Born July 22, 1965 (some sources say 1964), in Bogota, Colombia; emigrated to United States c. 1968; son of Alberto (a waiter and landlord) and Luz Leguizamo; married Yelba Osorio (divorced); married Justine Maurer, 1999; children: (second marriage) Allegra Sky, Ryder Lee. Education: Studied at Strasberg Theater Institute and H. B. Studio; attended New York University.
Agent— c/o William Morris Agency, 151 South El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA, 90212-2775.
Writer, actor, and comedian. Actor in plays, including A Midsummer Night's Dream; La Puta Vida Trilogy (title means This Bitch of a Life ), 1987; Parting Gestures, 1987; She First Met Her Parents on the Subway, 1990; Mambo Mouth (solo show), 1991; Spic-o-Rama (solo show), 1992; and Freak: A Semi-Demi-Quasi-Pseudo Autobiography, 1997. Actor in feature films, including Mixed Blood, 1985; That Burning Question, 1988; Casualties of War, 1989; Street Hunter, 1990; Gentile alouette, 1990; Die Hard 2: Die Harder, 1990; Revenge, 1990; Out for Justice, 1991; Hangin' with the Homeboys, 1991; Regarding Henry, 1991; The Puerto Rican Mambo, 1992; Time Expired, 1992; Whispers in the Dark, 1992; Night Owl, 1993; Carlito's Way, 1993; Super Mario Brothers, 1993; A Pyromaniac's Love Story, 1995; To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, 1995; Executive Decision, 1996; The Fan, 1996; Romeo + Juliet, 1996; A Brother's Kiss, 1997; The Pest, 1997; Dr. Doolittle, 1998; Spawn, 1997; Frogs for Snakes, 1998; The Split, 1998; Summer of Sam, 1999; Joe the King, 1999; King of the Jungle, 2000; Moulin Rouge, 2001; What's the Worst That Could Happen?, 2001; Collateral Damage, 2002; Ice Age (animated film), 2002; Zig Zag, 2002; Empire, 2002; Spun, 2002; Crónicas, 2004; Sueño, 2004; and Assault on Precinct 13, 2005. Actor in television films and series, including Miami Vice, National Broadcasting Company (NBC), 1984; The Talent Pool; N.Y.P.D. Mounted (movie), 1991; Puerto Rican Mambo (Not a Musical), 1993; Spic-o-Rama, 1993; House of Buggin', Fox, 1995; Freak, 1998; Arabian Nights, 2000; and The Brothers Garcia, 2002-03.
Off-Broadway Award for performance, Village Voice, Outer Critics Circle Award for outstanding achievement, CableACE Award, HBO, and Vanguardin Award, for writing and performance, all 1991, all for Mambo Mouth; CableACE Award, 1991, for Comedy Central's The Talent Pool; Hull-Warrior Award for best American play, Dramatists' Guild, Lucille Lortel Outstanding Achievement Award for best Broadway performance, and Drama Desk Award for best solo performance, all 1992, all for Spic-o-Rama (play); Theatre World Award for outstanding new talent, and four CableACE Awards, 1993, for Spic-o-Rama (film); two Emmy Award nominations, 1995, for House of Buggin'; DESHI Entertainment Award for diverse excellence in Hispanic sounds and images, 1996; Golden Globe nomination, 1996, for To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar; Nosotros Golden Eagle Award, 1996; Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination, 1997, for Executive Decision; Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Award nominations for best actor and best play, 1998, both for Freak; Norman Lear Writer's Award, 2004; Hispanic Heritage Award, 2004.
Mambo Mouth (solo show; also see below; produced in New York, NY, 1991), published as Mambo Mouth: A Savage Comedy, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Spic-o-Rama (solo show; also see below; produced in Chicago, IL, 1992), published as Spic-o-Rama: A Dysfunctional Comedy, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1994.
(With David Bar Katz) Freak: A Semi-Demi-Quasi-Pseudo Autobiography (produced on Broadway, 1997), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Sexaholix . . . a Love Story (solo show; also see below), produced at Royale Theater, New York, NY, 2001.
Mambo Mouth, Home Box Office, 1991.
Spic-o-Rama, Home Box Office, 1993.
