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IFH 589: Confessions of a Hollywood Writer & Actor with John Leguizamo

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Fast-talking and feisty-looking John Leguizamo has continued to impress movie audiences with his versatility: he can play sensitive and naïve young men, such as Johnny in Hangin’ with the Homeboys; cold-blooded killers like Benny Blanco in Carlito’s Way; a heroic Army Green Beret, stopping aerial terrorists in Executive Decision; and drag queen Chi-Chi Rodriguez in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

Arguably, not since ill-fated actor and comedian Freddie Prinze starred in the smash TV series Chico and the Man had a youthful Latino personality had such a powerful impact on critics and fans alike. John Alberto Leguizamo Peláez was born July 22, 1960, in Bogotá, Colombia, to Luz Marina Peláez and Alberto Rudolfo Leguizamo.

He was a child when his family emigrated to the United States. He was raised in Queens, New York, attended New York University and studied under legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg for only one day before Strasberg passed away.

The extroverted Leguizamo started working the comedy club circuit in New York and first appeared in front of the cameras in an episode of Miami Vice. His first film appearance was a small part in Mixed Blood, and he had minor roles in Casualties of War and Die Hard 2 before playing a liquor store thief who shoots Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry.

His career really started to soar after his first-rate performance in the independent film Hangin’ with the Homeboys as a nervous young teenager from the Bronx out for a night in brightly lit Manhattan with his buddies, facing the career choice of staying in a supermarket or heading off to college and finding out that the girl he loves from afar isn’t quite what he thought she was.

The year 1991 was also memorable for other reasons, as he hit the stage with his show John Leguizamo: Mambo Mouth, in which he portrayed seven different Latino characters. The witty and incisive show was a smash hit and won the Obie and Outer Circle Critics Award, and later was filmed for HBO, where it picked up a CableACE Award.

He returned to the stage two years later with another satirical production poking fun at Latino stereotypes titled John Leguizamo: Spic-O-Rama. It played in Chicago and New York, and won the Drama Desk Award and four CableACE Awards. In 1995 he created and starred in the short-lived TV series House of Buggin’, an all-Latino-cast comedy variety show featuring hilarious sketches and comedic routines.

The show scored two Emmy nominations and received positive reviews from critics, but it was canceled after only one season. The gifted Leguizamo was still keeping busy in films, with key appearances in Super Mario Bros., Romeo + Juliet and Spawn. In 1998 he made his Broadway debut in John Leguizamo: Freak, a “demi-semi-quasi-pseudo-autobiographical” one-man show, which was filmed for HBO by Spike Lee.

Utilizing his distinctive vocal talents, he next voiced a pesky rat in Doctor Dolittle before appearing in the dynamic Spike Lee-directed Summer of Sam as a guilt-ridden womanizer, as the Genie of The Lamp in the exciting Arabian Nights and as Henri DE Toulouse Lautrec in the visually spectacular Moulin Rouge!.

He also voiced Sid in the animated Ice Age, co-starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Collateral Damage and directed and starred in the boxing film Undefeated. Subsequently, Leguizamo starred in the remake of the John Carpenter hit Assault on Precinct 13 and George A. Romero’s long-awaited fourth “Dead” film, Land of the Dead.

There can be no doubt that the remarkably talented Leguizamo has been a breakthrough performer for the Latino community in mainstream Hollywood, in much the same way that Sidney Poitier crashed through celluloid barriers for African-Americans in the early 1960s.

Among his many strengths lies his ability to not take his ethnic background too seriously but also to take pride in his Latino heritage.

His new project is The Green Veil premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival:

It’s 1955 and Gordon Rodgers has a dream. It’s the American Dream. And he almost has it made. He lives in the suburbs with his wife and daughter. He goes to church, he works for the government. A respected job for a respectable family man.

Gordon also has a mission. A nefarious secretive mission on behalf of the US government. It’s going well except for one final plot: The Sutton Farm. Owned by Native Americans Glennie and Gilberto Sutton, they refuse to be bought out. So Gordon must force them out by any means necessary. Maybe even abduct them. And it almost works, until the Suttons escape…

At home, Mabel Rodgers is losing her mind. Playing housewife is taking its toll. How she wound up here from a military aviator career, she still doesn’t know. When she discovers Gordon’s’ work folder marked CLASSIFIED she is drawn to the file. When she recognizes wartime friend Glennie Sutton as the mission’s subject, she has no choice but to explore the case herself. And Gordon can never find out.

Gordon’s dream is slipping away. His mission at work is failing. He’s losing control of his family. At what lengths will he go to hold it all together? At what cost to himself and others will he preserve his American Dream? Is this dream even meant for him…or is it all a conspiracy?

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John Leguizamo 0:00
Because I didn't know I was going to be a filmmaker and I thought I was just going to be an actor or writer. And then when I started directing it was like oh wow, I have this Rolodex as How old am I use the word Rolodex I have a rolodex of all this information from Baz Lurman, to Spike Lee to Tony Scott, you know, all their techniques and their problem solving is is all in here, my computer.

Alex Ferrari 0:24
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John Leguizamo 1:41
Good. Good. Thanks for having me on.

Alex Ferrari 1:43
Thank you so much for coming on the show, brother. I appreciate it man, as a fellow Latino filmmaker, you have been an inspiration for many years for me, my friend. So thank you for all the work you've done over the years and all the doors you've opened for all of us, man.

