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John Leguizamo "Playing with Fire" for US Latino kids

ENTERTAINMENT FILM (ADDS VIDEO) | 06 de noviembre de 2019

Colombian actor John Leguizamo poses for a photo during an interview with EFE in Miami Beach, Florida, on Nov. 5, 2019, in which he discusses his new film "Playing with Fire" and his activism in support of the Latino community. EFE-EPA/ Alicia Civita

By Alicia Civita

Miami, Nov 5 (efe-epa).- Colombian-American actor John Leguizamo threw himself into creating his role in his new film "Playing with Fire" so that the character would be as authentic as possible and as recognizable to Latino kids in the US as someone from their own family.

"How nice to see and recognize oneself on the screen!" the actor, producer, writer, filmmaker and businessman said - in an interview with EFE - in explaining that he asked the producers of the film, in which he shares the billing with wrestler-turned-actor John Cena, to let him create an authentic character.

"I told them that we could make a real 'wow' film, but they'd have to help me," recalled Leguizamo. "It was up to us to rewrite it, improvise and thus Rodrigo was born, a firefighting helicopter pilot who shows how a 'really macho guy' can be 'a really good mother.'"

In "Playing With Fire," which will hit theaters on Friday, his character is part of an elite firefighting squadron in California known as the "Smoke Jumpers," whose main mission is to rescue people who have become trapped during forest fires.

In the family comedy, which Leguizamo considers to be a type of tribute to the firemen who fight the fires that are breaking out with ever more fury in the far-western state, the firefighters rescue and end up adopting three mischievous children, who start turning their very orderly life into a real disaster.

"Rodrigo is really Latino. He dances, cooks, tosses out phrases in Spanish, speaks about his grandmother," said the 55-year-old actor. "He's someone that we Latinos can recognize."

He's also an ex-convict who in jail became a fanatical fan of the cartoon "My Little Pony," which is very popular among youngsters, something that charmed the actor who took on the role of educating Latinos about themselves.

"You can be macho and tender at the same time," he said.

For years, Leguizamo was an average actor, who was lucky enough to have constant work, but without really standing out. That changed in 1998, when he decided to transform his complicated family story into a theater monologue which he dubbed "Freak."

Since then, his career in theater, film and television has been on the rise, as well as his activism to help the Latino community. However, in recent years, he has begun to place emphasis on the future, and at the center of those efforts are children.

He says that his mission is to make Latino kids aware that they have "super powers" and that their life experiences can be very different from his own.

"I grew up in a very tough neighborhood in Queens, in New York. My family life was very hard," Leguizamo said. "My struggle in Hollywood was much more difficult than it should have been. I don't want other young people to go through the same thing if I can prevent it."

That is why he has raised the volume on his political activism, not only criticizing the policies and diatribes of President Donald Trump against Latinos, but emphasizing positive stories.

That is the idea behind his most successful theater work "Latin History for Morons" (2017), in which he put into a monologue everything that he had learned to give ideas to his son about how to defend himself against boys who were bullying him for being Hispanic.

He also decided to produce, star in and direct the film "Critical Thinking" about the Miami Jackson High School chess team in the South Florida city, after that school became the first educational institution in a poor urban area to win a prestigious national chess tournament.

"It's an incredible story. It captivated me," said Leguizamo, who plays Mario Martinez, the teacher who believed in the kids on the team and guided them to victory.

That film will be released in 2020, along with another inspirational film that gets him very emotional, namely "Harry Haft," the story of a Jew whom the Nazis selected to participate in the fights they organized for their own entertainment among the prisoners in the concentration camps.

"When he recovered his freedom he became a boxer and even went up against Rocky Marciano. I play his trainer," the actor said. "It's a beautiful film. I think it'll be nominated for a lot of Oscars."

Leguizamo said that his own version of the best possible film award are the faces of the public when he does his monologues, especially the most recent one, which he is still doing on tour, adding that it gets him "very emotional" to see grandparents, parents and children sitting in the audience.

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