Once during an audition, a casting director asked Luis Guzmán something Latino actors hear a lot: “Can you sound a little more Latin?” Sharing the anecdote during a conversation at the Miami Film Festival, the Traffic and Carlito’s Way actor relished the punchline to come. He asked the casting director to give him an example of what she meant. After she did he just turned to her and said, “Nah. You didn’t get the part. Sorry,” and walked out.
It was but one of the many stories Guzmán told during his hourlong talk with Miami actress-writer-director Maria Corina Ramirez that exemplified what’s made him an enduring guiding light in the Latino Hollywood community. A native New Yorker who a social worker when he was first cast in the pilot of Miami Vice, Guzmán’s long-storied career has had him work with the likes of Sidney Lumet, Steven Soderbergh, and Paul Thomas Anderson among others.
As someone whose IMDB boasts its fair share of Goon No. 1 and Gang Member No. 2 roles (parts Guzmán admits he had to take before making a name for himself), he knows firsthand the challenges Latinx actors face. Which means whenever he encounters issues with how Latino characters are written, he’s willing to speak up: many a time he’s had to tell writers and directors, “That’s not how Latinos do things, say things.”
During the audience Q&A portion of the talk, an audience member asked him point-blank how he felt about Al Pacino’s casting in Scarface. What did he think about the actor playing a Cuban? “I work in a very interesting business,” he began, “and my business often works according to financial numbers. So a bunch of guys will sit in a room and they’ll say, ‘Okay, if we get Raúl Julia… if we get Tony Plana… if we get this guy and this guy and this guy: which one’s gonna get us the biggest numbers? And then they ask: which guy can we get away with taking this role? I don’t necessarily agree with that. I don’t make excuses with it either. But sometimes that’s the nature of the business.” He admitted that even in Carlito’s Way, where at least Pacino was playing a Latino-Italian character opposite Guzmán, the actor’s own first pick would’ve been Julia. Only The Addams Family actor was already too sick to work.
Nevertheless, Guzmán shared that he’s seen how the industry’s been changing. His career is proof positive of it. Coming up, audiences will see him on Shameless and in the new Epix series Perpetual Grace, LTD. Further down the road he hopes to produce two projects that feel very close to home. Along with his son Cemi, who joined him onstage at the talk, he’s developing an adaptation of Ernesto Quiñonez‘s Bodega Dreams. The story follows Chino, a smart, promising young man, who gets entangled with a drug dealer in this Spanish Harlem-set novel. In the same vein, Guzmán is also working on adapting his own life story. “I have so many beautiful influences in my life and I would love to honor them in a story. That’s important to me because I’ve had the most incredible life. Everything that I have I’ve earned. It wasn’t given to me.”
But he also teased the Miami Film Festival attendees with another project he hopes will take off: a standup routine. For those who’d seen him eagerly play the crowd, cheekily chiding them for clapping for everything and joking away while telling stories about Marlon Brando, Dumb and Dumberer and salsa dancing, the prospect was quite promising. “You better all show up and laugh your ass off!” he told them.
At the end of the day all Guzmán wants to do nowadays is be an inspiration: “I’m not looking for that role that’s gonna get me an Academy Award,” he confesses. “I want a role that will inspire a community of young people.”