John Leguizamo 1:56
I you know, it has been easy, but it's been. It's been interesting. That's for sure.

Alex Ferrari 2:02
The Hustle is hard.

John Leguizamo 2:03
The Hustle is real man. The Hustle is no joke. I mean, you gotta hustle. It's so crazy that we're like the largest ethnic group in America, the oldest ethnic group after Native Americans and you know, we're all part Native American, at least I am. And, and just our lack of inclusion is so not so naughty.

Alex Ferrari 2:24
It is pretty, it's pretty sad. But I think things are changing. And I think people like yourself are opening some doors for so many people over the years. Now first question, man, how and why in God's green earth did you want to get into this insanity called the film industry?

John Leguizamo 2:37
You know, I don't I don't think it's a thing that you wish upon anybody.

Alex Ferrari 2:44
Only, your enemies, only your enemies not your friends.

John Leguizamo 2:46
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, it's I never knew, you know, I was naive young man from the hood and, and I knew there was no opportunities. So I didn't do it for fame, money, or, or profit. I just did it because it was my it was the thing that made me feel alive. The thing that made me feel whole that brought me sanity get I mean, and I had 17 I found acting classes, you know, and it was like, Oh, my God, this is incredible. And I started reading plays. And I was a play reading maniac addict, I read so many plays. And I just found it so beautiful that you could capture human behavior in the human condition in dialogue and, and have an experience about life and reveal life to other people.

Alex Ferrari 3:35
Now, was there a film a specific film that kind of lit your fuse?

John Leguizamo 3:40
Yeah, I mean, I loved Streetcar Named Desire. You know, that was really powerful to me. That performance was electric, or anything Pacino and De Niro. Did you know

Alex Ferrari 3:51
Anything Marty did pretty much.

John Leguizamo 3:53
Yeah, yeah, pretty much anything Marty did was was, you know, like, Oh my god. This is like Latin people. You know, like how we behave. And you know, as a Latin person being so invisible. You always try to find links to other cultures to feel seen. You know? Like, for me, Richard Pryor was everything and Scorsese.

Alex Ferrari 4:12
I mean, yeah, you look at I mean, for the longest time, I'm Cuban. So the longest time the only guy I had was Al Pacino in Scarface, I mean, that was it. And Ricky Ricardo, obviously, those are, you know, that's your and so so those are the people I had,

John Leguizamo 4:23
Of course, Desi Arnaz is a beast. I mean, they didn't even show that in that movie that that that sort of sad and Lucy movie was like, what? He's he is the bomb. He invented three camera comedies, like having a live audience and a sitcom of residual. I mean, he created all that. And he created Star Trek, you know, he was the one that was a pioneer and having he was like the first studio independent studio owner and the first Latin guy to own a studio.

Alex Ferrari 4:55
It was no it was it was insane. It was insane. But there wasn't a lot of there wasn't a lot of Latino was coming up. That's why when I always say it on the show is the first time I ever saw I could even direct was watching Robert Rodriguez. When I saw mariachi come out, I was like, oh, oh, so we can do this.

John Leguizamo 5:11
I know, I know. It's crazy. Like, you know why, why aren't we allowed? Why weren't we allowed to do this? I mean, it's so crazy. It's like, I saw so many talented actors growing up that, you know, unfortunately, couldn't this industry just didn't sustain them, you know, and they had to give up and it was sad to see all this wasted talent and all these dreams evaporate. You know.

Alex Ferrari 5:36
Now, early in your career, you had the pleasure of working with Mr. Brian De Palma on a film called casualties of war. Yes, man. What was that? Like? I've heard nothing but epic stories of the insanity on that set, and the brilliance of what they were trying to do and, and Sean and Michael and what was it like being nude?

John Leguizamo 5:56
It was crazy. It was crazy. I mean, I know we're here to talk about greenbelts.

Alex Ferrari 6:00
We will, we will, we'll get to it. We will get to talk a little bit about we're gonna go going down the road.

John Leguizamo 6:05
You know, I love casualties of war. To me, it was it was a such an important film. Because I didn't know Brandon and I are in a bind department. And I sort of started to get to know each other and trust each other. I think that there has to be a trust between a director and an actor. And therefore when I got to Carlitos way, he had this confidence in me. And he brought this incredible performance out of me by allowing me to fail on a Carlitos way, like I did like 30 takes he wasn't letting anybody do that. He let me do 30 takes on film of just my entrance as Benny Blanco. And he would laugh and I will do crazy. I would knock the waiters tray off in one takeout. I would push people out of the way. I flicked what he loved it loved that he was and that love gave me my freedom. That was my freedom. But that was probably his way. Couches was just crazy. It was crazy. Like you were he's a rehearsing kind of direct, you know, they're not too many of those. And he storyboards everything but we drove it himself. I don't even know how he reads it. I saw those hieroglyphics. I don't know how. But he maps it all out. That's the genius you're dealing with. And a lot of people got fired, you know, the rehearsals. Really, I don't know if I should say who but whatever. A lot of a lot of names got fired, and other people took their parts and became bigger actors for it. You know, it was difficult, really difficult. And then the content was, you know, he was our God at that moment, the best actor of the generation. And he was, he was married to Madonna. He was at, yeah, he left the set. We closed for three days while he went to America to see the Sphinx. Tyson fight was lasted 91 seconds. You know, like the shortest fight ever the longest flight or the shortest fight, you know, imagine getting on a plane to Thailand. That was like a 2425 20 hour flight back then another 28 hours back?

