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INT: John Leguizamo

06.24.2005by: Chris Gaede

John Leguizamo returns to the screen as Cholo in George Romeroís LAND OF THE DEAD . Iím not exactly sure what Cholo means. I canít help but think of the El Cholo restaurants here in Los Angeles (which are really tasty). Hereís one explanation that I found. See, you learn things here at Why? Because we care about you and your childrenís future.

Anyway, Leguizamo is one of the highlights of the movie, as the ďkick ass and take namesĒ stool pigeon to Dennis Hopperís slimy character Kaufman. But Cholo is a dangerous guy as well. Itís the kind of multi-faceted character that Leguizamo can bring life to: a guy who is funny, but selfish and cold, as well as scary. By the end, Leguizamo even makes you sympathize with him a little.

Leguizamo sat down to discuss the film and working with the legendary George Romero during the recent press day here in Los Angeles . Of course, he turned the tables on my fellow journalists and me by asking the first question.


JOHN LEGUIZAMO: What did you think? I was hoping that it was Georgeís masterpiece, because I havenít seen it. I only saw the first 14 minutes in Cannes . I thought it was a really ambitious flick. Itís part apocalyptic world, itís part action movie, itís part political satire. Did you catch the satire? (The room laughs) Just curious to know. So who do the zombies represent?

(People toss out a number of suggestions)

Yeah thatís what I thought. Red states. What was curious, what do me and Simon (Baker, who plays Riley) represent. Thatís what I couldnít totally politically figure out. Weíre not the bourgeois, I donít know. Anybody? I know itís early, but not that early, címon!

Was a lot of the Spanish ad-libbed?

Yeah, there was a lot of ad-libbing. I didnít know what to expect working with George. I admired him. Of course NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is one of the great movies of all time, aside that itís a horror movie and started the whole zombie genre; itís still a great movie. I used to watch that in New York . I saw Chiller Theatre we used to have in New York and Creature Feature, and saw it there. I didnít know George was going to be how he was going to be with real actors.

I know heís got the horror down, and heís got certain rules he has to have, the zombies gotta move slow, because they have rigor mortis. How can they move fast? He doesnít tell em, how to move, Ďcause he doesnít want them all to look like CGI armies. He lets everybody find their inner zombie, which was pretty cool. And he was great with the acting, he really let us loose, but he would also reign us in. He was really watching the acting; I was really impressed with that. So I was making up shit all over the place. Some of it stuck, some of it will be on the DVD. Itíll go somewhere, itís never wasted.

How different was it working on this, as opposed to some other horror films?

Well Iíve never done a horror movie before in my life. This was the first. Itís hard, itís hard. Itís just as hard as doing a comedy. Itís a lot of work to make things real and natural, thatís whatís tricky. To make it all believable you have to work extra hard. I think the difference between this movie and all the other horror movies is first, heís always got a sense of humor about it. I think I really responded to the script, I think the characters were really well defined, Iíve never seen them that well defined in a horror movie before. I mean, my character had a whole character arc, I had ulterior motives. Very Iago in a way, that really appealed to me, political commentary, social commentary in it. I though it was pretty deep, kind of operatic in a way. And thatís what appealed to me in the script. I havenít seen the full product, so I donít know if he succeeded, hopefully he did.

What do you expect this movie will do for your career?

You never know what a movieís going to do for you, so I let go of those expectations a long time ago. I always improvise, thatís my thing. Luckily Iím a writer, so if I get this great writing, improvising just adds a little bit more to it, just takes it to another level. Because an actor, believe it or not, really knows his character more than anybody else, even more than the original writer, even more than the director. At some point, we know that character better than anybody else.

Especially, if you connect with it then thereís infinite possibilities that can come out of you. And I think the better directors know that they have final cut. And the more they let you go, the more choices theyíre gonna have in the editing room to create a performance, or to change things. You just give them crazy choices and they can do whatever. A smart director, the more confident ones, who have experience, know that the editing room, itís all theirs, itís not a problem. Itís the newer cats, who havenít had any experience, who are sometimes a little too precious about their own words. I really enjoyed being a part of this film. Maybe some action flicks will come my way out of this. Iíll be the zombie killer. Maybe a spin off.

