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Marc Anthony finds the ghost of Héctor Lavoe

Grammy-winning singer practically channeled the salsa legend for the film “El Cantante.”

Grammy winning singer Marc Anthony was handpicked by the producers of “El Cantante” to play legendary salsa king Héctor Lavoe and according to one of his costars — Manny Perez — the 38-year-old Spanish Harlem native totally embodied the spirit of Lavoe who died of AIDS in 1993.

“The beauty of Marc is that first, he looks like Héctor, and it’s like he’s the ghost of Héctor Lavoe,” said Perez, who plays Lavoe’s right-hand dude Eddie in the film that hits theaters on Friday. “He has this thing he does with his hand, his mouth. If you see tapes of Lavoe, he does the same things.”

Anthony, whose wife, Jennifer Lopez is one of the producers and stars of the film, talked about playing one of his childhood heroes, working with his wife and the influences Lavoe, who got his start with Willie Colon’s band in the late ’60s, has had on his own career during a recent interview with MSNBC.com.

MT: So, I hear that you have ghosts living inside of you?

MA: Oh man, who told you that?

MT: Manny, he said you have the ghost of Héctor Lavoe living inside of you.

MA: Oh man, there have been many of those moments. There was an interviewer who had had the chance to see Héctor live and she said, “There was a moment in the film where I didn’t know it wasn’t him.” I was on the set and the family, the ones who weren’t able to say goodbye to him, they were on the set, and I wanted to stop by and say hi. I think it was his niece who grabbed me and just started crying. She said, ‘just let me hold you for a few moments.’ I said I wasn’t him, but that I understood. It was really interesting.

MT: What do you remember about him?

MA: What do I remember about Héctor? I remember the stories man. I remember his music obviously. I remember him just being ever-present. There would be talk on the street that he didn’t show up for some show. He just had this loyal following. I was too young to go see him at the Palladium and all that stuff, but I did get to go see him at Orchard Beach.

MT: What did you think when you first got the script five years ago?

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MT: How did you approach the role? This was a guy who had so many issues.

MA: I found out some things — like he was a schizophrenic. He had the women, the drugs and all the tragedies, but he was dealing with a real sickness, too. I had a big responsibility to show the human side of the man and what he was struggling with. I was very clear early on that I wasn’t going to walk in and play my perception of him. That would have just been an E! True Hollywood Story. I wanted to get inside the man.

MT: How did his music influence your music?

MA: You can’t help it. I didn’t realize the impact it had until the research actually. You encounter these artists who become a part of your life — he was almost like the soundtrack to my life — he was the one constant, Héctor Lavoe. When it came down to doing the research there was a story connected to each and every one of those songs. I’d play a song and realize that it was my mom’s sweeping song! I’m sure its seeped into my style some way, some how. How could it not?

MT: What was it like working with Jennifer?

MA: It was great. We were really just on this crusade to do right by Héctor — to tell his story. There were some scenes in there that were just absolutely crazy man. They were so far from our reality. After doing them we felt really normal. It was like we’re good honey. We’re good.

Miki Turner is a freelance TV producer/writer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at dmiki@aol.com