"In entertainment we need more Latin people in the decision making process, and I want to see a Latin president with a cigar fetish." John Leguizamo
Colombian-Puerto Rican comedian and actor John Leguizamo received acclaim for his one-person shows “Mambo Mouth” (1991), “Spic-O-Rama” (1993) and “Freak” (1997, nominated for a Tony and won an Emmy), all of which were later broadcast by HBO. Sometimes credited as Johnny Leggs or Damien Garcia, John Leguizamo’s acting performance could be seen in such films as Hanging with the Homeboys (1991), Carlito's Way (1993), To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar (1995), Romeo + Juliet (1996), Summer of Sam (1999), Moulin Rouge (2001), Empire (2002), Crónicas (2004), Land of the Dead (2005) and Sueño (2005).
Leguizamo, who’s latest one-man show “Sexaholix: A Love Story” (2002, also adopted by HBO), will appear in the upcoming films: The Groomsmen, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (voice) and Tlatelolco: Mexico 68. On a more private note, the 5' 8" tall, fast talking Latino actor and comedian was once linked to actress Samantha Mathis (born on May 12, 1970; costarred in Super Mario Bros) and comedienne Carolyn McDermott (dated 1986-1991). He is currently a married man with two children.
Childhood and Family:
In Bogota, Colombia, John Leguizamo was born on July 22, 1964, to Puerto Rican father Alberto Leguizamo (realtor, waiter; divorced in 1978) and Colombian mother Luz Leguizamo (doll factory worker). He has one younger brother, Sergio Leguizamo. In 1968, John followed his parents to the United States and settled down in the Jackson Heights section of Queens in New York City, where he attended primary and secondary schools. He was once arrested in high school for truancy and then for commandeering the public-address system of a subway train with a friend.
In high school, John began writing comical material and testing it out on his classmates, and was voted "Most Talkative." Afterward, he registered at the New York University to study Theater (he was only Latino in his drama classes), but later dropped out to pursue an acting career. John also joined Sylvia Leigh's Showcase Theater, the Lee Strasberg Institute (studied with the master for one day before Strasberg died) and the HB Studio in New York.
At an acting workshop in 1991, John Leguizamo met and fell in love with actress Yelba Matamoros (a.k.a. Yelba Osorio, born 1962). They eloped in September 1994, but divorced in November 1996. On July 5, 2003, Leguizamo wed his longtime girlfriend Justine Maurer (estate planner; born in 1968) in New York. The couple has two children: daughter Allegra Sky (born on October 23, 1999) and son Ryder Lee (born on December 5, 2000).
“Comics are much smarter than actors. Most comedians come from a hard life, and have to struggle a lot. You have to have a lot of skills. When you can hone all of that, and act, you're going to blow the world away.” John Leguizamo
While performing in the acclaimed New York University student film "Five Out of Six," John Leguizamo was discovered by casting director Bonnie Timmerman. Leguizamo then became a member of the New York improvisational performance group “First Amendment” and began playing at New York City comedy clubs in the mid-1980s, and also worked as a comedy duo with Carolyn McDermott.
Leguizamo made his feature acting debut with a bit part in a French-produced crime comedy shot on NYC's Lower East Side, Paul Morrissey's Mixed Blood (1985, starring Marília Pêra). He also made his first appearance on television with the reoccurring role of Ivan Calderone (1986-1987), the malicious son of a murdered Colombian drug boss, in two episodes of the NBC’s stylish, faddish cop show "Miami Vice." Meanwhile, Leguizamo won his first significant film role in a Chilean-French co-production film directed by Sergio M. Castilla, Gentile Alouette (1985, shelved until 1990, starring Geraldine Chaplin).
In Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Daniel Lang's book, the Vietnam war drama Casualties of War (1989), Leguizamo got his first notable film credit as PFC. Antonio Diaz, alongside Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn. On stage, he appeared in a production of "Parting Gestures," with the Intar Hispanic American Arts Center. He enjoyed his stage breakthrough while writing and starring as seven different Latino characters in the one-man show, "Mambo Mouth," in the Subplot at the American Place Theater (moved Off-Broadway to the Orpheum Theater in 1990), which was later taped and broadcast as an installment of the "HBO Comedy Hour" in 1991. The show earned critical praise and won Leguizamo an Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, CableACE Award, and HBO and Vanguardin Awards.
Meanwhile, Leguizamo continued to act on the big screen. He was seen in the 1990 films Revenge, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, and Street Hunter. The next year, Leguizamo joined Doug E. Doug, Mario Joyner and Nestor Serrano in writer-director Joseph B. Vasquez's low-budget, hilarious adventure film Hangin' With the Homeboys and appeared as the ruffian who shoots Harrison Ford’s character in Mike Nichols' Regarding Henry (also starring Annette Bening). Back on stage, Leguizamo headlined a second one-man show, "Spic-o-Rama: A Dysfunctional Comedy." It premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago (transferred to the Westside Theatre in NYC in October) and was later taped and broadcasted as an installment of the "HBO Comedy Hour" in 1993. The show once again received applause and nabbed Leguizamo a Theatre World Award and four CableACE Awards.
