Luis Guzmán Talks Schwarzenegger, “Boogie Nights,” and Growing Up in New York
Plus, he answers the same 10 questions we always ask everyone.
Luis Guzmán has 120 acting credits to his name, and with five movies due out this year alone, he’s one of the busiest working actors in show business. In honor of the DVD release of the The Last Stand, he sat down with Maxim to discuss working with Arnold Schwarzenegger, growing up in New York, and those infamous platform shoes from Boogie Nights. Plus, he answers the same 10 questions we always ask everyone.
Prior to shooting The Last Stand, had you ever met or worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger before?
I was at a movie once, and he was sitting behind me. That’s it.
Was he fun to work with, or more serious on set?
No, he was a really cool guy. I had great conversations with him and I really enjoyed my time with him. A really smart guy, and he’s got some pretty cool views of the world.
Was there anything in particular that drew you to this movie?
I read the script and I thought it was really, really cool. And Kim Jee-Woon, the director, the Korean guy, he’s like the top action director in Asia, and I wanted to experience working with someone different. And of course the fact that Arnold was in it, and shooting in the great state of New Mexico.
You played Rene Calderon in HBO’s How to Make it in America. Any chance that might return, either to another network, or as a movie?
We’re still trying to make that happen, believe it or not. I think it was such a great show, and for a lot of people it was like coming of age and stuff, and I’m just sorry that they pulled the plug on it when they did. And if you look it up on Facebook, there’s still 250,000 active fans still on that show on there, you know, and, that’s a lot. Did you enjoy that show?
Yes. I actually grew up in New York also.
On the Upper West Side.
Okay, I’m from the Lower East Side.
People from New York seem to have a special connection to that show. It was surprising when it got canceled.
I thought it was a bad business decision for HBO. I’m hoping that somebody comes to their senses over there, and it’s not [picked up] somewhere else. But I don’t think HBO would let it go.
If there’s any role that you could play again, any character that you could reprise, is there one in particular that stands out?
I think definitely Rene Calderon from How To Make It In America is one, I think Maurice TT Rodriguez from Boogie Nights is two, and I love my role of Jacopo in The Count of Monte Cristo. Those are three guys I would love to revisit in my lifetime.
Speaking of Boogie Nights, Heather Graham, who played Roller Girl, is on the cover of Maxim this month, and in her interview she mentioned she has a pair of skates from Boogie Nights at her house. Do you have any souvenirs, either from that movie or other films you’ve done?
Usually I have something, I always come away with wardrobe and things like that. But the platform shoes I could do without.
From Boogie Nights?
Yes, oh my God, it’s so funny, you know, because you say to yourself, “I wore these things back in the day? Are you kidding me?” You know, talk about a broken ankle. I’ll tell you, things in life that still awe me: How a plane takes off, and how women wear high heels. I don’t get it. How do they do that? I don’t understand. A woman will go out and buy herself a $200 pair of high-heeled shoes. They’ll go out, and a third of the way through the night, they take off the shoes because they can’t take it.
Right, and then they walk around barefoot on the street.
Yeah, and it’s like, hello?
It’s true. Would you say that there’s any specific role that transformed you from a recognizable character actor into more of a bona fide household name?
I think it started with a wonderful movie called Q & A that was directed by Sidney Lumet, and then I think it got really elevated when I did Carlito’s Way. And then it really took off right after Boogie Nights.
If you weren’t an actor, what do you think you would be?
Probably a social worker. I love working with people, I love making a difference. That’s actually what I was doing before I got into acting.
That’s interesting, because you’ve often played cops – do you have any connection to law enforcement, or is that just the roles that have come along?
It’s more the roles than anything. Honestly I don’t think I could be a cop. You know, I’ve done ride-alongs, I see what it’s like out there, and it’s stressful. It’s too stressful, and I’d rather make a difference as far as helping people to help themselves. I don’t want to be the guy that is shot at or has to do that in return to someone else, you know, or roll up to a scene and find a dead child, or all the domestic stuff, or see someone that you grew up with, and you gotta take them in on a drug charge, and stuff like that. That’s not my heart.
I’ve read that your mother brought you to New York from Puerto Rico a matter of minutes after you were born. Is that true?
That’s right. Mom had me and the next day I was on the plane. I first came to the Bronx and then I spent from 1960 to 1969 growing up in Greenwich Village and man, that was the center of the universe at that time. It was amazing.
How did you transition into acting?
We moved to the Lower East Side in 1970, and I did a school play, Bye Bye Birdie, it was a fluke. I was never pursuing to become an actor. I had friends who are writers, and they would write a play, like local neighborhood theater, stuff like that, and ask, “Would you play these seven roles?” I go, “Sure.” And then I think I did one or two really independent movies back in the late ‘70s, when an independent movie was like a true independent movie. And that was more of a favor, but I never went to sleep thinking, ‘I’m gonna get an agent, I’m gonna become an actor,’ because my heart was into the neighborhood and trying to improve it down on the Lower East Side. And one day, I just happened to be walking down Avenue B and I ran into Miguel Piñero and I hadn’t seen him in a few years, and he told me he was writing for a TV show, and that they were going to come to New York and they were gonna be looking for people, and he gave me a number. Three weeks later, I’m co-starring on the season premiere of Miami Vice. I had no clue what I was doing. And just so you know, all I wanted to get out of that was enough money to buy me a used car so I could drive to the beach on weekends and not have to take mass transit.
What was your first car?
A Malibu station wagon—which got totaled by my friend the next day after I got it.
What was the last thing you had to apologize for?
My son getting into a brawl with his sister.
What’s your favorite curse word or phrase?
What’s the worst hangover you’ve ever had?
I can’t remember, because I don’t drink like that.
Do you have a scar that tells a story?
Yes, I do, I have a scar on my chest and when I was in my late twenties I had a condition called pericarditis and I almost died, my heart almost blew up.
So you had to have surgery?
Yeah, and it left that scar, and that’s a testament to the fact that it wasn’t my time.
Do you have a party trick?
A party trick? Yeah I put a quarter on the neck of a bottle, put a $50 dollar bill [under it], and if you could slide that $50 dollar bill out without taking out the quarter, it’s yours.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth?
I’d have to say it was a breast.
Nice. What’s the one thing to remember in a fist fight?
Just make sure you get a good blow in there.
Who was the last person to see you naked?
Very good question. I think it was my dogs. Oh wait, that’s not a person!
That’s ok. It counts.And, finish this sentence: If I ruled the world for a day, I would..
Give everybody an electric car.
The Last Stand is out on DVD and Blu-ray now.
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