Director Brad Furman’s fantastic new film, The Infiltrator, is opening in theaters this week. The movie is based on Robert Mazur’s autobiography The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel and stars Bryan Cranston as Mazur, in a story about his efforts to infiltrate one of the biggest drug trafficking rigs of all time. If you don’t know the history here, it’s pretty incredible: Mazur spent five years undercover as a money launderer while he learned about the hierarchy of the drug underworld, and gained valuable information that would result in the indictments of 85 drug lords and their corrupt banks.
Unlike some films that try and glamorize certain parts of being undercover, what makes Furman’s take on the material so good is everything feels authentic, and you’re always on the edge of your seat. He also gets into the real relationships that form when you spend so much time undercover, and the lines begin the blur. If you’re looking for a smart adult thriller that has a great story and excellent performances, I really recommend checking this film out. The Infiltrator also stars John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Joseph Gilgun, Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs and Benjamin Bratt.
To help promote the film, I recently got on the phone with John Leguizamo. During my exclusive interview he talked about making the film, what he learned about the film that surprised him while researching the role, working with director Brad Furman, deleted scenes, making John Wick and the sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2, why he wanted to make his new play Latin History, future plans, whether or not he wants to direct, and so much more. Check out what he had to say below.
Collider: Let me start by saying I really enjoyed The Infiltrator. I think that Brad [Furman] crafted a hell of a film. So, let me start with that and say you worked with Brad previously on Lincoln Lawyer. Has he mellowed out at all on set or is he still pretty crazy?
JOHN LEGUIZAMO: [laughs] Well let me start with addressing what you first said and then work my way through the latter part of the question. I think Brad crafted an amazing film, man. It’s so complex, it’s incredibly thrilling, incredibly touching and it’s what people have been trying to do for years in Hollywood, is to try to capture what it’s like to be undercover, what is that duality of life? And I think that Brad really caught that. I did Brad’s first film The Take and I’m glad Brad has not calmed down. I don’t want him to ever calm down. I love his ferocious desire for perfection and his love of vitality, it feeds me, man. It feeds him and it feeds the whole crew. And he’s got huge respect for talent. And that’s why talent goes in and gives it 300% percent.
So what is he like on set to collaborate with?
LEGUIZAMO: Oh, he’s incredibly collaborative, man. He’s so respectful of talent, he has so much admiration for talent. He nurtures you, he lets you give input. Of course we’ll debate if we disagree, that’s just a healthy atmosphere to air your differences. And he wants to try stuff, he’s willing to try stuff. And he wants electricity on the camera. And that’s what I want, I want electricity whenever I’m performing. I want it to be something that can’t be had in life, you know?
When I spoke to him for the film, he said his first cut was like three hours and that it was a really tough edit for him trying to figure out how to bring it down, and tell all the stories. So when you saw the movie, where you like, “oh shit, I can’t believe that scene got cut but I get it.”
LEGUIZAMO: Of course, of course. It’s a product of being an actor, you know? A lot of your work doesn’t end up on camera and some of the best things aren’t always in the final product. But yeah, a lot of my stuff got cut and it was painful, but I know it was for the better of the movie.
Bryan Cranston is a great actor, we all know that. You got to share a lot of scenes with him. What did you take away from the experience of working with him?
LEGUIZAMO: He’s got such an incredible light touch. He comes in egoless, but with bold opinions, and he wants to play. He wants to play. And that’s what I’ve seen in great actors all my life and what I’ve always tried to nurture and keep in myself is that joy of playing. Pacino had it, De Niro, Wesley Snipes, Sean Penn, they come there and they want to just, it’s like a boxing ring, man. You just want to go off and be intuitive and wild, and that’s what he brings to the game, man. He wants to be as electric as possible. He’s generous, he’s funny. When we did a wedding scene, at the end of the movie with a big set piece, he put the veil off the bride, he put it on, he pretended like we were getting married, he’s just a goof, man. He’s a fun fucking guy.
I love hearing stories like that. Robert’s story is just crazy and the fact that it hasn’t been told until now is pretty amazing. When you were researching the story and the characters, what surprised you to learn about his story and the time period?
