EL CANTANTE | An Interview with Marc Anthony
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EL CANTANTE | An Interview with Marc Anthony
Aug 1, 2007
Musically speaking, Marc Anthony can do no wrong. He’s conquered the charts and continues to perform well wherever he goes to sell out crowd. On the film level, he’s dabbled his way into a few noticeable films such as ‘Big Night’, Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, and Tony Scott’s Man On Fire with Denzel Washington. In his biggest role of his life, Anthony will next play the salsa legend Hector Lavoe in the biopic ‘El Cantante’ alongside his real-life wife, actress-singer Jennifer Lopez.
Hector (Anthony) is a humble Puerto Rican singer who feels the pull of stardom leading him to the United States in the early sixties. Once in New York, he quickly captures the attention of the local musicians - impressed by his emotive singing style - and Puchi (Lopez), a tough-talking beauty who becomes Hector's advisor as well as his one true love. As the couple move from the glory days of the seventies to the bleak realities of the eighties, their relationship flames out in wrenching scenes of personal tragedy. El Cantante purges its difficult emotions with a touching final tribute, as director Leon Ichaso incorporates footage of the real-life Lavoe's funeral in 1993, for which thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets to pay their respects. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Anthony talks about portraying an icon, working with his wife Jennifer Lopez, and what the fans should get out from watching the film.
What are the characteristics of Hector that you focused on to make him come alive to you?
Marc Anthony: The human aspect. I knew what he meant musically, culturally, I was well aware of his significance but you get tied up in his just being nutshelled. You mention Hector Lavoe in your travels and they say isn’t that the guy who jumped, that’s the guy who was, no that’s not just the guy who jumped, that’s not just the guy who had issues. So the human aspect of him. His life was so well documented it would be an e-true Hollywood story if we just re-enacted everything that happened to him but I wanted to focus on what his struggles were on a daily basis. How did he get himself into that position-what was it that he was struggling with. One thing I understood was the fame and headline part of it, the pressures of it I understood what it was like to be a salsero and to live your life on a world scale, touring 300 days out of the year. And I know he headlines versus the truth. I was raised with the headlines and I just wanted to find the truth.
How much do you subscribe to the tortured artist, do you agree with that you have to be at the bottom of the bottom to create?
Marc Anthony: That’s bullshit. That’s an excuse. Do people draw from pain do people understand pain? There are people who are totally happy in their lives and they understand other people’s pain and they want to tell a story because of it. It’s not a prerequisite to being an influential and important artist, an artist with a point of view, to be taken seriously.
Hector on the stage and off the stage, he is too very different people; one is in control and one is out of control. Like Jekyll and Hyde. What is the biggest difference between the two personas?
Marc Anthony: I think Hector felt most comfortable when he was singing. He was uncomfortable off stage. He had to deal with a lot of issues. He had to deal with his wife, his addiction. He was being adored on stage; it as an easy comfortable place for him. Which is why he chose that as a platform. Me personally I went to Orchard Beach one time to see him and you want to talk about him using he stage as a platform he starts the first song; he comes out with a cast because his house had just burned down; he lost everything, had to jump out a second story window; broke his leg. He comes on stage and I was seventeen or eighteen and we had the same representation so my manager put me right in the front and he came out and he was so huge to me. In the middle of the song he stops the band. He just wants to talk. Twenty thousand people are waiting for the band. “I am having a hard day. I just lost my boy.” It was awkward. But that’s when he chose to be vocal about how he was feeling. And not only did he do it in his improvisation but that’s where he felt most comfortable.
People love you so much because you are so personal with his audience?
Marc Anthony: I don’t think it made –I think it served me to have lived that. I could not imagine being an actor whose never been on stage and might suffer from stage fright and having to sell to you that you’re charismatic or you know the power of the stage so it served me well having so much experience on stage because that would be just one more thing that I would have had to contend with if I had stage fright and I was an actor playing a singer.
What did you have to do to prepare for this role? As a singer your voice is a little stronger- what did you do to prepare o sound like Hector?
