minear. “What you need is someone who is irreplaceable themselves.” Hewitt, he says, was it.

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A few rounds in, Hewitt flashes me a concerned look and asks if I need to hydrate. “Here,” says Leyon, instructing me to tilt my head back and open wide so he can pour the water in. “There’s your Rocky moment.”

“It was fun, right?” Hewitt asks after our hour is up, nodding in response to her own question. If she’d knocked out my front teeth, I’d probably still have walked around smiling for the rest of the day. When we reconvene for lunch a few hours later, I’m still high on endorphins, and Hewitt tells me why the boxing gym became her second home: “I didn’t start because I was going back on TV. I’m not working out to look good on a magazine cover. I’m not doing it to compete with people—I’m just doing it because I’m in love with it.” Hewitt suggested we go boxing, it turns out, because it represents a new chapter in her life—one in which she’s prioritizing herself over the expectations of others.

On screen—as, it seems, in life—Hewitt gravitates to nurturing roles. Ask her about the CBS hit Ghost Whisperer, which aired from 2005 to 2010 and starred Hewitt as a woman who can commune with earthbound spirits, and she’ll tell you, “She wasn’t just a person with a gift. The show was actually less about that. It was more that she truly felt for and cared about the people that she was helping.” On Lifetime’s The Client List, she played a character whose giving nature is bit more on the nose, as a masseuse who gives happy endings.

Jennifer Love Hewitt

Derek Wood

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Her latest character, on 9-1-1, the Fox procedural about first responders in Los Angeles, hews closely to the same pattern. Hewitt plays Maddie, an ER nurse who flees an abusive relationship and seeks the help of her younger brother, Buck, a reformed playboy firefighter who sets her up with a job as a 9-1-1 operator. “Maddie has a toughness to her,” Hewitt says. “But she’s also empathetic and sensitive. People will see her composed on the phone, but fully dealing with the pain and anguish of the callers [once she hangs up].”

Hewitt was cast on the show to fill a void left by beloved Friday Night Lights alum Connie Britton, who exited the series when her contract was up after the first season. That’s no small feat: “You can’t replace Connie Britton,” says showrunner Tim Minear, who created the series with Murphy and Brad Falchuk. “What you need is someone who is irreplaceable themselves.” Hewitt, he says, was it. Britton, after all, is every woman’s imaginary best friend. And Hewitt has been a staple of audiences’ fantasy friendship leagues for years. “She’s sort of America’s TV sweetheart,” says Minear. “Audiences love seeing her on their screens. They feel like she’s already part of their family.”

The series marks a comeback of sorts for Hewitt, not only because her 2.5 years out of the spotlight is “forever” in Hollywood, she says, but also because her break was intentional. A couple of significant life events brought her to the point of taking a step back from public life: She’d just had her second child, Atticus, who’s now three (her daughter, Autumn, will be five in November); and she was still grieving the death of her mother, who died suddenly in 2012, just after Hewitt started work on The Client List. “We were best friends,” she says. “Ate dinner together every night, had breakfast together every morning.”

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“I think when you start [in Hollywood] younger, the narrative takes off without you.”

That Hewitt wasn’t able to mourn her mom’s death in private is something that still weighs on her. “A couple weeks after [she died], photos of me ran with this really angry look on my face,” she says. “And I remember the paparazzi guy—I got out of my car at a red light, and I went up to his car and went, ‘What do you want to capture? Really, what do you want to capture?’ And he was like, ‘Everybody just wants to know that you’re okay.’ And I said, ‘I am not. I am not okay.” As a rule, Hewitt usually bookends any remotely negative recollections with statements of gratitude. (#gratitudeistheattitude is a recurring hashtag on her Insta page.) This time, I notice, she does not.

Given her lingering grief, Hewitt meant to retreat from the spotlight after the cancellation of The Client List (on which she met her now-husband, actor Brian Hallisay). But then came a one-season arc on CBS’s Criminal Minds, which overlapped with her second pregnancy, and after that, she decided to finally pump the breaks. “I was looking in the mirror, talking with myself, going, ‘Hey, we started something, remember? We were gonna take a step back. So let’s do that.’”