Alex Ferrari 8:08
And was Was there a filmmaker or actor that you kind of looked up to as you were coming up like you just like, that really inspired you to do what you do?

John Leguizamo 8:19
I looked at everybody. Everybody was above me. I was down here and everybody was up here and I looked to everybody, man. I mean, I gotta say Richard Pryor to me was was a big inspiration. Lenny Bruce, when I discovered him Flip Wilson Lippmann Yeah, yeah, that was that was gonna say, but I think I can't curse, right? Yeah, because it's okay. I'm gonna fucking was a big inspiration to me, you know? And then, you know, of course there was, you know, I say with Lee Strasberg. I started at HP studios. So these teachers, I work with some of the great teachers in American acting, you know, the greatest teachers. And then when Hamlin you know, who taught Denzel Washington, Alec Baldwin, you know. And then they took me under their wing and I was a big I was a big student. I love learning. It was a place that could act because they there wasn't a lot of opportunity for Latin man. So my opportunities were an acting class. You know, that's where I can do all the big plays and all the big scenes from everything you know.

Alex Ferrari 9:27
Now, there's one part man that I just want to get one of your my favorite parts that you've ever done was clown. On Dude, that was so hypnotic. I remember sitting in the theater watching that performance, and you couldn't recognize you because you know, that insane suit everyone's afterward like who was calling John Leguizamo was that holy crap that was amazing. What did you do to get in the mind of such a psychotic character?

John Leguizamo 9:58
To it it was it wasn't easy. I'm not gonna lie. And, you know, it's funny you say I was unrecognizable because the whole director was like, no, no, we're, we're doing it so we can recognize the principle. But yeah, I'm unrecognizable. I mean, I had teeth prosthetics, I had ginormous contacts, and my whole face was glued with this press. My whole, you know, after the after, like a couple of weeks, I had blisters all over my face, pause. My face is rah, rah. And I didn't know what I was gonna do. And I was kind of Flim Flam and the director was a sweetheart. And he was like, Hey, can we just get a taste of what you gonna do? I go do it, do it. It'll come when we get on that set. And we say, action, but I had no idea what was going to come out of me. And I was panicked, right, bro. And I took cloud lessons. I was doing everything that to help me

Alex Ferrari 10:58
So you were trying to figure so you were trying to you didn't know you didn't know when you accepted the role. You didn't know how you were going to do it. You were just trying to.

John Leguizamo 11:04
I knew I was gonna say some crazy shit that I knew. I knew I was gonna say some crazy stuff. And they knew I was going to ad lib. And we had, you know, I had prepared them that I was going to outlive a lot of stuff. So I was they were cool with that. This was the voice and how are you going to? I had no idea and then the day and they they kept saying please give us a taste of gold. Dude. You're interfering my process because like bullshit, because I had no idea. Action. This voice came out this weird, you know, whatever. But you know, I started and that was that was it just came out. You didn't?

Alex Ferrari 11:41
You didn't practice that prior?

John Leguizamo 11:43
No. No, what I was gonna do. I had no idea. I was like, I don't know.

Alex Ferrari 11:47
So you mean to tell me that you had all the makeup on? You never practiced the word and you're like, okay, something's gonna just come through me the same section. They say action.

John Leguizamo 11:56
Well, I was praying. I wasn't really sure. It was right, but yeah, wow. But sometimes it's moments where you gotta pray.

Alex Ferrari 12:05
Know Exactly. You just gotta like, something has to come through me because

John Leguizamo 12:08
Something better come through because he's in a lot of money. And we're disappointed a lot of people.

Alex Ferrari 12:13
I'm all dressed up. I gotta get I gotta get some I got Yeah.

John Leguizamo 12:19
Go to your wedding. And you know, that haven't made up the mind, in your mind in your head that you gotta say yes.

Alex Ferrari 12:26
Do you do take her? I'm like,

John Leguizamo 12:27
Ah, oh, I never thought about it.

Alex Ferrari 12:32
I knew what I was gonna say maybe when I got up here.

John Leguizamo 12:35
But now that I'm up here, I don't know. I'm having my doubts.

Alex Ferrari 12:38
I mean, so when you approach roles, do you? I mean, do you often do that? Or was that? No, no, no, never. Never. Never. That was just that it was such an insane scene roll. It's a character.

John Leguizamo 12:48
Yeah, just never like I'm gonna add rehearsed i I thought so. I rehearsed, the more rehearse the better I am. I mean, the roll had lived in me for a couple months, you know, I did. I wasn't doing any other job at the time. I was really just living with it subconsciously. And, you know, a lot of actors talk about that. And, and my teachers say that, you know, sometimes, like Meryl Streep will fall asleep with a script and just let her sit there. Let it take her subconscious. So, you know, I do a lot of that too. And I've always done that. It's a strange thing. But you do you, you fall asleep. And somehow you're in this meditative state, and then the character starts taking over you. And so but I was just stating with this character, not wanting to test did not want to try for some weird reason. And then it popped out like that.

