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August 2007
EL CANTANTE | An Interview with Jennifer Lopez

EL CANTANTE | An Interview with Jennifer Lopez
By Melissa Walters

Aug 1, 2007

Jennifer Lopez has been a successful artist in the film and music world, having claim the box office opening and #1 album on the same week year ago. She’s also produced a clothing line and perfume line as well. In the last few years, she’s been connecting a lot more with her Spanish roots by tackling some films that doesn’t necessarily spell box office success but the subject matter is important for most to be aware of. Married to salsa singer Marc Anthony, they make a lovely couple, and now they will try to apply the same chemistry to the big screen as they play husband and wife in ‘El Cantante’, the biography of Hector Lavoe, salsa music's celebrated vocalist. Lopez plays Puchi, the wife who stuck by Hector through the good and bad time until his death of AIDS at the age of 46. In speaking to blackfilm.com, Lopez talks about working with her husband Marc in a film, learning about the person she’s portraying, and her upcoming film and music projects.

There is a prohibition in showbiz against working with your spouses, what do you think about hat, 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 him if he wanted to cast himself. At that time I didn’t even know that I was going to play Puchi but I did know that this is the first movie I wanted to produce. I called him and told him I was a producer and asked him if he wanted to do the role and he said of course.

But you guys have chemistry together, that is so weird!

Jennifer Lopez: We met working. People forget that the first time Marc and I met we were doing a song together and it worked. It was on my first album. We just have stuff naturally luckily. We always planned to do song together even when we weren’t together.

In making this movie did it change your perception of salsa, Hector and the whole community in terms of us getting a handle on the history?

Jennifer Lopez: Yeah. I didn’t know a lot of the stuff to tell you the truth. I loved learning about Fania records and of course I knew Celia Cruz and a lot of these guys but I didn’t know these guys all worked together, of course I was younger and I didn’t know about all that. When you asked your mom and dad of course they all knew but for me it was a treat to get in there and learn about it and to see what the time is like and to try and capture that in the film.

What is Hector Lavoe’s legacy?

Jennifer Lopez: He was the quintessential artist in the sense. If an artist lives a life and uses that life to transform that into music or painting or whatever they do and it touches millions of people because everyone can relate to it- he was that. He took what was in his life, the pain the suffering the good times and the fame and everything about him if you look at his repertoire of work and the songs he performed they were so much who he was and in turn it was so much who everybody was because we all go through the same things in different ways. And I think it was important to do this- it’s a great legacy.

Did you get to talk to musicians that had played with him?

Jennifer Lopez: Yes, we talked to a bunch and Marc knew a bunch already because he was totally in that scene and they had the same road manager- David Maldonado who actually brought me the script years ago.

What do you think was his downfall?

Jennifer Lopez: Well, the drugs. But it’s hard and it’s just like with any iconic artist there is a bit of mystery that surrounds them and we try 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 that was around him.There was so many things, his penchant for dugs. But at the end of the day we really never will know. One of the reasons I love is the scene of the movie when he is singing El Cantante and this is the song where he is singing he is a singer, and you guys don’t really care about what I feel and what pain I am going through, you guys are feeling I paid you my money, now sing. And that’s what the song is kind of about. That was his life.

Your character wasn’t exactly a saint either- what do you think kept such a volatile relationship going?

Jennifer Lopez: You know, we talked about this all the time Marc and I. Twenty something years, his daughter says it was twenty-seven, we say in the movie it was twenty because the last few years they weren’t as together but at the end of the day when you examine it they had a really deep love for each other. As much as they helped destroy each other.

You listened to interviews?

Jennifer Lopez: I had eleven CDs of her interviews that she did for the first script that was written so I really got to listen to her talk and hear first hand account of her side of the story of all these things that had happened.

What struck you most about the character?

Jennifer Lopez: Her voice was much like my accent in the movie. She lived a tumultuous life. She had to be a tough lady to be in that life. She would go to those crack houses. She would pull him out. She would go in there with a gun. These are things that we just touched upon in the movie but we didn’t go all the way because we didn’t think that people would believe it. But it was true and these were things that were a part of her life and to be that kind of person, to love somebody, to stay with them, to struggle with them to not be perfect. That was so interesting and very different from my own life.

What did you learn about yourself from playing Puchi?

Jennifer Lopez: Well I learned I can take a lot more than I think, if she can then surely I can deal with what I have to deal with.

She’s asked in the film did she want to change him or not, she didn’t answer, what is your opinion, did she want to change him?

Jennifer Lopez: I think she really loved him and they could have, if they knew how to have a different kind of life they would have. At east that’s what I would like to think but again the mystery that surrounded them is something that exists so you never really know but I do think that they were trying to figure it out, they did have their foray into Santeria and trying to find something spiritual to hang on to but they struggled with it.

On that conversation, where he said I can’t really change, that is an unusual thing in a movie.

Jennifer Lopez: Yeah.

There is supposed to be another Hector Lavoe movie coming out. Does that worry you at all?

Jennifer Lopez: No.

What do you want American audiences to take away from Hector?

Jennifer Lopez: For me one of the greatest things about this movie is that people watching who don’t know anything about him who want to know all of his music when its done. And that has happened like ten different times to people I have shown the movie to who don’t peak Spanish at all. People that I just wanted their opinion on the film, people who I respect. They were blown away by the life he lived but then they but then the music, they want to go download the music. That’s the exciting part, to be able to expose him to it to a wider audience.

