Frank J. Avella Talks to the Cast and
Creative Team of
Love in the Time of Cholera: Director
Mike Newell; Producer Scott Steindorff;
Giovanna Mezzogiorno; Benjamin Bratt;
and John Leguizamo
October 12, 2007
and Benjamine Bratt in
Love in the Time of Cholera
Mike Newell and Scott
The Interview with
Director Mike Newell and Producer Scott Steindorff
Question: What was the process
of getting the rights to the novel?
Steindorff: Well, he (Garcia Marquez)
definitely didn’t want to sell. And
over twenty-five years refused countless,
countless offers. When I read the book—Dylan
Russell, an executive in my company, gave
me the book five years ago, Thanksgiving weekend.
He said ‘Read it,’ and I read
so many books I said ‘Are the rights
available?’ And he said ‘No’
and I said ‘Well, I’m not going
to read it.’ He insisted that I read
it, and I read it, and became obsessed with
the book and the characters. I started pursuing,
and it took me about two-and-a-half, three
years to get the rights. He rejected me like
Fermina rejects Florentino for a long time.
Question: Once it got off
the ground how involved was Marquez?
Newell: The book was enough for me.
He sent us a quite voluminous set of notes,
and he talked to Scott and said that we were
being much too respectful of the novel. He’s
a tail-puller, he loves to say the thing that
you least expect him to say. But the notes
were very good and very helpful, and kind
of challenging. What he said was in effect—he
didn’t actually directly say this, but
his notes suggested ‘I have written
the book in a certain way, and you have said
that you’re going to use that that way
only partially’ The phrase was ‘Where
is the stitch work?’ I puzzled about
stitch work and realized that in fact what
he meant was that the thing is so heavily
embroidered, and quilted, and it’s folded
and stitched, folded and stitched, folded
and stitched until everything is connected.
That was a very useful note to me, because
I said to myself ‘Actually it is possible
to do that, but not in a literary way.’
You can do that with a picture, and one picture
set against another picture. Of course, he
taught film, he knows about that stuff. I
checked a couple of details with him, but
I didn’t want to be anywhere near his
pocket. I had to make the film and not a respectful
eight-episode TV adaptation. It had to be
a movie and it had to have its own pace. It’s
got to snowball.
Steindorff: But he was involved with
the script, and hiring writers and directors
and that. And Javier talked to him while we
were filming, to get into the character.
Love in the Time
Question: Mr. Newell, this
is the second time you’ve taken on a
book that people are very fiercely devoted
to, Harry Potter being the first.
How do you deal with their opinions? Do you
block it all out, or do you try to strike
Newell: No, no. You can’t strike
a balance. Making a film is not about the
process. Making a film is a matter of conviction
which you are going to have to defend against
colossal weight of problems. Yes, people much
more with Potter than with this,
challenged the choices. I felt absolutely
serene that what I was dealing with was a
very elegant classical thriller, and I was
going to throw away everything that wasn’t
in that, if the studio wanted one film, and
the studio wanted one film. I didn’t
have a night’s unease. This is different,
because this is, to start with, a great, great
piece of writing. It must be one of the best
novels ever written. It’s also very
quirky, so I had to find a way of translating
the literary quirks and the quirks that were
in the Spanish, and not even in the translation.
