John Leguizamo likes to keep himself occupied and has done a good job of that since starting out as a standup comedian on the NYC circuit in the 1980s. At 49, the Colombian-born entertainer is not that easy to pin down, with a scattered résumé of one-man shows ( Freak, Sexaholix), movies ( Collateral Damage, Summer of Sam, Assault on Precinct 13), TV ( ER), and animated flicks ( Ice Age, Dr. Dolittle). Yup, he’s got range.
One thing the fast-talking Leguizamo has always been a master of is voices. His latest role is Alex, a prehistoric bird in Walking with Dinosaurs, in theaters Friday. The 3D adventure follows an underdog dinosaur Pachyrhinosaurus named Pachi ( Justin Long) and his fight to stay alive and thrive in the Late Cretaceous period some 70 million years ago.
Leguizamo, who is also the narrator, talked to us from the Four Seasons Hotel Miami about the experience, his busy schedule, and how he stays relevant after almost 30 years in showbiz.
How did you prepare for the role of Alex, a prehistoric bird?
When I first heard about the script, I thought, “Oh great, I get to play a really powerful T-Rex,” so I started drinking whiskey and smoking to get my voice really deep. But then I had to change my game. With this type bird, an Alexornis, we tried a Spanish voice, like just off the boat, then something more ghetto. We settled on kind of a Ricardo Montalban thing.
This movie isn’t as frightening as “Jurassic Park.”
No, but this is not just a cute little movie. It’s really educational, so you’ll be entertained and moved at the same time. The animation is amazing because they use live-action backgrounds and really captured the physicality of the dinosaurs. Every time a new dinosaur is introduced, they put all the facts about it up on the screen: whether it was a herbivore or carnivore, how much they weighed, how tall, how many teeth.
You’re an old pro at animated work. How do you prefer it to live acting?
I’m like an animated veteran, but this is within my skill set. I'm a little crazy and when you’re talking to yourself in a room you can be crazy. At first it was daunting, I wasn’t used to it. But I’m a perfectionist and I can say the line as many times as I want without any other actor waiting their turn or rolling their eyes. There’s no pressure of film, like we’re wasting daylight. I don’t have to gain weight, lose weight. I don’t have to do anything.
Your kids [13 and 14] must be psyched to see this.
Yeah, I took my son and his friends in a giant school bus to the premiere, and my daughter had her friends from school come. They’re starting to finally think I’m cool. Teenagers.
Any plans when you’re in Miami?
I’ve got some family and friends here. I gotta go to Indomania, that’s my favorite.
You’ve done so many different projects, it’s almost hard to keep track. How do you stay at the top of the game for so long?
The great thing about acting: If you keep yourself motivated and challenged, you can do it the rest of your life. I still take acting classes, I study Shakespeare, I’m going back to the theater. Look at Bruce Dern in Nebraska. Killer. I think he’s a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. He’s one of the great talents. Everything is in his eyes.