(With others) House of Buggin' (television series), Fox, 1995.
(Author of story; with David Bar Katz) The Pest, TriStar, 1997.
Freak, Home Box Office, 1998.
Sexaholix . . . a Love Story, Home Box Office, 2002.
(With Frank Pugliese; and director) Undefeated, Home Box Office, 2003.
John Leguizamo "is the quintessential character actor, and his satirical one-man shows—comic sketches filled with a cornucopia of characters drawn from his life experiences—have received praise from audiences and critics alike," noted James Gonzalez in the Hollywood Reporter. Leguizamo, who also writes, produces, and directs for film and television, is best known for his one-man stage shows, including Spic-o-Rama and Freak: A Semi-Demi-Quasi-Pseudo Autobiography, as well as for his roles in such films as To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and Moulin Rouge.
Leguizamo was born in Colombia and moved to New York City with his family at the age of four. While Leguizamo was growing up, his parents fought when they were not working; and although they divorced when Leguizamo was thirteen years old, this home life had a profound effect upon him. "I became this crazy maniac, always causing trouble," he told Joe Treen in People. Leguizamo discovered his power to entertain while in high school, where his clowning often earned him a detention. He was advised by a perceptive math teacher to take acting lessons as a creative outlet. Leguizamo chose Sylvia Leigh's Showcase Theater from the yellow pages and paid for his lessons with money he earned himself. After graduating from high school, he auditioned at Juilliard School, was rejected, but later received a telephone call from one of the Juilliard judges, encouraging him to continue with his acting career.
His first break came when Bonnie Timmerman, casting director for the television series Miami Vice, saw Leguizamo in a New York University student film. Timmerman liked the actor so much that she invited him to appear in several episodes. Leguizamo soon landed parts in independent films, and he played Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. During the 1980s he performed standup comedy in New York clubs. After returning from filming Casualties of War, he began writing and performing his own material. "I grew up a lot there [in the role]," Leguizamo told Treen. "From Sean [Penn] I learned that acting is real and you can let it go as big as you want."
On His Own
In 1991 Leguizamo debuted a solo show, Mambo Mouth. Working with producer and director Peter Askin, he opened Mambo Mouth at the Subplot, a space in the American Place Theatre in New York City. "What stood out first, second, and third of all was his acting," Askin told Chris Smith in New York magazine. "Plus he was Hispanic and dealing with what that meant, through original material." "Rave reviews in the New Times and the Voice packed the seventy-four-seat space, and soon Leguizamo moved into the theater's one-hundred-and-ninety-nine-seat mainstage," wrote Smith.
Leguizamo was inspired to write because of the absence of parts for Hispanics, but his characters in Mambo Mouth were viewed as stereotypes by some in the Hispanic community. As Smith remarked, "Leguizamo didn't set out to write a Latino Manifesto, but he has, in fact, thought a great deal about the political nature of Mambo Mouth." "Don't they see this show is an exorcism, a purge, of all the media images of Latinos?" asked Leguizamo. The seven characters of Mambo Mouth include macho talk-show host Agamemnon, who gives advice on sex; Loco Louie, who carries a boom box and brags about his experience at a brothel; Pepe, who tries to convince the immigration man not to send him back; transvestite Manny the Fanny; and the Crossover King, who uses slides and lectures fellow Hispanics on how to skip Americanization and go straight to being Japanese businessmen. Gerald Weales wrote in Commonweal that the night he saw the show Leguizamo delighted the Hispanics in the audience "who respond to familiar gestures, intonations, words, and have the added advantage of Spanish throwaway lines which, I gather, were sometimes jokes about the more obtuse 'white' play-goers, to use his designation." Weales called the show "a fine showcase for Leguizamo's versatility as a performer and his talent as a writer."
