Before you knew Luis Guzmán’s name, you knew him as “that guy who’s in everything.” As Robert DeNiro has come to be cinema’s face of Italian New York, so has Luis Guzmán become film’s face of New York Latinos. This rise was powered not just by Guzmán’s humor, charisma, and talent, but by the sheer volume of work this dude produces. It’s as if the risk of missing out on a new experience compels him to try his hand at anything that sounds halfway fun. Few actors working today can claim to have such an eclectic resume. I guess what I’m saying is Luis, bro, if you’re reading this, just say the word and I will write you a movie. Failing that, though, here’s fifteen roles that show just how extensive and all over the place Luis Guzmán’s career has been.
Director: Brian De Palma
Somehow, Al Pacino’s Latino impressions always wind up on theses lists. Okay, okay, we just have a strange fascination with it. The movie is unmistakably Pacino’s: he plays the titular (heh, “titular”) Carlito, a swaggering ex-con trying to live his life on the up and up after getting out of jail. (SPOILER ALERT: it doesn’t go well.) But for this list, we’re looking squarely at Luis Guzmán’s turn as Pachanga, Carlito’s traitorous bodyguard. This is the role that put Guzmán on the map.
Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power
Director: Michael Bregman
Let’s just blow your mind right out of the gate, here. Luis Guzmán is so prolific and so extremely castable that, despite playing a major role with a super ethnic nickname in the original Carlito’s Way, he was cast again in a totally different major role with a super ethnic nickname for that film’s direct-to-DVD prequel, Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power. Rather than Carlito’s bodyguard Pachanga, Luis Guzmán now plays Nacho, a hitman that helps a young Carlito Brigante (Jay Hernandez) take over Harlem’s drug trade. (P. Diddy is in this, too.)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
While most people remember this movie for the GIGANTIC PROSTHETIC PENIS Mark Wahlberg donned to play fictional porn star Dirk Diggler, we remember Luis Guzmán’s turn as Maurice TT Rodriguez, the club owner and aspiring porn performer that employs Diggler at the start of the film. Sure, when it’s his time to shine, Maurice chickens out and admits he’s tiny downstairs but that doesn’t mean he can’t take pictures of himself with a porn star to send to his brothers back in Puerto Rico. I wouldn’t want Maurice as a sibling. Oh, and R.I.P. Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Director: Tom Fontana
Year: 1997 – 2003
Oz is the first television show HBO produced and began the network’s mission to change what TV meant to people –- a mission they’d inch closer and closer to with each successful series until finally achieving the point of no return with The Sopranos. On Oz, Luis Guzmán played Raoul Hernandez, also known as “El Cid” for any history nerds in the audience, an inmate who rises to power among the prison’s Latino population, only to meet an ugly end in Season 3.
The Bone Collector
Director: Phillip Noyce
The Bone Collector is basically just another paint by numbers crime thriller starring Angelina Jolie. (I thought Ashley Judd was the go-to lady to lead these things?) Denzel Washington is a wheelchair bound homicide detective and he and his partner (Angelina Jolie) are tracking down a serial killer. Luis Guzmán is in this, as Detective Eddie Ortiz. This is mostly on the list because I think being in a thriller with Denzel Washington is a major milestone in any film actor’s career.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
It’s an honor to work with PT Anderson once, let alone twice. That being said many actors involved in Boogie Nights returned for his sprawling follow up, Magnolia, “An epic mosaic of interrelated characters in search of love, forgiveness, and meaning in the San Fernando Valley.” Luis Guzmán cameos as, well, a guy named Luis, a contestant on the game show “What Do Kids Know?”
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Peep the credits, people! In 2000 you couldn’t get a more star-studded cast than this: Don Cheadle, Catherine Zeta Jones, Benicio Del Toro (about to win an Oscar), Brendan Fraser, Michael Douglas, Benjamin Bratt, Topher Grace… effing Ludacris was in this movie! And directed by Soderbergh? This movie was made to win Oscars. No, seriously. It’s often accused of being kind of shallow Oscar-bait. Nonetheless, this story of the intersection of the U.S. war on drugs and its race politics included Luis Guzmán playing Ray Castro, a DEA agent who, along with his partner Montel Gordon (played by Cheadle, not to be confused with Montell Jordan) are on the hunt for the infamous Obregón brothers.
