Trailblazing actor and comedian John Leguizamo inspired South by Southwest audiences on Tuesday by talking about his life, career, and upcoming projects.
Leguizamo’s family left Colombia and came to America when he was just 3 years old. He grew up in various neighborhoods of Queens, including Jackson Heights, which he describes as difficult. He was bullied and beat up often because he was one of the first Latinx children in Jackson Heights. Leguizamo turned to comedy as a coping mechanism and says that being funny stopped the bullying.
While at New York University, Leguizamo experienced a reality check: talent only takes you so far. His white classmates had up to five auditions daily while he only had one every few months. He booked auditions for stereotypical roles such as drug dealers and gangsters. Leguizamo searched for a change. Starting with performing in small theaters, he worked his way up and began headlining. Soon after, he sold out everywhere. Now, he continues to fight for more Latinx representation in Hollywood.
His upcoming series, “Leguizamo Does America,” highlights the stories of Latinxs around America by featuring their history, music, culture, food, politics, and more.
“It’s the first show of its kind,” said Leguizamo. “Latinxs are the only people in the world whose culture and language has been destroyed, but we’re still here.”
During the session, director Ben DeJesus, showrunner Carolina Saavedra, and NBC News Anchor Tom Llamas, joined Leguizamo to discuss “Leguizamo Does America.”
During the featured session, moderator Tom Llamas asked Leguizamo, “What does it take to be John Leguizamo?”
Here are the lessons we learned from Leguizamo:
Leguizamo didn’t have many doors open for him at the beginning of his career, and instead of giving up, he took action.
“There’s no movies or stories about us,” said Leguizamo.
He not only looked for representation, he created it by writing his own stories and plays.
He wrote and performed his own plays and one-man shows. And while Hollywood said they wanted diversity, their green-lights weren’t as inclusive.
“We Latinx people have to start becoming more active,” said Leguizamo. “Things have to change now.”
Leguizamo’s commitment to open opportunities might inspire others to do the same.
“We have more power than we give ourselves credit for,” said DeJesus. “Why not us? We gotta do it ourselves.”
One of the key elements of “Leguizamo Does America,” is authenticity. They wanted the show to be deeper than just a travel show, the authentic stories highlighted in the series proved to be loyal to their heritage.
“Keep your richness and uniqueness,” DeJesus encouraged the audience of not hiding their heritage as working professionals.
Keep your heritage and culture alive through your work to create the representation that many of us grew up without.
“When I was doing it,” said Leguizamo. “I was doing it for the kids that looked like me.”
Do Your Best
“Leguizamo Does America,” forced the groundbreaker to take on a journalistic role while he worked on the documentary. Everything had to be right.
“It was a little harder because it’s not my background,” said Leguizamo, “But I just tried to learn and do the best I can.”
Leguizamo’s production team said he stays curious, views mistakes as learning opportunities, and doesn’t shy away from accountability.
“He’s our north star in so many ways,” said Saavedra, “We need people like him. None of us would be here without him.”
“Leguizamo Does America” premieres on MSNBC on April 16.