Alex Ferrari 13:35
That's awesome, man. That's awesome. I always love.

John Leguizamo 13:38
So I appreciate I appreciate this. I've never shared this information with anybody.

Alex Ferrari 13:41
So I appreciate I appreciate this. Exclusive. I appreciate that.

John Leguizamo 13:43
No, that was embarrassed by that.

Alex Ferrari 13:47
You're good. You've done okay. So for yourself, sir. It's okay. Yeah, you can admit these things now? No, because I always wondered what because I've saw that performance. I was like, Man, that's he I always thought you didn't get enough credit because that was such a rockstar frickin performance, man. And the more you know, blowing smoke up your ass, it was just such like, I remember it so vividly. Doing I haven't seen spawn, since it probably came out. And I still remember the damn performance. And I've seen 1000s of movies since. So it stuck with me. So it was just one of those things just like wow, man, how I just always wondered how we got in there. Because, you know, I would I would ask Joaquin how he helped me to get into the Joker. Like, when you get into psychology and economics.

John Leguizamo 14:28
Oh, my God, that was one of the most beautiful performing. I just got chills talking about that performance. I watched that movie three times because I loved the movie. I love the script. I love the soundtrack. Oh, he is the motherfucking Mac Daddy Daddy Mac of all time.

Alex Ferrari 14:44
I mean, he's he's the goat. There's no question. No question whatsoever. And I always like asking actors this. What do you look for in a director? Because there's a lot of filmmakers who listen to the show and I want them to understand what actors are really looking for in a collaborator.

John Leguizamo 14:58
Well, you know As you get older, I mean, you understand what, what helps you be your best, and helps you. You know, I like to direct your who lets me feel safe that I can fail, allows me to fail allows me to play. And then I'll give you, you know, some horrible shit and some amazing shit. But if you give me the space to, to fail and let me try and experiment before you start giving me your input and before you start shaping me, Nick Multiset, it's so beautifully. And it stuck with me for life, he was with this director and started giving line readings and telling them how to do it. And he said, My talent, my talent is like this feather he had a feather in his hat on the way he carried it from but he said it was like this feather. And when they give me a line reading, this is what happens to my ability. Gone. And I was like, Yeah, that's what happens when, if a director steps in too early and you're experimenting, all you can hear is their choices. You can no longer hear your own impulses or your own intuition. You can't hear it anymore. So yeah, I mean, I love when directors come when I'm dried up, or I'm blind, please come with something. Somebody saved my ass. I'm more than welcome. But let me allow me allow me to do my thing first, and then come and shape it.

Alex Ferrari 16:16
You know, you gotta you gotta run around the room a little bit. You got to bump into some walls, but I saw it and have the freedom to do so as opposed to like, no, no, don't run into that wall. Like let me run into the wall so I could drive it out and hang out there.

John Leguizamo 16:28
That's you know, Spike Lee gave me that Brian De Palma and casualties in Carlitos way gave me that brat feminine the take gave me all that space like that. And Spike Lee on in summer, Sam, you know, he has had so much fun together.

Alex Ferrari 16:47
Is there anything you've worked with so many legendary directors over your over your career, my friend? What is there anything you brought in into your own filmmaking into your own producing into your own writing, that you've been able to bring in from some of these masters that you've worked with?

John Leguizamo 17:02
Absolutely, man, I had no idea, you know, that theory influence would live with me for the rest of my life. Because I didn't know I was going to be a filmmaker, you know, I thought I was just going to be an actor or writer. And then when I started directing, it was like, Oh, wow, I have this Rolodex as How old am I use the word Rolodex have a role that picks up all this information from Baz Lurman to Spike Lee to Tony Scott, you know, all their techniques, and their problem solving is is all in here, my computer, and I can have access to it. And when I did critical thinking, I was like I had all these problems at a tiny budget. I had these great actors, but we had all these problems with shooting shooting in the real hood. And they tried to, you know, put guns at us to get us out, you know, and people were being shot around. It was a madness was happening. You know, it happens in every film. It's like, and but I had the solutions and I had all these techniques and it was great to have all that information from these masters.

Alex Ferrari 18:03
Is there ever a day I have to believe there is as either a filmmaker or as an actor that it was like kind of the whole world was coming crashing down around you you thought at least and you know whatever that might be whatever it was that day was happened to you. How did you overcome those obstacles of that moment of that day? Whether acting or filmmaking?

John Leguizamo 18:44
I mean, critical thinking had that, but I gotta say the take with Brad Furman, that was his first film. And we became buds for life. You know, We're bros for the rest of our lives. I'm doing a movie with him right now called Tin Soldier with Bobby De Niro and Jamie Foxx and Clint, uh, Scott Eastwood. And my daughter actually, nice, but but the take man, everything that could go wrong in an independent film went wrong on this movie. But it made us a force. You know, I stopped by my director and then Rosie jumped in the three of us. We muscled and willed this movie into happening, and you're not protecting the director because because everything was going wrong. The first time we started shooting the chef's that way, because we were in the hood in Boyle Heights, and these these gang members came up and they wanted to eat our craft service. And it's like, Yo, when their hood let them eat the food who gives a fuck? It's like, well, how much does that chicken cost you? Let me let me buy that for you and give it to them anyway, they wanted the food. And he said no, and the kid grabbed it and he choked the dish chef tried to choke the kid kid pulls out a gun. So now we got guns. way, police come immediately shoot a shut down our set. There are helicopters flying around the director. Brad was brilliant. He was like Filming Filming. That's our opening credits.

