J-Lo gives us the business in regards to her Hector Lavoe biopic
It has been five years in the making, but producer Jennifer Lopez is finally bringing her Hector Lavoe biopic to the screen with "El Cantante." Not only did she serve as a producer on the film, she also stars as Hector's devoted wife Puchi. It's a stunning performance that captures the true heart of the woman. This is a bravado turn for Lopez, and it should redeem some of her screen cred after having appeared in a string of flops.
J-Lo recently stopped by the Four Seasons to talk with a gaggle of journalists about the project. She was in a great mood, arrived on time, and gave us quite the scoop. This is our conversation:
Why did this have to be the first film for your production company?
Jennifer Lopez: For me, and for New Yorican Productions, it just had what we stand for. Being a Puerto Rican from New York, I couldn't have found a better story to start with. This is the story of Hector Lavoe, a musical icon in the Latino community. For me, and for what I do, this was good because it dealt with music. It was a movie that had music in it, and that really fit all the things that I am passionate about.
Did you have a lot of input into the wardrobe we see utilized throughout the film?
Jennifer Lopez: Yes, I did. Yes. It was very important to me. I had about fifty changes in the movie. It was just insane. Sometimes I would change four or five times a day. We would do the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, and then we'd jump back into 2002. It was really crazy, but a lot of fun. It was important to me that we marked the time, and that we saw the growth that they went from. This relationship spanned twenty years. There were a lot of changes in that time.
Did you do any research into the exact wardrobe that was utilized by Puchi?
Jennifer Lopez: Absolutely. We had an amazing costume designer, and she was like, "Here's our Sixties. Lets get it on and let's go." We would go in and find the right thing for the character and the scene. There were a lot of little details, down to her earrings. There would be earrings that were specific to the decades, "These are only Sixties earrings, and these are only Seventies earrings!" You know what I mean? The bags, the shoes, the coats. And it was very specific to that New York scene they were in at the time. The New York Salsa scene. It was a whole different thing. This wasn't just about what anybody was wearing in New York at the time.
What do you remember about his legacy? Specifically Hector's impact on Latino culture?
Jennifer Lopez: For me, I grew up with music. It was like the movie Selena. I knew about her, and I knew about her music. But I didn't "know" about her. I wasn't following her. It was the same thing for Hector. I grew up with the music, and I knew it. But I'd hear one of Hector's songs and go, "Oh, I know this one. He did it?" It was the soundtrack to your life. Being Puerto Rican and living in New York, growing up at that time. This music was at every birthday, ever party, every Christmas at that time. That's what it was. Fania records was the label for Latinos at that time. They created a sound, much like Motown did. They changed musical history.
Why do you think Hector's personal story has to be told at this time?
Jennifer Lopez: For me, he's like the quintessential artist. He is a real examination of what an artist is. You know what I mean? He is someone that is put on this Earth with an amazing talent. He is funny, and he touches so many people. But then again, he has this deep, vulnerable side. The true artist is meant to suffer with this pain, so they can put it into the music, or the painting, or whatever they do. And it touches people, it helps them get through their lives. I see it as the sacrificial lamb. To me, he was just growing and doing exactly what I do, too. It's essentially a study in what an artist does. He is that. That's why he was put here on this Earth. It's really sad. He had a sad life. What is funny is that I met his daughter, and she came down to the set with his grandson. And they told us that this was not an easy life. Its like, "Oh, God!" He felt things in a different way. And he suffered in a different way. But if you listen to the lyrics, and you listen to some of the lamenting in some of the instruments, you get what he was going through. If his life had of been different, his music wouldn't have been the same either. We knew what he went through. It was great to look at that on screen.
What sort of personal insight did you have into Puchi? Why do you think she stuck around?
Jennifer Lopez: I think they loved each other. I think at the end of the day, as much as they were killing each other, they loved each other. I mean, the door is right there. We all know, we have all been in relationships, even when it has been twenty years, there's no way you can stay when you don't want to stay. Even if someone is begging you too. It's the same way; nobody can force you to go when you don't want to go. Those feelings come from you. These guys would be bad to each other. They would be good to each other. They would lift each other up. He would pull her up, she would pull him out. They made each other laugh. At the end of the day, they must have had a very strong love for one another. They could have walked out at any time, but neither one of them did.
You've structured this movie around an interview that Puchi did. Why did you decide to do that, and did you ever think about including some of that interview into the film?
Jennifer Lopez: Its funny, we cannot find the videotape to that interview. We can only find the audiotape and the CDs. That's all we could get our hands on. I went crazy trying to get these tapes. For some reason, we could not locate them. She, for over a year, talked to David Maldonado, who is one of the producers on the film. He was the one that actually brought me the script. He recorded all of it. But he only videotaped a small portion of it. I don't know whatever happened to those videotapes. But when Leon Ichaso came on as the director, I knew he was right for the job. He had just gone through all the Fania records. And he went through what was essentially a graveyard of this glorious time. So, he thought that's how we should start the movie. That we should start it from Puchi's point of view. From that interview came a lot of the first hand information that we had. We just wanted to start from there. I would love to have had it for my character. But having the actually audiotapes really, really helped me with her sound. And what made her laugh. And how much she laughed.