Were you surprised to find out that Dennis Hopper is a Republican?

I learned that he was Republican on SUPER MARIO BROS., so I learned never to bring politics up because it would justÖI really dig the guy. Dennis Hopper, heís so cool man. Heíll always be sort of that hippie cat. Even at his age heís still like ďHey man, everythingís going great. Itís so cool man, I love working with you.Ē And we did SUPER MARIO BROS. together and we did this, and it was, this was much more exciting for both of us. The way he was playing the villain was so much more realistic. And the scenes between us, even though we were in this heightened reality, this heightened world, we still were playing everything for real and for keeps. I was in Canada, Canadians have their own point of view of America. They were really rooting for Kerry, they were really disappointedÖin Americans. And so was I. But thereís always the next election. But it was really fun doing the movie at the time, because you know, Dennis Hopperís character and that world represented a certain aspect of haves and have mores.

Can you talk about your process of working with Simon?

I trained a lot when I was growing up. I really love acting. To me I always felt movies and plays could really illuminate people and help us understand why we do things. It wasnít just purely entertainment. So Iíve always tried to go deeper with everything Iím doing. And working with Spike Lee or Baz Luhrman thereís always a big rehearsal period, soÖbecause I was coming out of another movie, and George wanted to rehearse, like all great directors have a good instinct for that, that you gotta rehearse. I wasnít able to be there, but me and Simon would get together, like in out hotel rooms, in our trailers before scenes. We would rehearse the scenes together, talk about it, argue. It was such a creative atmosphere; I was really full of respect for Simon and had a great time working with him. Because I knew it was tough in the horror genre to make it real, you have to work a little extra harder to make things look more natural, let them flow a little bit more, you have to work a little harder. And we did. We would present, like the show and tell for George, and go ďWell, George see if you like this.Ē Because with a director, itís better to show them than to tell them, because usually things donít explain themselves as well as when you see them.

You previously worked with KNB on SPAWN. What was it like to work with them again?

Greg Nicoterro, you know, heís out of his mind. Heís great. I mean, they hadÖafter they went through a lot of zombie bodies, theyíd have them outside of the trailer, it looked like a mass burial ground of zombies. I guess to keep themselves in good humor, they made them anatomically endowed. So they were all naked, they put pubic hair in all the right places, it was very disheartening when you saw that stuff.

We heard there was a lot of stuff shot that didnít make it into the movie.

Yeah, the movieís cut tight. I mean, itís an hour, 28 minutes, thatís brutal.

Is there stuff that you were fond of that didnít make it into the theatrical cut that we might see on the DVD?

Yeah, there was a lot of stuff. There was a lot of great ad lib, I mean I always think my ad libs are great. I guess youíll be the judge of that on the DVD. There was a scene on the motorcycle where I wasÖthe kid that gets killed on my motorcycle, I was saying to him a lot of stuff on the motorcycle like ďYou little virgin thisÖIím gonna make sure you get laid, la da da. Some stuff like that.

Could you elaborate on some of the some of the other mistakes that you see more inexperienced directors making?

I worked with great directors, and Iíve worked with a lot of newbies, a lot of new cats, Baz Luhrman, Spike Lee, Tony Scott, DePalma, theyíre confident that the script is a blueprint, is a jumping off point. And then you cast actors, you gotta trust them to let them do what they want to do, you know? And Pacino and I improvised a lot in CARLITOíS WAY. Me and Wesley improvised a lot in TO WONG FOOÖ You just let people do their thing and theyíre gonna take you to a whole other level. I think thatís a usually a problem sometimes that, especially writer directors, sometimes fall in love with their dialogue too much and they want you to say it grammatically perfect, and you donít get the best performances out of people. Itís better to have actors be in the moment. I think some directors are afraid of rehearsing too. I think rehearsing is a great time to find out the mistakes in your script, the weaknesses in the writing.





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