The singer talks about stepping into the skin of a Salsa legend

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 convinced her husband to star as Salsa legend Hector Lavoe. It's an amazing feat for the singer, as he vividly brings Lavoe back to life.

Marc recently stopped by the Four Seasons to talk with the press. This is our conversation:

Marc Anthony: How is everything?

Great. We hear you have a ghost living inside of you.

Marc Anthony: Is that right? Who told you that?

Manny Perez. He says you have a ghost living inside of you.

Marc Anthony: Oh, man. You know, living those moments is hard. There was an interviewer in the other room who'd gotten a chance to see Hector live. And she said there was a moment in the film where she didn't know if she was watching him or me. You know what I am saying? I was on the set, and I remember seeing those family members that weren't able to say good-bye to him. I was in full hair and make-up. And I went to the set, and they told me the family was there. So I decided to stop by and say, "Hi." I think it was his niece that came and grabbed me, and then started crying hysterically. She said, "Let me just hold you for a couple of minutes." I had to tell her, "I'm not him." I said, "I understand, you know?" This girl came and just wanted to hold me. His band members did the same thing as well. Especially his right hand man, Eddie. I always had him right behind me. Because Eddie was always with him. During one scene, I turned around. And Eddie was crying. I said, "Eddie, you alright?" And he said, "You don't understand. This was my point of view. This is how I saw Hector. And you turned around. And it was him." It was interesting. It was really interesting to me.

What do you remember about Hector?

Marc Anthony: I remember the stories. I remember him being ever-present. There was always talk on the street that he didn't show up to one of his shows. You'd hear, "Ah, I'm never going to one of his fucking shows again!" But they'd go back. There was always this talk about him on the streets. I was too young to see him at the Palladium, but I did get to see him at Archer Beach. David Maldonado was my manager, and he was Hector's road manager. He'd been developing this script for a long time. It ended up being an off Broadway show. It was called Who Killed Hector Lavoe?, and it was a huge success. But David was ever present. He's the one that spoke to Jennifer Lopez, and he's the one that talked to Puchi. He injected all of Puchi's anecdotes into the script, and then Jennifer coined them all a couple of years ago. They asked me, and I said absolutely. It was very clear. But I'm glad it happened now. I'm glad it happened the way it happened. I'm not sure I could have done this five and a half years ago. This was such an undertaking.

What sort of accident did Puchi die from?

Marc Anthony: Actually, what happened was...There are these surreal little moments that you have. Tito, his son that dies from the gunshot wound, his girlfriend was pregnant at the time of his death. We didn't know that. On set, this kid shows up who is eighteen years old. We were shooting the Christmas scene, and he asks if he can say hi to the little kid playing his father. "What?" He goes, "Oh, I'm Tito's son." And that was just mind boggling. What was your initial question again, I'm sorry?

We were just wondering what kind of accident Puchi died from. Its never really explained in the movie.

Marc Anthony: Right. Hector's grandson lived with Puchi. And he was telling me that she got locked in her apartment. She lived in a first story apartment. She got locked into a room and decided to go out a window and go around to the front. As she was stepping out the window, he says, "I saw her. I was outside, and I saw her fall from the window. And it just disconnected her head from her spine. She died instantly. She wasn't breathing. And she was dead." I was like, what a life for this kid. His dad, his grandfather, and then his grandmother. He's a really bright kid, too. But that's how Puchi died. Crawling out of her window.

How did his music influence your music?

Marc Anthony: You can't help it, you know? I didn't realize the impact it had until the research. You encounter these artists that just become a part of your life. Hector was the soundtrack to my life. I would call it the stereo system wars. When you are raised in East Harlem, on Fridays and Saturdays, everyone wants to show off their sound systems, so they turn their speakers to the courtyard. You have Blades blaring out of here, and Hector Lavoe blaring out of there. You don't realize the impact that has on you at the time, because it is just playing in the background. When I sat down to do research, there was a story connected to each and every one of those songs. I would play a song and go, "Oh, my God! That's my mom's sweeping song." I had a story for each and every one. His impact has affected the entire span of my life. I'm sure it has seeped into my style one why or another.