Around the same time—perhaps because she’d lost her mom, perhaps because she’d become a mom herself, perhaps because she finally had time off from her steady, decade-long roll of TV gigs—she began grappling with what she refers to now as her “narrative.” Like any actress who’s been working for almost 30 years, Hewitt has one. It was bequeathed to her around the time she was turning 18 and starred in I Know What You Did Last Summer and Can’t Hardly Wait: she’s the sexy girl next door, the MVP of Maxim. “I think when you start [in Hollywood] younger, the narrative takes off without you,” Hewitt says now. “And you kind of go, ‘Oh, okay…so I’m that person? Great!’ Before I ever knew in my life what ‘sexy’ was, I was on the sexy list.”

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Jennifer Love Hewitt on 9-1-1

Hewitt on ‘9-1-1’. Mathieu Young/ FOX

Those of us who came of age in the nineties know all about Hewitt’s backstory: she started acting when she was 10, on Kids Incorporated, and landed her breakout role as Sarah Reeves, martyr girlfriend to alcoholic orphan Bailey (played by Scott Wolf) on Party of Five, when she was 16. Then came the starring roles in the teen-packed cineplex hits, and covers of Rolling Stone and Maxim. She also released a few albums (and a song on the I Still Know What You Did Last Summer soundtrack). All together, it cemented her status as an icon to a whole generation. Every girl wanted to be her, and every boy had a poster of her on his wall.

At 18, Hewitt remembers, she found herself at a press junket for I Know What You Did Last Summer, explaining to adult journalists that, yes, her breasts were real. “Instead of people talking about the movie,” she says, “they were like, ‘Well, her boobs look bigger than they did on TV, so she must have gotten [implants].’” Tabloids began dissecting her personal life. (She reportedly dumped Carson Daly via publicist, they said.) Late-night hosts ogled her shamelessly. (Jay Leno once jokingly offered her an internship on his show and asked if she was attracted to older men—this, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.) At least one outlet estimated that her first topless scene was worth $100 million at the box office. (She never did one.)

For the most part, Hewitt rolled with it. “I don’t judge people for having their perceptions,” she says. “I never did anything that I felt ashamed of; I never felt put-upon by people or like, ‘Ew, that guy was too gross [with me].’” But she’s questioned, in hindsight, whether the persona she assumed as a teenager and carried into adulthood was authentically her.

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“By my thirties, I started to ask, Isn’t there more?” she says. “Can [people] ask me more questions than whether or not I feel sexy or if I dated this person or if I sleep in lingerie? That’s when I thought, Oh, maybe I am putting out what I think people are wanting from me.”

Though Hewitt may be reassessing the role she took in her own narrative, there’s no denying that even then, she was “savvy,” a word that a lot of her friends and collaborators use to describe her, about her career.

“She was really smart about her audience,” says John Gray, the creator of Ghost Whisperer. He remembers, for example, scripting a dream sequence that called for Hewitt to wear a white t-shirt—only to find her in “a sexy nightgown with a lot of cleavage” when he arrived to set. “I sort of did a double take,” Gray recalls. “And she went, ‘Look, I know my audience. I know what’s gonna make them happy. This is gonna be a lot better than a white t-shirt!’”

“By my thirties, I started to ask, ‘Isn’t there more?’ That’s when I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I am putting out what I think people are wanting from me.'”

“She was a crazy professional,” says Amy Lippman, who co-created Party of Five and short-lived 1999 spinoff, Time of Your Life, which starred Hewitt. “You didn’t have to ask yourself, ‘I don’t know if she’ll be able to work up a head of steam here, I don’t know if she’ll be able to cry.’ She wasn’t running to her trailer [between takes] to smoke cigarettes or play with a toy poodle. She was reading material and trying to plot her career.”

