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John Leguizamo Remembered Avoiding the Sun “For Years” at the Beginning of His Acting Career so That He “Could Work”

At 57, John Leguizamo is a critically-acclaimed actor and stage performer who’s starred in dozens of films, TV series, and Broadway productions. You may recognize his voice from timeless classics like Ice Age or Disney’s recent animated hit, Encanto.

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John’s Hollywood career dates back to the early ’80s, when he made his screen debut in an episode of Miami Vice and played Madonna’s love interest in her “Borderline” music video.

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As he recalled in an interview for the Academy Awards’ new series Seen — where the host talks to Latinx and Spanish artists about breaking barriers with their work — John, like so many others, dealt with racism and typecasting as a young actor. And while John acknowledged that he probably “benefited from being light-skinned,” he also “stayed out of the sun” for years in hopes that doing so would help him land parts.

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“I stayed out of the sun so I could work,” he shared. “It was a conscious thing because I could work. And all the Latinos that made it so far, a lot of them were all light-skinned. What happened to all the Afro-Latinos and the majority of indigenous Latinos? They don’t get a shot, you know.”

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“So, there’s a lot of things we’ve got to deal with in Hollywood, and we’ve got to fix, and we’ve got to speak out and we’ve got to speak up,” John continued, saying elsewhere in his Seen interview that being an example for children of color seeking representation in media is important to him, and a responsibility that he takes very seriously.

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“That’s what I wanted to do with my work. I wanted to reach people who are like me, kids that were like me, that felt unseen or unwanted, that [felt like] you didn’t matter. You didn’t count,” he explained. “Because you have to fight that every day, that sense of, ‘I can’t do this. This place is not geared for me.’ So, I wanted to shake that up and go, ‘Yes, you can. Every one of us can.'”

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John, who confronted huge gaps in published information about Latinx communities while researching for his 2018 Broadway show, Latin History for Morons, also discussed what’s historically been a lack of visibility in pop culture.

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“How do you create a Latin star in America when the roles are one-dimensional and not worthy of awards?” he asked. “The ugly question is, why are Latin people not succeeding? What’s the ugly question? Are we not smart enough? Not talented enough? Not good-looking enough? Not hardworking enough? No, none of those stereotypes and racist ideas because nobody tries harder with less access.”

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“So not only are we invisible, but when we are seen, it’s a negative portrayal,” John said. “Things are improving. I think COVID made us really look at ourselves in America. Black Lives Matter was a huge awakening for America, a reboot for America to look at themselves and see what’s going on.”

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“I think everybody’s trying to do the right thing and hire many more people of color,” he noted while calling for ongoing change. “What I want to see, I want to see 20 percent of the roles in front of the camera and the crew. I’m not asking for extra. I just want what’s due to us.”

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You can check out John’s full Seen interview here, or via the clip above.

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