When Marc Anthony agreed to star opposite Jennifer Lopez in “El Cantante,” the famous singers were just friends who had once dated. But by the time the film went into production, Anthony and Lopez were married.
And that, according to generally accepted Hollywood wisdom, is not a good idea.
“I got every warning from every famous actor I know: ‘Don’t work with your wife. It’s tough. The material’s tough,’” Anthony told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer during a break in a concert of songs from the movie he gave Friday on the plaza at Rockefeller Center.
“But it was the total opposite,” he said. “After doing those heavy scenes — these two amazingly dysfunctional characters — we’d go home and say, ‘God, we’re normal, honey.’”
The film is a biopic about Puerto Rican salsa pioneer Hector Lavoe, who defined a generation of Latinos with his music. But Lavoe, whose stage name was taken from the French for “the voice,” was as tortured as he was talented. He fought drug addiction, and his marriage to Lopez’s character, “Puchi,” had to survive his own infidelities.
“He had such a strong image,” Anthony said of Lavoe. “I concentrated just on making him as human as possible. I didn’t want to mimic or imitate him; I just wanted to capture the man.”
‘Sound track to my life’
The 38-year-old Anthony grew up in New York listening to American pop music as well as the island’s distinctive Latin rhythms. Lavoe was part of that tapestry, but it wasn’t until Anthony was preparing for his role that realized just how important Lavoe had been.
“I grew up with Marvin Gaye and Elton John, as well,” he told Lauer. “But Hector Lavoe was one of those figures that I realized, even when I was doing research for the movie, how his music was a sound track to my life. It was ever-present, it transcended all generations, and it’s just culturally significant.”
“El Cantante,” which is Spanish for “the singer,” debuts on Aug. 3 and is the first film out of Lopez’s production company, Nuyorican Productions. In a Thursday appearance on TODAY, Lopez said that she thought it was appropriate that her first film deal with the heritage that helped make her one of the most influential entertainers in America.