John Leguizamo Is Original Filmmaking’s Secret Weapon

John Leguizamo Is Original Filmmaking’s Secret Weapon

As the box office rebounded in 2022, John Leguizamo was involved in several of the breakout successes that sustained theaters in between several world-conquering blockbusters. He didn't have a Top Gun or an Avatar to his name, but Leguizamo was there in the smaller hits, doing fully committed work.

That streak started with Encanto, which isn't a small movie — it's a Disney musical, after all — but it is an original one. The movie found success at the box office, grossing $256.8 million worldwide. But, it really took off as a phenomenon once it hit Disney Plus. We Don't Talk About Bruno became Disney's highest charting song of all time, and Leguizamo was the character namechecked in the title. Bruno is the lynchpin of Encanto's story, and Leguizamo gave the outcast uncle a distinctive, croaky voice performance.

Then the Colombian-American actor made a meal of his role in The Menu, playing a past-his-prime movie star who Ralph Fiennes' Chef Slowik invites to his luxurious private island restaurant. The Menu, an original story, kept the box office cooking in the post-Black Panther, pre-Avatar November doldrums. Leguizamo's unshowy work has been overshadowed in the discussion around the film by Fiennes, Anya-Taylor Joy, Nicholas Hoult, and Hong Chau, who all have more to do, but he's a welcome addition to the cast.

Leguizamo had a bigger role (in terms of screen time, and in terms of ham) in Violent Night, where he played the villainous Jimmy "Ebenezer Scrooge" Martinez to David Harbour's Santa Claus. Martinez is the leader of a crew of Christmas-themed criminals who violently seize the private compound of an ultra-wealthy family in search of $300 million hidden in a secret bank vault. In the middle of delivering presents, Santa gets caught in the house and has to fight Scrooge’s gang to save the young Nice List-certified daughter of one of the family members. Violent Night is the weakest of these three movies, but not for lack of trying from Leguizamo and Harbour, both of whom turn in committed performances.

Looking back on Leguizamo's career, it's filled with similarly original movies. Though he's best known to Millennials and Gen Z for his performance as Sid the Sloth across the five Ice Age movies, his career is dominated by original scripts. The notable franchises that he has been a part of, like John Wick and Ice Age, weren't based on pre-existing properties.

Though John Wick went on to become the defining American action franchise of the 2010s, when Leguizamo signed on to the first, it was a low-budget film starring a pre-comeback Keanu Reeves. Violent Night did well at the box office and will likely get a sequel, but it was similarly a low-budget action movie and Harbour was an unproven action star.

The Menu was Mark Mylod's first film in 11 years, coming after over a decade of work in TV. It was the first movie script for writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy. Though it was produced by consistent hitmaker Adam McKay, the key creative team was largely unproven. Leguizamo deserves props for those choices. Though COVID exacerbated concerns about the future of the theatrical experience, especially for original films, Leguizamo picked two of 2022's success stories. In this stage of his career, he's original filmmaking's secret weapon.

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