It’s a beautiful translation, it’s
a great translation, but it doesn’t
do what the novel does, which is to change
the language from the beginning of the story
to the end. The beginning of the story is
written in formal, 19th-century language from
time to time, so you get a sense of ‘We’re
in 1885’ or whatever. The translation
of that, perhaps its undoable, but the translation
doesn’t do it, and it’s a wonderful
translation. So I had to find the spirit of
the novel rather than the literal fact of
Question: Is there ever
any way to get the literal fact of it? Films
like A Clockwork Orange, Lolita
and Sophie’s Choice,…
Newell: Oh yes. Each of those movies
has it, as do the very best adaptations, for
instance, of War and Peace. My favorite
version of War and Peace is the American one,
with Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda. That
has the same—I don’t think the
Russian ones are so interesting, because they’re
so huge. They’re designed to be huge
rather than sharp. What each of those movies
does--Lolita does it, A Clockwork
Orange does it—is that what is
up there—let’s talk about what
isn’t up there. What is up there is
really clear, and sharp about what it’s
trying to do. That’s what I tried to
do with this. What’s different about
this is that—one of the things that
I find most moving about it, apart from it
being so humane, is that it’s about
real lives lived at the length we all know
that real lives are lived. Not The Postman
Always Rings Twice, which happens over
a tiny [time frame] and is a melodrama that
is actually helped by a short time span. This
is about lives, and the humanity of the writing,
the humanity of the story, is about long lives,
and how people are made desperate by long
lives. For instance, my parents’ lives
became desperate. Having been sunny and successful,
they became desperate toward the end of their
lives. Of course it’s what happens here,
and that’s the great humanity of it,
that he actually takes on what is both a very
long span of time and of course, as we all
feel as we get older, a very short one. That
was the glory of the book for me. It was to
see a man and a woman going from seventeen
years old through to—and for that woman,
right at the end of her life, as her new life—a
fantastic thing! That at the age of seventy-two,
she starts a new life. She starts a real,
vibrant emotional life. As she starts it she
can say ‘I have no idea whether the
successful marriage that I am reckoned by
the world to have had was love or not. I have
no idea whether it was love.’ And here
you have this old, old man who says ‘I
have fucked six-hundred-and0twenty-two women,
but I know that this is love.’ There’s
such a resounding positive thing about it.
The last lines of the movie are actually almost
the last lines of the book, which is that
it’s not that life end. Life does actually
Even more than love, (Cholera is)
a story of obsession.
It lifts up above obsession…There’s
a scene in which he’s sat in an opera
house and he’s listening to Puccini
and he’s listening to one of the great
anthems of heterosexual love. You can see
the toll that seeing a depiction of absolute
love is taking on him. Inside his head, he’s
counting, he’s saying ‘524: schoolteacher,
I don’t even remember her fucking name;
I don’t remember, I don’t remember.’
That all ends with ‘Routine is like
rust; routine is as meaningless and as geological
in its time movement as rust is.’ That
kind of humanizing of a thesis. The book’s
full of theses. He says to himself ‘I
wonder what would happen if an old, old man
came in and declared his love to an old, old
woman as if the 50 years hadn’t happened.’
That’s a thesis. But what he then does
is to pursue the human truth of the thesis,
and that routine is like rust is the human
truth. The book is great because of the human
truths. The movie in the end, whether I like
it or not, ought to be judged by if it brings
the human truths to it.
Question: Why was it important
to film in Colombia, and initially were there
any problems in setting that up?
Steindorff: We were initially going
to film in Brazil. Our crew was scouting in
Brazil. The vice-president of Colombia called
me up and said ‘You must.’ This
is next to the Bible in Colombia, their sacred
text. The Colombians feel very attached to
Marquez and his literature. I was very reluctant
to go to Colombia because of the perception
of Colombia. He assured me safety, so Mike
and I and the production designer went there,
and we loved it. This is where the story takes
place, and he said ‘Are you safe Mike?’
and he said yes. It’s very safe. The
perception of Colombia and the reality of
Colombia are two different things. We have
this perception that it’s Escobar in
the 80s, and it’s just not that way.
It’s a very safe, beautiful place with
warm, generous people.
Newell: I don’t think we could
have done it without what we discovered there.
I phoned Walter Salles before I came down—you
know, the Motorcycle Diaries guy—and
he said ‘You’ve got to watch out
for’—I don’t remember his
phrase, but what he meant was ‘You’ve
got to watch out for blood lines.’ He
didn’t want to say race. You will find
that it’s much more complicated than
you think it is. You go down there and it
is. It was the first great slave market. Before
the British really got cranked up in the West
Indies, the Spanish were doing it there. The
English were sailing five miles offshore trying
to rob it. The whole slave market thing sucked
in all sorts—Europeans, Arabs, obviously
Africans, indigenous Indians. You have this
enormous mixture which has made, I don’t
quite understand why, a huge, outgoing energy.
It’s a very, very energetic place. That’s
not saying that they don’t take two-hour
siestas, they do. But their generosity of
spirit is fantastic. The whole city turned
out for us. I can’t remember how many
thousands of people were on the screen.
Steindorff: We have five thousand extras,
and every one of those extras was so committed
to just walking down the street. It was fabulous.
I would film there, I’m sure you would
film there, I would love to film there again.
It’s an amazing place.
