John Leguizamo: Watching ‘White Guy’ Al Pacino Play a Puerto Rican on ‘Carlito’s Way’ Set Was ‘Odd’ and ‘Surreal’

For John Leguizamo, 1993 was a breakthrough year thanks to back-to-back releases “Super Mario Bros.” and “Carlito’s Way.” In the latter Brian De Palma-directed film, the actor starred as the up-and-coming gangster Benny Blanco opposite Al Pacino as Carlito Brigante, a Puerto Rican criminal who is dragged back into a life of crime. The only problem is that Al Pacino is not Puerto Rican, which is why the set was so “odd” and “surreal” for Leguizamo.

“You know, it was a thing of the times. Before then he played a Cuban,” Leguizamo recently told Insider, referring to Pacino’s iconic “Scarface” role as Tony Montana. “Yeah, in that he’s kind of doing like a Cuban/Mexican accent.”

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“I know he’s trying and he’s a great actor, so brilliant, he was my hero. But it was odd, man,” Leguizamo continued about the “Carlito’s Way” set. “It’s an odd experience to be a Latin man in a Latin story written by a Latin man and the lead guy’s a white guy pretending to be Puerto Rican. I’m not going to lie, it’s surreal. It was surreal. I turned the part down a few times and then eventually I decided to do it.”

“Carlito’s Way” marked a dramatic breakthrough for Leguizamo, but it was a long time coming.

“I definitely knew I could act. It wasn’t like I couldn’t act, I knew I could do it,” Leguizamo said. “I trained hard. It’s just Hollywood was weird and it’s always been weird. It has always been “Holly-wouldn’t.” And I knew this going in. When I went to college, and alongside some great actors, the white guys would get five auditions a day and I would have one every five months. The cast breakdown was Jim Crow. White actor, white actor, and then every five months, Latin actor to be a murderer. Those were my opportunities.”

It’s been a busy end of the year for Leguizamo, who is currently in theaters with both Searchlight Pictures’ “The Menu” and Universal Pictures’ “Violent Night.” Head over to Insider’s website to read Leguizamo’s latest interview.

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