Writer, Actor, Activist: A History of John Leguizamo for Morons
In Latin History For Morons the outrageous, multifaceted performer schools his son - and the rest of us - on the marginalization of Latinos in U.S. history and the vital roles they played in building this country. From a satirical recap of Aztec and Incan history to stories of Latin patriots in the Revolutionary and Civil War and beyond, Leguizamo breaks down 3,000 years into 95 irreverent and uncensored minutes in his trademark comedic style.
Though the issues facing many in the Latinx community have recently come to the forefront of our national conversation, as a writer and performer, John Leguizamo has spent the vast majority of his career championing Latinx issues; blasting stereotypes and spotlighting the many facets of the Latinx and immigrant experiences through energetic performances and thoughtful characterization.
Born of multicultural descent in Bogata to Luz and Alberto Leguizamo, John's family emigrated to the United States when he was four years old. Spending much of his youth acting as the resident class clown, Leguizamo began performing in high school at the recommendation of an encouraging teacher who saw potential in the highly energetic, deeply creative student.
Despite his obvious talent, as a young actor, John ran into a very familiar casting roadblock met by actors of color, with the vast majority of roles offered relying on negative cultural stereotypes.
"A lot of them were gang members, and a lot were villainous roles and subservient roles. That's why I began writing my own stuff, because I found the roles that I was being offered really disheartening and insulting." he told A.V. Club.
Despite these challenges, John persevered, attempting to change his speech and accent in order to be considered for non-Latino roles.
"I had to try to clean my speech, change it, you know, so that it didn't have such a street accent," he told Vibe. "But it didn't matter because I was still recognized visually as a Latin person. So even if I changed the way I sounded or the way I behaved it didn't matter because I wasn't going to get cast in those roles anyway because I identify as a Latin person. So then I gave up and I was like you know what? Forget it. I'm not going to try to fit in. I'm going to stay the way I am and I'm going to write for my culture."
As a response to the less than flattering portrayals of Latinos he was being offered, John headed for the stage to take aim at those same insulting stereotypes in ways that would take his career to exciting new heights.
In 1991, Leguizamo made his sensational off-Broadway debut as the writer and performer of the one-man show Mambo Mouth, receiving Obie, Outer Critics Circle and Vanguardia awards for his performance, which included portrayals of seven separate Latino characters.
This smash debut led Leguizamo to create his second off-Broadway one-man show Spic-O-Rama, for which he earned a Dramatists' Guild Hull-Warriner Award for Best American Play, the Lucille Lortel Outstanding Achievement Award for Best Broadway Performance, the Theatre World Award for Outstanding New Talent, and the Drama Desk Award for Best Solo Performance.
His onstage successes led to prominent roles on televisions and in film, with Leguizamo delivering memorable turns in the films like Super Mario Bros., Carlito's Way, and playing opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as Tybalt Capulet in Baz Luhrmann's big screen adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. He earned a Golden Globe nomination for his now iconic take on Latino drag queen, Chi Chi Rodriguez, in the road trip comedy, To Wong Foo...Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar!
Leguizamo's made his Broadway debut in 1998 in another one-man show, Freak, for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Play and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. His additional Broadway credits include, Sexaholix... A Love Story, which received a Tony nomination for Best Special Theatrical Performance, American Buffalo, and Ghetto Klown.
Throughout the years, his extreme creativity and sensitivity toward the Latinx and immigrant experiences has made him a champion of these communities on stage and off. In 2008, he was honored with the Rita Moreno HOLA Award for Excellence at the Ninth Annual HOLA Awards celebrating Latin excellence in the arts. In 2011, he received the Made in NY Award from the city of New York. In 2011, he was made global ambassador for the New York City Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Most recently, he was featured on Lin-Mauel Miranda's star-studded single to benefit victims of the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico. "Almost Like Praying."
While we wait for this legendary artist to make his official return to the stage. check out some of his iconic performances below and get to know more about this artist, activist, and actor who is making his way back to Broadway this fall.
Click Here to Watch the Video!