Did you guys shoot in the actual Fania studios?
Jennifer Lopez: We shot at Fania records one day. But, no, the studio we see them in throughout the film is not Fania studios.
What are the advantages of working with your husband?
Jennifer Lopez: Well, I am already extremely comfortable with him. I don't have to put on any airs. You can tell each other anything. You can push each other past your limits without worrying if everything is going to be okay the next day. In that sense, it was good. Disadvantages? I'd have to say that it was a real blessing. Five years ago, when I cast him in this movie, I had no idea that we would be together. Who knew that? But we did get together. And that helped. I guess you could call it destiny.
How comfortable were you portraying the older Puchi, and why did you decide to go that route instead of getting someone else to portray her at that age?
Jennifer Lopez: I don't know. We never talked about having a different actress play that part. We were always just going to age me. It was never a discussion. I felt weird in that make-up. It felt strange to get aged up like that. But, at the same time, I loved being "that" Puchi in the movie. I loved the rest of it too, but there was just something about being able to think about everything that happened. It was interesting to look back on her glory years. I got to use my own thoughts about it, and use the ideas that I had. I was lucky, because I did have her on tape. A lot of the things I learned about her is stuff that she said exactly. I have lived that interview. There was a lot more that Leon wrote. And sometimes we would shoot for two days straight. All day, every day. We played around a lot. You'll actually notice that Leon plays the reporter. That is his voice. We would go back and forth with it. We really got into it. At the end of it, I had a pain in my chest. There was something about going through all of that, and reminiscing. I was so close to the project. The last two days of shooting in New York; there was just something about it. You could feel her pain. I just remember having that pain in my chest for the next few days. It was a heavy experience.
What parts of playing this character were the most rewarding, and which were the most challenging?
Jennifer Lopez: The entire shoot was challenging. I was around every day. You have to get in there and really live. Producing the movie gives you that extra responsibility. People really knew the person, so they would just stop you and say, "That sucked. That is so not who she was." You have a real responsibility to come to the table with your game right. It gives you a challenge to really dive into.
As a producer, can you tell us some of the challenges of getting this made?
Jennifer Lopez: Yeah, it was tough. I had this script for five and a half years. We had to get the script right. They bought us a script that I knew needed work. I wanted the director to kind of guide that. He had a real vision for it. I did meet with other directors, and that took some time. Finally, when I met with Leon, I didn't meet with anyone else. I knew he was the guy. After that decision was made, it took about a year and eight months. Then, from there, once we got the script, the notes from him were so minimal, because he made it this tragic, intense love story. We just loved it.
Was there much enthusiasm for the project outside of your own circle of people?
Jennifer Lopez: It was tough. Its always tough getting independent films made. Especially one that nobody knows. Sure, Hector is huge in the Latino community. He is so well known. We were like, "What do you mean you don't know Hector Lavoe?" Hollywood was a little apprehensive. The people that financed it were just kind of believing in this. They asked, "This is your passion?" And I was like, "Yes. This is all I want to do." It was that certain type of blind belief. At the end of the day, they were just someone that believed in me, and Marc, and the whole idea. They believed in the fact that we were so passionate about doing this project.
As a producer, how difficult is it to balance making this informative yet entertaining at the same time?
Jennifer Lopez: One of the great joys of the movie is getting to bring Hector to a wider audience. I love getting to hear the music. Even for myself, trying to get the movie made, I was sometimes like, "God, why am I pushing this boulder up hill? This is crazy!" But then I'd go back and listen to the music, or watch the live performances of the Fania All-Stars. I would see Hector bring that crowd down, and then I knew why. This was a great time in musical history. This was a wonderful legacy that he left behind, and when you see Daddy Yankee or Fat Joe with a picture of Hector Lavoe around their chest, you know why now. He was a tragic figure. Like Billy Holliday, these are great artists that leave a lot behind. And they touch a chord. They touch the lives of humans in a way that is hard to pin down. Once you see this movie, you will understand even more. We're getting more out of it then you would just being a fan. You will know what his life was like.
What did you think of Marc's performance?
Jennifer Lopez: I felt that it was such a seamless performance. I don't even feel like you see him acting. Its crazy. He just "is". Some old actor said that. I just felt like he was Hector. That was it. That was him.
Jen, do you still have an English language record coming out?
Jennifer Lopez: Yes. In a couple of weeks I have one coming out. It's called Hold it, Don't Drop It. I think we are doing a simultaneous release, too. There will be two singles coming out. We are shooting the videos next week. We are shooting both of them. I am going to rest after today. I'm going to take a couple of days off, then go back to dance rehearsal. Then we are going to start getting ready for the tour. It's an exciting time. It's a really happy time to be involved in projects that we really love.
Has Robert Rodriguez approached you about appearing in Barbarella?
Jennifer Lopez: No! Is he making "Barbarella"? Really? I didn't know that. And he's going to come to me?
That's what I heard from a pretty reliable source.
Jennifer Lopez: That would be fantastic. This is so funny. The video that I am doing actually has a "Barbarella" theme to it. Isn't that weird. Maybe he'll shoot the video!
"El Cantante" opens August 3rd in a theater near you.
Dont't forget to also check out: El Cantante