Fearless is a good word to describe John Leguizamo. Think of the roles he’s chosen over the years, Toulouse-Lautrec in Baz Lurhman’s MOULIN ROUGE, a tortured loser in Spike Lee’s SUMMER OF SAM, a sassy transvestite in TO WONG FOO and, especially, the one-man shows that he writes as well as performs where he opens himself up with a tantalizing ferocity. In person, he’s given more to introspection than flamboyance, though his sharp wit is never absent. When we talked on December 6, 2002, the conversation started with a comparison of ethics across class-boundaries and ended with a consideration of what the melting pot really means.
EMPIRE is a nitty, gritty look at life on the mean streets of the wrong part of New York. It’s message, crime doesnt pay, isn’t a new one, but any film that proffers a moral compass is one worth paying attention to. Also worth paying attention to is co-producer John Leguizamo’s performance as Victor Rosa, a street-wise, drug dealer whose blessing and whose curse is to see the big picture.
That picture would be the dead-end that life one the streets really is. What he discovers is that his life in the Bronx isn’t so very different from what happens in the boardrooms of Manhattan, the stakes are just as high, the consequences just as dire. It’s just the trappings that are different.
It’s fairly easy to figure out where EMPIRE is heading, and what will happen along the way. This is a cautionary tale, after all, whose main character begins the voice-over narration by telling us that he wishes hed known then what he knows now. But Leguizamo is an actor who is emminently watchable and here he’s celebrating doing the right thing, even if it isn’t exactly the right way.