She misses the days when they hid behind bushes. Then, at least, she could enjoy the illusion that she was free from their telephoto lenses. Now the paparazzi are always there in the open staked out at the bottom of her driveway, climbing the walls of a restaurant patio where she's eating like zombies in a George Romero movie. Needless to say, Jennifer Aniston's standard of what constitutes a private moment is not like most people's. ''The way I gauge it is, are there six cars behind me today or not?'' she says.
Even now, in a quiet Beverly Hills hotel suite, with a bodyguard nearby, she knows she's hardly in a bubble. She's well aware that, even when no flashbulbs are popping in her face, her slightest move sends ripples across the gossip universe. The latest involves a date she went on the other night with her boyfriend, singer John Mayer, at which she supposedly abstained from alcohol. Ergo, according to the logic that rules the tabloid world, she must be pregnant. With twins. ''Oh, my God, it's hysterical!'' she says, throwing up her hands. ''You can't do anything without it going to some extreme. It's almost going to take away the fun from actually being able to say one day, 'I'm pregnant!' Everyone will be like, 'Yeah, right.' It's the boy who cried wolf. Stop stealing my thunder, motherf---ers!''
For now, Aniston, 39, would love nothing more than to keep the thunder focused on her upcoming Christmas Day release, Marley & Me, a three-hankie (and one pooper-scooper) adaptation of writer John Grogan's best-selling memoir, in which she stars opposite Owen Wilson and an unruly Labrador retriever. It's been two and a half years since her last film, the romantic comedy ] The Break-Up, a period during which aside from popping up as a psycho sexpot on 30 Rock last month Aniston, the actress, has been overshadowed by Aniston, the tabloid icon. Marley & Me, with its built-in fan base and cute-as-a-puppy holiday appeal, represents her best bet to get her often wobbly movie career back on solid footing. ''Sometimes you're not always so thrilled about the movie you're pushing,'' she admits, whistling past a graveyard of clunkers like Rumor Has It and Derailed. ''But this is a good one.''
When you're an actress whose personal life has fed an entire industry, though, the focus can all too easily drift away from your work, and sometimes in a big way. Last month, excerpts from a Vogue profile of Aniston exploded across the Internet, and, with a single quote on the cover ''What Angelina did was very uncool'' a nation that had been fixated on presidential politics suddenly switched the channel back to the soap opera involving the actress, her ex-husband Brad Pitt, and his girlfriend Angelina Jolie. The tabloids let loose a barrage of four-alarm headlines: ''Furious Brad: Shut Up, Jen!'' ''How Angelina Tortures Jen.''
''[Election night] was just so moving, so unbelievable,'' says Aniston. ''And now what do people do? Read my crap! Everything comes to a halt: 'What did she say?''' She shakes her head, smiling wryly. ''Good God. You have to laugh at it all at the end of the day.'' Still, she clearly feels stung by the flap and insists the ''uncool'' quote which referred to comments Jolie made last year about falling for Pitt on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, when he was still married to Aniston was taken out of context. ''I was just surprised that Vogue would go so tabloid,'' she says. ''I was bummed. But you almost expect it. Big deal. Done. Next.''
NEXT PAGE: ''You have your ideas and your dreams when you start out, and you're sort of wide-eyed and bushy-tailed as a young married couple. Then life unfolds and it doesn't always take you in the directions you hope that it will.''