"He would sing to me some of his favorite Chinese songs, he had written, (Stevie Wonder's) 'I Just Called to Say I Love You,' stuff like that," remembers Hewitt, 23.
"He has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard." Hearing another actor sing was particularly apropos, because Hewitt is in the position of making that transition herself. Her new album, "BareNaked," will be released Oct. 8 on Jive Records -- the label home of *NSYNC, Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys -- while the first single, the title track, is getting plenty of airplay on radio and at MTV.
But Hewitt is not some opportunist trying to parlay her TV and movie fame into singing success. When she moved to Los Angeles from her native Killeen, Texas, at age 10, it was to pursue a music career. And though she was sidetracked into acting -- first on Disney's "Kids Incorporated," which led to roles on TV ("Shaky Ground," "Party of Five," "Time of Your Life") and in movies ("I Know What You Did Last Summer," "Heartbreakers") -- Hewitt did manage to release three previous albums and a track called "How Do I Deal?" for the "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" soundtrack.
"BareNaked," however marks the arrival of what she calls the "real" Jennifer Love Hewitt, musician. Working with producer Meredith Brooks, a singer-songwriter best known for her 1997 hit "Bitch," Hewitt co-wrote nine of "BareNaked's" 13 songs and took an active role in the instrumentation and arrangements.
"Everything's different now," explains Hewitt, who was raised by her mother on a diet of '60s rock and vintage soul ranging from the Beatles and Janis Joplin (whose hit "Piece of My Heart" she covers on "BareNaked") to Aretha Franklin and the Supremes.
"When I did my other records, I was never really asked to write; I would walk into the studio and they would say 'What do you think of this song?' and I would go in and record it and that would be.
"Jive came to me and said 'What would you like to do?' I wasn't exactly sure, and they said 'Fine. When you figure it out, let us know.' I was able to find myself as an artist, and my music was no longer pop music but kind of rock-pop music."
"Music for me has always been something that is directly connected to my heart," she says. "Acting is a very important thing for me, and I love doing it. But when I'm acting, I spend 14 hours a day and months a time being someone else. When I'm singing, I just get to be me."
Of course, being in music has put Hewitt in some potentially awkward situations -- such as appearing on MTV's "TRL," an extremely important taste-making show that happens to be hosted by her ex-boyfriend, Carson Daly. Daly, however, was off the day Hewitt's first appeared during the summer.
"I actually ran into Carson at the (MTV Video Music Awards), and it was OK," Hewitt says. "He's been amazingly supportive of the record and really likes it. He was always supportive of my musical stuff even when we were together.
"He's somebody I will think very fondly off and care about and would do anything in the world for if he needed me. The idea of seeing him and being on his show ... doesn't feel weird to me at all. I actually welcome it."
Hewitt has been doing on-air radio performances in support of "BareNaked" but isn't sure yet whether she'll mount a full-scale concert tour. "I would absolutely love to tour," she says, "but it's important for me to see how the record does. If there's not gonna be people there who love the music, there's no point."
And fans needn't worry that she's giving up acting for music. She's already filmed a role as the Satanic temptress in "The Devil and Daniel Webster," and Hewitt is looking at other scripts for both herself and for her own production company. A dream role, she says, would be landing the part of Janis Joplin in the biopic "Piece of My Heart," which is currently being developed.
"I haven't done a film since 'Tuxedo,' 'cause I was finishing my record and stuff," says Hewitt, who lives with her mother in Los Angeles and has been romantically linked to musician John Mayer. "I hope to be able to make another record, 'cause I had such a good time on this one.
"But my biggest dream for this year, and my biggest goal, is I would love to be able to do a really amazing movie where I get to show off some real acting abilities that I think I have somewhere within me. I would love to really, really do that."