Thursday, August 17, 2017 | Updated at 9:14 AM ET

LATEST NEWS

CHANGING THE GAME: How John Leguizamo Continues to Take Risks and Reinvent Himself

First Posted: Jan 26, 2015 12:00 AM EST
Close
81-year-old woman violently robbed at cash machine in Ontario
John Leguizamo

Photo : 108 Media/John Leguizamo/Facebook

"Changing the Game" is a series featuring prominent Latino changemakers and their stories of success, innovation, and vision

--

John Leguizamo says he is "not comfortable being comfortable."

When the multifaceted Latino star takes the stage, many people think of him as a self-deprecating, unrestrained, bilingual and brutally honest comedic rebel who has mastered the art of the one-man show. In the process, however, he has diversified his own art and has shattered stereotypes in the process. In the end, he has essentially created his own genre and carved his own niche.

"I definitely try to create my own path and I have always taken huge risks and I think that's the difference," Leguizamo told Latin Post in an exclusive interview. "I am not afraid of taking risks. I really enjoy them and I think it's really paid off in my life."

He singlehandedly brings to life an entire cast of edgy, racy, fierce and lovable characters, proving the depth of his versatility and true acting chops. The result: some of his greatest works -- one-man shows from "Mambo Mouth," "Spic-O-Rama," "Freak," to "Sexaholix... a Love Story" and "Ghetto Klown."

The Bogotá, Colombia-born and Jackson Heights, Queens-bred actor is now 50 and married with two children. He continues to reinvent himself, staying fresh, relevant, and, of course, always pushing the envelope. He is a "game-changer" in an unconventional way.

"I never allowed myself to be labeled or pigeonholed," he reiterated. "I try to pick stuff that is always super exciting and challenging to me whether it's a film role or stuff that I'm writing or creating. I think that's how you stay relevant and that's how you stay current and young, just challenging yourself, not resting on your laurels or sticking with stuff that is comfortable for you," he said.

Leguizamo's frustration of being typecast fueled him to turn to live theater to reclaim and blast those stereotypes his own way and on his own terms.

"Live theater gave me the opportunity to write what I wanted, what I saw and what I really felt I experienced," he said. "It's like when I was doing 'Mambo Mouth' -- nobody was doing characters with costumes and dressing like a woman ... and then with 'Spic-O-Rama,' I was the first to play his whole entire family, with 'Freak' it was a father and son story and then 'Ghetto Klown' was a bio thing."

"When I did 'Freak,' everyone said: 'Who is going to see that on Broadway? Nobody is going to pay for that,' and then it was a huge, massive hit," he added.

While Hollywood may be precarious, Leguizamo learned that he was his biggest critic. While he previously admitted to succumbing to the pressures of performing (mostly due to his own perfectionism), he kept his head up and forged ahead.

"It's (starring in a one-man show) not easy. I'm not going to lie; it's not a walk in the park. I mean I enjoy the hell out of it, but it takes its toll, physically, psychologically, psychically," he explained. "It took me eight years to put it ('Ghetto Klown') together, to crack certain paradigms. ... "Ya know, how do you put your career and your life together while you're still in it and try not to pat yourself on the back?"

Always on the next level, Leguizamo has teamed up with Brooklyn illustrator Christa Cassano to transform "Ghetto Klown" into a graphic novel, which he calls "one of the things that I am most proud of." It is currently scheduled for a Fall release.

His latest "anti-romantic comedy," "Fugly!," (a film co-written by Leguizamo), is a loose adaptation of his life. Leguizamo plays Jesse Sanchez, a Latino actor who wears many hats as a writer, producer, and stars in his one-man shows after a long run of being typecast as rapists, robbers, drug dealers and pimps in Hollywood films.

In "Fugly!," when Sanchez (Leguizamo) complains that he always plays guys carrying a gun, his agent (Ally Sheedy) reminds him that his niche is "Angry Urban Guy."

The truth is, Leguizamo did get paid for these stereotypical roles and succeeded in them, which he has no qualms about for they helped jumpstart his career and led him in other creative directions. One included the iconic "Benny Blanco from the Bronx" in 1993's "Carlito's Way," alongside Al Pacino.

"It's a classic! I mean it's not a problem playing gangsters; it's just that when that's all that there is, then that's a problem," he pointed out. "It makes the way people see you and see Latin people kind of lop-sided. It would be great if we had the whole spectrum, that's what we're aiming for."

