Multi-talented, many-dimensional John Leguizamo has just launched a live one-person show in conjunction with Cooper Union in lower Manhattan, “Ghetto Nerd Power,” which could be watched on YouTube—one of his efforts during COVID. “It’s teaching you what not to do … all the mistakes I made … turning down different parts … teaching you not to fight with lead actors in movies …”
Bogota, Columbia native Leguizamo, his wife, Justine Maurer and their two children have been spending most of their COVID time in Amagansett, with visits to their Manhattan home. “My wife grew up in Westhampton … as an artist, I like the ‘artsy scene’. In Amagansett, people are far away from you but it is a little community as well.”
Restaurant sightings for Leguizamo could include: il Buco in Montauk, Fresno in East Hampton (Leguizamo recommends their drinks and fish!), Mitad Del Mundo Café in East Hampton for Spanish food and La Fondita in Amagansett.
Leguizamo’s reputation throughout movies, plays and television offers abundant versatility with comedy and humor roles to deep drama where he’s interpreting thugs, criminals and complex heavies. “Part of it has been Hollywood putting people of color in certain negative roles … I always try to make the best of it. When I studied with Lee Strasberg, I studied ‘The Method’ and the biggest lesson: Research. This is how I do my best work, when I am researching people who are like the character I am playing … mannerisms, lingo … inhabiting their soul.”
“For example,” Leguizamo elaborates, “when I was preparing for Carlito’s Way, I spent a lot of time with NYC gangsters … I did runs with them … it was kind of stupid because I put my life in danger not realizing it at the time … I was young, foolish and thought I was invincible! I figured since I was a celebrity—they’re not going to hurt me … wrong!”
“When I played Emir Abreu in The Infiltrator playing an FBI undercover cop, I spent a lot of time with the creator of the role who was an FBI investigator and the real-life person I was portraying … asking questions … asking him to help me go through drills … I try to spend time with the people who are like my characters.”
When asked about current NYC living, Leguizamo evokes a romantic rebel zest growing up in the 1970s in several Queens neighborhoods including Jackson Heights: “NYC was bankrupt, stagflation was in effect. Still, New York was the most creative it has ever been, like the creative cradle of civilization, the cross pollination of all arts … the birth of hip-hop, the birth of punk, the birth of Off-Broadway, the birth of disco, the birth of breakdancing, graffiti became an art form, all the singers were here, all the writers and poets including playwrights and novelists, everything was happening here … you felt it … you met someone everyday who just opened up your eyes and your world … it was an incredible time … NYC has now lost that. NYC is kind of sterile … NYC has to be an affordable hub where all of us can meet and cross-pollinate ideas … this is not really happening in NYC right now … I hope that part comes back, where NYC is the center of the arts again.”
Studying at Murry Bergtraum High School in lower Manhattan, Leguizamo started performing stand-up comedy routines for fellow students. He later attended classes at the NYU Tisch School and at C.W. Post in Nassau County. “My philosophy and history professors at Post were electric, motivating me.”
Leguizamo’s advice and mentoring for emerging acting talent: “You can’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I started performing at house parties making people laugh—they would crack up about my different characters. Then I moved up to performance arts spaces. You have to find your own situation, writing, creating your own stuff. Hollywood or Broadway isn’t coming to you, you have to create your own.”
Leguizamo just sold his first comic book series to Image Comics. He recently returned from London where he shot an Amazon series, The Power. “I still want to write ‘the great American play’ a la Eugene O’Neill or Arthur Miller,” he adds.