The Count of Monte Cristo
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Yo, it’s Luis Guzmán in a literary period drama, B! I mean you know the 19th century adventure story drill: a wrongfully imprisoned man gets out and seeks revenge on those responsible. In this case, Alexandre Dumas told us the story of the titular (heh, “titular”) Count, one Edmond Dantés, played here in the film adaptation by a pre-Jesus Jim Caviziel. Guzmán plays Jacopo, a smuggler that befriends the wronged Count and is rewarded with his own ship and crew. All in period costume.
The Salton Sea
Director: D.J. Caruso
The Salton Sea is a crime drama starring Val Kilmer as a police informant hiding his identity and helping two corrupt cops track down a creepy meth-dealer (Vincent D’Onofrio) who lost his nose from snorting the stuff. It’s not the sort of movie we tend to see Luis Guzmán in –- there’s not a lot of room for quirk or humor, here. And yet, there’s our boy, showing up in the third act to ruin everyone’s day.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Developer: Rockstar Games
Luis Guzmán was a busy man in 2002, but who better to hang out in a motley digital remix of 80s and 90s gangster movies than Pachanga from Carlito’s Way? While GTA3 changed the face of video game mechanics – at the time, it was unlike anything you’d ever played – it’s sequel Vice City legitimized video games as a form of legitimate popular entertainment by adding two very important elements: a kick-ass 80s soundtrack and a roster of celebrity voice talent. Enter Ricardo Díaz, Vice City’s answer to Tony Montana (and we’ve circled back to Al Pacino), a crazed drug dealer in an opulent mansion (complete with a pool ripe for dying face down in) who won’t brook competition. Guzmán lends his voice to the character and proves his omnipresence not only in film and television but as a voice actor too.
Creator: Will Gluck
Did you know Luis Guzmán had his own TV series? Neither do most people. 10 episodes were shot, but only 5 aired –- on Fox, of course. TV Guide said of it: “As tasteless as week-old crullers, Luis is a melting pot of cringe-inducing ethnic clichés.” In fact, it was the first show officially canceled from the 2003 season. Still, it sounds like the perfect Guzmán project: he plays Luis, the landlord of a building in Spanish Harlem, from which he runs a donut shop. I’d love to see Guzmán get another show.
Director: Rob McKittrick
If you’ve ever been home during the day with your channel flipped to Comedy Central, you’ve seen this movie. If you’ve ever waited tables, you love this movie. With a case that’s a who’s who of early aughts comedies –- Ana Farris, Justin Long, Ryan Reynolds –- Waiting… is the story of one franchise of a family dining chain and its staff’s daily troubles and slow descent into madness. Luis Guzmán plays horny head chef Raddamus. (Did they mean “Radamés”?)
I Kicked Luis Guzmán in the Face
Director: Sherwin Shilati
One of the things that makes Luis Guzmán so prolific –- as well as so enjoyable to watch as a performer –- is his total willingness to do weird, fun shit even if it’s not exactly high profile. Take this film for example: a guy named Mark tries to make more friends by meeting up with his entire MySpace friends list and impresses them with a totally made up story: one time, at a party, he kicked Luis Guzman in the face. Naturally, the rumor makes it’s way back to our dude. I Kicked Luis Guzmán in the Face isn’t the best short film, and I’m pretty sure that even by 2008 no one was actually using MySpace anymore (good luck bringing sexy back to that, JT) but Guzmán is, as always, fucking awesome.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Director: Raja Gosnell
Jesus Christ. I died a little just reading that title. Beverly Hills Chihuahua is an inexplicable Disney film that probably violates more than one article of the Geneva Convention and also stars a talking dog named Papi who is voiced by George Lopez. When Papi’s crush, Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore), is kidnapped and taken to Mexico, Papi has to go after her. Etcetera. Luis Guzmán –- who, I will reiterate, is awesome specifically because he’s game to be in literally anything, whether it’s an Oscar winner or… this –- plays Chucho, a Great Dane. And that’s all I’m going to say about this one, except that Great Danes are awesome dogs.
How to Make it in America
Director: Ian Edelman
Year: 2010 – 2011
Sadly, it got canceled just as it was getting good, but How to Make it in America is my and many people’s favorite Luis Guzmán performance to date. In a show about the hustle to make a name for yourself in New York, we followed Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg), Cam Calderon (Victor Rasuk, of Raising Victor Vargas fame) and Domingo Brown (Kid Cudi) as they rose to prominence in the streetwear game. Guzmán plays the amazing Rene Calderon, Cam’s shady cousin, who’s an entrepreneur in his own right: he’s pushing an energy drink known as Rasta-Monsta.
Plus, we got this great music video out of it. What’s not to love?