Marc Anthony: That was the most daunting part of it. I thought that was going to be the easiest part. I thought I grew up listening to these songs, they are standard. But I realized about five minutes into the recording of the first track that I was in for a long night. I couldn’t get my hand around his phrasing. That’s when I realized his sheer genius, I challenge anybody to go in and dissect his style, his phrasing is so unique to him right there I realize why they call him the singer’s singer. Because um, so much of it was, you thought you were singing along and singing just like him but there was a lot more going on. That was the most daunting part- I realized oh my wow. Once I got it, and analyzed what hi tendencies ere, it was a little easier.
On the soundtrack, is it you doing the songs or is it you doing Hector doing the songs?
Marc Anthony: It was me doing Hector doing the songs. People are going to discover Hector for the first time. It is music I recorded for the movie.
Can you talk about the differences between Marc the actor and Marc the musician in terms of preparing, thinking about the difference between stepping into someone’s life and exemplifying your own?
Marc Anthony: I think it’s one and the same. I think I have done eight films, and eight albums. I don’t think I am an actor that sings or a singer that acts. It’s storytelling at the end of the day. Only one version takes an hour and a half and the other I can tell you a story in four minutes. But its storytelling and something that fascinates me.
When was the first time you connected to salsa music in a really personal profound way?
Marc Anthony: To be honest it was my parent’s music. I was in to Motown and Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye and the Temptations. That was my thing growing up in the 70’s. My older brothers were into that scene I remember them running home- especially my brother Noel. It was like a Harry Potter book or something. I got it, I got it, I got the new Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon album and I remember it just blaring from his room. But I think the first time would be El Dia De Mi Suerte which is a song that I performed when it starts raining just before he jumps. That song always hit me because it’s a song about, he keeps saying is, “Man I keep hearing that my luck is going to change man, you know, maybe its true. Can someone tell me when?” Then he goes into this thing about when he was five he lost his mom but his dad was like don’t worry about it your luck is going to change and then his dad dies but in the song. I remember it striking me. He was so jovial and if you didn’t understand what he was saying you would say oh my god you can dance and party to this- and I was like do you realize what he’s saying. I got up and bought a 45. And I wasn’t well versed in Spanish because it wasn’t my first language. But I wrote every word as best I could and it’s the first one; and I remember writing the lyrics down and getting it for the first time.
Marc Anthony: Probably- you see back then he was contending with so many things. According to Puchi we had eleven hours of Puchi tapes that was a resource beyond- we would listen to 24 hours a day- her stories were anecdotes of her take on certain events- what happened on this night that headed up in the headlines. She said he was diagnosed schizophrenic which I didn’t know. And he was struggling with that. And then addiction. And issues that the normal that were difficult for the lay person and all this under the glare of what being famous is and keeping it quiet- I could not imagine. I kept thinking through the film that he was a sacrificial lamb, he was put on this earth not to enjoy and not to grow as a person but to leave us this amazing music and then to leave us. There are some people who have that impact on generations and cultures.
Your portrayal of the drug scenes are some of the best I have ever seen. What kind of research did you do?
Marc Anthony: You just have to be really tired. Really, just try to take a nap and have them wake you up during the action part. You just go what?? I didn’t follow any junkies around or any heroin addicts. That’s what worked for me. It’s not a stretch.
How about snorting that stuff?
Marc Anthony: Oh it’s nasty. It’s milk powder and sugar and its just nasty and that’s where the acting came in because just like anything- its like pepper- your natural reaction is to expel it and to act like there is nothing going on and you are enjoying it- it’s one of the hardest things to do.
When did you first realize you had a voice yourself, when did you first realize you had something there?
Marc Anthony: Well I was raised with it. I used to perform with my dad at three years old. He incorporated me into his show he was part of the social club circuit. And I remember the impact. I almost quit singing at five years old. My sister in law, I used to sing on top of the table in the kitchen. Tuesdays and Thursdays we would have a house full of people they would bring their own instruments, pots, pans and we would play music all night. I had two sets on the kitchen table. They just propped me up and I would sing these songs like I was heartbroken I would imitate my dad like- “she killed me… “ and my sister in law started crying and I remember the living room- she was between the living room and the fish tank and she just started crying and I was mortified by that. I didn’t know why. She comes back and she holds me tight. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to see people crying and I didn’t want to make the second show. So, but they explained to me that sometimes people feel things. That was my earliest recollection that music can have a profound impact.
