It may come as a surprise to people who saw John Leguizamo’s Off Broadway Mambo Mouth — seven stinging profiles of Hispanic men ranging from a macho cable-TV king to a transvestite hooker with lip — but this 27-year-old from Jackson Heights, Queens, claims to have a lot in common with Johnny, the shy, depressed Bronx teenager he played to critical raves in this spring’s film Hangin’ With the Homeboys. ”I am kind of quiet, actually,” says Leguizamo.
The son of a Puerto Rican father and a Colombian mother, Leguizamo learned to parlay jokes into monologues while performing guerrilla theater in Spanish Harlem and the Lower East Side. But with his baby face and melancholy eyes, he first made the big time playing timid guys — in 1989’s Casualties of War, and 1990’s Die Hard 2 and Revenge. Now he’s getting more assertive. In Regarding Henry, he’s the thug who shoots Harrison Ford. On cable’s Comedy Central, he recently introduced a character named Gladys in The Talent Pool. Varied as his parts get, the Method-trained actor is so determined to be true to character that during the Homeboys shoot, he remained Johnny even when the cameras weren’t rolling. ”Johnny was really not into having a good time,” says Leguizamo. ”So if they all played cards, I played cards — quietly. If we went out drinking, I drank. Quietly.”