Jenni Rivera stars in "Filly Brown," her last feature film role. (The Indomina Group )
On her reality television show, Jenni Rivera proved endearing to millions just by being herself. But the 43-year-old Mexican American singer, who was believed to have died in a plane crash early Sunday, also had a desire to act.
Last January, Rivera attended the Sundance Film Festival to promote what would be her first and last film, the independent drama "Filly Brown." In the movie, Rivera plays the incarcerated mother of an aspiring rapper who is trying to maintain a relationship with her daughter from behind bars.
Rivera's part isn't big. Though her character's presence looms over the film, Filly Brown only visits her mother in prison during four intensely emotional scenes. In fact, the role had so little screen time that one of its directors, Youssef Delara, was convinced the popular Latina star wouldn't want to do it.
"It was a lot to ask of a woman of her caliber," Delara said on Sunday, explaining that Rivera spent a month rehearsing with costars and an acting coach before production began. "We knew she had a lot of life experience in her. That's what we worked on."
On set, Delara said, Rivera was a warm presence. Because the film had such a low budget, cast members were only paid a nominal fee of a few thousand dollars. The performer asked Delara to give her salary to an older man who was working as a still photographer on the production who she thought could use the money.
"She came to me and said, 'I don't want anyone to know. Just give him what you would have given me,'" the filmmaker explained.
Gina Rodriguez, the actress who played the titular role, recalled a similar experience during the shoot.
"On set, she found out the second assistant director's mom loved her and then brought her a signed picture, perfume and CD," Rodriguez recalled. "She empowered all and still will."
"Filly Brown" is slated to open in around 100 theaters this April, and Delara is hopeful the movie will convey what he believes would have been "just the beginning of Jenni's acting career."
"She's sort of like the every woman," he said. "A lot of women can relate to the fact that she's not this ingenue. She's just this woman who went through a lot and was forged by all the terrible things she went through."
The film's other director, Michael Olmos, agreed. "She was so honest and open with her life," he said Sunday night. "There was never a wall between her in a professional level and her in a personal level. All her scars were just there, and people can relate to that."
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