With the opening of her film El Cantante—a biopic about Hector Lavoe, the vibrant soul of New York’s salsa scene in the `70s—along with a recent Spanish-language album (Como Ama una Mujer) and her marriage to fellow Nuyorican Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez is coming home to her roots.
But Lopez, 38, insists that this phase in her life isn’t a return to a low-profile, pre-celebrity J.Lo—nor is it a rebuke to the girl in that famous eyeball-melting green dress, the girl whose abbreviated name became shorthand for “megastar.”
Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Federico Castelluccio, Romi Dias, Vincent Laresca
(Picturehouse; US theatrical: 3 Aug 2007 (General release); 2006)
Instead, she says, it’s merely part of the evolution of “Jenny From the Block”—the one in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx, where her parents, from Puerto Rico, raised her and her two sisters—to an actress, singer and dancer firming up her rep a decade into her fame.
“I’ve always felt very close to my New York Puerto Rican heritage,” Lopez tells the New York Daily News. “I felt like it gave me individuality and made me different in Hollywood. It’s always grounded me.
“But doing (the album and movie) in a row did happen very organically. I guess your heart leads you to what you love, you know?”
Being Latina, like being a New Yorker, “is who I am, part of my life,” she says. “It’s not something I have to put too much thought into, except that I’m very proud of being part of it.”
Lopez is not just a part of El Cantante. The woman who says she’s “constantly in motion, always working” decided to launch a new career as a producer with this film about Lavoe, the Puerto Rican singer who arrived in New York in the mid-‘60s and became one of Fania Records’ most popular talents, a “Latin Sinatra” who was the voice and face of salsa music.
Anthony plays Lavoe from his teens through his heyday and up to his death in 1993, when drug use and HIV tore him apart. Lopez plays Puchi, Lavoe’s wife, who professed a desire to have Lopez play her before she died in 2002. The script for El Cantante (“The Singer”), by David Darmstaedter and Todd Anthony Bello, came to Lopez six years ago. She developed it, and chose filmmaker Leon Ichaso (Crossover Dreams, Pinero) to direct.
Lopez says that when she read the screenplay, she pictured only Anthony, the modern era’s salsa superstar, as the lead.
Eleven years ago, they’d dated for a time. Two divorces, two media-circus romances (with Ben Affleck and Sean (Diddy) Combs) and many life lessons later, Lopez was setting up a production company and brought the project to Anthony. The timing was right, love was rekindled, and the two married in 2004.
She’d had her string of hits (Out of Sight, The Wedding Planner, Maid in Manhattan, Monster-in-Law) and disappointments (Enough, An Unfinished Life), as well as a recording career beginning with 1999’s On the 6. But she says that despite the critical attacks on Gigli—the 2003 film she and Affleck starred in, which had reviews that dissected their relationship as much as the movie—she didn’t hesitate to costar with her husband.
“Not at all,” she says. “My focus was on, `Who is the best person for this role?’
“We weren’t even together at that time. We weren’t a couple. And then, the fact that we were a couple when we actually shot the film—because of the (rough) material, I feel like it was a blessing, you know? We were so comfortable with each other, and we did know what it was like to be in that world of fame and craziness. It’s something that adds to the movie, another layer, a truth.”
Their life together, she reveals, has helped slow her down some.
“You get to a point where you think, life is passing me by,” she says. “I thought, I have to stop and enjoy things a bit, and then I can do these other things, too. But you have to have something to do that for, and since I’ve been married to Marc (with whom she shares an estate on Long Island), I’ve decided to concentrate more on actually living a little bit, as well as working on things close to my heart.”
One of those things is her return to live performing next month in support of El Cantante. Lopez will tour with Anthony in a concert that, she says, “will have a mix of singing and dancing and English and Spanish. It’ll take people on a ride and make you feel. Like everything we do.”