Mambo Mouth garnered many awards, as did Leguizamo's next one-man show, Spic-o-Rama. In Spico-Rama Leguizamo plays both female and male members of the Gigante family. "The results are unceasingly funny even though the humor, as if filtered through ground glass, draws blood," wrote Jeremy Gerard in Variety. The sketches center on the marriage of Krazy Willie, a Desert Storm veteran. Other family members include aspiring actor Raffi, who bleaches his hair with the "holy water of St. Clorox" and believes he is the love child of Laurence Olivier; a mother who feeds Diet Coke to her baby; an alcoholic father; and nine-year-old Miggy, who prays for a new family. Gerard felt Leguizamo's greatest accomplishment "is that these family members, while unmistakably rooted in Latin life, are recognizable to everyone." "Leguizamo turns the Gigantes into a one-man Long Day's Journey into la Noche," wrote Jack Kroll in Newsweek. "He's not as tragic as O'Neill but he's funnier, and every laugh he gets is booby-trapped with pain and pathos.... Leguizamo makes comedy a fun-house mirror that magically reflects social reality.... Spic o-Rama has made Leguizamo as hot as a jalapeno pepper."
Solo Show Earns Nod from Tonys
In 1995 Leguizamo wrote, produced, and starred in House of Buggin', a groundbreaking sketch-comedy show on Fox. Leguizamo's Freak opened on Broadway in 1997. Cowritten with David Bar Katz, the show concerns Leguizamo's childhood and young-adult years in New York City. Variety reviewer Greg Evans called Freak "another tour-de-force from a man who can conjure entire families—entire boroughs, even—with a face as mutable as putty and a voice teeming with more accents than a New York subway car." Freak earned Leguizamo a pair of Tony Award nominations for best actor and best play.
Sexaholix . . . a Love Story, a solo show produced on Broadway in 2001, showcases Leguizamo's views on love, sex, and relationships. "As he recounts the stories of his parents' divorce, his first broken heart, and the birth of his children, it becomes readily apparent that Leguizamo is more than a sexaholic; he's a true romantic," observed Jenelle Riley in Back Stage West. "Sexaholix isn't as angry as past Leguizamo shows," Jay Reiner noted in the Hollywood Reporter, "but the raw energy and talent are as abundant as ever. Nobody else can walk, talk and dance in so many styles and accents and inflect each so amusingly."
Makes Mark on the Big Screen
A versatile film actor, Leguizamo has often garnered acclaim for his cinematic performances. Hangin' with the Homeboys is the story of four friends—two Puerto Rican, two black—who go cruising on a Friday night. Nation reviewer Stuart Klawans said that, "like the most appealing of its characters, the picture is good-natured, unpretentious, a little naive." Klawans noted that Leguizamo portrayed the character of Johnny "with remarkable sweetness and ease." In Carlito's Way, Leguizamo plays Benny Blanco, a drug dealer in East Harlem who has succeeded Carlito (Al Pacino) while Carlito served time in jail. Terrence Rafferty wrote in the New Yorker that Carlito's Way "has a handful of brilliant, unnervingly powerful sequences that seem to detach themselves from the whole." A Pyromaniac's Love Story "is a modern-day fairy tale with a bemused appreciation of romantic love, blazing passions and other human follies," according to Joe Leydon in Variety. Leguizamo plays Sergio, a pastry chef who takes the blame for a fire that destroys the business to save his elderly employer who he suspects set the blaze to avoid bankruptcy. "Leguizamo hasn't been so appealing, or cast so effectively, since Hangin' with the Homeboys, Leydon wrote.