Alex Ferrari 20:12
Because you got all that extra, all the extra production value and

John Leguizamo 20:15
Amazing production value up the ass. That was day one, day two hair makeup quit, because they can't work in this dangerous set. And Rosie like I got Caribbean hair. I need somebody to do my hair. So you know her hair for the rest of the movies like here and there. Because he's doing it herself. Right right. Now is day two.

Alex Ferrari 20:37
I love I love the idea that you said that I protected my director because on a film like that. That was his first it was his first feature, right? Yeah. So he was his first feature. And I'm sure there was money, people and producers and everything. Oh, yeah. They're looking for a reason to get rid of the director. Especially if they're falling behind or shifts happening,

John Leguizamo 20:54
I think, yeah, they turn the director easily. Yeah, right. Exactly. You know, I'm, I'm old school man, you know, I don't know, I don't know where that comes from, from being grown up in the hood. And you always taught to loyalty is the most important thing. Or being a Latin person, your your loyalty is everything, you know that we do that. That's all we care about. So anyway, all that, you know, I I'm gonna take care of this kid, this kid has hard, he's got talent. And I'm not gonna let nobody take him down. You know, so I just stopped by him and I go, shoot, we're gonna go, I'm going to the hood every day. I don't care. And we're gonna gorilla you know, I still shots and buses. Really? Were still shots everywhere, you know? Yeah. Because the third day, I gotta tell you the third day, the sag comes in and takes away. The kid who was my play my son, he shot three days with him the third day, they said he had forged his a, it was an F, and he had made it look like a and they had to take him out. So we had to reshoot with a new kid. That was it was doing every day. 28 days of madness like that. And he just kept going, yeah, just kept going.

Alex Ferrari 22:05
It's amazing. And that's something that so many filmmakers coming up don't understand the insanity of what it is to make an independent film and, and having

John Leguizamo 22:14
You gotta love it.

Alex Ferrari 22:18
You love the creative and

John Leguizamo 22:19
You're more creative, because you're being pushed against the wall. And you have to solve these problems. And you have to get through your film and you have to get you want to get creative work. You don't want to just shoot something that's average.

Alex Ferrari 22:31
So what I love about your career is that you've worked on indie films, obviously, like a really low budget world. And you've also worked on some of the biggest budget films and with the biggest directors and the biggest diehard every die hard to make every resource that you're described, right. How does, let's say a Baz Luhrmann on Moulin Rouge, which obviously was not an indie film, indie film was such a big subject.

John Leguizamo 22:57
And there was not there's nothing like that or nothing ever will be like that.

Alex Ferrari 23:02
It's one of my favorite films of all time.

John Leguizamo 23:03
Oh my god, it was a game changer. Love, I mean, 27 angles on certain scenes, bro, we would do B takes on certain stuff.

Alex Ferrari 23:14
How many cameras was shooting? How many cameras was shooting?

John Leguizamo 23:16
No, no, yeah, he had like three or four. So you'd move them all around. So it was like, you know, hours and days

Alex Ferrari 23:23
On once it so they need to just to be at the core here.

John Leguizamo 23:28
Then they move into the other section. Then they incrementally not like all the way to the other side. Just incrementally moving it around, up here down. I mean, he got every angle, you know, through you know, the Moulin Rouge I think was very disconcerting for a lot of old school filmmakers and people because it moves so fast. And it was cutting the cutting was so quick and so it made people dizzy, but it was for the rest of us who were young, we loved it. It was groundbreaking groundbreaking,

Alex Ferrari 23:56
And the music the way he was able to incorporate old music and new music and,

John Leguizamo 24:01
He was the first to do that to us all music and then they became like, such an annoying trick that everybody's using now in too much, you know?

Alex Ferrari 24:08
But so so when you're working with someone like like bass or like on Romeo Juliet cheeses, like what was it like reciting Shakespeare, and that is beautiful insanity that he had built for you.

John Leguizamo 24:20
Well, you know, I love Shakespeare, but I don't love doing it. I didn't think I'd love it. I love it. Now, as I'm older, you know, I'm not you know, like, like musicians are either classic classical or jazz. That was more of a jazz instrument. You know, that's what I fancied myself and what I liked. So I was moving towards that. But when I got into the Shakespeare, I was like, Oh, I can I can groove with this. And we did a two week workshop. And, you know, I was tickled and I was tickled too much. I was getting into fights in the street. Had my tongue broken by getting into fights. I mean, it was the character sometimes overtakes you and it makes you stupid. But it was amazing. I mean, He was so specific about his vision, you know, he had a vision. And and, you know, he told me he wanted to be a flamenco dancer and a bullfighter. So I studied that. And I started taking, I took flamenco classes and all that, to give them that, that way of moving, because they are much more much more street and he wanted me to be, you know, very elegant. thing. Yeah, mad,

Alex Ferrari 25:32
Mad. But like, so working with someone like that, who had such a specific vision. I mean, I remember watching Romeo and Juliet when I went to the theaters to see it. And my first thought was like, how did this get financed? How did this get approved? How did this sneak through?

