Jennifer Lopez Talks El Cantante


Superstar actress Jennifer Lopez takes on two roles for her new movie El Cantante: star and producer. She also got the chance to act with her real-life husband Marc Anthony, who portrays the title SINGER, Héctor Lavoe. In the film, Lopez plays Lavoe’s long-time wife Puchi, who narrates her husbands story of artistic trumph and personal disaster.

We got to talk to the lovely star in New York as she discussed working with her husband, her love of Salsa music, and wearing the producer’s hat. There’s a prohibition in general show business against working with dogs, animals, and spouses, except you guys seem to have beaten that. Was there any trepidation about working with your husband?
Jennifer Lopez: No, because I got the script five-and-a-half years ago and we were not together at that time, but I knew he was the guy to play the role so I called him and asked him if he wanted to attach himself to this. At that time I didn’t even know if I was gonna play Puchi to tell you the truth, but I did know that I wanted it to be the first thing that I produced. I called him as the producer of this film and he was like “yeah, of course, this guy’s like my idol.”

CS: And you guys have great chemistry.
Lopez: We met working. I think everybody forgets the first time Marc and I met we were doing a song together, and it worked! It was on my first album and we just have that naturally, luckily. We always planned on doing this movie together, even when we weren’t together.

CS: What do you feel is the legacy of Héctor Lavoe?
Lopez: He’s kind of the quintessential artist in a sense because if an artist is somebody who lives a life and uses that life to transform into music or painting or whatever it is that they do and then it touches millions of people because everybody can relate to it… he was that. He took what was in his life, all the pain and suffering and good times and fame and everything about him. If you look at his repertoire of work and the songs he performed there was so much who he was, and in turn it was so much who everybody was, ’cause we all go through the same things in different ways and that’s why it was really important for me to do this film.

CS: Did you get to talk to a lot of musicians that played with him?
Lopez: Yes, we talked to a bunch, and Marc knew a bunch of them already ’cause Marc was in that scene. They actually had the same road manager, who actually brought me the script years ago.

CS: What do you think was his downfall?
Lopez: The drugs.

CS: But why?
Lopez: You know, it’s hard. With any iconic artist there’s a bit of mystery that surrounds them, and I think we tried to examine the different reasons. Losing his mother at such a young age, his father disowning him, the brother dying, the son dying, the tumultuous relationship, the enabling going on, his penchant for drugs… at the end of the day we’ll never ever know. I love the scene in the movie where he’s singing “El Cantante,” which is this song saying “I’m a singer, you guys don’t really care about what I feel or the pain I’m going through… we’re paying our money, sing!” That was his life.

CS: Of course your character wasn’t exactly a saint either.
Lopez: No.

CS: Like you said she was an enabler, even though she did try to help him. What do you think kept such a volatile relationship together?
Lopez: We talked about this all the time, Marc and I. Twenty-something years, I think his daughter says it’s twenty-seven, in the movie we say it’s twenty because in the last few years they weren’t as together, but at the end of the day the more and more you examine it, they really had a deep love for each other, as much as they helped destroy each other.

CS: How much of your performance as Puchi was based on actual interview material you heard/saw?
Lopez: I had 11 CDs of her interview that she did for the first script that was written so I really got to listen to her talk and hear first-hand accounts of all these things that happened.

CS: What struck you most about her?
Lopez: Her voice, much like how my accent is in the movie, very rough and tough like she had really lived such a tumultuous life. You had to be a tough lady to be in that life. She would go into these crack houses, she would pull him out, she’d go in there with a gun. These are things we touched on in the movie but didn’t go all the way because we didn’t think people would believe it!

CS: What did you learn about yourself playing Puchi?
Lopez: (laughs) I probably could take a lot more than I can think! If she can deal with all that surely I can deal with all the stuff I have to deal with!

CS: What do you want American audiences who didn’t grow up with Salsa and don’t know anything about the culture to take away from Héctor?
Lopez: For me one of the greatest joys of this movie is people watching it who don’t know anything about him and wanting to know everything about his music when it’s done. That’s happened like 10 times to people I’ve shown the movie to, people who don’t speak Spanish at all, people who I just wanted to see their opinion about the film, people I respect. First they’re blown away by the life he lived, then they’re like “I want to download all his music,” you know. That’s the exciting part to me, to be able to expose him to a wider audience than maybe the Salsaphiles and the different latin music fans out there.

CS: How has this changed your career path, producing this film? Do you want to do more important films like this?
Lopez: Yeah, the next thing we have coming out is the “Bordertown” movie, which we helped produce with Greg Nava, which is about the murders in Juarez. After that we’re going to produce a movie with a script that Don Roos wrote called “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits” about family in this day and age. So yes, I’m definitely drawn to things I think have important or relevant things to say, as opposed to just anything.

El Cantante opens in theaters this Friday.