LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 12: Actor John Leguizamo attends the "Walking with Dinosaurs" press event at Natural History Museum on December 12, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rodrigo Vaz/FilmMagic)
Actor John Leguizamo is known for his film roles in movies such as “Carlito’s Way,” “Super Mario Bros.,” and “Moulin Rouge,” to name a few. But it’s his one-man stage shows like “Mambo Mouth,” “Freak” and “Sex-a-holix” that made him a recognizable voice among the community, often detailing his experiences growing up in New York and his home life as part of an immigrant family.
However, your kids will undoubtedly recognize his voice as the beloved Sid the Sloth of the “Ice Age” franchise. It’s his voice again that children will recognize and love in the upcoming film, “Walking with Dinosaurs.” In the film, Leguizamo lends his voice as Alex, a Mexican bird from the late Cretaceous period.
But it wasn't that easy to come up with a voice for his avian character, Leguizamo says. “I [just] had to try to come up with the voice. That was tough because, first of all, they told me I'm going to do a dinosaur movie. I go, ‘Oh, that's my specialty.’ I'm Sid the Sloth. And I go, ‘But, this time I want to be like a brontosaurus or a T-Rex or a stegosaurus.’ And so, I was trying to work on my deep voice, yelling a lot, getting it really rough, and then they showed me that I'm a bird. I'm like, ‘Really? I'm a bird? Well, all right.’”
Discovering that voice proved to be a hard feat for the self-described method actor. He tried many types of Latin accents, he says, from a thick Mexican accent, to a modern street kid and even a more sophisticated Spaniard, all of which were given the big N-O from the creators of the film. So he tried one more accent and asked, “All right, how about Ricardo Montalbán?" and they said yes. Leguizamo describes the voice as very friendly, paternal, wise, and—of course—comical every now and then. “It's kind of my tribute to Ricardo Montalbán,” he says.
The father of two is a big believer in education, especially within Latino communities. He says kids are bound to learn something watching “Walking with Dinosaurs” thanks to the laborious research and fact-checking that went into making the film.
“The beautiful thing about this project ... is that it's so accurate and there are moments that give information, which are built into the story,” says Leguizamo. “You got comedy. You got some tragedy. And you got lots of dinosaur behavior, and then you have information. So, I think it'll stimulate kids to do more research—and especially if they like dinosaurs, to find out more about them—because it's so easy now with technology to do more research.”
As a dad, Leguizamo says, education is a big part of his parenting style and attributes a lot of how he parents his own children to his immigrant upbringing.
“My parents were immigrants, and so they had this immigrant mentality. With all my Christmas presents, I had to earn everything. I had to read a book, an encyclopedia, a dictionary, and then I would get my bicycle,” he says. “So, I kind of maintained that with my kids. They have to earn everything. I've been reading to them since they were babies because I always read to them a new book, an old book, and their favorite book every day.”
What’s the one thing his children won’t be reading or watching any time soon? His own shows. Being a father doesn’t dictate what projects he may choose, he says, “but it definitely makes me want to choose stuff that's more child-friendly. Definitely things that they can see, because they can't see my shows. And they won't be able to see that 'til I'm gone because they'll ruin all my parenting skills. Everything I've said to them is a lie and they'll find out.”
“Walking with Dinosaurs” is Rated PG and opens in theaters nationwide December 20.