Can you talk about the tour with Jennifer and also talk about how working together as husband and wife, are you planning on performing anything from the El Cantante soundtrack?
Marc Anthony: Jennifer has helped me a lot during his whole process as well. Her insight- you really feel the pressure when you are a lead in a movie. Your schedule is absolutely bonkers and I was not used to it. When you are carrying the movie it is you its called El Cantante for a reason and she had played Selena and I asked her about it. You played someone who was so fresh in someone’s mind and how did you do that? She gave me amazing advice on how to process that responsibility.
What did she say?
Marc Anthony: I remember her telling me listen when I did Selena I learned absolutely everything, I engrossed myself for about two months and then I forgot about it when they said roll it. Then when we started to film and little things seeped through in your behavior. Make it yours but be conscious of their tendencies. And that helped me tremendously. Even this, this is not my thing, but she is very, very helpful. As far as the tour is concerned, he witnessed three; she is usually on the sidelines. Now it’s my turn to be on the sidelines. We start rehearsals this week coming up. We will do the Garden and Jones Beach. But she is such a natural performer and this is something she truly wanted to do and she has been in the business for many, many years now as I and when you find yourself in a position, offers come in and you can say “I’ll pass on that”, its easy to get jaded because you are exposed to it but when you are excited about something at this stage in the game its priceless. It makes you want to get up. I am really proud of her and I am so excited for her. She will be nothing short of amazing because I know how she dedicates herself.
Can you talk about the specifics of working together?
Marc Anthony: It was scary. Puchi was scary. It was something I could hold over her head, I see Puchi coming through. As a joke. Well are you going to act like Hector all day. The transformation was amazing. She deserves all the respect in the world, all the kudos in the world. I am a bit of a critic and I saw her performance and I was just blown away because you have t understand the process from just reading something on paper and embodying it. In believing what the character is saying and it just pours from the screen her commitment is second to nothing I have ever witnessed. We were very fortunate being a couple stepping into her first production something that she had to yank from the ground. It was a hard sell yet she is producing it, starring in it she’s dealing with her husband on the set.
Why is it important to tell Hector’s story to the American public?
Marc Anthony: For the same reason it’s important to tell Ray’s story. It’s culturally significant music. The music is rich and important and I would put his body of work against anyone’s we hold near and dear, the Jim Morrison, the Janis Joplin, the Bob Dylan’s; he was ours. His music legacy stands with all of theirs as does his tragic life. It’s a story that needed to be told. If anyone is interested in diving in the pool that is salsa, you can swim in it all day if you are interested. You can download Pie Conde Rodriguez and Ruben Blades stuff and that really excites me. Just knowing that there is this wealth of music and culture that people will get to know for the first time and he was the figure; he took the brunt of it; he was the pioneer that gets smacked around and people don’t know about him until forty years later when your celebrating as we’re celebrating.
How has Hector’s music affected your music going forward?
Marc Anthony: The thing about Hector’s music and being raised with his music- I realize that his music is almost the soundtrack to my life. I didn’t realize how exposed I was to it until I started doing research. In doing the research I would play the song- I realized there was a story attached to each one of them and I realized the impact of his music and I likened it to the sound track of my life. He was ever present.
Do you remember when he died?
Marc Anthony: Absolutely. And my dad took care of him the last two years of his life. Me and my dad worked at Cardinal Cooke on 106th and 5th Avenue. He used to call my dad Marc Anthony. And he always kept an eye on me and he said a lot of things that were personal.
Did your dad give you any tips?
Marc Anthony: No not really but I sat with my dad for a couple of hours cause my dad really got to know him the lat two years of his life. What he worried about. He didn’t want people to see him the way he was. He spoke a lot about his glory days. He told him to tell his son that he can control this; he can control this not happening, I wish I had known. A lot of things like that my dad would pass on to me.
EL CANTANTE opens on August 3, 2007
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