By Lisa Collins, Hollywood.com Staff
She sings. He sings. She acts. He acts. She's an icon, as is he. Touche! It's a draw for the Bronx-bred, Latino dream team Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony. Neither phenom out best the other, but in El Cantante, they tunefully complement one another.
Resuscitating an era from their impressionable youths, in which they came-of-age alongside the growing American salsa movement, Lopez and Anthony bring light to their musical and cultural roots, depicting the life story of Hector Lavoe--a tragic yet inspiring musical icon whose influence they both share.
Transforming into the self-destructive Lavoe and his volatile soulmate Puchi, Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, respectively, reach a higher ground of collaboration, while unearthing the life of the ultimate rock star of Afro-Caribbean music. (Read our interview with Marc Anthony)
Hollywood.com: 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 a month later and asked, ""Do you want to attach yourself to?"" At that time I didn't even know I was going to play Puchi. I did know I wanted it to be the first thing I produced. I called him and he said, ""Yeah, of course. This guy's my idol.""
HW: It's not always the case with real couples onscreen together, but you guys actually have chemistry together!
JL: [Laughs] We met working. You know, I think everyone forgets the first time me and Marc met we were doing a song together. And it worked. So it worked. He was on my first album and we just have that naturally luckily. We always planned to do this film together--even when we weren't together.
HW: As a youth, were you exposed to a lot of the history surrounding Hector Lavoe?
JL: I was younger at that time. When you'd ask your mom and your dad, they'd all know. For me, it was a real treat being able to kind of get in there, and learn about it and really see what the time was like and try to capture it in the film.
HW: What do you feel is his legacy?
JL: He's a quintessential artist in a sense because if an artist is somebody who lives a life and uses that life to transform that into whether it's music or painting or whatever it is that they do and then it touches millions of people because everyone can relate to it he was that!
HW: So Hector's life informed and transformed his art?
JL: You know [pauses] he took what was in his life and all the pain and kind of suffering and the good times and the fame everything about him! I mean if you look at his repertoire of work and the songs that he performedit was so much who he wasand in turn it was so much who everybody was.
HW: Did you talk to a lot of musicians when working on this film?
JL: Yes. Marc knew a bunch of them already because Marc was in that scene. They actually had the same road manager years ago.
HW: Where, do you suspect, his demons emerged from?
JL: You know, it's hard it's just like with any kind of iconic artist. There's a bit of mystery that surrounds them and we try to examine the different reasons what it could be: losing his mother at such a young age his father disowning him the brother dying the son dying there are so many things his penchant for drugs at the end of the day we just really, really, really will never know.
HW: Your character, Puchi, wasn't exactly a saint, either...
JL: [Wincing] No!
HW: She was an enabler, even though she did try to help him.
JL: We talked about this all the time, me and Marc. I mean, for twentysomething years the more and more you examine it. They really had a deep love for each other--as much as they helped destroy each other.
HW: You heard the original audio of Puchi's candid interviews?
JL: Actually, I had 11 CDs of her interviews that she did for the first script that was written; and I got to listen to her talk and hear her first hand accounts of her side of the stories--of all of these things that happened.
HW: Listening to the recordings, what struck you most about her?
JL: I mean, you just think, her voice much like how my accent is in the movie it was very rough and tough. She had led such a tumultuous life in a sense. You know what I mean? 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 would go in there with a gun. These are things we only touched upon in the movie, but didn't go all the way because we really didn't think people would believe it! But it was true. And these are things that were a part of her life. I think to be that type of person. To love somebody. To stay with them. To struggle with them. To not be perfect yourself.
HW: She's asked in the film, ""Did she want to change him or not,"" and she sort of doesn't want to answer that question and she gets angry. What's your opinion?
JL: I think she really loved him and if they knew how to have a different type of life they would have. I mean, at least that's what I'd like to think. Again, the mystery surrounding them is something that exists. So you never really, really know. But, I think that they were trying to figure it out. They did have their foray into Santeria and trying to find something spiritual to hang onto.
HW: What did you learn about yourself while playing Puchi?
JL: That I can take a lot more than I think! If she can deal with all thatthen surely I can deal with the stuff I have to deal with!!
HW: Could you talk about the scenes that were more emotionally challenging to portray?
JL: In the first week we shot: the funeral scene, the [intense] bar scene--all in the first three days. It was just insane. We just jumped right into it. I knew those were going to be the climax of the movie, and where the downfall starts to really, really happen. It was very challenging to put yourself there right away.
