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.