Interview: John Leguizamo on Finding Redemption in Violent Night

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to Violent Night star John Leguizamo about the holiday action movie, which is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digitally. The actor discussed going toe-to-toe with David Harbour and his experience with 1993’s Super Mario Bros.

“When a team of mercenaries breaks into a wealthy family compound on Christmas Eve, taking everyone inside hostage, the team isn’t prepared for a surprise combatant: Santa Claus is on the grounds, and he’s about to show why this Nick is no saint,” reads the synopsis.

Tyler Treese: You were in Die Hard 2. Did that feel like a full circle moment, going from being the smaller mercenary to being the big bad guy in Violent Night pulling all the strings?

John Leguizamo: Yeah! It’s crazy, full circle, and in a way redeeming, because I was really cast as Terrorist #1 — I know it doesn’t sound very impressive, but in my audition, because I was on video, and they brought me on set and I sit next to all the other guys who were all 6’3 and buff. And I’m just … I’m a petite man, you know? I’m a short king, and they demoted me to Terrorist #7. So that was very disappointing and sad for me back then. But here I am and I’m the villain of it. It’s very exciting!

There’s a lot of comedy here and some great Christmas puns. How was getting to flex your improv skills? It seemed like everybody was having a blast with all the dialogue.

We were! We were having so much fun, man. I’m not going to lie, I laughed so hard. I ruined a lot of takes laughing at others, laughing at myself too — I have that problem, I do laugh at my own jokes. But it was fun, man! We really had a blast. We enjoyed our time off camera, on camera. I loved more being off camera because I could laugh as best I could. Edi [Patterson] has some great jokes. David Harbour was very funny. Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder … everybody was so good, man. We just laughed at Tommy [Wirkola]. You could hear Tommy laughing, the director, a lot of times and ruining takes.

I was really surprised by how bloody and intense the fight scenes were. You and David Harbour really get physical. He’s a big dude and that physicality really shows in the final product. So how was he as an acting partner, getting to go toe to toe with him?

Wow … you know, he is 6’3. He gained all that weight for Santa, so I guess he might have been close to 300 pounds. You know, I was worried, I’m not going to lie, but I trained extra. I went there an extra month early, trained every weekend, and then trained with David. I was afraid, because he is big. But I was quick and I had my moves and I told him to make me look quick and cool so it’d look believable that this little guy is fighting that big guy and that I could possibly win.

The death scene for your character is just so brutal. What was your first reaction when you saw that? Because everybody in the theater was going crazy.

I know, but it was the wrong kind of crazy! I thought they would be sad! Everybody jumped to their feet, they were screaming with joy, and I was like, “Oh, that was kind of sad the way I died, mutilated as I went through the chimney.” I mean, it was so violent, so horrific. It’s me, but it’s not me. But it is me. So I can’t help but feel like, “Yo, you’re wrong!”

20 years ago, you were in the 2003 video game Rayman 3, where you voiced Globox. Do you have any memories of participating in that? You have some great lines in that game.

Yeah, yeah, I had fun! I punched up a lot. I did a lot of ad-libs and stuff, it was fun. It was blast. It was easy back then because it was just voiceover, you know? It wasn’t ADR. Like for regular animated movies, you have to really work hard at giving it shape and they videotape you and you have to give it emotion and then you have to ADR lines when they draw it first. Then you have to try to match your lips. This, It was free. Just free fall. Just make up stuff and then just add it everywhere.

You’ve worked with one of my favorite directors, Baz Luhrmann on two incredible movies.

His best!

Yeah! What stood out about working with him? He’s one of the few directors that have that auteur label and there’s nobody else quite like him.

Yes, Baz Luhrmann … it’s a well-deserved title for him, auteur, because he writes, creates, directs … he’s the most collaborative person I’ve ever worked with. The most generous, kind, nurturing director I’ve ever worked with. And he just makes everybody feel like they’re the most invaluable piece of the project. I loved it.

I learned so much from his process. He does long rehearsals. Two weeks for Romeo + Juliet, a month for Moulin Rouge. We did readings once a week of the script as it changed and changed and changed. So it was so fun to be a part of this process. And he includes you and he’s very transparent. He’s one of the greats, one of the greats of our time.

You’re on a really great run here. Not only Violent Night, but The Menu was so great. Your character in that was a washed-up actor, but you’re doing some of the best work of your career. You’re finding these interesting roles. So how have you managed to keep up that momentum so many decades into your career?

Well, you know, I love the craft, so I’m a craftsman. I love the art and I focus on the art and I think that’s what saves me and gives me longevity and helps me stay relevant. I’m very involved politically, I’m very involved socially, I read a lot, I study film, I keep going to my acting classes … I think you have to be like an athlete, like you’re a tennis star or something. You have to constantly keep working on your serve. Can’t just sit back there and eat bonbons and watch tv. You’ve got to work on your game, and I work on my game.

Like you said, you’re staying active with the community, you’re involved with activism. How important is it that you have this platform and use it for good causes and to spotlight important stuff that’s going on?

It’s very important to me because I feel like as a Latin man in America, we get a raw deal. We contribute $2.8 trillion to the US economy. If we were our own country, it’d be the fourth largest country in the world, bigger than London, bigger than most European countries — and that’s just Latinos in the U.S. We’re less than 4% of the leads in all media, but we’re 30% of the box office, $4 billion in streaming. We’re still the least represented minority in the country when we’re in the largest ethnic group, oldest ethnic group. It’s just not fair. And until things are fair and equal, until we have 20% of the roles, 20% of the executives, 20% the stories on film, TV, and books, I’m not happy, because I want every young person who’s Latino to have an opportunity.

There’s too much talent that gets wasted and squandered, you know? I’ve seen it happen time and time [again]. Rita Moreno was an EGOT before an EGOT was a thing. And she rarely worked. They never wrote roles for her. They never wrote things for Latin people. They would never change a white role and make it a Latin person. Now they understand that that’s the secret formula. Pick any part. Take Top Gun, put a Latin person in the lead. Boom. You got a Latin Tom Cruise. That’s all you need, the role and the script that’s great.

It’s been interesting seeing the 1993 Super Mario Brothers movie’s perception has changed during my lifetime. Because at first like there was a quasi-ironic appreciation, but now as time goes on, there’s a legitimate love and admiration for that film as people just got over the differences from the game. How has it been seeing a newfound appreciation for that movie?

Well, I love the way you say the ironic love for the flick. It was interesting. It was the first video game movie. Everybody was upset that it didn’t match the exact Game Boy thing and maybe they should have thought of that a little bit more when they constructed the flick. But I’m glad that people love it.

I mean, Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper have passed — rest in power. They were beautiful, beautiful actors and sorely missed. I’m sorry they didn’t get to see this resurgence of the love for the movie. Like, it’s got redemption! There’s another movie, It’s a Wonderful Life — when it first came out, it was a bomb. It got critically attacked and then it became a classic for the ages. So you never know, you know?

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