John Leguizamo talks about Bruno, 2022 Commencement

Courtesy of Guido Veritucci.

While some might know him for his recent work as the voice of Bruno from Disney’s “Encanto” or the winner of notable awards such as the 1999 Primetime Emmy Award and 2018 Special Tony Award, John Leguizamo described himself to The Miscellany News quite differently, stating, “I’m John Leguizamo. Introverted extrovert, Cancer, … Latinx and trying to make the world a better place before I leave it.” The actor, writer, producer and director will be the speaker of Vassar’s 158th Commencement Ceremony on May 22. 

Leguizamo’s pride in his Latinx ethnicity and its impact on his life and career became a constant theme throughout his interview. A native Colombian, Leguizamo grew up surrounded by Latin culture in Jackson Heights, Queens. Speaking on what it was like to grow up surrounded by so much diversity, Leguizamo said, “You get to really learn all the cultures in the world, and you also understand your culture through other cultures.” He attributed much of his professional success and growth to this diverse community stating, “It gave me such a confidence and [love and pride] of my ethnicity, and I think that’s what propelled me to my life, even though Latinx people were basically erased and absent in American history.” 

Leguizamo also credited his success in the entertainment industry to the teachers who provided him guidance during his studying as an actor, such as Herbert Berghof and Lee Strasberg. “I learned all the techniques [from them], and I think that’s a basis for great acting: studying with masters and doing theater. Theater is the Olympics of acting and it really challenges your ability—your skill set, right? I think that’s what gave me longevity and kept my passion alive,” he said. When asked about the advice he would give to young artists following his footsteps, Leguizamo again emphasized the importance of teachers, stating, “[Find] the best teachers. They’re everywhere; they’re in L.A., they’re in New York. Find them and study with the best teachers and really delve into the study of the craft. And I think everything else falls into place.”

He then added, “[The] other thing I tell all the young people starting up is: Say yes to everything. Work behind production, work in production, work behind the camera, work as a production assistant… [work in] every aspect of acting theater, film [and] television. Just learn, learn, learn as much as you can, and then you’ll really find your path.”

Leguizamo’s own career has largely focused on celebrating Latinx culture, writing productions and books about Latinx history and identity, including the one-man show “Freak” and the show “Latin History for Morons.” Commenting on “Latin History for Morons,” Leguizamo said, “I think [the show] will come to the consciousness of Latinx influencers and activists in America and help create the terms that we want and we need [in America], that we must be included in history and [that] Latinx contributions need to be included in Critical Race Theory as well.” Writing “Latin History for Morons” also changed how Leguizamo understood his Latinx identity and the history tied with it. “That play opened the world to me [and] showed me our great contributions [as Latinx people].” 

In addition to his own original pieces celebrating Latinx culture, Leguizamo reflected on what it was like voicing a character in the first Disney movie based on Colombia and centered around Colombian culture. “It was so powerful. I don’t even have the words. I wept when I saw the first cut. I just felt so seen and heard and validated. And it was such a powerful feeling,” he remarked. “And to see that the animators really took all the pains to be specific, to do research, to include Latinx talent in making it—that’s why it was so authentic to me.”

Leguizamo also sees parts of his personality within Bruno. “I love to keep [alive] my nurturing qualities. My love, my sensitivity. Being an artist, you have to be sensitive. Otherwise, you can’t tap into deeper emotions and deeper feelings, or empathize with all kinds of characters. You can play so many characters when you nurture that empathy in yourself,” he went. “I saw myself as Bruno in so many ways. Because we know Bruno is kind of me—it came from me and the directors and the writers.”

As for his upcoming speech, Leguizamo wants to make sure his words include parts of himself that are able to both resonate and motivate the Class of 2022. “I was so floored and honored when [President Bradley] asked me to do the commencement speech,” he recalled. “But I also [took it] incredibly seriously. So I started writing my speech, and I want to make sure I hit all the right points. [That] I’m motivated, but I’m also real about how hard it was for me to get to where I am. But hopefully, my ‘making-it’ gives some students the idea that if I can make it, they can make it. That’s what I want to leave them with.”

Concluding his interview, Leguizamo left off with the message he would like Vassar students to take away from him. He replied, “I hope that I can inspire some folk to achieve in their own terms—I want [students] to achieve in their own terms, not under my terms or anybody’s terms.”


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