There’s a case to be made that, had Hewitt come up today, she’d be praised as much for her hard work and business acumen as she was back then for her well-documented body and sunny disposition. (The disposition I can vouch for.) When her movie career faltered a bit in the early-aughts (the less said about The Tuxedo, the better), she engineered a successful second act back on TV. She produced both Ghost Whisperer and The Client List. She published a best-selling dating guide, The Day I Shot Cupid, in which she unselfconsciously introduced the world to vajazzling. She oversaw the majority of her photo shoots, even—maybe especially—the more scantily-clad ones. Maybe Hewitt is so good at rolling with it—the punches, figurative and literal—because she never really pulled any punches. Maybe she was getting a grip on her narrative even before she decided to take hold of it.

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If Hewitt appears to be plotting anything today, though, it’s how she plans to celebrate fall, her favorite season, with her family. “Feel this,” she says, showing me a skeleton-patterned sweats set she picked up for Atticus on the way over. He’ll wear them on Halloween, which is also his dad’s birthday. For Autumn, she’s bought a shiny, pastel mermaid costume and a jewelry box—her first—with unicorn-shaped mood rings already tucked inside.

“Sometimes I think I’ve been so boring that people kind of had to create drama [around me],” Hewitt says. “Because, really, I’m doing my laundry and eating frozen yogurt at home.” This particular day began with her catching up on Bachelor in Paradise with Atticus at 5:30 a.m. (“What can I say? He likes blondes!”), and it will end after she bakes “rocket pops” with Autumn using Foodstirs, the kid-friendly line launched by her I Know What You Did Last Summer costar Sarah Michelle Gellar. (“There will be wine involved for me, or vodka, at some point.”)

Truth be told, Hewitt hasn’t even vajazzled since having kids. “I did it for a few OB-GYN appointments,” she says. “Just to make my doctor laugh. But I haven’t vajazzled since.” Maybe sensing my disappointment, she adds, “I did think about it yesterday.”

Jennifer Love Hewitt

Derek Wood

Before we wrap up at lunch, Hewitt places a to-go order for her husband and kills time giving me a rundown of her tattoos: there’s an angel wing on her left wrist, in honor of her mother; a queen bee on her right forearm, which she got the day she finished breastfeeding (“My husband and I went out for tequila and tattoos”); and a hummingbird on her torso, because that’s what her husband calls her (“He’s like, ‘You’re always flitting around!”).

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She’s thinking about getting a couple more, too. Maybe AJH² (her kids’ initials), or something having to do with the universe. “I’m a big believer in the universe,” she says. About a week later, I see on Instagram that she’s gotten a new tattoo. She hasn’t revealed the design, but if I had to guess, I’d say she went with something having to do with the universe. The tattoo is on Hewitt’s back, and I can just hear her explanation: “The universe,” she’d muse, “will always have my back.”

After a quick stop to the restroom, she returns with two surprise glasses of pink champagne and proposes a toast to “changing the narrative.”

I think about how words like bubbly and sweet have followed Hewitt around for nearly three decades, and they’re inarguably apt descriptors, though a bit worn out by now. But she’s also self-possessed and focused, present and instinctive. And she has a hell of a right hook. To sum her up as “the perky girl with the big boobs” (her words) is to paint a rather limited and antiquated picture of this 39-year-old woman, mother, businesswoman.

“I wish that I could look back and say that all of my 28 years [in the industry] had a depth to them that I don’t think they always did, because people always focused on very trivial things with me. So I go into the next phase now fully hopeful that changes,” she says. “Hopefully the narrative can be about how I feel instead of how much I weigh. And what size I am rather than what size people think I should be. And about the work being from a really authentic place, not from an exhausted place.” She says this with the calm of a woman who’s sure the universe has her back, with the determination of someone three minutes into a plank, who knows she’s got two more minutes in her, easy. “It’s going to be based on what I give people versus what people tell me to give,” she says. “It’s going to be based on something real.”


Photography by Derek Wood | Styling by Jen Rade | Hair by Matthew Collins | Makeup by Vanessa Scali | Special Thanks to The Loews Hotel Santa Monica

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