What would Jesus wear?
If he were portrayed as a modern-day spiritual leader by Jencarlos Canela, on a day off he’d put on anything that Eva Longoria and Janie Bryant recommend. Collectively, the actress and costume designer have amassed numerous credits, Screen Actors Guild Awards and an Emmy on their résumés, well before working with the 27-year-old singer-actor on the TV comedy “Telenovela.” Thus, it behooves Canela, who portrays Jesus Christ in the upcoming TV musical “The Passion,” to be all ears when the stylish ladies dole out advice.
“You should use this color more — it pops out your eyes,” was one tip from Bryant, Canela recalled. “It’s probably why I’m wearing a green jacket,” he said, flapping the lapel of a military-style cover-up he paired with a black T-shirt and dark jeans last Friday. Plus, a compliment from Longoria on jeans that flatter his slim frame would be reason to “buy, like, 20 jeans I know that she liked, even if they look the same.”
Although boasting more than 9.3 million social media followers as well as Spanish-language singles and albums that have gone gold and platinum, the Miami-born Cuban-American is trying to make a name for himself in Tinseltown, his home of less than a year. Working with Longoria definitely gave him a boost, but the fate of a sophomore season for “Telenovela” on NBC is uncertain.
Canela is also polishing the final mixes for an untitled English-language album that he concedes is months overdue. Eager to stage a mini listening party in a leather banquette at Caulfield’s in Beverly Hills through white Beats By Dre earphones connected to his iPhone, he is smart enough to pay homage to those who’ve made it.
“It’s a little bit of Sting, Prince, definitely Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie-esque type of vibe,” he said.
In the meantime, Canela is preparing for the Sunday Fox broadcast of “The Passion,” which also features Tyler Perry, Seal, Chris Daughtry and Trisha Yearwood. Before flying to New Orleans, where the musical will be broadcast live, he shared his thoughts on his fondness for fragrance, Jesus Christ’s wardrobe and the difference between Miami and L.A. style.
WWD: It’s funny that the two Spanish-language shows that started your career — “Pecados Ajenos” and “Más Sabe el Diablo” — had the words “sins” and “devil” in the titles. Now you’re playing Jesus Christ. Did you think your career would take this path?
Jencarlos Canela: No, I never thought that. I don’t see it as my career took a path with this. I see it as a huge opportunity, an honor, to tell the biggest story ever told and to portray the biggest icon to ever walk the face of the earth. But I’m more spiritual than I’m religious. I think that is the magic of this modern-day telling of the story. I feel my generation has a bit of a disconnect with religion.
WWD: Talk about the move from Miami to Los Angeles. Do you like the style in L.A.?
J.C.: I love it. I love the style. I even love the culture. Here, I feel people are more used to socializing and going out. The thing is, Miami is more, like, club-driven. Don’t get me wrong — I love my [home] city but it’s a different feel. I feel like here, people are used to going to bars and listening to live music. There are more options where you can listen to live music and socialize in those places.
WWD: How would you compare the style: Miami versus L.A.?
J.C.: In Miami, there is no winter.
WWD: People say the same about L.A.
J.C.: At least here there’s a cool breeze. In Miami, if it’s December and it’s 90 degrees, we would put on our leather jackets. We don’t care if we’re sweating balls. We want to have variety in our style. We have to come to terms with the fact that it’s just a shorts, flip-flops, T-shirt type of town.
WWD: Your wardrobe on “Telenovela” is very different from your wardrobe on “The Passion.”
J.C.: I look way older in “Telenovela.” I’m 27. But it was part of the plan to age me a bit. Xavi is all about the eccentric boots and the loud blazers and the patterns and stuff. And Jesus is not. It’s more earthy elements, just way more humble.
WWD: Talk about the wardrobe for “The Passion.” You wear an all-beige outfit, including a trenchcoat. Who chose that? How did it help your performance?
J.C.: The wardrobe stylist [Wendy Talley] chose that for “The Passion.” It was a great balance. It did feel present-time because that’s the whole point of this. We need to grab a 2,000-plus-year-old story and make it relatable in today’s time. Like if it were to happen now. But at the same time, it wasn’t going to be believable to me if Jesus was, like, all gelled up. Not at all. So I really wanted to go as natural as possible. And I feel like those light-brown earth colors were a perfect balance between how humble he was and the contemporary time that we live in.
WWD: You’re already a multitasker because you sing and act. Now, in entertainment, a lot of people do more. They do brand endorsements, they are brand ambassadors and celebrity spokesmodels. Did Eva Longoria, who has a beauty deal with L’Oréal, give you tips on how to do that if you’re interested in it?
J.C.: There’s so much to learn, so much that she has to offer. Really, I just built a friendship with her. It has nothing to do with work. I truly consider her a great friend of mine — someone I love, someone that I would do anything for. When you have as much information as she does, that’s something you, through the friendship, gradually learn and pick up. Everything comes at its time.
WWD: In terms of fashion, accessories and beauty deals, are there any that you’re interested in?
J.C.: I love fragrances. I absolutely love fragrances. I love smelling things.
WWD: What is your favorite?
J.C.: I cannot reveal that information. That’s a man’s treasure. You imagine if I tell you the fragrance I use, you’re going to tell the whole world what fragrance I use and they’re going to start using it. Then I’m not going to smell like me. I’m going to smell like everyone else. I’m kidding, though. But I do mix. I do this thing where I mix so they’re like, “What is that?” People don’t quite know.
WWD: So you’re open to doing a fragrance deal?
J.C.: I’m so big on smelling just right that I would definitely do that. We’ve been extremely picky. We’ve had brands, a lot of brands, come up to us. But I had someone give me a piece of advice once and they said: “You really want to build a brand? You have to learn how to say no.” I think that’s so smart because when you start prostituting yourself and you’re doing this and you’re doing that, you lose credibility with the people. I’ve always been very respectful of that.
WWD: What would it take for you to say “yes” to a brand?
J.C.: Just the right time, the right moment and a brand that I would use even if they didn’t pay me to. It needs to be something that I would genuinely, honestly enjoy representing.
WWD: Do you think your chances are good to get into one of Tyler Perry’s popular movies?
J.C.: Ha. I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him. I hope, again, we can start a friendship. I hope I at least get the opportunity to give it a shot. I love what Tyler does. He has done so much for his community and for entertainment in general.