LEGUIZAMO: Well, you knew what the Pablo Escobar and what was going on in Miami in terms of the infiltration of the drug trade, I mean Pablo Escobar is one of the great stories of all time. It’s a bizarre, dark version of success. It’s the flip side of illegal success. This man turned a small-time drug thing into a large industry. An international, successful industry. And he almost took a country, Columbia, he took it almost hostage, took over it. It was incredible. What I found fascinating about The Infiltrator is the American side of it. How many people on this side were colluding? Banks, I mean the fact that banks were colluding, it’s just like, “what? What is going on man?” And agents that were bought, and it’s just fascinating how people get tempted.
I don’t think anything’s changed today, it’s just more hidden behind red tape. I have to talk about something else with you, which is that one of my favorite films of the last few years was John Wick, and I obviously –
LEGUIZAMO: I love that film.
LEGUIZAMO: Incredible, man. And it’s interesting because the script was okay. It had something, but you were like, “eh,” but it was those directors and Keanu. The directors and Keanu got this love of action, they bring out the best in each other, they bring out the best in everybody, man. I had a ball making that movie and I had a ball making John Wick 2.
Oh, yeah, we’re going to get to that in a second. I definitely want to as you though, you’re on set of the first one, you’re thinking, Chad [Stahelski] and David [Leitch], this could be good, like what’s your reaction when you see the finished film because I caught an early screening, I didn’t know anything walking in and I was just shell-shocked when the movie was over. I was like, “I cannot believe what I just watched.”
LEGUIZAMO: I gotta say, it’s happened very few times to me, I think Chef was the other time that it happened, that I read the script where I was like, “I like this, it could be something.” It wasn’t like, bells went off, love at first sight kind of thing, it wasn’t that. But then I go see the movie, I go see Chef, and I go, “this is a masterpiece. How the fuck?” This guy, it’s all the director, man. And they caught lightning in a bottle, man. Just figured out how to capture lightning in a bottle. Because Keanu’s performance, it’s one of his best performances in like 15 years.
Oh dude, I can’t say enough.
LEGUIZAMO: He did his own stunts, and that’s huge when an actor does his own stunts, which I’m not going to do. I’ve been hurt so many times I don’t have the balls for it anymore. But he’s doing it, man. He’s going in there, because when you do a stunt, you’re going to get hurt. Just guaranteed. I had my neck hurt for like five years, I could barely move my neck from doing this stunt, I almost died twice doing stunts, it’s really dangerous, man. It’s really fucking dangerous.
Yeah, a lot of people actually don’t talk about that but, the fact is, just think about being in a minor fender-bender, it hurts. Let alone being on a set where sometimes you have to do it like 5, 10 times.
LEGUIZAMO: Right, and you start getting tired and your judgement changes and you’re getting more adrenaline and just shit happens. The more times you do something, the more likely it is you’re going to get it wrong.
LEGUIZAMO: I mean, I get twice as much screen time as last time. Exactly twice as much. [laughs] This time I’m in six scenes.
[laughs] Are you giving Keanu a new car? Maybe this time it’s a tank? What’s going on in the shop this time?
LEGUIZAMO: Uuuuh, I’m giving him some new stuff. I’m giving him what he asks for. I’m not allowed to really say, but I’ll tell you this, instead of punching this time, I get punched.
Listen, my last question about it though, in the first one, Chad and David did it together. And in this one it was just Chad.
LEGUIZAMO: Oh, I know.
So what was it like just having Chad on set?
LEGUIZAMO: Well, you know, I missed David of course. The two of them work so well together. But Chad is a beast, man. He’s a fucking beast. He was so on it, he was so cool, he was so collaborative. I think in some ways it was more freedom. And I think artists do best with more freedom. So I think it might be rawer.
I want to ask you also, you have a few things coming up and one I’m very curious about is Krystal, the one by William H. Macy. I Enjoyed his film Rudderless.
LEGUIZAMO: Oh no, I dropped out.
Oh, my bad! I apologize.
LEGUIZAMO: Yeah, I had some personal, family stuff that I had so I had to jump off. It’s a great script, it’s a great script.
I’m looking at the always accurate IMDb. Which is never wrong, ever. About anything.
LEGUIZAMO: Never, never, never.
So what are you working on now besides doing Latin History?
