John Leguizamo is an actor, stand-up comedian, producer, playwright and screenwriter. He rose to fame with a co-starring role in the action comedy Super Mario Bros. as Luigi and a supporting role in the crime drama Carlito's Way.
Born in Bogota, Colombia, on July 22, 1964, Leguizamo immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of four. Deciding that he wanted to go into acting, he studied the craft at New York University and with the legendary Lee Strasberg for one day before Strasberg died. Of his teacher's unexpected departure, Leguizamo later quipped, "I have that effect on people."
Leguizamo began his career as a standup comedian in various New York clubs, and debuted on television with a 1986 turn on Miami Vice. His film debut followed in 1989 with a small role in De Palma's Casualties of War. In 1991, he appeared in similarly incidental roles in a number of movies, including Die Hard 2 and Regarding Henry, which cast him as the gunman who shoots Harrison Ford in the head.
The same year, however, his career advanced, thanks to both a starring role in Hangin' With the Homeboys and Mambo Mouth. This successful production, in which Leguizamo portrayed seven different Latino characters, played to sold-out theaters and won its star and writer Obie and Outer Critics Circle Awards. It was later shown on HBO, where it won a CableACE award.
Two years later, Leguizamo returned to the stage, this time with Spic-O-Rama. Another one-man show, it enjoyed a sold-out run in Chicago before relocating to New York, where it won its creator a Drama Desk Award and, when it aired on HBO, four CableACE Awards. That same year, Leguizamo also kept busy in film: A second outing with De Palma, Carlito's Way, resulted in acclaim for his performance as "Benny Blanco from the Bronx," a young punk who brings out the worst in a trying-to-mend-his-ways Al Pacino.
The actor then netted additional recognition for his first starring role in a major film, Super Mario Bros. In 1995, Leguizamo created and starred in House of Buggin', a TV comedy-variety show in the style of Fox's In Living Color that was the first show of its kind to feature an all-Latino cast. Despite a number of positive reviews and two Emmy nominations, the show was canceled after a relatively brief run. Meanwhile, Leguizamo's film work was winning him greater recognition: His turn as the flamboyantly trashy Chi Chi Rodriguez in &To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything,* Julie Newmar netted him a Golden Globe nomination.
Leguizamo continued on a prolific bent, starring in Pest and William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet in 1996 and making additional appearances in such films as The Fan (1996), Spawn (1997), and Dr. Dolittle (1998), in which he was cast as the voice of a rat. Leguizamo also voiced the character Sid the Sloth in the Ice Age films from 2002 through 2016. However, he received his most favorable notices for his continuing stage work, as he made his Broadway debut in 1998 with "Freak," a "demi-semi-quasi-pseudo-autobiographical" one-man show directed by Pest co-creator David Bar Katz.
The show was a critical and commercial success, and it won an Emmy when it was shown on TV later that year. In 1999, Leguizamo took on a very different role for Spike Lee's Summer of Sam. Playing a womanizer racked with Catholic guilt for cheating on his wife (Mira Sorvino), Leguizamo combined humor and pathos in his characterization of a deeply conflicted man. 1999 also saw Leguizamo branch out into producing, serving as executive producer (and star) of Frank Whaley's directorial debut, Joe the King. Also starring Ethan Hawke, Camryn Manheim, and Val Kilmer, the crime-drama premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, where it won a screenwriting award.
His most recent performance is "Latin History for Morons," a Broadway show so successful it has gone on tour and was recorded for Netflix. He goes into a humorous and insightful recounting of Latin history as a way to help his bullied son.
In October 2006, Leguizamo's memoir, "Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends: My Life," was released. In October 2015, Abrams ComicArts published the graphic novel adaptation of Leguizamo's one-man Broadway show, "Ghetto Klown." As with the live show, the graphic novel explores the actor/comedian's life and career, beginning with his adolescence in Queens, New York.
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