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John Leguizamo - Precinct 13

 

The Diva's interview with
John Leguizamo
One of the Stars of
Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)

 

The Diva's Assault on Precinct 13 Movie review

 


 

Question: Tell us about the things that we didn’t see in the toilet scene.

John Leguizamo:
I love that toilet scene. [laughs] That toilet scene really encapsulates my character. It was things you never seen… I’ve always seen toilets in prisons and wondered how the hell do you go without a stall, because I’m a mad private guy. I need mad privacy. I can’t even go when somebody’s, when I see somebody’s foot there. You know, how do people do it? You know, no stall, everybody’s hanging out and being a “meth” guy, you have to go a lot, but nothing comes out. And I thought what a great opportunity to be really intimate with Lawrence Fishburne’s character. And that’s how incongruous things came together, was always thinking that, we’re trying to think, what’s out of the box. What’s going to be abnormal and kinda fun to try. And Jean-François encouraged that, and Lawrence Fishburne encouraged that, and it was such a creative encouraging set that it was free – it was free to try anything.

Question:
One of the things that cracked us up was the Bishop. Was that improvisation?

John:
Bishop, Bishop, Bishop… Yeah, that came out of a reading. It was great. It’s such a fun crew to be with, and we all went out the night before and that really encouraged us to go out and get drunk, and this guy, the bartender took a vase, threw out the flowers and water, and gave me a martini and dared me to drink it. I was really high the day, the next morning for our first sit through and read through, and I tried improvising shit like the Bishop, Bishop because I was all hung over. [laughs] And the crew laughed, so it stayed in..

 

Question:
I liked Empire.

John:
Me too.

Question:
Are you going to do another movie like Empire? Are you going to do it with...

John:
Frank Reyes.

Question:
And also, was it a Latin arm of Universal?

John:
Yeah, yeah. It’s a historic piece because it’s the highest grossing Latin film in history, right now. And I’m working… Frank Reyes is brilliant, man. And me and him are trying to come up with… he’s written two other films that we’re going to try and do, that we’re trying to set up. And it’s been tough setting them up, they’re really dark, dark edgy flicks – a vigilanty film and a boxing film, different than my boxing film. The two of us are trying to get those going. And then you know, its hard and even the other Latin groups don’t want to do it because they’re mad at you and people don’t want to do crazy edgy movies.

Question:
But I want that production arm to succeed, a lot. We need it.

John:
Yeah, yeah. Deperately. Question:
When do you think these movies will be coming out?

John:
I don’t know. First we gotta get them set up. But, they’re very dark and Frank Reyes grew up in the south Bronx in a really dark, dark time, you know. And all his movies have that quality, you know. It still has a lot of sensitivity and humanity to this character but there’s still a really dark element that makes people afraid, studios afraid.

Question:
Are you going to do another dramatic role outside of working with Reyes?

John:
Yeah, I did Land of the Dead, which is kind of dramatic. Uh, the last of the quadrilogy of the “Dead” movies and <> is another icon of the 70s movies, and I play a zombie killer with Simon Baker. We’re like the working class men against… well the zombies have … it’s apocalyptic and the zombies have taken over and we have to get supplies to the humans and it’s only corporate CEOs who get all the supplies and we work for them. So it’s very political and it’s got a sense of humor to it too, and action. It’s very operatic. It’s a big, ambitious movie for George Romero and I just hope it rocks.

Question:
What attracts you to these really dark, edgy characters?

John:
It’s, I mean, I like a challenge and I like risks and I like people taking… being brave. And it’s usually these movies that people are taking huge risks.

Question:
How much of that reflects you as a person, you know the type of characters you like to portray.

John:
I like to set people off and set situations off, and that’s what I dig, so… I try not to do it in my life, then people would hang me, so [laughs] I try to direct it towards movies, towards my work. P: They said you created quite a back story for this one, do you do that for all your characters?

John:
I do that all the time, but it really came together nicely in this one. Because I understood this character and what I wanted to do. I really wanted… because he was written as a heroine addict, and kind of non-descript and I really wanted to show that you know, you can really… first of all you can be from the streets and be really bright. Secondly, addicts all have a great past and a great story to them, and that’s what I tried to bring this guy. He was ghetto street, but really bright and ambitious, wanted to be a lawyer, couldn’t afford it, so he started dealing to go to college – good intention. And then, you know, he failed a lot of tests and started using and then hit rock bottom and that’s where you catch him in the movie. And yet, he thinks he’s in transition [laughs]. He thinks he can use the jail for networking to be somebody, in that way he’s always operating, he’s always thinking. I like that about the character we got to create and it put politics in it and made him the comic relief, because there was no comic relief in this movie. And it was great to be able to do that – to render that service for a movie.