LEGUIZAMO: Uh, well, Bloodline Season 3 is coming up. I start shooting again in August. And my book, Ghetto Klown, got nominated for an Eisner Award, which is the Oscars of graphic novels. I’m very book proud.
That’s actually an incredible achievement.
LEGUIZAMO: Dude, it’s my first graphic novel, it is such – I’m not going to lie, it is a masterpiece. It took me ten years to do Ghetto Klown to a refined gem, it got a lot of awards on Broadway. And then to convert into a graphic novel was a really natural transition because it’s very haiku and very economical which is perfect for thought bubbles in comic books. And because I travel through so much time and so much space and there’s so many characters. Boom, the artists can bring it to life. And I found these great artists in Brooklyn that were just genius, man. Christa [Cassano] and Shamus [Beyale].
I definitely want to touch on Latin History. I read some reviews and they’re pretty glowing. So what was that experience like of writing that one and the reception to it?
LEGUIZAMO: Well, it was written because of my kids and a statistic that I read that 36% of Latin kids drop out of high school, and we’re the most bullied minority in schools right now. And my son had troubles in elementary school. So that made me really question being Latin in the United States, you know. The difficulty of being a Latin kid, a Latin man in this country. And then I started studying the history and going, “wait a minute, what? I understand why these kids are dropping out, I understand these problems.” Because we’re not celebrated in any textbook, in any movie, in any television show, any comic book, and yet we’re the only minority in this country that has participated in every war this country has ever had, we’re the highest decorated minority that this country has ever had in every single war, and we never get any credit, we never get any love for it, and it’s really doing a big damage to kids and Latin people in this country. I mean, we were there for the Revolutionary War, we were there at the Civil War, 20,000 Latin people fought. You never hear about that. That’s a huge number of people. 500,000 Latin people risked their lives in WWII, you never hear about that ever. It’s ridiculous. It’s offensive to me. When you’re American, it hurts.
I was researching and getting ready for this interview, I started reading all about it and I think it’s great that you did this because you’re 100% right with what you’re saying.
LEGUIZAMO: Yeah, I’m hoping my play opens up conversations, I hope it makes people question textbooks, I hope it makes #OscarsSoWhite and #HollywoodSoWhite question things. I hope my play sparks conversation between Latin kids and Latin parents and people start doing their own due diligence as well, I think it’s everyone’s responsibility.
Totally. I definitely want to ask you though, you’ve written so many things, you’ve produced, you’ve acted, but the only thing on your resume that’s not extensive is directing. And I wanted to know, is that something that you’ve been trying to pursue and you’ve run into barriers or is it something you haven’t really tried in Hollywood?
LEGUIZAMO: You know, I gotta tell you, that’s one of the things in Hollywood that has not been a barrier. I’ve gotten lots of offers, and I did try my hand at it, I directed two commercials. I won best commercial of ad week [laughs] on my first try. And I did an HBO movie called Undefeated that I directed. It was too hard, man. It was really – I had a whole new respect for directors. And it changed my whole way that I deal with respect because I come with so much more respect than I ever have and I appreciate that experience. But I think later on in life I do want to direct as I get older. I really love it, I love working with directors that are very collaborative and allow me input. I’ve done over 75 films, it’s just like you’re an apprentice. You learn so much about camerawork, lenses, and I’m always talking about DPs and directors and they always give me lists. I think pretty soon, I’ll be ready to move away from being in front of the camera.
My last question is, I saw Birth of a Nation, at Sundance, Nate Parker’s film. He did a great job with that material. So in what you’re sort of trying to elevate with Latin History, I’m wondering if the directing thing you might want to do, or something at least you’re thinking about, is telling a story in that vein, if you will. Telling a story that hasn’t been told and then using your clout to sort of bring it to the front.
LEGUIZAMO: I mean, I’m hoping that’s the place that I’m going to gel. That everything is going to converge, a Latin population that supports expensive movies like that. And America has to be educated as well to Latin contributions so that they respect and want to see them. It’s an education for everybody, and hopefully in a few more years, I’ll be in that place where I can helm a movie about unknown Latin patriots of the American Revolutionary War, or unsung heroes of the Civil War that are Latin. Hopefully that will be the place I can hang my shingle on. [laughs]