John Leguizamo 25:48
Not easy? I mean, Moulin Rouge was not easy. I saw what that brother had to struggle to get that money out of the studios, you know, it's not just Latin people and black people who struggle to get films of a white folk struggled to a different way. But, you know, he had to prove he had to prove that, that Romeo and Juliet was viable. They don't want to do period stuff. They don't want to do Shakespeare, they don't want to do arty stuff. They don't think it has commercial value. So he did a whole audition with Leo DiCaprio and, and locations and he had lookbooks. And he had the music, he had the had the whole vision. And he had to convince the studio to cough up the cash so that he could shoot this film. And then he has his massive hit. Huge, then he's got to convince them again, that he can do a musical because musicals the last successful musical was Greece in 1972. And we're shooting now in 1999 2000. Yet, so we had to do a do it again. So we had to do you know, visual visuals with Ewan McGregor and, and Nicole Kidman, auditioning and you know, it was wild.

Alex Ferrari 26:55
So that I didn't think about that you're right and wasn't a musical since Greece before Milan was and then after

John Leguizamo 27:01
They all failed. They all fail. So it was like the musical was dead on film. Right. But then after Moulin Rouge, then Chicago ended all he opened it up. He proved that it can be successful. Right, right. That's remarkable, man. No, no, he's brilliant. Man. You can't you can't underestimate his genius. He's, he's one of the one of the one of a kind.

Alex Ferrari 27:20
Yeah, yeah, that's what I'm dying to see Elvis.

John Leguizamo 27:22
I can't wait. Oh, yeah, no, I know, everything he touches.

Alex Ferrari 27:25
It's, it's absolutely remarkable. Is there something man that you wish someone would have told you at the beginning of your career, like, go back and be like, Man, you know, watch out for this.

John Leguizamo 27:36
I mean, I feel like I struggled with not the acting part. I mean, I didn't realize that the racism, that talent in Trump race, racism, I really thought that I really believed that I was naive, or a dreamer, whatever you just believe you can, you can change the world. But I didn't realize that there was a glass ceiling, I didn't, I didn't understand that I didn't really believe it, I didn't want to believe it, I think it would have disillusion me, but there was a glass ceiling, you just would never going to get you thought I did this role I worked with these great directors. Now I'm going to get those leads, I want to get those important leads that leads you to Oscars that lead you to, to the same equal status as as your white peers, you know, but they weren't, they weren't coming and, and you vie for them. And they don't consider you because your Latin dude or the other was there was a lot of stuff going on that, you know, kept in denial in the writing was the same way too. Like I always had all these great scripts, and I would go around from studios and they were like, all we love it. Well, and then they had no reason why they didn't want to do it. They just were never gonna do a Latin project. Written white scripts boom, there was that I would have been a famous screenwriter, but it was so difficult to get. It's still difficult to get Latin content out there. I mean, I hear the conversations that that they're having, you know, they'll be okay with two Latin people, maybe three. But if it's like, two they want the lead. The two leads to be Latin not so not not so much the money folk that the money's conversation is still like that.

Alex Ferrari 29:13
Really? I think nowadays it's I mean, considering from the 80s and 90s. Were just miles different than we were then. Yeah, as far as that kind of just inclusion in general. And other they tried.

John Leguizamo 29:25
They tried. They definitely they definitely tried but there's still like roadblocks and and yeah, yeah. And silent. You know, unspoken quotas? Definitely. I'm not gonna I'm not gonna lie. I'm being straight up with you.

Alex Ferrari 29:38
I appreciate that. No, I appreciate that. And it's so fascinating because I was like asking, you know, actors of yours, like someone of your statute has done so many things. Hasn't named people know who you are. You still have problems getting projects made, and I want people to understand. It's not like, Oh, you're John Leguizamo. You could just you know, just make a phone call and you can have 5 million and make your own movie.

John Leguizamo 29:57
No, no, I could. I could, but but I don't Want to water down? I'm an artist, I see myself as an artist and as a pioneer. Right? And I don't want to ward down my things. I don't want to have to whitewash everything I do.

Alex Ferrari 30:12
I understand what you're saying, right? So to maintain the integrity of your project, right,

John Leguizamo 30:16
I mean, you know, everything could be you know, one Latin dude and one white dude, you know, like, you know, do the do the thing that they always want. They want to just want to nepotistic Bill business in terms of wanting white actors to be in your projects, because that's what they they still old school mentality. And they think that that's going to sell. But you know, I mean, well, there was a time that Will Smith couldn't get an action film then and then he proved to the world that yeah, black people are box office gold internationally. You know, there was that whole conversation that that era.

Alex Ferrari 30:47
Yep. Yeah, I remember. Yeah. Like I remember you're like, oh, it's African American. You can't can't put them in it. Dude.

John Leguizamo 30:53
Isaac's look at Oscar Isaac, if things were fair, and non racist, he'd be Oscar Isaac Hernandez, but he can't. He is still in this modern day, he has to go by Oscar Isaac, because if he had the Hernandez still on his on his resume, he might not get those rolls those leads, because that's what is going on. That's, that's, that's a sign of the times. That's really fun. And I'm being straight up with you. I mean, most people won't talk about these things because it's ugly, and they don't want to talk about it. But But I want some things to change.

