He’s one of the most respected Latin American actors of his generation.
But John Leguizamo revealed on Monday that early in his career he did everything in his power to keep his skin light in hopes of winning choice roles.
In a new interview for the Academy Award’s Seen series, the 57-year-old actor and comedian admitted that he tried to stay out of the sun ‘for years’ because he though darker-skinned Latin actors weren’t getting roles of the same quality as lighter-skinned stars.
Speaking out: John Leguizamo, 57, admitted he avoided the sun to keep his skin lighter early in his career in hopes of getting higher-profile roles in an interview Monday with the Academy Awards’ Seen series; seen in 2019 in NYC
‘I definitely would not go in the sun for years. It was a conscious thing because I could work,’ Leguizamo shared.
His fears of appearing too brown were derived from noticing which Latin actors seemed to make it big in the film industry.
‘All the Latinos that made it so far, a lot of them were all light-skinned,’ he continued.
‘What happened to all the Afro-Latinos and the majority of indigenous Latinos? They don’t get a shot, you know. So, there’s a lot of things we got to deal with in Hollywood, and we got to fix, and we got to speak out and we got to speak up.’
No tan: ‘I definitely would not go in the sun for years. It was a conscious thing because I could work,’ Leguizamo sharedk; still from Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Sensing a pattern: ‘All the Latinos that made it so far, a lot of them were all light-skinned,’ he continued, bemoaning the lack of ‘Afro-Latinos’ and ‘indigenous Latinos’ in Hollywood; pictured with Samantha Morton in Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Leguizamo went on to suggest that a lack of strong roles for Latin actors kept them from advancing to bigger projects and stardom.
‘How do you create a Latin star in America when the roles are one-dimensional and not worthy of awards?’ he mused. ‘The ugly question is, why are Latin people not succeeding? What’s the ugly question? Are we not smart enough? Not talented enough? Not good-looking enough? Not hardworking enough? No, none of those stereotypes and racist ideas because nobody tries harder with less access.’
He added that even Latin actors who get cast in meatier parts are often saddled with offensive stereotypes.
‘So not only are we invisible, but when we are seen, it’s a negative portrayal,’ he continued, though he noted that, ‘Things are improving.
‘I think COVID made us really look at ourselves in America. Black Lives Matter was a huge awakening for America, a reboot for America to look at themselves and see what’s going on. I think everybody’s trying to do the right thing and hire many more people of color,’ said Leguizamo.
It gets worse: ‘Not only are we invisible, but when we are seen, it’s a negative portrayal,’ he continued, though he noted that, ‘Things are improving’; pictured in Carlito’s Way (1993)
‘What I want to see, I want to see 20 percent of the roles in front of the camera and the crew. I’m not asking for extra. I just want what’s due to us.’
The stage and screen star said he had had to contend with Hollywood executives who didn’t believe there was a profit to be made by casting Latin actors or focusing on Latin American communities.
He remembered executives telling him that ‘Latin people don’t want to see Latin people.
After Leguizamo directed and starred in the 2020 film Critical Thinking, about the first inner-city school team to win the U.S. National Chess Championship, he recalled someone sharing the bizarre opinion that ‘Latin people don’t want to see feel-good movies.’
He added, ‘There is an audience and a hunger. So, I know that exists regardless of what a studio head or network says to me anymore.’
The Summer Of Sam actor said he’s looking to make change from within the industry by running for Governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that puts on the Oscars.
Bizarre: He remembered executives telling him that ‘Latin people don’t want to see Latin people’; pictured with Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
‘You have to step up and make a change and change it from within,’ he continued. ‘I feel like if you’ve achieved a certain amount of success, it’s your duty to give back.’
He added that he was ‘too socially conscious’ to sit back and let younger actors fight the same battles he did.
‘I don’t want any kid to go through what I went through. I don’t want any Latin kid to go through what I went through. I don’t want any white kid, Black kid, Asian kid [to go through what I went through],’ he added.
‘There’s so much great talent out there. I want to be that studio exec that gets their material and their product green-lit.’
Leguizamo has long been an advocate for Latin actors in Hollywood, which extended to sitting out the 2020 Emmy Awards ceremony after no Latin actors were nominated in acting categories that year.
Leguizamo was recently featured in Disney’s acclaimed computer-animated film Encanto, and he’s set to appear in another animated Ice Age sequel.
Taking charge: The Summer Of Sam actor said he’s looking to make change from within the industry by running for Governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences