Episode 181 – John Leguizamo

John Leguizamo’s mission to create lasting change in America
By LA Stories Staff Los Angeles
PUBLISHED 5:00 AM PT Jun. 03, 2024

John Leguizamo’s life is a testament to the power of resilience and creativity. Born in Colombia and raised in Queens, New York, his early years were marked by challenges: a turbulent relationship with his father, neighborhood fights on the streets and multiple arrests.

Despite the difficulties, Leguizamo’s determination to succeed propelled him forward. Starting his career in comedy clubs, he quickly gained attention for his unique blend of humor and social commentary. His first big break was in 1991 with his off-broadway, one-man play “Mambo Mouth,” based on his life as a Latino in Queens, which he wrote and starred in.

“I had the white audience first, which was incredible because I was like, ‘Oh wow, our culture is for everybody. Everybody loves us,’” he said. “But then, when Latin people found me, it became religion because they would stomp, yell, holler, cry about the words and the stories that I was telling because it resonated with them to see somebody that looked like them up on stage.”

Following “Mambo Mouth,” Leguizamo’s career took off, with roles in films such as “Romeo + Juliet,” “Carlito’s Way” and “Super Mario Bros.”

In the latest episode of “LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez,” Leguizamo says he tries to find a role that has something to say — something he can get lost in. He also shares his frustrations with the lack of Latino representation in Hollywood — something he is perpetually trying to change, especially with his latest role in “The Green Veil,” his first leading role in a television series, which streams on the new free streaming platform, The Network.

“As a Latin man growing up in America… you never felt you could really celebrate yourself completely because you were invisible. You’re erased in your history textbooks. You weren’t on television shows except for Ricky Ricardo and Speedy Gonzales,” he said. “So this character [in “The Green Veil”]… comes to America, and he’s a self-hating Latin person… And he thinks if he proves to them that he’s as white as he can be and perfect, that he’s going to be rewarded. And obviously, the system uses him and then spits him out, and then destroys him.”

As a staunch activist, Leguizamo has been vocal about the importance of diversity and inclusion, both in front of and behind the camera. He’s invested in Latino filmmakers and content creators through the creation of his media company, NGLmitú, and its accompanying Latino-focused streaming platform, mitúTV.

Additionally, Leguizamo has been involved in various philanthropic efforts, supporting organizations dedicated to empowering Latino communities and promoting social justice. With his unwavering commitment to his craft and his advocacy work, John Leguizamo hopes to leave behind a legacy based on change in America.

“I feel like you can’t have fame in all these incredible things that have happened to you and not use it for good, not use it to change the world,” he said. “I feel that as a duty.”

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