Newell: We came to realize that another
glorious thing about the novel is that it’s
also a very accurate portrait of a regional
town. Like a French novel might be. A provincial
town. You would see the same faces pop up
on the street or in the theater or whatever,
and to start you would jump and say ‘Oh
God, what’s happened?’ because
he’s recognizable. But it’s wonderful
that he’s recognizable, because of course
he would have been recognizable. And another
great thing about the book is the way you
watch peoples’ fortunes change as time
goes on. As time goes on, for me it’s
one of the big things in the novel.
Steindorff: It’s like no other
place. That’s the nice thing about the
book and the movie, is that is portrays a
time period within a place that not many people
are familiar with. Colombia and this little
town that was a mixture of so many different
culture is just so unique and original. It’s
so different than Europe and North America.
Mike Newell: In
a way every paragraph of description was a
challenge that would drive you crazy that
you couldn’t actually get on the screen.
We do not show an incident in the novel, which
is Ben Bratt’s character returning from
his studies in Paris, and having become used
to end-of-the-century Paris, suddenly seeing
the piles of burning rubbish in the streets,
and the rats and the beggars, all of which
is in the novel. You simply can’t do
that. We would have to have Paris on the screen,
and you would then have to contrast it with
the drive from the dock, through the streets
through this desperate city.
Love in the Time of Cholera
with Giovanna Mezzogiorno
One of the most popular
and celebrated actresses in Italy, Giovanna
Mezzogiorno makes her lead debut in an English-language
film with Love in the Time of Cholera
as the headstrong heroine, Fermina Daza. Giovanna
spoke to us about the experience and getting
cast in this potentially career-changing film.
Question: Was it fun working
with John Leguizamo?
Mezzogiorno: Very fun. Great working
with everybody. Everybody was fun. We had
a great time.
How did this part come to you?
Mezzogiorno: I met the people from
New Line for the first time, two years ago,
at the Oscars. We were nominated for Best
Foreign Film for Don’t Tell.
Then nothing happened. Then the casting director
of the movie, Suzy Figgis,…she’s
English and knows my work. She showed my work
to Mike Newell. And Mike Newell said “I
want to meet her.” So I flew to London
and we had a great time together. We spoke
a lot about the movie, about the book, about
the script…about everything. And then
I flew back, once again. And then it was a
lot of work for Mike Newell and my agency
to convince the producers, because I am not
known in the United States. And this was the
big female leading role (in the picture).
But Mike Newell really wanted me. He said:
“I think that you can do this.”
Also he was very determined that he did not
want a cast of American stars. He wanted to
keep faith to the movie by choosing actors
that were European, like me and Javier, or
American, but South American—like Benjamin
Bratt, John Leguizamo and Catalina. So, he
really wanted me in the movie and that’s
how it happened.
Question: How was it to
have all this different actors from different
backgrounds coming together to play Colombians?
Mezzogiorno: …That was a big
deal for the producers. The majority of people
think Love in the Time of Cholera
should have been made in Spanish. But the
fact that it’s in English gives the
movie international possibilities, otherwise
it would have been a big South American movie
instead. So they decided to have actors speaking
English with Colombian accents. And that was
really really difficult because I’m
Italian, Javier is Spanish. John and Ben are
American basically. Catalina’s Colombian.
So we went to Cartagena almost one month before
we started shooting to work with a dialogue
coach. And we worked really hard with her…every
day for a couple of hours, with tapes and
all that. And we also worked with a movement
coach…for the aging. But we worked on
the accent, of course.
Question: How was seeing
yourself as an old woman?
Mezzogiorno: Fun! No, no, it was strange…and
freeing. In the makeup trailer, you don’t
see yourself suddenly. You see the process.
You’re there for five hours in a chair.
So you see from the beginning when it starts,
working on your face, and then at the end…but,
of course, seeing that onscreen is pretty
impressive because I think they did an amazing
job. Of course, I’m not very objective,
but they wanted to make us be real. And real
is people of seventy years old that are…like
when they’re young because that’s
what happens in life. I think that when I
am seventy, I am going to be like this but
older. But not different, just older…which
doesn’t mean that I am somebody else.
That’s what they really wanted to do
and that’s what they did in the end.
Question: I’m assuming
that was a prosthetic on your body at the
end in the love scene.
Mezzogiorno: It’s not a prosthetic.
