Though he was born in Bogotá, Colombia, actor John Leguizamo is a consummate New Yorker. Raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, and currently a Greenwich Village resident, Leguizamo embodies the five boroughs' distinct brand of street smarts and swagger, whether playing himself, a gangster or, as it happens, an animated sloth.
July is a busy month for Leguizamo, who reprised his role as Sid (the aforementioned cartoon sloth) in Ice Age: Continental Drift—the fourth installment in the wildly successful family film franchise, due out on July 13—and who is the subject of the documentary Tales From a Ghetto Klown, set to debut on PBS the same day.
When the actor talks about his projects and favorite NYC hangouts, it's clear that he brings to every aspect of his life the same manic energy that distinguishes his performances; his enthusiasm for the City's diversity is palpable.
Your character in Ice Age, Sid, is an animated sloth. How do you relate to him? John Leguizamo: Sid the Sloth rules! [Laughs] I just love the character, because he's vulnerable, you know? He's a goofball, and he's OK with that. I like being very self-deprecating and being able to laugh at myself and play the fool. I don't mind. And I like other people who are like that.
You're also the focus of the soon-to-debut Tales From a Ghetto Klown. What's the story there? JL: It's a documentary of what it took me to get to Broadway with [the one-man show] Ghetto Klown. All the ups and the many, many downs. Because it's never as easy as it looks. It took a battle to get there.
You grew up in Jackson Heights. What makes the neighborhood special? JL: It's the most eclectic melting pot in the world. Since I was a kid, there were Germans, Irish, Jews, Italians. Then we came—you know, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Chileans, Argentineans. And now you've got Indians, Koreans, Chinese and Mexicans. It's awesome, man. That's what's beautiful about that area. You go one block and hit those Mexican stands that have mango with salt and hot pepper, and then you go to Jackson Diner and get the best homemade Indian food you ever had. Then you go to Pollos Mario for the best Colombian food in Queens.
How about your current neighborhood, Greenwich Village? JL: I can just roll out of bed and I'm in Citarella, or I can go to Lyon—that famous, crazy restaurant—and then I can go to Griffou or Joseph Leonard. You can go to the best, high-end, where-to-be-seen spots, or you can duck that nonsense and go right to my favorite Ethiopian restaurant, Meskerem, or to Asean—they have the best Asian food. Or take the train and go to Chinatown. It's all right there.
What's the one New York City spot that a visitor shouldn't miss?
JL:I'm a people-watcher—I love people-watching. So I would go to Washington Square Park, Central Park and Union Square, because those three parks are ideal for people-watching. That's where you see what this city is about. All these artists, all these writers. You see intellectuals, the average Joe, the average Jane. It's magic. Sunday in the Park with George.
Washington Square Park, I love it. I used to perform there myself. Or tried, anyway.
Did you put on a show in the fountain? JL: I tried. I really failed. [Laughs]
What happened? JL: My girlfriend at the time and I used to do improv a lot. We went in there and tried to do our act, just like the famous Rick Aviles and Charlie Barnett. We did some improv, the old “Can I have an object that you can hold in your hand that wouldn't offend your mom, a city in America and a profession?” And you try to do sketches based on whatever people give you. [Laughs] And we failed miserably. A pigeon pooped on my head. It was terrible. I didn't get paid. We lost our voices after something like half an hour. It was the worst.