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Leguizamo finds his voice in ‘Cronicas’

Actor embarks on his first Spanish-speaking role
/ Source: The Associated Press

After working for almost 20 years in TV, comedy, film and theater, Colombian-born actor John Leguizamo is playing a Spanish-speaking character for the first time.

In “Cronicas,” Leguizamo stars as a Miami-based TV tabloid reporter who faces ethical dilemmas when investigating a serial killer in a small Ecuadorian town.

It’s a busy summer for Leguizamo, who’s also co-starring in “George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead” and “The Honeymooners.” He’ll also play a Mexican musician who tries his luck in Los Angeles in “Sueno,” a film to be released in early 2006.

Leguizamo, 40, debuted in Broadway in 1998 with “Freak,” which earned him two Tony nominations and an Emmy when HBO aired a special presentation of the one-man show. His 2001 Broadway show “Sexaholix” also received a Tony nomination.

Leguizamo, who started his acting career with a minor role in “Miami Vice” in 1986, talked recently in Spanish to The Associated Press about “Cronicas,” Latin American cinema and his next stand-up comedy project.

AP: Why did you decide to work in “Cronicas”?

Leguizamo: I think there is now a strong movement of Latin cinema. A movement of movies made with few resources, stories with a lot of passion, a realism that is a little dirty. And I wanted to be part of it. It thrilled me to rediscover my roots. I was born in Bogota and I came here at the age of 3. When my parents talked to me in Spanish, I replied to them in English. And now I am paying for it.

AP: Was it hard for you to work only in Spanish?

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AP: Would you like to keep working in Spanish?

Leguizamo: Yes. But I need to find the right roles. ... I have problems memorizing and improvising. I would like very much to stand out in Spanish-spoken movies and to work with that incredible talent in Latin America, which makes some things better than in the U.S.

AP: What did you like the most in “Cronicas”?

Leguizamo: (Producer Alfonso) Cuaron e-mailed me the script, and it captivated me. ... I hadn’t read such a strong script in the U.S. for many years. That is why I do independent movies, because in Hollywood the star is always the perfect guy and he wins at the end. Life is not like that. I never experienced it like that, even though I am the star of my own life. I am weaker than that.

AP: How do you think Hollywood treats Hispanic artists?

Leguizamo: When I was young, all the auditions I used to go to were for characters such as gangsters and drug dealers, or gardeners and servants. But things have changed a lot now. ... What has not changed is that Hollywood has not found a way of telling our stories, about the Hispanics in the U.S. They don’t know how to find them, how to nurture them.

AP: What about Spanish-language movies such as “Cronicas”?

Leguizamo: These Latin American movies come here, because they are looking for these stories for the Latino audience in this country. They accept these stories from Latin America, which I really like, but they cannot find the stories about the Hispanics from here.

AP: Is there a major difference between U.S. Hispanic and Latin American audiences?

Leguizamo: We come from there and we have a lot from there. But what is different is that we face racism in this country, and many live in poor neighborhoods where the education is really bad. People there (in Latin America) are super-educated and super-intellectual. They face obstacles, but not so many. It is a different experience. But that is the only difference.

AP: Do you think some TV reporters may identify with “Cronicas”?

Leguizamo: It is an attack on all the media, the press, and a little bit on the U.S., because my character is from Miami and speaks a little bit of English. It represents how the U.S. goes to other countries believing they can solve all the problems but cause some others.

AP: Do you think the Anglo audience may also enjoy “Cronicas”?

Leguizamo: Look at what happened with “Maria Full of Grace.” It was in Spanish and it got an Oscar nomination. Americans also want to see these stories. When they are authentic, everybody wants to see them.

AP: Will you ever do stand-up comedy again?

Leguizamo: I will do it again. I want it to be my masterpiece, so I am saving it until it is perfect. I really like the one-man show and I don’t want to do it just for doing it. I want to take it to the next level. I don’t have a date yet. But I already started it. I have been testing it out in colleges.

AP: What is the show about?

Leguizamo: It is about my career, but I don’t want it to sound gossipy. So it has to be perfect.