Question:
Is comedy your first love?

John:
I like drama. I love being in a drama where I get to be the funny guy. That’s what I really love the most.

Question:
Can we expect another multi-character theatre performance from you?

John:
Yes, but not for a long time, a long, long time. I’m working on a piece and I just want it to be a diamond, so I’m guarding it with my life until it’s perfect and then I’m going to take it out. [laughs] It’s going to be a long time.

Question:
How much of your character’s scenes on screen were actually improvised?

John:
Wow. I think almost all of it was improvised. But you know, I worked with the writer too. I worked with him a lot and talked… I was bothering him the way I was bothering Lawrence Fishburne in the movie. I was always, James, James, James, James. I got this idea, James. What do you think of this, what do you think of that, how do we squeeze it in. Does it work, does it not work. So I always go to him and Jean-François all day long, bothering them and coming up with crazy ideas and Jean would go “okay let’s try it, what the hell.” [laughs]

Question:
Was there anything he wouldn’t let you do?

John:
Trying to think… Huh… You know, I can’t remember. I know there was a few things, I just can’t remember what they were. But I kinda censored myself too. I was kinda like, naw it’s not gonna work anywhere. [laughs] Because you loved the stabbing the guy to death. It was like, I said, dude he’s got so much pent up rage, he’s so frustrated at himself and the world and he’s going to take it out on this one human being. [A very long uncomfortable silence brings laughter to everyone in the room, including John.}

Question:
Why do you take supporting roles?

John:
Because you get to be free. Not the problem with being the leading man, but the leading roles are always… it’s hard, it’s a really hard thing to do right, to get right and it’s not as fun to be the leading man. Being a supporting actor you have no responsibility you just go there to play and have a really great time. And you have a really great time. You just go home and you enjoy everybody… When I’m the lead in a movie, I have… you know, you don’t sleep, you focus on every aspect of the movie and it’s a huge responsibility. And there aren’t that many great leading parts either. There are more, better written supporting parts than there are leading parts.

Question:
Are you getting more scripts that are supporting roles?

John:
I’m getting a lot, you know I always get a lot of those. I just gotta pick and choose the right ones. Like “Land of the Dead” it was just, that was an easy one too. That was like a great, greatly written supporting, best buddy kind of to the lead and it was, I just jumped on that as soon as I could.

Question:
And you play a zombie killer?

John:
Yeah.

Question:
So his zombies are running like they did in the remake of Dawn of the Dead.

John:
Oh, no, no. He’s really against that. Oh, he’s really… He’s offended by that. He’s half Cuban, he’s from the Caribbean, George Romero, so he knows his zombies [laughs], because that’s where zombies came from. The Caribbean, they came from West Africa, and they’re supposed to be dead, the undead coming out of graves. They got rigor mortis, they’re rotting. They can’t run that fast. [laughs]

Question:
What’s he like on set?

John:
Oh, he’s fun, man. He’s 68 years old, he’s optimistic, fun, always joking, six-foot-five, chain-smoking, coffee drinking, and just light-hearted, man, and just wanting to play. He’s awesome.

Question:
Was that a character that you had to develop a back-story for or was it pretty much just straight out?

John:
That was a little more developed, but yeah. , I had to create a back-story too. I was trying to… But, there was a lot, a lot was there and I improvised a lot there. I brought a lot more humor to that. But, he always has a little bit of sense of humor going on anyway, George. That’s what makes his zombie movies better than anyone else’s. There’s a little political thing going on, there’s a little satire going on, and I just, I tried to add a little back-story you know.

Question:
And does this totally wrap up the zombie movies?

John:
Yes. That this one closes the chapter on the “Dead.” It’s a really ambitious flick, really ambitious. Because it’s not just an act… it’s not just a zombie movie, it’s action, it’s political, the characters are really well developed and apocalyptic, there’s just a lot going on. It’s pretty amazing.

Question:
What did you film for this movie, Assault, that we didn’t get to see on the screen that you really are interested in seeing on the DVD extras?

John:
All my stuff got in.

Question:
Really.

John:
Yeah, I mean, the thing was that the toilet scene wasn’t in for a while. They tested it and it tested really… My character got a huge laugh, so they put more, otherwise that would have been on the DVD. [laughs] So you know, there’s something to be said about testing. [more laughs]

Question:
Was there a language barrier considering that the director is still learning english?

