INTERVIEW: Why John Leguizamo Enjoys Playing the Villain, Including in ‘Violent Night’

John Leguizamo (The Menu) isn’t above hamming it up in some of his movies on occasion, and, as fans, we’re all the better for it. From his Golden Globe-nominated performance as drag queen Chi-Chi Rodriguez in the 1995 comedy To Wong Foo to his hilarious supporting role as the bohemian French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical Moulin Rouge!, Leguizamo commands the screen effortlessly when he’s laying it on thick.

In the holiday action-comedy Violent Night, Leguizamo gets to amplify his role as Mr. Scrooge, the leader of a group of mercenaries who take a wealthy family hostage on Christmas Eve. It could be a simple heist for Scrooge and his crew. Yet, when Santa Claus (David Harbour) drops in to save the family (and Christmas), the criminals are not prepared for the pain they will endure at the hands of a less-than-jolly St. Nick wielding a sledgehammer. Audiences will know the kind of movie they’re in for when Leguizamo says, “Bah, humbug, motherf—er!” It’s likely easier to deliver a line like that when you’re playing the bad guy.

“The villains are the most coveted roles in Hollywood,” Leguizamo, 62, told Remezcla during a recent interview. “All the great actors have always come after these big roles because you get to be brutish, throw tantrums, and be rageful. And everybody thinks you’re acting, but you’re just letting off a lot of steam that you can’t let off anywhere else.”

(from left) Candy Cane (Mitra Suri) and Scrooge (John Leguizamo) in Violent Night, directed by Tommy Wirkola.
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Along with playing a villain — something Leguizamo has done before in movies like Spawn and Romeo + Juliet — he was excited about the action sequences, including one where he gets to fight Harbour’s Santa. 

Leguizamo lucked out since one of the producers of Violent Night is David Leitch, who was a stunt performer on movies like 300 and The Bourne Ultimatum and directed high-impact action films like Deadpool 2 and Bullet Train.

“[David] is one of the greatest stunt coordinators of all time,” Leguizamo said. “I jumped in because I know how meticulous he is about action. And he wanted to take it to another level. [I had to learn] about 50 moves – the most I’ve ever done in a flick.”

As for being a real-life Scrooge during the holiday season, Leguizamo is far from it. He’s loved Christmas since he was a kid. He even loved it when he found out Santa wasn’t real after he caught his parents hiding a bicycle he had asked Santa to bring him. “[My parents] sent me to the store, and I pretended to go and hid in the closet,” he said. “I heard them take out the box, and I came out and said, ‘I caught you! You’re lying!’”

Today, Christmas with the family is something Leguizamo looks forward to every year. The Leguizamo family traditions include a potluck dinner with dishes like arroz con gandules, platanos maduros, lechón, pernil, pasteles, and, of course, the Puerto Rican holiday cocktail known as coquito. While he spends time with his family this year, he probably won’t tell any of the youngsters in the house about Violent Night.

“I’m going from Encanto and playing Bruno, the most beloved character, to [a character] that tries to kill Santa,” Leguizamo said. “Try explaining that to a bunch of kids.”

(from left) Santa (David Harbour) and Scrooge (John Leguizamo) in Violent Night, directed by Tommy Wirkola.
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Violent Night is in theaters now.