It’s a body double. And they put my
head on her body. That was amazing. We worked
with the body double a lot. It’s a very
strange process. They have to mime, exactly,
our movements in the same exact way and then
the guy has to stop production with the computer…I
don’t know how to explain…
Had you read the book
before the project?
Yes, I read the book for the first time when
I was fifteen years old. And then, after fifteen
years…for the movie…I read all
Garcia Marquez growing up and he’s one
of my favorite authors. I have to say that
when I was fifteen, when you’re a teenager,
it’s very hard to understand a book
like Love in the Time of Cholera.
It talks about love in a very difficult way…when
you’re a teenager you have this idea
of romantic love, ideal love, so it’s
very difficult to understand the character
of Fermina…WHY she takes that position
and why she decided to just leave him. But
then when you grow up, you understand. And
so, it’s interesting to read Love
in the Time of Cholera when you are fifteen
and when you are thirty. It’s a totally
Question: You’re very
popular in Italian cinema and I was wondering
how you got your start.
Mezzogiorno: My parents were both actors.
I said ‘were’ because my mother
doesn’t work anymore and my father passed
away. I went to the Academy, in France, to
study when I was nineteen. The Academy of
Dramatic Arts in Paris. And I was there for
two years. And then I was taken in the company
of Peter Brook and I worked for Peter Brook
for two years…for two years in his company
with Hamlet. And then I made a movie
in Italy. But basically that was my start,
with Peter and France. Why, France? Because
I lived in France years before. I lived in
France for eight years when I was a kid. So
I knew Paris. I knew people that could give
me suggestions on how to… And basically
I found that the possibility of learning…doing
interesting things, were better in France,
than in Italy. So I preferred to start in
Paris and then come back.
Question: Do you live in
Mezzogiorno: I live in Rome now, yes.
Question: Where did you
learn to speak English so well?
Mezzogiorno: My English comes from…well,
I followed my father who went all around the
world with his work…with plays…and
then I have an American sister. So I’d
come out to see her. And then I (attended)
International school in Italy. So, basically
it’s a mixture of reasons.
Question: Does “Mezzogiorno”
Mezzogiorno: Mid-day, yes. It comes
from a strange story. The story’s that
my grandfather was abandoned when he was a
child so he didn’t know who his parents
were. But he was found at mid-day. (laughter)
In the film, you go
from playing very young to very old. Which
was the biggest challenge?
Mezzogiorno: It’s strange to
believe but both are very difficult. It’s
truly difficult to go in the future but also
difficult to go back…First of all the
stress of: “I look old!” And I
have to look eighteen! WHY? But honestly,
when you are sixteen, seventeen, eighteen,
you have some difficult attitudes that you
lose with time. Like now, I am thirty-two
and I don’t move like when I was twenty,
of course. Because I know more things. Because
my story is full... Because my attitude…my
body language, my dress, what I know what
I suffered, what happened before…and
all that. So when you are eighteen, you are
empty. You don’t have all those things
in you. You’re free. And so to take
them away (to play eighteen) is terribly hard.
To be neutral again, to start from zero, is
very difficult when you have years and years
and years of experience in your life. And
then to go into the future is hard because
I don’t know what being older is about.
I can trust my…thinking about old Fermina’s
life. As you get old, you bring with you your
suffering, your moments of happiness, your
visions of life…Usually in cinema, you
see an old person, like eighty, and he’s
almost dead. And that’s not true. So,
basically, we worked on the fact that when
you get old you’re more scared.
Question: As a result of
this film, do you hope to be doing more US
Mezzogiorno: That I don’t know.
(laughs) I would love to. I can’t wait
but…I would love to make amazing movies
here in the United States but I don’t
know what’s going to happen. Let’s
see. That’s not dependent on me.
Benjamin Bratt in
Love in the Time of Cholera
with Benjamin Bratt
Upstanding doctor Juvenal
Urbino is the “other man” in Love
in the Time of Cholera. As portrayed
by Benjamin Bratt, he is charming and honorable.
Bratt spoke about his experience in the much-anticipated
a good man in this film who is still the wrong
Bratt: The initial challenge is he’s
damn near the perfect man. As described in
the book he’s everybody’s dream,
from every bachelorette who lives in Cartegena
to various artists that he’s a benefactor
to. He’s learned, he’s worldly,
he comes from a great family, he’s wealthy,
he’s charming, he’s good-looking,
he’s a doctor, he’s a patron of
the arts, he solves the problem of cholera.
