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Happy 50th to the Inimitable John Leguizamo

Happy 50th to the enduring character actor and one man show trouper John Leguizamo. He has his first (film) hit in years this summer as part of the ensemble of Chef and he's arguably even its secret weapon; his cheerful sideline energy helps cut the sometimes sour taste of the movie's vaguely offputting self pitying / self aggrandizing central character business featuring Jon Favreau.

But Leguizamo has been doing that for years, significantly boosting or even altering the energy of pictures he was fourth or fifth or, you know, twelfth billed in. It's true that his brand of sideline showmanship often teeters towards hardly altruistic hamminess; he's an unrepetant scene stealer. But it was a treat to see him again, I raedily admit, and so shortly after I happened to watch his most recent one man show "Ghetto Klown" on cable or streaming or something (I forget) wherein he talks about this impending 50th birthday, the disintegration of his film career and trying to get things back on track. 

That story has a happy ending given that it's hard to miss his earnest but unforced exuberance in Chef and wish him well on future gigs. Especially if you have any fond recollection of past gems like...

From top left: Summer of Sam, the most all-around underappreciated of Spike Lee's quality joints, gave him a rare leading role as Vinny the hairdresser; he was wonderfully too much and Golden Globe nominated as Chi-Chi in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar like an excited drag puppy that couldn't stop peeing; and of course there's his unrequited romantic highly-fictionized version of Toulouse Lautrec in the classic Moulin Rouge!. These are his greatest film roles and it's just perfect that two of them have exclamation points in the title since he's that kind of actor. 

I only speak the truth ♫ I only speak the truth "

What's your fondest memory of Leguizamo's career?

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Reader Comments (19)

I love him in Romeo + Juliet

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBRB

All I can think of is the Ice Age series. That first one wasn't bad, right? I mean, I haven't seen it since I was 10. But I'm pretty sure the first one wasn't terrible. I think. Don't quote me on it!

No wait, I forgot! He was in that Super Mario Bros. movie, right? I also saw that one. That was a weird film.

Apparently, I can only remember John Leguizamo in sketchy movies.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKacey

The first Ice Age was great. The sequels should be extinct. When I was a pre-teen I loved him. I don't know exactly what that says, but it's the truth.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Todd Haynes POISON, only because he took it off his filmography and seems embarrassed by it. Why? It's probably the best film he's ever been in.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDaniella Isaacs

Love him in Too Wong Foo:

"Little Latin boy in drag, why are you crying?" (OK, not his line, but still.)

"Baby, you can have him. I've got a million dream lovers, alright. I've got a broken heart for every light on Broadway. And when one of them goes out, I just screw in another one, okay, hello good-bye."

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Just saw him in Chef and was thinking he's quite underrated (not for that role mind you, but you know).

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterG.ShaQ

Moulin Rouge! of course! He's great in Romeo + Juliet as well. His style fits with Baz's larger-than-life aesthetic.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Romeo and Juliet is my favorite. But I tend to enjoy him in just about everything he does.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I remember him so fondly as a major crush from my youth and he's aging nicely. Going to have to echo everyone's sentiment about Romeo + Juliet which I think he's just awesome in.
Also, a friendly nod to Land of the Dead, which came in that flurry of so many zombie movies immediately post Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake. John Leguizamo is really charismatic and well-suited for that genre and the movie itself is way better and smarter than a lot of the zombie movies released around that time. It opened to little fanfare, but it's definitely worth a watch or a re-watch and Leguizamo is very good in it.

Though I prefer Moulin Rouge! as a whole, his work in Romeo + Juliet is really outstanding.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

I heard he was difficult."More legs than a bucket of chicken" my fave chi chi line.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

Glad to hear a shout-out for the underappreciated "Summer of Sam."

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

His scene with Dean Norris in The Counselor where they bond over bodies in barrels might be my favorite in that movie, mainly because it's really funny and the two of them somehow felt "loose" even with that horror-show difficult McCarthy dialogue. Most of the other actors in the film couldn't manage that.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKate

I'm a big fan of Leguizamo as I love his one-man shows as Freak I think is the best of them all while I also love Ghetto Klown. I was one of those who watched House of Buggin' religiously when it was on FOX since I'm Hispanic and was able to enjoy it. I really hope he works with Baz Luhrmann again as I think Romeo + Juliet is his best performance while I really loved watching him in Chef. My parents are fans of his as well.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Yay. I'm so glad to find fans of his here. We've never really discussed him.

July 22, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I find that I like him FAR more than I do any of his films. He just hasn't quite ever gotten that really good script or "moment." But it could still happen, 50 isn't fatal (for the guys mostly).

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Oh, it's all about Chi-Chi in To Wong Foo for me. When I first saw it, I barely had a grasp of what a drag queen actually was and when I was thoroughly filled in by the movie's end, I was shocked the actor playing Chi Chi wasn't an actual woman. That role fit him like a glove but you just know he grew up around those latin queens in NYC so he didn't have to pull too far for some good inspiration LOL.

He would've added some fun dimension to that Supporting Actor Oscar lineup that year too.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

I saw his one-man show Spic-O-Rama here in Chicago in 1991, and he was an electric presence on-stage.

July 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I liked him all cracked out in "Spun".

July 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean

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