In 1995 Leguizamo appeared as female impersonator Chi Chi Rodriguez in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. Chi Chi, Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) and Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) are on a cross-country ride to California and the national Drag Queen of the Year competition. "All three evince a casual comic mastery of the finger-snapping, eye-rolling, hip-swiveling elan of the modern male bitch princess," wrote Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly. Their Cadillac convertible breaks down in Snydersville, "where all the men are brutes or louts, and all the women worn out trying to survive," wrote Richard Corliss in Time. The residents do not suspect that the queens are actually men, and one of the town boys falls for Chi Chi. Ralph Novak wrote in People that "with his slight build and soft features, Leguizamo makes the most convincing ersatz female." For his work in the film, Leguizamo was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. The 1997 film The Pest features a screenplay by David Bar Katz based on a story he cowrote with Leguizamo. In The Pest Leguizamo played Pestario Vargas, a small-time Miami con artist "evidencing all the restraint of a Ritalin-deprived class clown who's just O.D.'d on sugar sandwiches," according to Joe Leydon in Variety. When Pest falls behind on his payment to a local mobster, he agrees to a deal with a ruthless German big-game hunter: survive being tracked for twenty-four hours and the debt will be paid. According to Leydon, "Leguizamo tears through The Pest like something newly unleashed from the inkwell of a demented cartoonist." In Spawn, the film version of the popular Todd McFarlane comic book, Leguizamo played Clown, a grotesque, diabolical villain. Reviewing Spawn in Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman remarked that Leguizamo "chews on his awful puns with the spit-spewing glee of a six-year-old impersonating a mad scientist." Summer of Sam, director Spike Lee's "garish, explosive mural of the New York summer of 1977," according to Newsweek critic David Ansen, featured Leguizamo as Vinny, a sex-obsessed hair-dresser whose many affairs threaten his marriage. As Stuart Klawans remarked in the Nation, "dimly aware of the mistake he's been making, Vinny begins to fret, wondering if the much-publicized murderer stalking the Bronx—the .44-Caliber Killer, Son of Sam—might be God's agent, sent to destroy him." Leguizamo took the role of French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in the 2001 musical Moulin Rouge. Kent Jones, critiquing Moulin Rouge in Film Comment, praised Leguizamo's "impossibly nutty but finally adorable" performance.
Leguizamo also earned strong reviews for his work in a trio of films that were released in 2002. The actor provided the voice for Sid, an overly talkative sloth, in the animated feature Ice Age. According to Variety critic Joe Leydon, "Leguizamo makes Sid a borderline-insufferable but basically good-hearted pest." Todd McCarthy, also writing in Variety, noted the actor's "very fine" performance as a "completely unhinged" drug dealer in Spun. Leguizamo also played a drug dealer in Empire. Entertainment Weekly critic Bruce Fretts stated that the performer "holds the screen with a simmering self-assurance." After writing, directing, and starring in the HBO film Undefeated, Leguizamo returned to the big screen in 2004, appearing in a pair of Spanish-language films, Crónicas and Sueño, then following those efforts with the 2005 thriller Assault on Precinct 13.
If you enjoy the works of John Leguizamo
If you enjoy the works of John Leguizamo, you may also want to check out the following film:
Do the Right Thing, directed by Spike Lee, 1989.
Leguizamo has achieved a level of success he never could have imagined as a teenager. "If acting hadn't come along, I'd either be a doorman or be in jail," he told Nancy Mills in Cosmopolitan. "When you grow up in the inner city and you're a minority person, you don't see yourself belonging to the fabric of society." The performer constantly looks for new challenges, telling Back Stage West contributor Rosa Fernandez, "I love when my work can be really dark and sad and really hilarious, when I hit all those notes. And I think I'm getting there." Leguizamo summed up his goals as a creative artist to Treen, stating, "I want to contribute Latin culture to American culture, to show our sensibilities and our passions."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Contemporary Hispanic Biography, Volume 3, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.
Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Back Stage West, March 6, 2003, Rosa Fernandez, "Sexaholix's Workaholic," p. 17; March 20, 2003, Jenelle Riley, review of Sexaholix . . . a Love Story, p. 13.
Commonweal, September 27, 1991, pp. 549-550.
Entertainment Weekly, May 15, 1992, p. 68; June 18, 1993, p. 12; March 18, 1994, p. 94; January 13, 1995, p. 26; May 12, 1995, p. 44; September 8, 1995, pp. 49-51; October 6, 1995, p. 14; December 27, 1996, p. 66; August 15, 1997, p. 46; December 19, 1997, p. 81; April 17, 1998, review of Freak, p. 64; March 22, 2002, Owen Gleiberman, "Tasty Freeze," p. 78; December 13, 2002, Bruce Fretts, "Dealer's Choice," p. 60; January 28, 2005, Owen Gleiberman, "Ambush League," p. 63.
Film Comment, May, 2001, Kent Jones, "Real Artifice," p. 22.
Gentlemen's Quarterly, June, 1999, Lee Smith, "Is That a Hustle in Your Hedgerow?," p. 210.