He’s Superman. The way Mike described
it, and I love this description—actually
it was quite helpful for me as I tried to
portray him—in addition to all of those
qualities, he’s ‘extra kissed
by God.’ He’s someone who’s
lived the luckiest of lives. Yet as you say,
he is not without his flaws. That’s
what makes him really so interesting I think.
His approach to love is a practical one, just
as his approach to life. When he meets Fermina
Daza it’s clear that he’s struck
by this thunderbolt of lust for her, and it
leads to marriage, but even after he marries,
as it’s pointed out in the book, he’s
not in love with her. But he knows that there
will be little obstacle to actually achieving
a kind of love. Not terribly romantic, as
I said. And in the other part of the love
triangle you have someone who operates only
from a place of heart-driven emotions, a place
of passion. I think the fact is, and the story
kind of demonstrates, that there’s a
balance of the two that ends in some form
of real love.
Why do you think he
marries her? You said he didn’t really
love her, but he was pursuing her.
Bratt: Yes, he was pursuing her. As
was the case in a lot of marriages, even contemporary
marriages, it’s because she’s
a good match. He likes her haughtiness, he
likes her strength. There’s a part of
it that appeals to his vanity. She’s
clearly beautiful. That’s described
aptly in the book.
Question: Would you consider
it a failed marriage at all? They’re
together a long time, they have a large family…
Bratt: I wouldn’t consider it
a failed marriage at all, nor would they.
in fact she says at the end of the book, at
the end of the film, it was a great marriage,
he in fact was a great husband. It was filled
with happiness. But the question she ponders
is, ‘Was it ever really love?’
I think that’s a mistake that we really
all kind of make, we equate happiness with
love. That doesn’t necessarily mean
if you’ll find love that you’ll
find happiness, or vice versa.
Question: How familiar with
the book and Marquez’s work were you
going into this?
Bratt: I was extremely familiar with
the title, so much so that I mistakenly thought
that I had read the book. I’m of an
age where it would have been apt for me to
have read it when it came out in the mid-80s,
but after page two, I realized that this masterpiece
certainly would have made an indelible impression
on my mind. It’s quite easy to fall
in love with him, though. I think he’s
a genius. In this meditation on love, to me
he demonstrates the most astonishing understanding
of love in all of its different forms. The
book is about romantic love, but it’s
also about familial love, patriarchal love,
maternal love—there’s all sorts
of different love that’s explored here.
The depth of his understanding just blows
my mind. He has me laughing on one page and
crying on another. The hope of the filmmakers,
and their great challenge really, was to capture
the essence of the book. The challenge was
made all the greater because it’s one
of the most well-known and beloved books on
love ever written. I feel pretty confident
they actually succeeded.
Question: How did the costumes,
the facial hair, everything help you get into
character in this film?
Bratt: It’s everything, really.
There was a lot of homework that goes into
portraying someone like this. He’s so
far removed from who I am as a person. I’m
not an aristocrat, I have no idea what that
is. So we employed a lot of things to get
to that stage. One thing that was incredibly
helpful was to have a movement instructor
come down, to help us not just with the old
age, but with the actual development of the
carriage of this person. We would work with
images. For me the line was ‘The purity
of elevation,’ so everything I did was
to make it to feel extended, to kind of indicate
an un-self conscious sense of privilege, something
that you’re born into, that you don’t
even question. All the other accoutrements
helped inform it from a visual perspective.
I read somewhere that Olivier never really
felt like he was the character until he literally
walked in the shoes of the character. It’s
a similar thing. When you’re wearing
a vest and a tie and this long, beautiful
coat that’s essentially taped to the
ribs, and a top hat, you can’t help
but feel like some kind of ocean liner, steadily
cutting through the rough sea. Nothing perturbs
you whatsoever, it’s pretty remarkable.
Then the walking stick and everything else—it’s
certainly not walking around in a hoodie and
jeans. You get in an altogether different
Question: You and Javier
didn’t have many scenes together, but
your characters develop a lot in relation
to the other. Did you work together to create
Bratt: We became great friends, and
it was one of our big regrets, that there
wasn’t more to do with one another.
The one scene that we had together, we relished.