John:
No not at all. You know why, because an artist is an artist. You know, I have problems when I talk to people who are pedestrian thinkers, you know what I mean? People who think, you know, who have like mundane thoughts and aren’t creative. He’s creative, he’s political, he’s a well read, seasoned director, I mean, that’s what you talk to. And when we first met, he didn’t speak any English at all, but his translator was translating him and I thought, damn this translator’s brilliant. [laughs] I want to work with him, but I know… oh, no that was Jean-François who was brilliant. But then by the end of the movie, now he talks English perfectly and he gives you a hard time, and he’s goofing on you and cursing and it’s great. Question:
Yeah, we heard him drop the “F” bomb a couple of times. [laughs]

John:
Yeah, yeah. Question:
Welcome to America.

John:
Yeah, yeah. That’s how you sound American. We told him just to curse a lot. (French accent) Fuck this and fuck you… [laughs] Yeah. Question:
What’s your role in the Honeymooners?

John:
I’m kind of the comic relief of the movie, which was really hard to be. I was sweatin’ that one, because you got Cedric who’s brilliant as Ralph Cramden. What a perfect marriage, I mean you couldn’t reincarnate that character without him. You can’t do it white, because it would fail miserably. No one can be Jackie Gleason. And Cedric can do it. Cedric is Jackie Gleason. He’s a classy, open, generous, funny man and he’s got that. And I had to, you know, try to be there everyday and try to be funnier because I was supposed to be the funniest guy in these little scenes and… whew. I wasn’t sleeping nights [laughs]. But it was very challenging, it was very exciting that way. Question: Have you always wanted to be a performer and where do you get your creative energy?

John:
Well, I didn’t always want to be a performer, that was kinda tossed on me, but I kinda guess maybe I was a class clown, disruptive kind of element in school and my math and my step-mom both pushed me towards acting. So I started acting. And I guess what always keeps me creating is still being disruptive, somehow. You know, I’m sort of this disruptive element in the movie… it’s being creative and shaking things up and that’s why I gravitate towards edgy flicks, because they shake things up. It keeps me alive, it keeps me inspired.

Question:
Now, are you disruptive at home? Or are you disruptive here and at home you’re someone else?

John:
No, I had plenty of therapy to help me just keep it here. I try to take that out of my life, there’s no room for that in my life. I try not to let that slip in. It does slip in every now and then and it causes me problems, but I try to just keep it in my work. Question: And how old are your kids now?

John:
They’re four and five. I see them becoming little people, a little man and little woman and I try to like enjoy this moment before they become, you know, disruptive. [laughs]

Question:
How familiar were you with the original movie before you took this role?

John:
I was familiar with that and Rio Bravo. Rio Bravo was what John Carpenter did, that brilliant move taking a western and turning it into an urban flick and from there you got, you know, all the cop genre movies of the time. I mean, Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” came from that. Fort Apache of the Bronx cast an Afro-American as the lead cop and Blaxploitation movies were born. It was a hugely important film. And so for us to step up to it, you know, you had to take it to a new place and I think Jean-François did. He made the characters a lot more three-dimensional. It’s still a B movie and it’s still kinda campy, now its this really well developed characters, really three-dimensional. And then he added the morality thing, the whole “who’s really good and who’s really bad” element.

Question:
Would you have done this if it was just a remake?

John:
No. There was no point. It’s already done. Let’s leave that alone. I mean, if you’re not going to come there with something new, then just leave it alone. Question: Upcoming films?

John:
Cronicas is at Sundance. It’s my first Spanish language movie. It was in Cannes and it got into Sundance in competition, so I’ll be there for that. Question: Did you know that “Freak” is being assigned in some college multi-cultural class?

John:
You mean the book or the play? The book didn’t really capture what I was doing on stage. It got changed by editors and stuff like that. It wasn’t really the experience on stage or what I was saying.

Question:
Are you still dealing with the issues presented in “Freak” ?

John:
You grow to accept it, I mean, that’s I guess the growth process. You just grow to accept it. And your kids help you to understand what goes on, but you’re still not… You know, my father was an absent father figure and now he’s an absent grand-father figure. So you just go and deal with it. And it feeds me, you know, it makes me creative, you know. All that stuff is fodder for creativity, so… Question:: Is it surreal that your life was part of a college course?

John:
[laughs] It is surreal, I mean, I just do my work and I don’t really think about the consequences of what I do. I just do it because I have to do it, and it’s what I want to do and… You know, you let people know about your life and it’s kinda weird. I’d rather have been more anonymous, but I don’t know that’s what my work was taking me. And you listen to your inner voice and it takes you where it’s going to take you. And if you leave it alone, then it does great things, but it opens you up to the public, I mean… Aw, whatever. It is what it is, I don’t know.

 



 

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