Alex Ferrari 31:24
Yeah, agreed. And that's why, you know, that's one of the reasons why I do the show is I want to educate people about what's, what the realities of this business are. And you can't look at, you can't look at life, you know, especially walking into this business with started. I'm like, I have a dream. Just because I watch movies. It's all beautiful. I watch the Oscars. It's like nice, but I always I always tell people, you want a great analogy for Hollywood. Look at Oscar night. Oscar night. Looks gorgeous. The night after the Oscars. I wouldn't go down to where the Oscars were at night. Right Hollywood, Hollywood Boulevard eat pretty pleased. Except for that one week is great. But that's true. They sell the sizzle, but they don't sell the steak. They're not good at selling that statement. They sell that sizzle. Great, though. Don't they

John Leguizamo 32:08
That's true. It's true. I mean, they I mean, the people don't like to talk about what what is really going on. I mean, and you know, you if you blow up, what's going on, people aren't happy about it either. And they don't usually like that. And you become a little bit of, you know, of a lightning rod. Careful.

Alex Ferrari 32:27
Exactly. But you know, what things are changing. And I think people aren't. They are moving forward. There's things look, like I said before it like in 91 Robert Rodriguez, the first Latin director I'd ever seen in my life, right, though there were others, but he was the first one I saw. And I was like, oh, and he's 23. And oh, I could go on.

John Leguizamo 32:46
Well, you know, you thought that was gonna blow the damn open. You thought Oh, my God. Now every lap director has a chance. And it didn't happen. Which is crazy. And then now you but you got your camera Toros. And you got your Oh, yeah, of course. I mean, of course, they have to like work, you know, white. But you know,

Alex Ferrari 33:06
To a certain extent, yeah. But like, I remember coming up as a commercial director. I couldn't do I was in Miami, and I couldn't do Latino spots and put them on my reel for the Spanish, right? Absolutely. Because Because if I did that, then I would be pigeonholed as a right Spanish director, I put it then do general market.

John Leguizamo 33:25
I was told when I begin, don't change your name, you can almost pass free Italian. If they don't know, then you'll be okay. Stay out of the sun. You know, all these things. You know, work on your accent and stuff like that. And you know,

Alex Ferrari 33:38
It's insane. But look, things are changing. And hopefully they'll continue to go down that path without question. Now let's talk about your new project, the green film and I absolutely love what you're doing with it, that the idea about it? Can you tell everybody what it's about?

John Leguizamo 33:52
Yeah, well, this is another pioneering young director that I'm backing that I believe in. I think he's a great, great new talent. And he's trying this new thing. It's never been done before. It's usually what you do with independent films doing negative pickup. And this is kind of like that old school system of, you know, you shoot your film, because you believe in that you wanted to have artistic integrity, then you sell it, you know, at a film festival. So we did this with a TV series, six episodes. And so we shot that first, raise the money, shot it. And now we got into the Tribeca Film Festival, which is incredible, that they gave us this space, because they love the project. And it's about in the 1950s. And before that the government and the FBI and come in oil companies wanted Native American land. And they started in the I think late 1800s, or the 1900s was taking their kids away from them. So if they took away their culture and their identity, they wouldn't go back to the reservation. And they could take the land from it because it wouldn't inherit If so, and then in this 50s 60s and 70s, they started taking the children from them with excuses and giving them up for adoption. So they could end the reservation, take the land and get the oil. So this takes place in 1950. And I play an FBI guy, a self hating, you know, Latin guy who's taking these native kids from their homes and putting them up for adoption is true story based on Tuesday to events.

Alex Ferrari 35:27
When I was watching it, I was like, I've heard this story. So the 60 Minutes story about it. They did a whole bit. Oh, yeah. Yeah, they did a 60 minute story I thought it was so in saying that they literally just kidnapped kids and kind of put them in like these brainwashing scenarios like, like, just trying to strip the culture out of them. And then the abuse that happened and all the dads Yeah, that they were killed. They were dying, and they were being treated inhumanely,

John Leguizamo 35:53
But it wasn't to get the land it was to get the land

Alex Ferrari 35:55
I did'nt know about the land part. That's pretty

John Leguizamo 35:57
Yeah, he that. Yeah. That the reason was, yeah, it wasn't. Oh, it wasn't like, oh, we want to help them. No, it was to take their land. Because if they if they weren't tied to the land, they would move to cities, they would move away. And they were moving them away into white families that would adopt them that were born nearby.

Alex Ferrari 36:15
Now, Has this gotten bought yet? Or are you now hoping.

John Leguizamo 36:19
No no the first day is, the first day is coming up June. I think it's June 15. So first?

Alex Ferrari 36:25
Yeah. Oh, night and then hopefully, you're you're looking for someone to come in? And yeah, doing XPO or Showtime? Netflix or somewhere like that? Yeah. Yeah.

John Leguizamo 36:36
That's never been done before. So this is, hopefully this, this is a new thing that can be done. You know, like, Epic is sort of the new the new independent film would be like a four part or six part series.