Hispanic, October, 1992, p. 82; August, 1993, p. 64; October, 1996, p. 84; November, 1997, p. 78; March, 2002, Lydia Martin, "Comedy King," pp. 36-39.
Hispanic Business, July, 1995, p. 22.
Hollywood Reporter, May 16, 2002, James Gonzalez, "Choosing Excellence," p. S20; December 6, 2002, Michael Rechtshaffen, review of Empire, pp. 20-21; March 14, 2003, Jay Reiner, review of Sexaholix . . . a Love Story, pp. 12-13; July 23, 2003, Barry Garron, review of Undefeated, p. 9.
In Style, Angela Matusik, "John Leguizamo's Fun-house," September 1, 2001, p. 580.
Interview, May, 1991, p. 36; September, 1995, p. 78.
Library Journal, May 15, 1992, p. 136; August, 1993, p. 104; March 1, 1994, p. 88; October 15, 1997, p. 63.
Nation, June 24, 1991, p. 863; July 26, 1999, Stuart Klawans, "Spike's Season," p. 34.
New Leader, March 11, 1991, p. 23; November 2, 1992, p. 22.
New Republic, December 7, 1992, p. 34.
Newsweek, December 14, 1992, p. 87; November 15, 1993, p. 89; August 4, 1997, pp. 68-69; July 12, 1999, David Ansen, "Spike Stew," p. 65.
New York, June 10, 1991, p. 44-48; November 30, 1992, p. 126; March 2, 1998, John Simon, review of Freak, p. 51.
New Yorker, December 7, 1987, p. 165; November 9, 1992, p. 142; November 22, 1993, pp. 117-120.
New York Times, November 20, 1994, p. 124.
People, July 8, 1991, p. 14; November 11, 1991, p. 148; June 21, 1993, p. 16; November 15, 1993, p. 17; January 23, 1995, pp. 13-14; September 11, 1995, p. 106; September 25, 1995, pp. 21-22; October 9, 1995, p. 99; August 18, 1997, p. 21; May 21, 2001, Leah Rozen, review of Moulin Rouge, p. 35; July 28, 2003, Terry Kelleher, review of Undefeated, p. 25; January 31, 2005, Leah Rozen, review of Assault on Precinct 13, p. 31.
Playboy, June, 1991, p. 25; May, 1992, p. 126; October, 1995, p. 22.
Premiere, August, 1992, p. 49; October, 1995, p. 28; July, 2001, Glenn Kenny, review of Moulin Rouge, p. 82; April, 2003, Nicole Kristal, "John Leguizamo Shoots Up," p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, July 12, 1993, p. 76.
Rolling Stone, September 3, 1992, p. 72; July 8, 1993, p. 121; March 23, 1995, p. 132; September 21, 1995, p. 87; November 14, 1996, pp. 123-124; June 7, 2001, Peter Travers, review of Moulin Rouge, pp. 119-120.
Time, October 28, 1991, p. 85; November 9, 1992; July 18, 1994, p. 61; September 18, 1995, p. 108; July 5, 1999, Richard Corliss, "Bronx Bull," p. 75; March 25, 2002, Richard Corliss, review of Ice Age, p. 66; January 17, 2005, "Q&A with John Leguizamo," p. 73.
TV Guide, August 3, 1991, p. 10; May 15, 1993, p. 34; December 11, 1993, p. 38.
Variety, January 28, 1991, p. 70; November 2, 1992, p. 93; May 10, 1993, p. 241; June 7, 1993, p. 38; May 1-7, 1995, p. 36; September 4, 1995, p. 71; February 10, 1997, p. 64; June 2, 1997, p. 65; February 16, 1998, Greg Evans, review of Freak, p. 68; October 30, 2000, Steve Chagollan, "Living for the City," p. S3; December 3, 2001, Charles Isherwood, review of Sexaholix . . . a Love Story, p. 38; March 18, 2002, Joe Leydon, review of Ice Age, pp. 23-24; July 1, 2002, Todd McCarthy, review of Spun, p. 28.
Vogue, April, 1993, p. 242; September, 1995, p. 331.
Playbill Online,http://www.playbill.com/ (October 9, 2001), Ernio Hernandez, "Playbill's On-line's Brief Encounter with John Leguizamo."*