After more than two decades in Hollywood, John Leguizamo has played just about every kind of role imaginable. Which is why in "Kick-Ass 2," it seems almost appropriate that he plays mentor to an up-and-comer, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as he tries to stretch his wings and explore new territory. In the highly-anticipated sequel, Leguizamo plays Mintz-Plasse's bodyguard, a sensible but devoted partner to the budding villain as he takes his first tentative steps into criminality.
Comic Book Resources sat down with Leguizamo at Comic-Con International, where the veteran performer was promoting "Kick-Ass 2" at the Kick-Ass Experience, just a few blocks away from the convention center. In addition to talking about his role and his work with Mintz-Plasse, Leguizamo offered his thoughts about opportunities for Latino actors in Hollywood, and reflected on his long and varied career as a performer in the entertainment industry.
CBR News: John, who do you play in the film? He's new to the world of "Kick-Ass."
Jeff Wadlow, the director-writer of the movie, "Kick-Ass 2," called me up and told me, "you're going to be in 'Kick-Ass,'" and I said, "Wow, man, I'm going to be a superhero! I'm going to have to shoot up steroids and get a costume? I'll have a special power?" And he goes, "No, you're going to be yourself." I'm like, well, that's no fun. I want to be, like, Bad Ass, or Pain In The Ass, or whatever -- Lard Ass! But me and Chris just hit it off so awesome; that relationship between me and him is like Batman and Alfred, so that worked out really funny in the movie.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse has said he goes to some pretty dark places for the character. What sort of counterpoint or complement do you provide?
It's like the whole tone of the movie, which is so brilliantly woven together, it's a really hard tone to keep. Because there's a lot of real vulnerability, a lot of real emotion, but then it's all mixed in with a lot of violence, profanity and action. So it's an interesting mix of all of these elements, and humor, and I provide sort of an emotional catalyst for why Chris goes from Red Mist to The Motherfucker. I'm kind of like the catalyst for that.
Was taking the role as simple as Jeff asking you to play yourself? What discussions did you have about the character?
Oh, definitely. I mean, it's me, but not really -- I play a bodyguard. I'm a much more easygoing guy, and he's much tougher and more bad ass than myself.
How much has your past versatility helped you get acclimated to the balance of tones in "Kick-Ass 2?"
I think it's a little bit of everything. I don't think you ever really know how things should turn out, and I don't think you should ever limit yourself. I learned from Dustin Hoffman that every take should be completely different -- give them choices. Great performances are really unexpected and out of the box, and I think that's the goal -- you just do anything and get enough takes, and then construct it. Because it's surprising -- performances are better when they're not linear; Robert Downey Jr., you would never pick to be a superhero, but that's what makes it incredible. The vulnerability, the quirkiness, the offbeat thing is what makes it. But nobody would have thought of that but Jon Favreau.
When then do you feel like a character comes together and feels fully defined?
I kind of know. I mean, there was a lot of wiggle room to go a little funnier, a little darker. There was more room for emotion, so we played with my character. He's a much more real day-to-day guy; he's not so absurd or ridiculous. We had a little wiggle room, so we would err towards funnier or darker or more emotional, and then you trim that.
At this point, do you feel like you have any creative constraints or limitations in terms of filmmakers' or audiences' perception of you?
I think the audience is willing to go with you anywhere and everywhere. I think it's the studios that are more limiting in their view and perspective of performers, and of audiences. Because I'm here at Comic-Con, and it seems to me that the make-up of the nerd-dom is pretty largely ethnic -- I mean, the majority of these great nerds here are Latin, black and Asian -- so I don't know what audience they're talking to sometimes when they cast these movies. But I don't see enough people of color, and definitely not enough Latin people.
That brings up an interesting question --
That's my job. To stimulate. [Laughs]
In "Turbo," two Latin actors play taco truck purveyors. I don't have any judgment of them, but where do you think the boundary lies between playing a character and reinforcing a potential stereotype?
I think you have to draw a line. I think you have to at some point be a risk-taker and go, "No, I don't want to do that." I think we've evolved to a certain place where we can change the images and let somebody else take it who really needs a job. [Laughs] But you do have to take risks, financial risks, and you have to say, "I'm not going to do that."
Do you have a specific threshold?
I think there are lots of offensive images, and I agree, and I think movies are really important to how people see certain groups of people, and see certain issues. I think films are lot more important than you think in some ways -- especially when there's limited access to, well, let me just speak for Latin people, the Latin image has to be guarded and protected. Because there's not enough product out there representing us, and there should be. We're like the highest moviegoers in America, in minorities, anyway. I think we go three or four times to see a movie, and we go in large family groups.
In that case, how frequently are you offered or do you pursue roles where a character is defined by his ethnicity?
Of course I'm still bound by that, because I've always portrayed myself as a Latin man, and I don't shy away from it. And Hollywood is writing very dumb, demeaning Latin roles; they're getting better, and there have been a lot of improvements, like Benicio del Toro in "The Wolfman," and Demian Bichir in "The Bridge."
So at this point, what kind of roles are you looking for?
Well, I'm trying to create a great series on TV. It's my own stamp. I can't say where it is because I haven't closed the deal yet, but yeah, I'm going to try to do my own thing. My own point of view. Cable is going to give me that opportunity, so I'm pretty excited about that. It's the golden age of cable TV, and that's where the most interesting stories in acting and directing and writing is coming from.
"Kick-Ass 2" is in theaters now.