Singer, actress, fashion designer — Jennifer Lopez’s diverse career and talents have made her one of the biggest stars in the world and the nation’s most influential Hispanic celebrity.
To that impressive resume, she can now add Hollywood producer.
“El Cantante,” a biopic about salsa legend Hector Lavoe that will be released on August 3, is the first movie from her production company, Nuyorican Productions. It also stars her husband, singer Marc Anthony, with the woman known as “J.Lo” playing his on-screen wife, Puchi.
“I have a lot of projects that we have in development,” she told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer during a live interview Thursday. “I always wanted this to be first because it’s a Latin story, because it does have music in it. I felt it just personified everything I’ve been about through my career.”
Lavoe pioneered the salsa style of Latin music in the 1970s. Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, he came to New York as a teenager and became a huge star. But he battled drug addiction and depression for most of his adult life, eventually contracting AIDS. He died from it in 1993.
“The movie’s an intense movie,” said the effervescent star. “It’s a roller-coaster ride because of his life. It’s told from the point of view of Puchi, his wife, who I play, much later in his life after he’s passed away — this incredible, tormented musician. What you get from it is where this music came from. They created a brand-new sound in the ’70s. It was a very, very important time in music history.”
Anthony ‘perfect’ for role
Lopez and Anthony had dated more than 10 years ago and were married in 2004 — his second marriage and her third. But Lopez said that she had decided to cast him as Lavoe shortly after she first got the script for the movie five years ago, before they had started dating again.
“I just thought to myself Mark Anthony was the perfect person to play this role,” she told Lauer.
Lavoe’s music is familiar to many, particularly within the Latino community, but Lopez said she really didn’t know much about his life before receiving the script. For her, it was similar to when she played the title role in “Selena,” a biopic about the enormously popular Mexican singer who was murdered in 1995 at the age of 23 by the president of her fan club.
“I didn’t know all about her,” Lopez said. “It’s the same thing with Hector. I grew up with the music, with a lot of his songs, but I didn’t know all about him. A great part of the movie is exposing people to who he is.”
She said she has a number of other projects in production, but she wanted “El Cantante” (“The Singer”) to be her first, partly because of its connection to her Puerto Rican heritage. The name of her company, Nuyorican Productions, is taken from the name given to Puerto Ricans born in New York, as she was; Anthony is a native Puerto Rican.
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Slideshow: Making of a superstar Until she met and married Anthony, Lopez’s love life had been as every bit as exciting as her career. She married her first husband, Ojani Noa, a Cuban immigrant she met while he was working as a waiter, in 1997. The marriage lasted just 13 months, but Lopez later hired — and fired — Noa as head chef of her Pasadena restaurant, Madre’s.
She took up with rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, a relationship that ended not long after a shooting incident outside a New York nightclub in December 1999. Combs was ultimately acquitted of weapons violations charges. Lopez was also initially charged with gun possession, but the charges were dismissed.
She tried marriage again in 2001, this time to dancer Cris Judd, whom she met while filming a music video. Eleven months later, that marriage ended in divorce amid rumors that J.Lo had taken up with actor Ben Affleck.
In November 2002, she announced her engagement to Affleck by displaying the $1.2-million pink diamond engagement ring he’d bought for her. But less than a day before the scheduled nuptials on Sept. 14, 2003, Lopez called it off after Affleck was spotted enjoying himself in a Vancouver strip club.
She and Anthony met through their work in music videos more than 10 years ago. He went on to marry Dayanara Torres, a former Miss Universe, with whom he has two children. That marriage ended in October 2003. In June of 2004, he and Lopez married in a private ceremony at her home.
Through her work in music, movies and fashion design, Lopez has become one of the most influential and powerful women in America; according to some sources, she’s also the nation’s wealthiest Hispanic entertainer.
Less drama for J.Lo
Once weekly fodder for the entertainment tabloids, she’s kept a lower profile of late.
“That was kind of a conscious decision,” she told Lauer. “I had my moment where I was on the cover of every tabloid all the time. It just gets old. You really feel the focus is not on the right things.
“Once I got married a few years ago, I wanted to be at home and concentrate on the things that are important to me, like family,” Lopez said.
On Friday, Marc Anthony will appear on the TODAY Show, performing live on the Plaza at Rockefeller Center.
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