LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jenni Rivera had other chances to act in films, but she chose to make her movie debut in "Filly Brown" simply because her close friend, Edward James Olmos, made the request. In fact, Rivera didn't even read the script when she agreed to portray a drug-addicted prisoner in the movie.
"I said, 'I need a favor from you, a big one,'" Olmos recalled. "She said, 'What is it?' I said, 'I need you to work with me on a film. I'll send you the script. Let me know if you like the story.' And she goes, 'Eddie, I'm dumbstruck with the understanding that you are asking me to do you a favor.'"
Rivera, a U.S.-born singer who became a huge star among Latin audiences, was killed in a plane crash last Dec. 9 in northern Mexico. "Filly Brown," which has its limited release on Friday, was her first and only film. It also stars Gina Rodriguez and Chrissie Fit as her daughters, and Lou Diamond Phillips as her husband. It was directed by Olmos' son, Michael D. Olmos, and Youssef Delara.
Rodriguez warmly remembers working with Rivera — how apologetic she was when they would rehearse scenes where her character was mean-spirited.
"That was funny, like all the preparation we did for us to get on that set and for her to really, you know be a mother to me, but a mother that she is not used to being. So she really transformed that woman," said Rodriguez. "I am so proud of her performance. I am so blessed I got to work with that woman. I miss her every day. ... But now it's about celebrating that woman because that woman is and always will be fierce."
Both Olmos and Phillips were impressed by Rivera's acting.
"You may know Lou (Diamond Phillips) or you may know me and you are sitting there but you don't know anybody else," explained Olmos. "You are going to get your mind blown because they are brilliant performances. But then you find out this was the first time she ever touched the art form, and this is what she gave us. You could only imagine where she could have gone."
Phillips admitted he knew nothing about Rivera before they worked together on "Filly Brown," but was greatly impressed by her performance.
"This isn't a glamorous role. This is a down and dirty, gritty performance," Phillips said. "She didn't hesitate. She came in and grabbed it with both hands and just wrestled this beautiful performance out of herself and that was impressive."
Rivera and six others died in the plane crash, which remains under investigation. Rivera, a mother of five children and grandmother of two, was 43. Rivera sold more than 15 million copies of her 12 major-label albums. Her soulful singing style and honesty about her tumultuous personal life won her fans on both sides of the border.
Phillips first came to prominence playing Richie Valens in the 1987 biopic "La Bamba," which ends with Valens' death in a plane crash. For Phillips, who got the news of Rivera's death from Olmos, finding out felt like something from "The Twilight Zone."
"When Jenni (Rivera) went down in the plane, for me, maybe me more than anyone else, I had this bizarre sense of the surreal-ness of it because I wouldn't be here if it weren't for 'La Bamba,'" confessed Phillips. "I wouldn't have a career if it weren't for that role and for the tragic loss that Richie's family suffered."
Follow Marcela Isaza at http://www.twitter.com/misaza