HW: Did that intensity on-set alarm the other cast members?
JL: It was a good way to start in the fact that everybody knew how serious we were. I think the other ensemble actors when we did that funeral scene on the second day I hadn't even met some of the actors who were hired! I walk onto the set and I'm crying and Marc is all emotional and they're like, ""Oh, this is serious. They're going to make a serious movie."" It actually worked to bring the cast together right away.
HW: The fights were epic in this film and I'm wondering if you've ever had one of those big blow-outs with Marc!?
JL: [Laughs out loud] We were shooting one of the scenes, actually, when she comes home and sees that he's been getting high in the house and the son is there. We were shooting that scene and we were arguing and she puts his gun away and whatever. I really start going after him and the film crew is like ""You two go at it."" So, I decided I literally was going to go after Marc in one part of the scene. In the second take I decided I was just going to push him! Just push him and get him out of the house! [Urging Marc as Hector to] just get out, because he wants to leave Puchi. So, I started pushing him (Marc) and pushing him and he wasn't expecting it. He starts shoving me and grabs my arm--and I was like, ""Let go! Let go of my arm right now!"" We start getting into it, and all of a sudden he's like, ""Jennifer [stop it!]!!"" The whole set just breaks-up [into laughter] 'cause it's all so intense. They're like, ""Do you guys get into fights like this at home?"" ""[She chuckles] No--not like this!""
HW: What was it like to work with Leon [Ichaso]?
JL: You know [pensively], for me there was just nobody else who could've directed this film; much like Marc [being logically cast as Hector]. I met with a bunch of directors, really great directors, to do this project and he [Leon] just knew this world, this time, living in New York he knew all these guys, I think he said he was a runner for them. He just knew the time. He showed me one little thing, a little piece of film, and he said, ""This is what the film is going to look like."" I was like, ""This is the guy.""
HW: You mentioned some scenes in El Cantante were left out because they'd appear so over-the-top. How careful were you to not over-sensationalize this story?
JL: Leon took on the script when he came on as a director and he really agreed with what we wanted to do which was a portrait of an artist and this relationship. Portray it in the way that it really was without whitewashing it too much. It's just so hard to put so much life into under two hours.
HW: How do you envision this film as a producer as opposed to when you're acting in it?
JL: I have a producing partner and it's funny because it took us five and a half years to get the script right: to get the right director; to get the financing; to get it up and running. So, when we got there I was very clear to him I said, ""When I am on the set, I am an actress."" I kind of drew that line when we were into the photography of it.
HW: How has it changed your career path changed since producing this film? Do you want to do more projects like this?
JL: Yeah, yeah, the next thing we have coming out is the Border Town movie which we helped produce with Greg Nava which is about the murders in Juarez. After that, I'm going to produce a movie with a script that Don Ruth wrote and he'll direct and I'll star called Love and other Impossible Pursuits. It's about family in this day and age. I'm definitely drawn to things that I feel are important or relevant to say, as opposed to just anything.
HW: What sort of impact do you see this film having on people?
JL: For me, one of the greatest things about this movie is people watching it who don't know anything about him and just wanting to know all of his music when it's done. They're blown away by the life that he lived but then the music--that's the exciting part: being able to expose him to a wider audience.
HW: You look so fit today as always what's your secret?
JL: I don't have a secret. Just like anybody else, I try not to eat too much. I do work out I go through phases: when I start getting a little heavy I start working out more; when I feel skinny I don't work out at all!
HW: Nelly Furtado is writing something for the soundtrack?
JL: Yes, yes. And, Julio Reyes; we work with Julio a lot on my album. We finished the movie and I said, ""I want you to see the movie""--because Julio's a beautiful songwriter. ""And, if you're inspired, I want you to write something for it. It could be for me, for Marc, for another artist I don't care."" I guess he was working Nellie at the time, and they came up with this song and he said, ""I think you should sing it.""
HW: The music industry has really changed the past few years. What's your relationship to it these days? Are you glad you're not a newcomer!
JL: [Smiles] Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, it has changed. When you make music and you love making music...you know what I mean it's not like you're going to stop. As challenging as it is right now and the record companies and the artists are trying to figure out where we all fit in with the internet, and the downloading and all this crazy business stuff at the end of the day we just want to make songs. I want to make music.