In Hollywood, you often hear of passion projects — movies that 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 (she also produced), is an example of this, which is probably why, when we caught up with the couple recently, they spoke of it with such pride and reverence.
Westword: Jennifer, you spent five and a half years trying to get El Cantante made. What got in the way?
Jennifer Lopez: It's hard getting independent films made 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, "Eh, okay." The people who financed it...said okay with a kind of blind belief in me and Marc and my company and the fact that we were so passionate about doing this film.
What kept your heart in it?
JL: 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." That was an important time in musical history. At the end of the day, it was about the music Héctor left behind.
What did Lavoe mean to you before El Cantante?
JL: 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. "Oh, I know this song. He did that song?" It was just that kind of thing; he was like the soundtrack to your life. Being Puerto Rican and growing up in New York at that time, it was just at every party, every holiday, that was what it was.
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Marc, what impact did Lavoe have on your career?
Marc Anthony: I didn't realize the impact until I did the research. You encounter these artists who just become a part of your life, like the soundtrack to your life, and, when I thought about it, the one constant was Héctor Lavoe. I'm sure his music seeped into my style, how could it not?
Do you remember the first time you met him?
MA: 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.