Toronto (Reuters): It might not seem a stretch for salsa singer Marc Anthony to play a salsa legend and for Jennifer Lopez to play his wife - the couple have been front-page tabloid fodder since their sudden wedding two years ago. But the pair found themselves somewhat outside their respective comfort zones in making El Cantante, the Lopez-produced film biography of salsa star Hector Lavoe, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this week. Lavoe was an early star of salsa music, a hybrid of several Puerto Rican and other Latin styles that emerged in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s. For Lopez, who balances a singing career with an acting resume that largely consists of romantic comedies such as The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan, the film marks her first turn as producer. She also stars as Lavoe's wife, Puchi. ''When you're an actor, you just kind of do your work and you leave it to everybody else,'' she told Reuters yesterday. ''But when you produce it, and it's your baby, and you've been working on it for five years, so you have a little more at stake.'' The film, directed by Leon Ichaso, takes a warts-and-all look at both the singer and his wife.
The narrative unfolds at a fast pace as Lavoe emigrates from Puerto Rico to New York in the 1960s and quickly establishes himself on the Latin music scene, armed with an emotive singing style and superlative voice. As he gains popularity, drug abuse, personal tragedy, and infidelity take their toll on the couple, although Lavoe's ability to wow crowds endures even as his personal life collapses. Lopez, who grew up in New York, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents, felt the added pressure of trying to make a film about a legend of her community. ''For me, salsa was the music we grew up with - my mother would play it on the holidays at Christmas,'' she said. ''I think of people who were young and swinging at the time he was young and swinging - they're looking at this like, ''That was my guy, that was my idol. Don't mess it up!
For Anthony, a Grammy-winning singer who has also been building a film career with well-received small roles in films such as Man on Fire and Bringing Out the Dead, the part was a challenge, but not for the reasons he expected. Rather than struggling with his first lead acting role, he had to fight to get the hang of Lavoe's complex singing style, which Anthony described as ''singing between the notes''. ''It blindsided me,'' he said in an interview. ''It was infinitely more difficult than I thought, because his phrasing is so impeccable.'' Lopez started on the project about five years ago, when she was sent a copy of the script by screenwriters who had developed it with Puchi, who wanted Lopez to play her. Puchi died soon after.
Once Lopez decided to also produce the picture, she immediately sought out Anthony to play the role of the singer. Anthony, who attended Lavoe's funeral in 1993, said the film was ''owed'' to Lavoe, for the influence he had on Latin music. ''He was like a sacrificial lamb,'' he said. ''Almost not a happy day in his life, and he fades away at such an early age, and didn't get to enjoy anything, but left us this amazing library of music.''