Leguizamo reunited with director Brian De Palma in the screen version of Edwin Torres' novel about the Puerto Rican Mafia during the 1970s, Carlito's Way (1993, starring Al Pacino), playing character Benny Blanco from the Bronx. That same year, Leguizamo also portrayed Luigi Mario, opposite Bob Hoskins, in Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton's Super Mario Bros. Two years later, he created, executive produced, wrote for and starred in Fox’s Latino-oriented sketch comedy show, "House of Buggin'," and earned positive reviews for his breakout lead role as the inexperienced 'drag princess' Chi-Chi Rodriguez in Beeban Kidron's comedy To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything. Off screen, Leguizamo formed Lower East Side Prods, with screenwriter David Bar Katz and signed a two-year deal with New Line Cinema.
In 1996, Leguizamo became ballplayer Wesley Snipe's agent in Tony Scott's thriller movie, inspired by Peter Abrahams' book, The Fan (also starring Robert De Niro), and played Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin who was killed by Romeo, in Baz Lurhmann’s updated version of William Shakespeare's famous play, Romeo and Juliet (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes). The subsequent year witnessed Leguizamo earning $2 million for portraying the devil's minion, The Clown/Violator, in Mark Dippé's adaptation of Todd McFarlane's mega-cult comic, Spawn (alongside Michael Jai White). He also co-produced, co-wrote and played the titular role of a hyperactive con artist in The Pest, helmed by Paul Miller. Leguizamo also wrote the song "Spank It" and performed "The Pest" song.
Leguizamo returned to stage with another one-person show, "Freak: A Semi-Demi-Quasi-Autobiographical Comedy" (1997). It premiered at P.S. 122 in New York City and later opened on Broadway in February 1998. Leguizamo’s outstanding performance received Tony Award nominations for Best Play and Actor in a Play. The show later was adopted by HBO and directed by Spike Lee. Leguizamo, who also starred in the HBO version, won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Music Program.
In the rest of the 1990s, Leguizamo lent his voice to Rat No. 2 in the non-musical remake of Dr. Dolittle and became one of the executive producers of writer-director Frank Whaley’s Joe the King (starring Peter Anthony Tambakis, Leguizamo also played a small role). He also teamed with Spike Lee again in his film about the "Son of Sam" murders in New York City during the summer of 1977, Summer of Sam, playing the costarring role of Vinny, alongside Mira Sorvino, Adrien Brody and Jennifer Esposito.
From 2000 to 2003, Leguizamo served as a narrator for the Nickelodeon sitcom "The Brothers Garcia." Moviegoers remembered him starring as Seymour, a mildly retarded young man who embarks on an unexpected odyssey through the city, in writer-director Seth Zvi Rosenfeld's drama thriller King of the Jungle and as the flamboyant artist and matchmaker Toulouse-Lautrec in Baz Luhrmann's visually opulent, fast-paced, funny, heartrending musical Moulin Rouge. The film, which stars Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, was premiered as the opener to the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. That same year, Leguizamo costarred with Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito in Sam Weisman's adaptation of Donald E. Westlake's novel, the crime comedy What's the Worst That Could Happen?
Leguizamo returned to stage with a new one-person show, "John Leguizamo LIVE." It opened on Broadway in October under the title "Sexaholix ... A Love Story" and later was filmed in February 2002 for airing on HBO. He then provided a character voice to the animated Ice Age and starred as Victor Rosa, a big time drug dealer trying to get out of the game, in writer-director Franc Reyes' mob drama Empire (with Denise Richards and Peter Sarsgaard, screened at Sundance). He also costarred as Jason Schwartzman's dealer in Jonas Åkerlund's Spun.
2003 saw Leguizamo make his directorial debut with the HBO production Infamous (a.k.a. Undefeated, he also co-wrote), in which he also starred in, as Lex Vargas, a Latino boxer from the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens. In the following year, writer-director Sebastián Cordero handed him the leading role of Miami reporter Manolo Bonilla in the suspense thriller Crónicas. More recent, Leguizamo appeared in Matt Checkowski and Kurt Mattila's The Alibi (starring Steve Coogan and Rebecca Romijn), Jean-François Richet's Assault on Precinct 13 (with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne) and John Schultz's The Honeymooners (starring Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps, all in 2005). He was also cast as mercenary leader Cholo in writer-director George A. Romero's zombie thriller Land Of The Dead (alongside Simon Baker and Dennis Hopper) and as Antonio, a Mexican unknown musician trying to live out his musical dream in Los Angeles, in Renee Chabria's Sueño.
As for his upcoming film projects, Leguizamo will be seen in writer-director Edward Burns' comedy The Groomsmen (starring Edward Burns) and his voice will be heard as character Sid in Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. He is also set to star with Vanessa Bauche and Ryan Phillippe in Everardo Valerio Gout and Leopoldo Gout's drama Tlatelolco: Mexico 68.
"I see the new Latin artist as a pioneer, opening up doors for others to follow. And when they don't open, we crowbar our way in." John Leguizamo