From Luigi To Bruno: A Celebration of John Leguizamo’s Highly Diverse Career

John Leguizamo as Luigi
(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures)

There aren’t really a whole lot of great character actors today who are willing to completely disappear in globs of make-up for playful roles, but also do more serious roles as well. Jim Carrey comes to mind, but he might be going into retirement pretty soon. While, yes, I do realize that there are currently major league actors like Zoe Saldaña undergoing the makeup process for movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, that’s more for one specific role in the ever-turning Marvel wheelhouse. I’m talking about actors who have done it for different projects, and even done some voice work to boot. But then, you have John Leguizamo, who can pretty much do it all.   

Starting out in stand-up comedy in the 1980s, he later went on to smaller parts in television shows and movies, playing a terrorist in Die Hard 2 (which is one of the more mid Die Hard movies when it comes to ranking them), and a robber in Regarding Henry. He went on to play more diverse roles later on in his career, namely a plumber, a clown, a drag queen, and an alien mob boss, as well as some animated roles, but, I’m getting ahead of myself. Here are just eight of John Leguizamo’s most highly diverse roles in his epic career.   

John Leguizamo in the Super Mario Bros. movie

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures)

Super Mario Bros. (Luigi) 

Two plumbers travel to an alternate dimension where dinosaurs actually didn’t go extinct, but instead live in a highly advanced, Blade Runner-esque city. It’s nothing like the video game. Like, at all.  

And I love it! When I wrote my article in defense of the original Super Mario Bros. movie, I said that Leguizamo wasn’t a great Luigi, but I want to walk back that statement. When I initially said that, I was thinking about the scaredy cat, knees-clacking-together brother from Luigi’s Mansion, as that series has quickly become entrenched in my mind whenever I think of the character.   

But, he hadn’t been given that distinct character trait back when the original movie came out. Thinking back, the talented actor actually gave Luigi a real personality, which was totally different from the one Danny Wells imbued him with in the great Nintendo cartoon, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! In fact, I would say that he pulled off the impossible when playing this famous character – he actually made Luigi cool.    

John Leguizamo in Carlito's Way

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Benny Blanco From The Bronx (Carlito’s Way) 

A former gangster (Al Pacino) tries to leave the game for good, only to get sucked back in. It’s a crime story. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” That sort of thing. 

Leguizamo plays a real scumbag in Carlito’s Way, and it’s one of the best roles of his career, if you ask me. He’s always trying to get on Carlito’s good side, only for the titular character to see him as the punk he truly is, which ends up being Carlito’s downfall. I don’t normally dislike Leguizamo, but I HATE HIS GUTS in this movie. Just a sure sign that he pulled the part off amazingly.  

John Leguizamo in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (Chi Chi Rodriguez) 

Three drag queens travel across the country to get to a Nationals competition, only to encounter trouble along the way. But it’s a road comedy! And it’s really fun. 

The comedian plays Chi Chi Rodriguez, a drag queen who could use some help when it comes to competitions. He plays the role solidly, and it’s not a wink and a nudge like it could have been back in the ‘90s, but rather, it’s a role with true heart and commitment. He was actually nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes, but unfortunately didn’t win it. That’s so not romantical.  

John Leguizamo in Spawn

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Spawn (Clown) 

An assassin is double crossed and goes to hell, only to be reincarnated as a hell spawn (Get it?) who's a force for good. It’s ‘90s as hell, and definitely looks it in the CGI department.  

But, do you know who looks great in this movie? Leguizamo as Clown. Clown is an extremely animated character in the comics that he’s spawned (sorry) from, but this actor somehow manages to make him even more demented and even funnier than he was on the page. I mean, seriously, who else but John Leguizamo could pull off Clown in a cheerleader outfit and chanting, “S to the P to the A to the AWN”? I ask you, who?     

John Leguizamo in Freak

(Image credit: Home Box Office)

Freak (Himself…And Many Others)  

In this semi-autobiographical performance, the talented man plays himself, as well as several other characters. It seems like it should be all over the place, but it’s not. He somehow keeps it pretty controlled in his own orbit.

He has multiple stand-up performances, including Mambo Mouth, and the Broadway show, Sexaholix…A Love Story, and they’re both great. But, I really love how he can seriously portray everybody in Freak, from his grandfather, to his uncles, to himself again, and it all just works. I had respect for Leguizamo before seeing it, but after, my respect for him went through the stratosphere. He’s just so damn talented! 

John Leguizamo in Bloodline

(Image credit: Netflix)

Bloodline (Ozzy Delvecchio) 

When the black sheep brother comes home, all hell breaks loose for a family in the Florida Keys. There’s more to the story, with lots of murder and deception, but the show is better watched when it’s full of surprises. 

And, John Leguizamo is one of the biggest surprises, as he debuts in Season 2, and is a prominent figure in Season 3. Like Benny Blanco from the Bronx, Ozzy is a total scumbag, demanding payment by any means necessary. But, unlike with Benny, you wind up eventually liking him until something terrible happens, but mostly because nobody is really all that nice on Bloodline. Ozzy’s darkness is actually brightened up a little bit by everybody else’s darkness, if that makes any sense. 

John Leguizamo in When They See Us

(Image credit: Netflix)

When They See Us (Raymond Santana Sr.)  

Based on true events, this story covers the unfortunate events of the Central Park jogger case, and the five black and Hispanic teens who were wrongly accused of assaulting a woman. 

Raymond Santana Jr. was one of the accused teenagers, and Leguizamo plays his father, who forms a new family while his son is away. When his son comes back from incarceration, Santana Sr. still loves his boy, but he also acquiesces to his new wife, who calls his son a rapist. It’s a difficult role, but he plays it the best he can. 

John Leguizamo in The Mandalorian

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

The Mandalorian (Gor Koresh) 

A Mandalorian basically acts as a courier for a tiny little Yoda baby, and then learns to love said baby as a father. Pew-pew lasers ensue.  

As I mentioned in the intro, Leguizamo can totally disappear underneath make-up and suits, and he does so deftly as the crime boss, Gor Koresh, in Season 2 of The Mandalorian. He is sassy and intimidating in the role, and then turns tail and runs when he finds himself in over his head. It’s a very silly and clownish performance, and the perfect role for a guy who once played both a clown and a gangster in the past.   

Bruno in Encanto

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Encanto (Bruno)  

A teenager with no powers is envious of her super-powered family, but then learns that perhaps her “gift” is the greatest gift of all, as it means keeping her family together. She also has an uncle named Bruno who they don’t talk about. No, no, no. 

But, I want to talk about Bruno, since Leguizamo fills him with the antsy, troubled humor that he’s best at. He rattles off his troubles, hangs out with rats, and is just an overall misunderstood, cool guy. In fact, I’d actually like to see a whole movie about Bruno in a hypothetical Encanto spin-off. He’s seriously the best part of the movie.  

What’s your favorite John Leguizamo performance? For more news on movies and TV, make sure to swing by here often.  

Rich Knight
Content Producer

Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.