EXCLUSIVE: John Leguizamo Opens Up About Getting Into the Mentality of a Prisoner for 'Perros'

EXCLUSIVE: John Leguizamo Opens Up About Getting Into the Mentality of a Prisoner for 'Perros'
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John Leguizamo is taking on a whole new role for his film, Perros. This is a more serious role for the actor and the whole movie is actually in Spanish, which proved tough for Leguizamo. The movie premiered at the San Francisco Film Festival and we can't wait to see it make it's way across the country. 

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What is the premise behind the movie Perros?

I read the script and the simplicity, beauty and power of it really moved me. I loved what it says about third-world incarceration. I went to a lot of prisons in Colombia, spent a lot of time with the inmates, the wardens, the guards. We shot in a real prison, that had just closed a year before. Some of the inmates that were free joined and were part of the cast. It was wild.

Talk to us about your character.

I did a lot of research. I was supposed to be more of a peasant type. I spent a lot of time with farmers. We shot in this really small town where the prison was and I decided to create a bit more of an urban guy that is more savvy but quiet. It’s a crime of passion. You find out through the movie, at first you don’t know what he’s in there for, then you start to find out what he did and you don’t know whether to be on his side or not.

We don’t know whether or not he’s a good guy or villain?

Right. You eventually put it all together. But wow, I might have done the same thing. You know if I was on this situation. I’m a huge pacifist and anti-vengeance person. That’s who I’ve evolved myself to through therapy and help. But, there was a time in my life where vengeance was part of every kind of person’s life when they’re younger and not worldly, kind of limited.

What was it like for you to take on this more serious role?

This was a really difficult to one because the abuses I experience in the movie, are kind of the abuses I experienced on the set. They really put me in the situations of the character I was portraying. I was incredibly uncomfortable, I was freezing, I was half naked on concrete floors, while everyone’s got huge puffy coats on. They would throw cold water on me, there was cold showers, I got sick. There were fight scenes where people got really hurt. It was a rough shoot. It was gratifying artistically, but not pleasant to do.

Do you think going through that put you in a mindset of what prisoners in Colombia go through?

Absolutely. I’m very method. I try to put myself through certain situations. There comes a point of diminishing returns, where the pain I’m experiencing is just going to keep me from acting.

What was it like for you to visit a prison in Colombia?

It was wild. We went to a prison in Bogota, Colombia. The biggest prison there. Its very different than American prisons. In some ways it’s more humane. In some ways, it’s a lot rougher. Everybody is together but in different groups. There’s the VIP, the regular, and the third yard is all the pedophiles and rapist that needs to be separate from everyone else. Everybody else is together, hanging out, spending time. It’s not such an isolated experience. They’re sleeping in the rain, rain, 5/6 people to a tiny little room. There is a more humane aspect but the circumstances are more underprivileged. I went there, spent time with them, and then tried to recreate. This guy is new to the prison world, he’s not a con nor he is a criminal. He did a crime of passion because someone in his family was hurt and he reacted. That’s why he’s in jail. Which is very different to someone who has a criminal mindset.

What else did you do to prepare for the role?

I lost a ton of weight. I was supposed to be a farmer. All these farmers I saw, had no body fat. They work so hard for minimum wage and are in incredible shape. They’re like weapons. They’re huge and powerful people. I tried to get in the same shape they did. The language thing was rough for me. Acting in Spanish is not easy for me. I lived with a vocal coach when I was filming. He taught me Spanish grammar and vocabulary. I would wake up in the morning and do experiences with him. When we got to set he was correcting me all the time. After the shoot I’d spend another hour with him. On the weekends we’d spend a couple hours. It was relentless. I was a guy who didn’t speak that much. It would be so brutal.

Do you think your Spanish is better now?

Absolutely, each time I do one of these movies, my Spanish improves so much. But then I fall out of practice, I do try to talk to all my friends who speak Spanish in Spanish. My mom and I made a promise that when we’re together we’ll only speak Spanish. It’s a muscle thing.

What are you hoping comes out of this film?

It’s a beautiful piece of work. I’m glad the director has gotten into a lot of film festivals. He’s one of the most commercially successful directors in Colombia. It got incredible reviews in Colombia. I’m really happy for him because I think he’s an incredible talent. I want people to see Latin America is producing some really quality innovative work. The last three Oscars have been won by Mexican directors. It’s a whole new Latin wave of cinema.

Why do you think it was important for you to take on the role?

I definitely want to be part of the Spanish language movement. There’s beautiful innovative work that’s being done there. It’s a little riskier and more innovative than American cinema. I want to be a part of it.

How would you describe the movie in a few words?

I think it’s kind of a thriller in a way too. It’s the nightmare, an innocent person thrown into prison. He has to prove his innocence but how is he supposed to do that from jail?