Was there anything about the man that changed in your opinion after having played him?

Marc Anthony: Oh, absolutely. Prior to stepping into it, you had all of the headlines. Hector Lavoe was the guy that jumped out of a five story window and survived. He was a junkie who contracted AIDS. His son died. He jumped out another window and broke his legs. There were just a slew of headlines and antidotes. And stuff like that. This was stuff that I was just walking into. In doing research, I found out that he was diagnosed schizophrenic. I didn't know that before hand. I was, like, wow, that explained a lot of his phobias. He hated his own voice. He would cry like a baby. He felt like a fraud, "Why do they love me? Why do they love my voice? It is so squeaky." I had a big responsibility to show the humanity of this man, and what he was struggling with. I was very clear very early on. I wasn't going to just walk in and play my perception of him. That would have just been an E! True Hollywood Story. I didn't want to simply reenact the drama. Or those incidents. I wanted to get into the week of the jump. What was going on there? It was the week of his homecoming, and he was going to visit his dad. But he just couldn't take it anymore. He just fell apart. So, defiantly. Being a performer, and knowing what is said about you, and what is the truth. There are a lot of colorful, flamboyant stories about you out there. I wish my life were that interesting. I'm living the life right now. Whooo! Oh, but then there's the truth. I dove into what was the truth. Not just what I heard about on the streets.

What was it like working with your wife?

Marc Anthony: Oh, it was fantastic. I was ready for World War III, though. I was ready for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I was working out. I remember all of my actor friends, who had the opportunity to read the script, told me, based on Hollywood myth, that, "Working with your partner could be challenging." But that couldn't be father from the truth. We were really on this crusade to do right by Hector. We really wanted to tell his story. There were some scenes in there that were just absolutely crazy. But it was so far from our reality. I had to go in there and call her a "fucking bitch". I would never do that. But Jennifer would step up, and then after words be all excited, "I got some good ones, didn't I?" And we'd laugh a lot. There was nothing to hold onto. We just felt really normal. We were good. We didn't have anything to worry about.

Did you do any research into how this type of drug abuse would affect schizophrenia?

Marc Anthony: No. I didn't. The schizophrenia thing, I didn't play it much. That was something that I put in my pocket, and then used it when I needed it, if I felt I needed to complicate the scene a little more. As far as my method, I just needed to remember that this guy was not all there. That he was a little delusional and paranoid. There were a couple of scenes where I used that as my anchor. But I never studied how drug use would affect schizophrenia. I couldn't find one person to say anything bad about Hector. Not one person. Not even people that lost money because he didn't show up. When I first met Hector, I kept hearing that he was a jokester. You knew that he'd walk into the room and just come up with something. A joke, something to say. When he was on stage, he would go into some improvisational rant, "Oh, you got a new shirt! You got a new girl? Where's the wife?" He would utterly embarrass you, and he was famous for that. When I first met him, my partner at the time, Little Louie Vega, was his nephew. And Louie goes, "Oh, my uncle is here." I run over, and he's sitting in this dark room watching TV. He doesn't really pay any attention to me. I had long hair at the time. We sit down, and he goes, "You are the ugliest girl I have ever met." He turns around and just goes, "Oh, my God! This is the ugliest girl I have ever seen." Vega goes, "No, this is my partner Marc." Hector knew I was a man. He was always completely aware of his surroundings. But I just wanted to crawl under a rock. Vega told me that his uncle was always like that. I found out that he does that to everybody. We ended up having dinner together, and I got to know him a little better. It was those moments. I have a recording in my head of that dinner from that night. I keep everything he said in my head. I would reflect on that when I felt the responsibility. I would hear him, and what he was telling me that night. I tried to do him justice.

How long ago was that?

Marc Anthony: This was just before he passed. This was back in 1989.

El Cantante opens August 3rd in a theater near you.

B. Alan Orange