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Hispanic Heritage

John Leguizamo

Also known as: Johnny Leggs, Damien Garcia

Birth: July 22, 1964 in Bogotá, Colombia
Occupation: Comedian, actor

The New York Post once wrote, "John Leguizamo is a force of nature, a volcano of words, a torrent of ideas. He moves a lot, too." He has grown from a prankster who was called a troublemaker in his youth into a comedian and then an actor. Leguizamo has produced, directed, and starred in two solo shows: Spic-o-Rama and Mambo Mouth, and has been seen in a slew of movies, including the popular Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, and Empire.

Leguizamo was born July 22, 1964, in Bogotá, Colombia to Alberto, a waiter and landlord, and Luz, a factory worker. When John was very young, his parents left both him and his younger brother, Sergio, with their grandparents and moved to Queens, New York. Once they found work and a place to live and were economically stable they sent for their sons, so Leguizamo moved to New York City when he was four years old. Leguizamo's parents fought a lot and finally divorced when he was 13. According to Leguizamo this was one of the events that had the most profound influence on his life, because it led him into becoming a loud-mouthed troublemaker.

It was this rebellious nature, however, that eventually pushed Leguizamo onto his comedic tract. At one point in his youth, he and a friend took over the public-address system on one of New York's subway cars and announced to everyone that they were the new subway deejays. They were caught by the police, and even though the people on the subway did not object to the entertainment, Leguizamo was arrested. Leguizamo was also arrested twice more, once for attempting to enter an X-rated movie, and once for jumping a subway turnstile. After the subway incident Leguizamo's parents decided to send him back to Colombia for a year to straighten him out.

Leguizamo moved back to New York a year later, but was still remembered as a troublemaker and was asked to attend youth counseling. One of his teachers at Murry Bergtraum High School noticed his penchant for humor and recommended that he try acting as an outlet for his energy. In 1983 he began studying acting at Sylvia Leigh's Showcase Theater, which he picked randomly out of the Yellow Pages. He paid for his classes with a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Also in 1983 Leguizamo was given his first chance at acting by appearing in pop star Madonna's "Borderline" video. After graduating from high school he attended New York University, majoring in drama studies, but he left after a year to join the comedy group Off Center Theater. He also attended the Strasberg Theater Institute and the H.B. Studio. Leguizamo told the Denver Post, "I studied with Lee Strasberg (at Actors Studio) one day. He died the next, but I stayed despite his death making a comment about my acting. I stayed and studied there for two years."

The first role Leguizamo landed was on Miami Vice. Then he played a soldier in the movie Casualties of War. After he met comedian Carolyn McDermott in 1986, he began touring the clubs with her until he tried his own, solo show Mambo Mouth. It started off-Broadway and eventually aired on HBO in 1991. Mambo Mouth won an Obie Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award that same year. Leguizamo was inspired to write such a show because of the lack of roles for Hispanic actors, but many in the Hispanic community found his characters Latino stereotypes. Leguizamo was stunned by the judgement because he considered the show to be a purge of these stereotypes. After that Leguizamo moved onto his next solo show, Spic-o-Rama. It too aired on HBO.

Next Leguizamo co-wrote the show Freak: A Semi-Demi-Quasi-Pseudo Autobiography, with David Bar Katz, which opened on Broadway and was published in book form at the same time. The show was about his life growing up in Queens. Leguizamo told the Denver Post, "Doing a one-man show is such an amazing thing. It is the only true dialogue between a performer and the audience. It is the most raw and intimate of all the theatrical experiences." While he was doing his own writing and comedy shows, Leguizamo was also making a name for himself in Hollywood. Among other movies, he played beside Bob Hoskins in Super Mario Bros. (1993), and played the vivacious Miss Chi-Chi Rodriguez in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, (1995). He was also cast in a modern version of Romeo + Juliet (1996), playing Tybalt alongside Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo and Claire Danes as Juliet. In 2000 Leguizamo was asked to host the inaugural show of My VH1 Music Awards.

Leguizamo has also been involved in several animated movies, including Titan A.E. (2000), and Ice Age (2002). He loved doing the animation and in fact even told the Star Tribune that "I want to be the Latin Mel Blanc. I love doing this stuff." In between he was seen in the musical Moulin Rouge, where he played the dwarf artist Toulouse Lautrec. In 2002 Leguizamo was seen in a new show that he wrote and performed in, Sexaholix ... A Love Story: Monologue. The San Franicisco Chronicle said of his performance, "Leguizamo isn't just an inexhaustibly energetic performer. He generates energy in his audience and feeds on it.... 'Sexaholix ... a Love Story' ... [is] a nonstop flow of electricity between actor and audience." And the New York Post said of the show, "Leguizamo's virtues are his voracious vitality, vivid acting--he brings everything to life, and life to everything--and his total understanding that while love is a serious business, sex is not only fun, it's very funny." Leguizamo told Hispanic Online, however, that he had finished with doing live performances for a while. "It's too hard. I love it to death, but I want to go out at the top of my game like Michael Jordan. I'm very physical on stage. It wears out my body. Maybe when I'm 72, I'll do another one."

One of the things Leguizamo is most intent on is making certain that Hispanics are better represented in the media. With his new movie Empire, a movie in which he plays a Latino gangster, he does just that. "See, I've always liked gangster films, but they just never represented Latin people correctly. Because there was always a white guy leading the whole thing, and playing us. Previously, we have been either left out, ignored completely, sort of marginalized or put down, demeaned." According to the Roanoke Times, "If not for the complex character created by John Leguizamo, Empire would be just another movie about drugs, greed, and the fight to stay on top." The Detroit News stated that the movie added "new texture and color to a time-honored genre and it most certainly tags Leguizamo as a full-fledged leading man." And the Los Angeles Times said that Leguizamo's acting was "one of the best performances of the year in a lead role in an American movie."

