As John Leguizamo co-stars with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube in the cop comedy Ride Along, in theaters today (January 17, 2014), VIBE spoke with the 49-year-old screen OG about his biggest life lessons, from the lows to the highs.
>"Growing up in Jackson Heights was an incredible training ground for an actor—and for going into MMA. There was a lot of white flight when we moved in and there were a lot of accents I picked up along the way. There were so many Irish, Italian—everybody was living there, so I was able to learn how to talk like them, like telling the German neighbor next door saying to stop making so much noise. I got jumped a lot, but I didn’t just get beat up by the white kids. I was getting beat up by my own people. I had lots of fight tactics. You know, calling out one guy in a group and saying, “You’re the tough guy, come on! You don't need the whole group, you're so bad! ” You’d still get the crap beat out of you, but at least it was one guy instead of 12."
>"Miami Vice was my first TV role. I was such a scrub. I look back at it and I look like such a young punk. It’s kind of laughable. I was 19 years old, and I was the guest villain trying to take down the whole Miami Vice."
>"House of Buggin’ was my chance to do a sort of Latin In Living Color or SNL. I wrote it, I selected the cast, and I worked with them for months. We got to do 13 episodes, and then [the producers] asked me to change all the cast and I wouldn’t, so they fired me. They kept the writers, directors, my format, and the only white actor. I used to be very roguish back in the day. I just wouldn't accept it. I had my principles. I wasn't gonna turn on the people I was working with. I wanted to do things my way and I trusted my own inner voice. I'm much more diplomatic about it now."
>My kids never liked my voices. Now they do, but before, I’d be reading Brothers Grimm and 1001 Arabian Nights in all kinds of voices and they would be like, “Dad, just be yourself.” But you’re my kids, my own private audience.
>"The roles available to me would either be drug dealers or gangbangers. It was always the same dudes [in auditions]—me, Benicio del Toro, Benjamin Bratt and Luis Guzman. We’d all show up looking like gangbangers trying to act tough in front of each other, like, “Yo wassup, what you lookin’ at, man?” That’s why I started writing. I went to college to make something of myself and said I’m not gonna settle for this nonsense. We don’t always have to be the guy who gets shot down in the first 10 minutes."
>"Being funny has always helped me with women. That always breaks the ice. You’re cracking jokes, and then girls think you’re funny and they get closer to you. Then you go in for the kill. Otherwise, you gotta look like Brad Pitt or Denzel Washington. They don’t need that much game."
>"For theater and doing one-man shows, I practice in front of a mirror. I love that process of going in front of small spaces and talking to people. The artist has total control. What I’m doing onstage is the purest form of expression because I don’t have a mess of people wanting to get their opinions in or having to please viewers or box office. It’s purely about what I have to say, and how to say it in the cleanest, sharpest, most poetic and economic way."
>"My kids love when I tell them how dad messed up. They feel like you’re human and they relate to you better. Being a good dad does not come naturally to me. I didn’t have the right fundamentals so I went to parenting therapy. I read the books. What I learned is, you’re gonna fail. You might as well own up to it in front of the kids." —As Told To Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
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