Actor John Leguizamo needs no introduction — partially because of his international fame as a comedian and personality, but mainly due to his staggeringly large body of film and television work. Appearing steadily on screen since the mid-1980s, Leguizamo's film roles are as varied as his résumé is lengthy, with the actor turning up in everything from action ("Revenge," "Die Hard 2," the "John Wick" films) to big budget curios ("Super Mario Bros.," "Spawn") to comedies ("The Pest"), family films (the "Ice Age" series, "Encanto"), and horror movies (the recent "The Menu").
His current film, "Violent Night," is somehow all of those genres combined, plus a Christmas movie. Leguizamo plays a mercenary who goes by the code name "Mr. Scrooge," which should give you an indication toward his feelings on the Yuletide season as well as his response when he comes across a very John McClane-like Santa Claus (David Harbour) who stands in the way of his stealing millions from a wealthy Connecticut family on Christmas Eve.
I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Leguizamo on the eve of the release of "Violent Night," and the actor was far from Scrooge-like when reflecting on his experience working on the movie.
'I Don't Care About Being Loved, But I Want To Be Understood'
This interview contains light spoilers and was edited for clarity and brevity.
Something called "Violent Night" doesn't sound like it might have a lot of nuance to it, but it really did for me, especially within your character. His villainy is so compelling and has such a draw to it that it feels like you actually might win by the end because he's so relatable. I wanted to know how you approached balancing playing a character like this with the fact that you are the antagonist to no less than Santa Claus, who is…
The most beloved character?
The most beloved person on Earth, maybe, yeah.
For young folk. Yeah, I know. I know. It was a big task, because your actual movie is only as good as your villain. So your villain has to be as smart as possible. And I talked to the writers and the director, Tommy [Wirkola], and said, "I want to be funny, too, but not 'haha' funny. I want to be witty. I have to be witty, I have to be smart."
How do I keep all that balanced? And I didn't want to be loved. I'm not a corny actor, I don't care about being loved, but I want to be understood. I want the audience to be able to respect me, and that's what we were going after, because that would keep the balance correct. Because Tommy had a tough, tough road to hoe because you got comedy, you got violence, and he brought heart, and those three ingredients don't go together easily or often.
So for him to be able to accomplish that, because he did, because I was crying at the end of this movie and I didn't expect that. He punched me out of nowhere. I was like, "Wait a minute, what?" I've been laughing and rooting, and all of a sudden I was tearing up. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that he snuck that in me.
I really do feel every character has their moment to shine and be understood.
Yes! The family on the page, I got to say, didn't really pop for me, but when I saw the movie I was like, "Oh my god, my god, I love this crazy, sick, disgusting, dysfunctional family. I want them to be together." And he got it. The actors and Tommy and the script really paid off.
'I Was In Pain. I Couldn't Get Out Of Bed'
This is your latest project for the 87eleven, 87north crew, and throughout your career, you've been in a ton of action and genre films. Has the process of choreographing action sequences and training changed over time for you?
Obviously, yeah, like you said, I've done a lot of action flicks and I did box and I'm pretty athletic, but at the same time, I'm getting older, so it's not as easy to execute. It definitely takes a toll on me. It hurts. The day after that big, long sequence [at the end of the film], I was in pain. I couldn't get out of bed. To get out of bed, I had to fall off the bed, roll on the ground … I was in so much pain.
Because like 50 punches of torquing with all your might, hour after hour and upper cuts and all that, it's like, oh, it's killer. But the beautiful thing about [producer] David Leitch is that he brings the best choreographer, stunt coordinator in the world. Jojo [Jonathan] Eusebio is a master and a gentle man. He's a gentleman. He spent the time. I asked, I wanted extra time because I knew that David [Harbour] was going to bring it, to train. So I trained, I put in the hours and we rehearsed it over and over and over again until I was fluid, until I was believable, and that was new to me. That was new, that the detail to the action was what David Leitch brings to action movies.
It's ballet. It's so well-choreographed that there's beauty in it because it's so well-choreographed.
From 'Die Hard' Henchman To 'Die Hard'-Esque Villain
Another aspect to this film that I love is all the homages to past Christmas movies. I believe you and Beverly D'Angelo ["National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"] are the only human references in the movie, in terms of your past with Christmas films. What was it like to go from "Die Hard" henchman to essentially a "Die Hard" villain?
I feel like I've been upgraded. I went from whatever color it is to platinum somehow in frequent flyer miles in terms of action flicks. So yeah, yeah. I love it. Here I am, the villain of the flick with a really fleshed out, beautiful part and great action sequences. Where in "Die Hard 2," I didn't even have a name. I think I was Villain Number 7. I think I was Terrorist Number 7. That's the exact number, yeah.
[According to IMDb, Leguizamo's "Die Hard 2" henchman was allegedly named "Burke."]
'A Chef's Kiss Of A Cast'
I was talking to my fellow writers at /Film earlier about speaking to you today, and we just kept talking about all these films we loved you in. We're amazed at your diversity of roles in your career. At this point as an actor, what draws you to material? Is it the material itself? The people you'd be working with? Both of those?
Definitely it's a combination, but most importantly it's the script. Story to me is king, so my highest priority is: Is a script great? Because I could have a great role in a bad movie, but then nobody's going to see it, nobody's going to appreciate your work. Story is everything.
Then it's amazing when your crew is as beautiful as Tommy Wirkola, as talented as David Harbour, as brilliant as Edi [Patterson], Alexis Louder, Beverly D'Angelo. It was so fun, man. I was with a chef's kiss of a cast, and it was a blast, man. I laughed so hard. I made them laugh so hard, which is even more fun for me because I love making people laugh, and they were cracking up at all my crazy ad libs and the madness I was bringing, and they were making me crack up, too. Sometimes we had to stop filming because we couldn't stop laughing. That's how much fun [it was], and yet you're in this really violent movie. It's incredible. It's such weird emotions being pulled out of you in this flick.
Learning To Appreciate 'Super Mario Bros.'
It's an incredible mixture. And speaking of incredible mixtures, I'm being self-indulgent by asking this next question. I'm 100% unironically a huge fan of "Super Mario Bros." I adore it to this day. I know the film keeps coming up on social media, especially thanks to that Bob Hoskins interview clip where he talks about playing "this thing jumping up and down." Has your opinion on that film changed over the years? What do you feel about it now?
Yes, definitely my opinion of it has changed. I just did Comic-Con in New York and Baltimore, two big comic cons in America, and so many people are huge fans. There were so many people dressed up as Luigi and Mario, and they [would pose as] the poster with the two plungers. They brought the plungers and there were so many [fans]. They brought their DVDs, their VHSs, their posters. I was signing so much stuff and it was like, "Wow, there's so much love for this flick" that it softened my heart.
Definitely it holds a beautiful place for me now, historically, because there were so few Latin leads, and there I was, the lead of a flick. So that was a big deal, that the directors [Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton] fought for me to be in the movie, because you know how it was back then. They didn't really want Latin people to be the leads of flicks. So they had to fight hard for me. I had the talent, but it was up to the studios to greenlight it. So it has an important place in history for me.
"Violent Night" arrives in theaters on December 2, 2022.
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The post Violent Night's John Leguizamo On How It Felt to Face Off Against Santa Claus [Exclusive Interview] appeared first on /Film.