Who Is John Leguizamo?
John Leguizamo spent the mid- to late-1980s performing in comedy clubs. He made his film debut in Casualties of War (1989). Other film roles followed in quick succession. He turned to live theater as a means of blasting Latino stereotypes through fierce comedic caricature. Leguizamo's onstage success led to television opportunities.
Leguizamo was born on July 22, 1964, in Bogotá, Colombia. With his chameleon-like ability to satirize a range of ethnic groups, Leguizamo is perhaps best known for his one-man stage shows.
Although born in Colombia, Leguizamo spent his formative years in the Jackson Heights neighborhood in Queens, New York. His parents spent much of their time either working or bickering. His turbulent home life would become the basis of some of Leguizamo's most popular creative work. His parents eventually divorced when he was 14. Meanwhile, Leguizamo began experimenting with the milder forms of delinquency.
He was arrested twice, once for hopping a subway turnstile and another time for truancy. He also ran afoul of the law when he and a friend commandeered a subway public address system and performed an impromptu comedy routine. While his comedy stylings would later amuse Broadway audiences, the Queens police were less than tickled by the effort.
In order to "straighten him out," Leguizamo's parents sent him back to Colombia for a year. Upon his return, Leguizamo continued to demonstrate a penchant for mischief. At the prompting of teachers, Leguizamo attended a local acting school, funding his classes through a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken. This led to a stint at New York University in 1991, but Leguizamo soon left school to join the Off Center Theater, a Manhattan comedy troupe.
Leguizamo spent the mid- to late-1980s performing in comedy clubs, polishing his material and working on the various stage personas that would later populate his live shows. He made his film debut in Brian De Palma's critically acclaimed Vietnam drama, Casualties of War (1989). Other film roles followed in quick succession, from bit parts in big-budget vehicles like Die Hard II (1990) and Regarding Henry (1991), to featured roles in independent films, like 1991's Hanging with the Homeboys.
Despite his rising professional fortunes, Leguizamo was frustrated by the roles offered him, which often involved playing thugs or drug dealers. He turned to live theater as a means of blasting Latino stereotypes through fierce comedic caricature.
His first effort, Mambo Mouth (1991), opened off Broadway and was later picked up by HBO for broadcast on their HBO Comedy Theater series. The performance won an Obie Award from the Village Voice, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Vanguard Award, and a CableACE Award. Although some critics contended that the show perpetuated the very stereotypes is purported to undermine, audiences disagreed.
Leguizamo's 1992 follow-up, Spic-O-Rama, continued on in the same vein. His 1998 offering, Freak, was equally successful and turned into an HBO special directed by Spike Lee. 2001 saw Leguizamo return to the stage with Sexaholix...a Love Story, which was based on his sold-out national tour, "John Leguizamo Live!"
Leguizamo's onstage success led to television opportunities. Reluctant to take part in a situation comedy, he convinced the FOX Network to carry a Latino-flavored variety show called House of Buggin'. Although the show lasted only one season, it performed well in metropolitan markets and boosted Leguizamo's film profile.
He then played a drag queen in the commercially successful To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995) and Tybalt in the daring modernization of Romeo and Juliet (1996). Roles in everything from smash hits like Ice Age and turns as television doctors on E.R. have followed.
Leguizamo married Justine Maurer in 2003. They have two children; daughter Allegra Sky was born in 1999 and son Ryder Lee followed in 2000.
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