Alex Ferrari 36:47
I mean, I think in generally on the business side of things, there's more value in a series than there isn't a film nowadays. Now nowadays. It's correct. Not artistically talking business wise. Because I you know, in distribution world, like you got more content, it's better. It's a bigger

John Leguizamo 37:04
1 4 5 night experience. Yes, six, nine. They want the quick. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 37:09
They want the Queen's gambit. That's like, yeah, Mini Series or Series that can continue. But no, when I saw what it was about, I was like, man, God bless, John for, for getting this out there, man. Because it's a story that it's just in the mainstream would come out. It just wouldn't.

John Leguizamo 37:25
Exactly. Yeah. And you know, and we have the, the the approval of, of a Native American nation. And we have a few Native American actors in it as well, you know, to keep representing themselves. Sure in lead roles. Yep.

Alex Ferrari 37:43
That's awesome, man. That's awesome. Now, I'm gonna ask you a couple questions. I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

John Leguizamo 37:54
Well, I mean, definitely go to the grade schools. You know, you got you got that's the best place to try and, you know, try to shoot as much as you can, you know, and work with everybody and work with your friends and create a community I think. I think I saw that. We all saw that with Spielberg, and Coppola,

Alex Ferrari 38:18
Marty,

John Leguizamo 38:19
Oh, yeah. Yeah, they all hung together. They read each other's scripts, they helped each other. And then gamla Toro era to enough was grown, had a company, and then they were producing Latin content, they were helping each other out. I mean, that's the thing is create a community. Don't make other directors, your enemy. Make them do your brothers and your sisters, and create those communities that you help each other. You make each other's scripts better, and you make each other's projects better, and you help them make their projects that's you help each other you piggyback and you create better and more content.

Alex Ferrari 38:51
I always love that story of when when George Lucas played Star Wars for that gang of all Yeah. And everyone's like, Oh, I'm sorry, George. This sucks. That's not gonna work. It's not gonna work man at all. And the only one was Steven Spielberg. He was like, You got something here? I think

John Leguizamo 39:07
You got you got dipalma and Coppola.

Alex Ferrari 39:12
School of Film aliens. Yeah, millions, millions. For God's sakes. I mean, can you imagine? What is the biggest lesson you learn from your biggest failure?

John Leguizamo 39:23
That you can't? You can't plan for that shit. You can't You can't go around your whole life full of fear and going, Oh, I got to make the right choice. No, I think you have to take risks. And you got to live. You got to go with your gut. Even if it fails, you got in the failures. They may hurt you a little bit, but you got to keep going and don't let the failures define you. You know, that's what I learned from that. I'm not gonna let you know. Luckily, I grew up in a tough neighborhood. I knew the business was never for me. So I never really embraced it. So I don't really accept their opinion of me. You know, I mean, I just Keep going and do my thing. I'm not gonna let them define me in any kind of way because they've always tried to find me in the negative

Alex Ferrari 40:07
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

John Leguizamo 40:13
Oh shit that's that's a good question. Um well that you know that that writing takes a lot of rewriting that's that's the biggest lesson that writing is just crazy amounts of rewriting and you so you better love your rewriting because that's, that's the better be joyful because it's going to be every you're gonna spend all your hours because I'm a writer, right

Alex Ferrari 40:37
Now, when three of your favorite films of all time.

John Leguizamo 40:40
No, I mean, godfather of course, Annie Hall. And Raging Bull. I guess those are my favorite three films.

Alex Ferrari 40:48
That's a good that's my friend. That's good. True, brother. Man. You obviously have so much passion for what you do. He just it's falls off the screen as I'm talking to you. And after all the years you've been doing this man, you still are so passionate about your project you're still so passionate about what you're doing and about helping people about opening doors about creating opportunities for people man I got to thank you man for doing that and continuing to do it and being a champion for not only Latino filmmakers but for artists man and and get things out there that

John Leguizamo 41:20
I love my artists man. Yeah, I love I love

Alex Ferrari 41:22
I love and I love that you just like you are a risk taker. You have been since the beginning of when you were first on Miami Weissman back Yeah. Yay.

John Leguizamo 41:30
19, looked like such a punk. Yeah

Alex Ferrari 41:33
You know what, but everybody went through Miami Vice brother, everybody.

John Leguizamo 41:36
Everybody did everybody. That was I was like every Latin person that they gave us work. It was the time that it online people were all every actor you ever met that was Latin was working?

Alex Ferrari 41:49
Absolutely. Because it was all going to Miami Vice. I had it almost on a while ago. And he would tell me stories dude. Oh my god, the stories of him and Don Johnson battling it out and his his method and he like owned his character. So like, he just told everybody what to do about his character. And like everybody was pissed off about it. But anytime they had a problem they call Michael man up. And Michael man is like, it's Eddie. Let him do whatever he wants to do.

John Leguizamo 42:12
Oh, wow. How beautiful is that?

Alex Ferrari 42:14
It was like I was I was like, how did you get that? And he's like, I just asked for it at the beginning of my career, and I never let go of it. And I'm like,

John Leguizamo 42:20
Amazing, amazing such a great spirit to I love that dude

Alex Ferrari 42:24
God. So listen brother. Thank you again, man for everything you do. Congrats on your new project. And I hope it sells man. I hope this is the beginning of a new thing.

John Leguizamo 42:31
I know. We'll know soon it is coming up.

Alex Ferrari 42:35
I appreciate you brother. Thanks again, man.

John Leguizamo 42:37
Thank you for having me, man.

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