Leguizamo has been trying his hand at expanding his horizons in the entertainment field. He has written a TV drama for CBS about a Latin cop who fights the system. The money he received for the show made him the highest paid Latino on network television. Leguizamo also tried his hand at directing the HBO boxing movie Infamous.

Leguizamo married Yelba Osorio in 1994. The union produced one child, daughter, Allegra Sky. The two later divorced. Later, he met Justine Maurer in 1997. They married in 1999. The couple have one child together, Ryder Lee. With the diversity of roles and shows that John Leguizamo has done in the past, it is uncertain where his future in entertainment lies, but it is certain to be exciting.

PERSONAL INFORMATION

Born on July 22, 1964, in Bogotá, Colombia; son of Alberto and Luz Leguizamo; married Yelba Osorio, 1994 (divorced 1996); married Justine Maurer, 1999; children: (with Osorio) Allegra Sky; (with Maurer) Ryder Lee Education: Studied at Strasberg Theatre Institute and H.B. Studio; attended New York University. Addresses: Agent--Don Buchwald and Associates, 10 East 44th St., New York, NY 10017.

AWARDS

Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, CableACE Award, HBO, and Vanguardin Award, all for Mambo Mouth, 1991; CableACE Award, for Comedy Central's The Talent Pool, 1991; Hull-Warrior Award, Dramatists' Guild, Lucille Lortel Outstanding Achievement Award, and Drama Desk Award, all for Spic-O-Rama, 1992; Theatre World Award, and four CableACE Awards, for Spic-O-Rama, 1993; two Emmy Award nominations, for House of Buggin', 1995; DESHI Entertainment Award, 1996; Golden Globe nominee, for To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, 1996; Nosotros Golden Eagle Award, 1996; Blockbuster Entertainment Award nominee, for Executive Decision, 1997; Tony Award nominee, for Freak, 1998.

CAREER

Actor, comedian, director, producer, writer. Joined Off Center Theater (comedy group). Began touring with Carolyn McDermott, 1986. Play, Freak: A Semi-Demi-Quasi-Psuedo Autobiography published as book. My VH1 Music Awards, host, 2000. As director: Infamous, 2003; producer: House of Buggin', 1995; The Pest, 1997; Freak, 1998; Joe the King, 1999; Nuyorican Dream, 2000; King of the Jungle, 2001; Piñero, 2001; Sexaholix ... A Love Story (TV), 2002; Empire, 2002; writer: Mambo Mouth, 1991; Spic-O-Rama, 1993; House of Buggin', 1995; The Pest, 1997; Freak, 1998; Sexaholix ... A Love Story, 2002.

WORKS

Selected works

Film

  • Casualties of War, 1989.
  • Super Mario Bros., 1993.
  • To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, 1995.
  • Romeo + Juliet, 1996.
  • Titan A.E., 2000.
  • Moulin Rouge, 2001.
  • Ice Age, 2002.
  • Empire, 2002.

Stage

  • Mambo Mouth, Off-Broadway, 1991.
  • Spic-O-Rama, Off-Broadway, 1993.
  • Freak: A Semi-Demi-Quasi-Psuedo Autobiography, Broadway, 1998.
  • Sexaholix ... A Love Story: Monologue, 2002.

Television

  • Miami Vice, 1986, 1987, 1989.
  • Mambo Mouth, HBO, 1991.
  • Spic-O-Rama, HBO, 1993.
  • Freak: A Semi-Demi-Quasi-Psuedo Autobiography, HBO, 1998.
  • Sexaholix ... A Love Story: Monologue, HBO, 2002.
  • Infamous, HBO, 2003.

FURTHER READINGS

Books

  • Contemporary Authors, Gale, 2002.
  • Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.
  • DISCovering Multicultural America, Gale, 1996.
  • Newsmakers 1999, Issue 1, Gale Group, 1999.

Periodicals

  • Boston Herald, June 6, 2002, p. 044.
  • Denver Post, July 1, 2001, p. E01.
  • Detroit News, December 6, 2002, p. 02.
  • Entertainment Weekly, December 13, 2002, p. 60.
  • Houston Chronicle, November 28, 2002, p. 20.
  • Los Angeles Magazine, February, 1999, p. 59.
  • Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2002, p. E6.
  • New York Post, October 28, 2001, p. 58; December 3, 2001, p. 39.
  • The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, FL), December 8, 2002, p.1J.
  • People Weekly, December 2, 2002, p. 93.
  • PR Newswire, November 20, 2000, p. 2407.
  • Roanoke Times (VA), December 7, 2002, p. 1.
  • San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 2002, p. D1; November 29, 2002, p. D8.
  • Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), March 15, 2002 p. 12E.

On-line

  • "Comedy King: The Talented John Leguizamo Makes Art Out of One-man Hi-jinks," Hispanic Magazine, www.hispaniconline.com/magazine (March 31, 2003).
  • "John Leguizamo," Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com (March 31, 2003).
  • "John Leguizamo: 'Freak,' and proud of it," CNN.com, www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Movies/9811/02/freak (March 31, 2003).
  • "John Leguizamo - Fact Sheet," E! Online, www.eonline.com/Facts/People/Bio/0,128,22828,00.html (March 31, 2003).
  • "Let's talk about 'Sexaholix'," Salon, www.salon.com/ent/movies/int/2002/04/12/leguizamo (March 31, 2003).

SOURCE CITATION

Contemporary Hispanic Biography. Vol. 3. Gale, 2003.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale. 2003.

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