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John Leguizamo on performing in front of 400 Rikers inmates

Rodney Ho
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
(TNS)

For the past decade, veteran actor John Leguizamo has been active in an anti-recidivism program for young men at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York City so he decided to do a show for 400 inmates there and create a film about it.

The special “John Leguizamo Live at Rikers” interweaves segments of his stage show with discussions he had with some of the men enrolled in GOSO, or Getting Out and Staying Out.

You can watch the film on Xumo for free or on the Black Experience collection on Xfinity Channel on Xfinity X1Flex and Xfinity Stream.

Leguizamo ― whose extensive acting career goes back more than 35 years with credits such as “Carlito’s Way,” “Ice Age,” “Moulin Rouge,” “John Wick” and “The Power” ― basically did a slightly shorter version of his one-man Broadway show “Ghetto Klown” for the young men. He felt he could relate to them because without acting, he might have gone down that path as well.

“Early in my life, I was heading the wrong way,” said Leguizamo in a brief Zoom interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I was a problem child. I wanted to bring them something nobody else has. People don’t come to Rikers to perform for them. I wanted to bring them entertainment, make them laugh for the hour and a half I was there. I felt like I was doing something good with my talent.”

Leguizamo made very few changes from his regular Broadway show. Jail officials “asked me to take out sexual content, vulgarity,” he said. “I didn’t. I didn’t want to pull any punches. I thought I’d otherwise be cheating them a bit.”

He admitted being nervous going onto the stage. “It’s been awhile since I was in the hood,” he said. “I’ve lived a privileged life. I was afraid of being disconnected or tone deaf to them. I was happy when they laughed and told me afterwards that they really connected with the material. ‘Ghetto Klown’ was about my life and my struggle and how I was arrested and lost. I was happy that struck a chord with them”

Leguizamo grew up in Queens in the 1970s. “The city was bankrupt,” he recalled. “There were a lot of gangs and rumbles. But it was also a period of huge creativity. It was the birth of hip-hop, birth of punk, birth of disco. We had the greatest playwrights like David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Ted Tally.”

For GOSO participants, he had previously taught acting classes and how to create one-man shows. “I fell in love with them and I fell in love with the program,” he said. “These are kids who made a mistake. They’re like your family member, your cousin, your son. Prison is [expletive] up. It shouldn’t be about punishment. It should be about rehabilitation.”

Leguizamo has a busy 2024 joining Robert De Niro and Jamie Foxx in the action film “Tin Soldier” (shot in 2022) coming out later this year and a PBS special on Latino Americans called “American Historia” set to be released in the spring.

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IF YOU WATCH

“John Leguizamo Live at Rikers,” available on Xumo for free or on the Black Experience collection on Xfinity Channel on Xfinity X1Flex and Xfinity Stream.

©2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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