How has this changed your career path, making his movie and producing this film and taking something you think is important. Do you want to do a lot more like that?

Jennifer Lopez: Yes the next thing coming out is the Bordertown movie that we helped produce with Greg Nava. Which is about the murders in Juarez and then after that I am going to produce a movie with a script that Don Ross called Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. I am definitely drawn to things that I feel are important and relevant to say.

Why was it important for you to do a movie about the women in Bordertown?

Jennifer Lopez: It was important when I found out about what was going on down there through Greg, like a lot of people I didn’t know what was going on until somebody told me and it was important to bring that to light.

What was it like filming in Puerto Rico for this film versus filming in Mexico for Bordertown?

Jennifer Lopez: Well it was two different experiences but I filmed in Mexico many times. There were some issues but they would never tell me. Greg can tell you about that.

How careful were you not to oversensationalize the relationship with Puchi and Hector?

Jennifer Lopez: Leon took over the script when he came on as a director and he really agreed with what we wanted to do. The portrait of an artist; a tumultuous relationship; to kind of do it exactly, to portray it the way it really was. But then again, should she carry a 22 or should she not, at the en of the day it doesn’t matter. I talk about it in the interview little bit that part of the movie- it was hard to fit so much life in two hours.

How challenging was it for you to do this film, I hear some scenes were emotionally challenging.

Jennifer Lopez: Well, in the first week we shot the funeral, the bar, and the wedding in the first three days. It was insane and I knew it was going to be the climax of the movie. It was very challenging to put yourself there right away but it was good- a good way to start. Everyone knew how serious we were. I think the other ensemble actors when we did that funeral scene the second day and I had not even met some of the actors and when we walked on set I am crying and Marc is all emotional- and they see we’re serious, we are going to make a serious movie. It actually worked to bring the cast together right away.

Jennifer, the music industry has changes a lot in the past couple of years. What is your relationship to it now? How do you perceive your future in music? Are you glad you are not a newcomer?

Jennifer Lopez: Yes, you know it has changed but when you love music and you love making music its not like you are just going to stop. As challenging as it is right now, with the record companies and the artists trying t figure out where they fit in with the internet and the downloads and the crazy business stuff, sometimes you are just I want to write songs and make music and I love making music, English music, Spanish music, I am married to a musician and it’s the same thing, he feels like making records he is going to make records.

What’s your favorite Hector Lavoe album and song and also what else are you listening to?

Jennifer Lopez: My favorite song would have to be Che che cole ? I always loved his greatest hits; his swing is right up there with the greats. What am I listening to now, everything. I have eclectic taste.

Are you and Marc going on tour together and are you doing an album together?

Jennifer Lopez: Tour yes but no album together. I have my two albums that have come out, my English album is coming out in a few weeks and he has the soundtrack so since we have been married the last few years I have been on tour with him twice- he always goes out with another artist or two and this year they said since she has an album coming out we’ll offer it to her and they did. And I said ok.

What challenges did you find as a producer and as an actor on this film?

Jennifer Lopez: Well, that’s funny because I have a producing partner and it took us five and a half years to get this thing right, to find the right director, to get the financing, to get it up and running and get a principal photography date. So when we got there, I was very clear that when I am on the set I am an actress- you will have to deal with a lot of stuff. I knew that the role was very challenging and I knew that I as going to have to concentrate on that. Plus we shot in thirty-four or five days and there were fifteen changes a day, trying to fit in as many scenes as we could, it was challenging so I actually drew that line when we made it to principal photography.

Was one of the songs on the soundtrack written by Nelly Furtado?

Jennifer Lopez: Yes and Julio Reyes. We work with Julio Reyes a lot on my album and when we finished the movie I said to myself I would like him to see the movie because he is a beautiful songwriter he wrote Ahorra Quien and a lot of the songs on Marc’s last album as well. I wanted him to see it and if he was inspired I wanted him to write something for it to be for me, for Marc, or another artist I don’t care. He was working with Nelly at the time and they came up with this song and he sent it to me and he said I think you should sing it and I said ok.

The fights were epic in this film, did you have any of these kinds of fights with your husband?

Jennifer Lopez: I’ll tell you a funny story while we were shooting one of the scenes, when she comes home and she sees he was getting high in the house and the son is there. We were shooting that scene and she was putting the gun away and I really start going after him. And obviously a lot of things that we did was improvised; staging; they set up the cameras and they said you two go at it and I decided that I was going to literally go after Marc in the scene and I did it like the first take I really didn’t go after him but I decided in the second take that I was going to push him. That I was going to push him because I just wanted him out of the house. So I started pushing him and he wasn’t expecting it and he grabs my arm and I start telling him to let go, let go of my arm and suddenly he’s like “Jennifer!”, I am calling him Hector and he is calling me Jennifer so the whole set just breaks up. It was so tense and they were like do you guys get into fights like this at home and I was like no not like this . . .

I wanted to hear about Leon and how he embodied the rhythm in directing you two.

Jennifer Lopez: For me there was nobody else, much like Marc, that could have directed this film. I met with a bunch of really great directors to do this project and he just knew this world, these times living in New York. He knew all these guys, he was a runner for them in the studio, he knew the times and he showed me one little thing, a little piece of film, and told me this is what the film is going to look like.


EL CANTANTE opens on August 3, 2007



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