Home could be tough, too. "My parents were immigrants, very ambitious and, you know, it was tough to be a Latin person," especially where there were none, he adds. "So all of that fits into my work; all of that gave me a sense of humor, my point of view on life, and it's still shaping my work."
Ironically, it also shaped him another way. "John's a lot like his father," says Luz, who divorced Alberto when John was about 12. "He just doesn't want to admit it."
Alberto pursued a career in entertainment in his late teens, going to Italy to study filmmaking, Luz says. And John's love of animals — he has two dogs, Chubaca and Colby — comes from his father. So do his passion for gardening, skill in the kitchen and vision in business. He's smart, organized — and frugal. Luz, his business manager, laughs. "Just like his dad; he turns down the thermostat, turns off all the lights."
He'll reluctantly admit seeing a partial reflection of his dad in his life, but Leguizamo has taken a very different path with his own family. He married too young the first time, but it prepared him for marriage to his current wife, Justine, and "to be a lot less selfish." He adds: "Being an actor, especially at first, tends to make you incredibly narcissistic. My wife … was my savior. I've achieved my best artistic levels, and it's all because of her."
They're a perfect match, Justine says: "I'm grounded and practical. I provide a stable ground for him to move from." A necessity in a career where instability reigns, she adds.
But there's one thing that's unshakable. "No matter how busy or how much pressure he's under, when he's here, he's absolutely present" for her and children Allegra, 11, and Lucas, 10. Plus, "he gives [the kids] the freedom to be themselves … the gift of letting them see how important it is to be an individual and to be confident with their individuality."
Time with dad means acting with him as characters in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, dancing together before he walks them to school, being taught good manners, listening when he calls politicians and learning that four-letter words are forbidden, says Justine. Fines go in a jar at home.
Leguizamo is also a hopeless news junkie. "News and politics are all I crave," he says, eyes focused on his smartphone. "Now I'm the dad looking at the newspaper on the table. … You feel responsible for the world."
Brad Furman, director of The Lincoln Lawyer, in which Leguizamo has a major part, knows that dad. "He fights for a lot of good causes politically and socially. It's important to him not to have people be complacent with injustice."
Two of Leguizamo's causes are the East Harlem Tutorial Program and The Fresh Air Fund. When he was a kid, the Fund sent him to live for two weeks with a wealthy family in the New York countryside. "It was incredibly mind-opening for me," says the entertainer.
He wants to open minds, too, especially among young Latinos. "When I was a kid, I felt very disconnected from the American dream, like I wasn't really a part of it," he says. "It wasn't something for me, it was for other people. I'm sure those kids feel that. There's got to be some way to break that, to show them that they can make it too."
Leguizamo's dad might not have been there for him, but mentors were. His high school math teacher sent the neighborhood punk to an acting coach who guided John from street to stage. Leguizamo pays homage to both in Ghetto Klown.
Next: Leguizamo's Latino roots. >>