John Leguizamo has been an in-demand film actor for three decades now, with a list of movie credits including 1993's Carlito's Way, 1996's Romeo + Juliet, 1999's Summer of Sam, 2005's Land of the Dead, 2014's John Wick, last year's Encanto, and the upcoming Violent Night (out Dec. 2).
So how did he get inside the head of his character in the dark foodie comedy The Menu? Leguizamo plays an on-the-wane action star trying to become a food show presenter in the hope of keeping his career alive.
"I've met lots of these stars like that, maybe before they were washed up," he says. "I mean, now they're washed-up. I kind of based mine on Steven Seagal. I had a bad run-in with him. We did a movie together. It was Executive Decision. He's kind of a horrible human."
Searchlight Pictures John Leguizamo in 'The Menu'
The Menu stars Ralph Fiennes as a famous chef who whips up an increasingly terrifying night of dining and endangerment for a dozen diners. In addition to Leguizamo's action star, the guests include a couple played by Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult, and a restaurant critic portrayed by Janet McTeer.
"It seems like a foodie movie on the surface, but it's a satire about privilege and entitlement and the boujeeness that can happen in America, people feeling like they're special and nobody else is," Leguizamo says. "It really is a thriller, but with all these little Easter eggs of beautiful food, great dialogue, really interesting characters."
Leguizamo was attracted to the project by the script, written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, which the actor describes as "so outrageous, so out there, these food descriptions, and the beautiful language, and yet horrible things are happening to these people. I go, this is a beautiful arthhouse film, the thing that I got into the business to do, really interesting films that are pushing the envelope, that are not status quo, that are not just rehashes and remakes of things we've already seen a million times."
On this occasion, Leguizamo had no issues with his co-stars and is keen to praise Aimee Carrero who plays his character's assistant.
"She was amazing," he says. "I auditioned three girls to be my assistant, very different. I'm not going to name the other talent, but Aimee won because she could improvise, she could be real, and could be funny, all of these different ingredients that are really hard to juggle, but she could do it. So we went tit for tat, improvising, and she was so fun to work with."
Leguizamo also enjoyed collaborating with the movie's director, Mark Mylod, who is best known for his work on Succession.
"He'll give you these perfect little notes that fine tune your performance to give him what he needs," says the actor. "Yeah, it was a great experience. That's why I think Succession is such a great success and such a great piece of work, because of him."
Leguizamo reveals that he would be more than happy to appear on the HBO show.
"There's a lot of Latin billionaires, bring me on, come on!" he says.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times published an open letter from Leguizamo which protested the lack of Latino representation in films and on TV.
"You can be as talented as Marlon Brando or Ingrid Bergman, you can write like William Shakespeare or Arthur Miller, you can have the screen presence of Ryan Gosling or Jennifer Lawrence," the actor wrote. "But if you look Latino, or if you have a Latino last name, the odds are against you in Hollywood."
Leguizamo says that he has received a "beautiful" response to the letter from many of this colleagues.
"A lot of white actors and Black actors have been my allies, and texted me, and emailed me, and called me up saying that they were proud of me for speaking up," he says. "What I tried to do in this letter was make sure I didn't leave any excuses for Hollywood to continue its aggressive exclusion of Latin people. We're 20 percent of the population, 30 percent of the US box office. Why do the white people get to be overrepresented in film and storytelling? It's just not equitable, there's not parity. It's not okay."
The Menu is now in theaters. Watch the film's trailer below.
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