Triple-threat talent John Leguizamo has made a career out of pushing boundaries, not being afraid to speak his mind and never taking no for an answer. As such, we were proud to have him as part of our MTV Pioneers Speaker Series, where he sat down with MTV News' Sway Calloway to talk about breaking the mold, not being typecast and what success means to him over a career that has included roles in film, television and on Broadway.
One of his many groundbreaking roles was the beloved character Chi-Chi from "To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar," a role to which Leguizamo said he gave 100 percent.
"I just went all out. I wanted awards and sh--, so I wasn't playing," he joked about his motivations for taking on the character. "I was going to take no prisoners. I was on a vegetarian no-protein [diet], so all my muscles would disappear. I stopped training, I would just run like crazy. In the movie, they were great, we did a lot of research. We went to all the drag queen clubs, like Escuelita, which used to exist here [in New York City], with all the Latin drag queens, and we had a godmother drag queen who would put us through the paces every day," he recalled of his transformation with co-stars Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes. "We worked every day for hours and hours every day until we could get it perfectly drag queen-like."
When asked about how he approached being a minority and how that affected his decisions, Leguizamo said that you have to know what you want and go for it.
"You've got to be thoughtful about your career. When you're a minority — and I don't really even like that word anymore because we're not as minority as we used to be — you have to think about what you're saying and what you're leaving behind. When I was a little kid, we didn't see [ourselves] on TV or anywhere. It was weird because you didn't feel like you were a part of the American fiber," he recalled. "Latin people, we have a 45 to 50 percent dropout rate in this country, and I understand that. It's a tragedy and shouldn't be happening, but you understand it. You don't feel connected in that positive way that your people and you are going to make it, and 'this is your chance and this is your opportunity,' no, you feel like you're not really a part of it.
"You have to crash into the party even if you're not invited," he said, indicating that those who have dreams of "making it" have to carve out their own career paths. "I was going to be that guy, I didn't care I wasn't invited. 'I'm coming into the party, I'm going to be somebody and you can't stop me.' "