"It was incredible," he said about working with Pacino. "There is nobody that I never worked with who is as present an actor as he is."

While Leguizamo has dubbed Hollywood as "Holly-wouldn't" for too often offering stereotypical roles to Latinos and not having Latinos as the leads in films, he acknowledges that there have been several strides in the Entertainment biz. He also says that's there's a lot more work to do.

At the same token, there have been recent Latino triumphs in TV, including a Golden Globe win for "Jane the Virgin" star Gina Rodriguez as well as a recent move by CBS that includes Leguizamo. On Jan. 23, it was confirmed to Latin Post that Leguizamo will star as the lead in the CBS comedy pilot "Taxi-22," which is "a single-camera comedy project that had been shepherded by the late James Gandolfini" and is based on a French-Canadian comedy.

"The audience has always been there. When I toured, and I know when George Lopez tours, we sell out big houses. Hollywood was late and TV was late to catch up to the fact that Latin people want to see themselves portrayed by themselves. They want to see themselves reflected in authentic stories," he said.

"Before, the Nielsen's were sort of excluding black and Latin people, so you couldn't really get a tally as to what people really liked or didn't like, but now you got exact figures for everything," he added. "Now they know that Latin people ... fund most action, comedies and horror -- Latin people are behind the success of those films. They know that and they go more when they know that a Latin person is in it."

"The problem is that I still don't see Latin people carrying a movie and making their money back. That is still a problem. Alfonso Cuarón's movie ("Gravity") was great, but it was an all-white cast. ("Birdman" Director Alejandro González) Iñárritu's was fantastic but it was an all-white cast... that's still something that is a little funky for me," he said. "The leads or even the second leads, there aren't a lot of us in second or third leads as there should be. There are so many great Latin women stars... and Benecio del Toro, Benjamin Bratt, there are tons of great Latin actors out there."

Hollywood may not be taking the exact strides Latinos deserve, but it's taking some baby steps in attempting to include some Latino leads with the recent "Spare Parts," starring George Lopez, "McFarland USA," starring Carlos Pratts, a newcomer Latino actor alongside Kevin Costner and Ryan Guzman and Jennifer Lopez are taking the leads in "The Boy Next Door."

Baby steps and strides aside, Leguizamo is taking yet another leap.

Leguizamo is testing out his latest show "Latin History for Dummies" at comedy clubs around the country. So far, it's been selling out like wildfire.

"I am very excited by it too; I never really did comedy clubs before. I did theaters and performance arts spaces for Broadway and Off-Broadway. Now, I am going to comedy clubs. It's really exciting man," he said. "The response to the audience is so immediate, they don't hold back. It's not like theater where people are polite and they want to be elevated, educated and transported, they don't want any of that nonsense, the alcohol is transporting and elevating them, they just want jokes!"

"This is a very different piece than what I've done before. There is more data; it's much more informational. I wanted to take this to jails and public schools and so I figured if I bring it to comedy clubs, that's kind of like the same attention span," he laughed.

Joking aside, Leguizamo is dedicated to the next generation. He is a member of The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates keeping the arts in public education. "I read somewhere that 45 percent of Latin kids drop out of school and that was such a tragedy to read that. I felt that I had to do something and that's how 'Latin History for Dummies' was born," he explained.

"I asked myself 'why are these kids dropping out? I understood that. I felt like it too because when you learn history or literature, or anything ... that they don't talk about you or your people, so you feel very disconnected to the historic fabric that made this country, so that's why I wanted to bridge that gap with my show."

Leguizamo, who is proud of his Queens roots, commends his mentors for encouraging him to pursue his dreams and stay in school despite many obstacles.

"It's a lot, a lot easier now," he explained. "There are some of the same things, but it's no way near the challenges that we faced. I am sure everybody says that, but no it was rough man, it was a rough situation, but we had each other. We hung out together and I think that's what gave us strength."

He hopes that with joint efforts through non-profits like The Creative Coalition, the arts will inspire the next wave of aspiring Latino actors, directors, and writers.

"Keeping the arts available to kids in underprivileged neighborhoods in their schools definitely helps them stay in school, helps them express themselves and then you are creating the future directors, writers and artists of America."

© 2015 Latin Post. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Subscribe to LatinPost!

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter for the latest in-depth coverage!

Real Time Analytics