In Hollywood, you often hear of passion projects — movies nobody in their right mind should try to produce — yet a handful of stubborn filmmakers do it anyway. El Cantante, starring Marc Anthony as salsa pioneer Héctor Lavoe and Jennifer Lopez as his wife, Puchi, is an example of this, which is probably why, when the power couple hit the Beverly Hills Four Seasons recently to discuss the film, they spoke of it with pride and, at times, reverential awe of their muse.
Outtakes: Jennifer, you spent 5 1/2 years trying to get El Cantante made. What got in the way?
Lopez: It's hard getting independent films made, [especially about] somebody that nobody knows. In the Latin community, he's so well-known. It's like, "What do you mean, you don't know who Héctor Lavoe is?" For everybody else, it was more or less, "Enh, OK." The people who financed it... said OK [with a] kind of blind belief in me and Marc and my company [Nuyorican Productions] and the fact that we were so passionate about doing this film.
What kept your heart in it?
Lopez: While trying to get this movie made, I'd sometimes wonder, "Why am I pushing this boulder uphill? It's crazy!" Then I'd listen to the music or go back and watch the performances of the Fania All-Stars and watch Héctor just bring the house down, and I'd be like, "This is why."
What did Lavoe mean to you before El Cantante?
It's funny. Just like with the movie Selena, I knew the music, and I knew about her, but I didn't know about her. I wasn't like following following her. It was the same thing with Héctor. I grew up with the music. It was just that kind of thing; he was like the soundtrack to your life.
Marc, do you remember the first time you met him?
Anthony: [In 1989] my partner... was [Héctor's] nephew, and he said, "My uncle's here." So he was in this room, watching this TV; it was dark and stuff. I sat down, and he didn't even look at me. I had this long hair too. The first thing he ever said to me, he looked over and said, "Oh my God, it's the ugliest girl I've ever met." I ended up having dinner, and I got to know him a little bit. I have a recording in my head of everything he said, and I reflect on that. It's why I want to do him justice.
How did you approach playing Lavoe?
Stepping into it, prior to the research, it was Héctor Lavoe's headlines. It was, "Oh, Héctor Lavoe's the guy who jumped out of a ninth-story window and survived. He's the junkie who contracted AIDS, whose son died, whose house burned down, who broke his legs." There were just a slew of headlines. I had a big responsibility to show the human side. I was very clear early on that I wasn't going to walk in and play my perception of him.