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John Leguizamo Talks About "Assault on Precinct 13"

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John Leguizamo Assault on Precinct 13

John Leguizamo in "Assault on Precinct 13"

© Focus Features
Updated February 26, 2014
John Leguizamo provides the comic relief in "Assault on Precinct 13," the 2005 version of John Carpenter's classic movie from 1976.

If you ever have the opportunity to interview John Leguizamo, jump on it. The man's extremely interesting to listen to and comes across exactly like you'd expect. In this interview with the very talented actor, Leguizamo talks about his character in "Assault on Precinct 13," developing a backstory, being allowed to improvise, and working with French director Jean-Francois Ríchet.

INTERVIEW WITH JOHN LEGUIZAMO ('Beck'):

You created quite a back story for your character. Do you do that for all your characters?
I do that all the time, but it really came together nicely in this one because I understood this character and what I wanted to do [right]. Because he was written as a heroine addict and kind of non-descript, and I really wanted to show that you know, you can really… First of all, you can be from the streets and be really bright. Secondly, addicts all have a great past and a great story to them, and that’s what I tried to bring this guy. He was ghetto street, but really bright and ambitious. He wanted to be a lawyer, couldn’t afford it, so he started dealing to go to college – good intention. And then, you know, he failed a lot of tests and started using and then hit rock bottom and that’s where you catch him in the movie. And yet he thinks he’s in transition (laughing). He thinks he can use the jail for networking to be somebody. In that way, he’s always operating. He’s always thinking. I like that about the character we got to create. And it put politics in it and made him the comic relief, because there was no comic relief in this movie. And it was great to be able to do that – to render that service for a movie.

Is comedy your first love?
I like drama. I love being in a drama where I get to be the funny guy. That’s what I really love the most.

How familiar were you with the original movie before you took this role?
I was familiar with that and “Rio Bravo.” “Rio Bravo” was what John Carpenter did, that brilliant move of taking a western and turning it into an urban flick. And from there you got, you know, all the cop genre movies of the time. I mean, Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” came from that. “Fort Apache the Bronx” cast an Afro-American as the lead cop and Blaxploitation movies were born. It was a hugely important film. And so for us to step up to it, you know, you had to take it to a new place and I think Jean-François did. He made the characters a lot more three-dimensional. It’s still a ‘B’ movie and it’s still kinda campy. Now it’s these really well-developed characters, really three-dimensional. And then he added the morality thing, the whole “who’s really good and who’s really bad” element.

Would you have done this if it was just a remake?
No. There was no point. It’s already done. Let’s leave that alone. I mean, if you’re not going to come there with something new, then just leave it alone.

You and Laurence Fishburne share a very interesting prison toilet scene in this. How’d that scene develop? Where did the idea come from?
(Laughing) I love that toilet scene. That toilet scene really encapsulates my character. It was things you never seen [in a movie]. I’ve always seen toilets in prisons and wondered how the hell do you go without a stall, because I’m a mad private guy. I need mad privacy. I can’t even go when somebody’s – even when I see somebody’s foot there. You know, how do people do it? You know, no stall, everybody’s hanging out and being a “meth” guy, you have to go a lot, but nothing comes out. And I thought what a great opportunity to be really intimate with Laurence Fishburne’s character. And that’s how incongruous things came together. [We were] always thinking that, we’re trying to think, “What’s out of the box? What’s going to be abnormal and kinda fun to try?” And [director] Jean-François encouraged that, and Lawrence Fishburne encouraged that, and it was such a creative encouraging set that it was free. It was free to try anything.

You’ve also got another great scene in which you keep repeating Laurence Fishburne’s character’s name, Bishop, over and over. Was that improvised?
“Bishop, Bishop, Bishop…” Yeah, that came out of a reading. It was great. It’s such a fun crew to be with, and we all went out the night before and that really encouraged us to go out and get drunk. This guy, the bartender, took a vase, threw out the flowers and water, and gave me a martini and dared me to drink it. I was really high the day - the next morning - for our first sit through and read through. I tried improvising s**t like the “Bishop, Bishop” because I was all hung over. (Laughing) And the crew laughed, so it stayed in.

PAGE 2: John Leguizamo on Improv, Supporting Roles, and Director Jean-Francois Richet

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