We had a great time doing it. It’s their
distinctive approaches to the same woman that
make it compelling to watch. That’s
a great character; I think he’s really
done a phenomenal job at it. Giovanna too.
I’ve seen it twice—the final cut
was just last week—and the subtlety
that each of them employs in their portrayals
is really, really lovely.
Question: Is it almost a
fool’s errand to try to do justice to
a classic book on film?
Bratt: It can be considered by many
to be foolhardy, especially when you’re
messing with what’s considered a sacred
text. But it’s also an irresistible
challenge, isn’t it? It evokes so many
different wild and outrageous and beautiful
images, that anyone who loves both novels
and films can’t help but imagine what
it would look like on the big screen. In this
case I’m glad they took the challenge
on. I think Marquez is glad too. Apparently
he’s seen it and he’s responded
favorably to it, he likes it. The trick is,
as you aptly point out, is how to do it but
how to do it well. Because it’s not
an easy translation to make, and certainly
nearly impossible when you’re talking
about a great novel, which this is. The best
you can hope for really is to capture the
essence of the book, and I think the film
has done that, which is good news. There’s
so much in the book—Marquez talks about
stitch work, the interwoven sequences and
characters that somehow at the end seem to
coalesce together in one beautiful story It’s
hard to capture all of that in a two hour
and ten minute film, so you really have to
go to the core of what the book is and put
it to a simpler story. I think it’s
Question: What are the different
satisfactions in doing film, television and
Bratt: Film and television essentially
feel the same when you’re doing it,
because it’s the same technical approach.
All the homework is the same. The homework
for each medium is all similar, but the gratification
in a live theater context is much higher,
because it’s immediate. It’s far
more dangerous, because there are no retakes.
It’s electric, it’s an actual
chemical transaction that occurs between you
and the audience. Whatever energy you’re
throwing out to them they throw it right back
to you, and it kind of feeds on itself in
this vacuum. Film’s not really like
that. I think film and television actually
is a lot harder. Acting onstage is physically
more arduous, but to get to emotional truth
within a scene, it’s much tougher to
do it on film. Typically you’re sitting
in an air-conditioned trailer and you’re
bored off your ass waiting for them to get
the lighting done. Then they call you and
say ‘OK, cry, your daughter just died.’
That’s a tough thing to do. You’re
also carrying to that scene and that day and
that moment the fact that you got up on the
wrong side of the bed, you had an argument
about who has to make the coffee with your
wife. But that’s the job. They say acting
ain’t for sissies…
John Leguizamo in
Love in the Time of Cholera
with John Leguizamo
John Leguizamo's career
is seriously multi-faceted. With film, tv
and stage under his belt, there is virtually
nothing he cannot do. In Love in the Time
of Cholera, he plays the fiercely protective
father, Lorenzo Daza. He recently sat down
with us and spoke about the film and about
Question: When Allegra (his
real daughter) is old enough to date, are
you going to be that kind of protective dad?
Leguizamo: This was a dry run for me.
I thought I was going to use reverse psychology,
you know if a bum comes in go ‘Yeah,
he’s great!’ and then try to sabotage
him. But that might not work; it may be too
subtle. My character is like this universal
dad. Every dad who loves his daughter is not
going to want her to go with the penniless
slacker loser poet bum, when she could go
out with someone who’s successful. That’s
what I want for my daughter. They might not
be rich, but they have to have finances…You
want somebody who’s the best for your
daughter. Especially when you go from not
having, you don’t want to go back to
not having. You know what that’s going
to be like. You want to better the blood a
Question: So that was an
easy role for you to play?
Leguizamo: It was easy in those terms.
Then aging me to be 60-plus was interesting.
I’ve never done that before. I had a
great movement teacher who studied with Marcel
Marceau, who just passed away—he showed
me how to walk so I wasn’t becoming
like a cartoon. Then the age spots, the wrinkles
on the eyes, a hair weave in my eyebrows to
get the gray.
Question: Was it scary,
to see yourself old?
Leguizamo: It wasn’t really great.
Sixty for me is not going to be the new fifty
if I look like that.
Question: Had you read the
book before you did the movie?
Leguizamo: I had read 100 Years
of Solitude, but I hadn’t read
this one. I guess for the same reason, because
it was a love story. Then I got the movie
so I read it in English and Spanish. It’s
captivating, man, it’s incredible. It’s
a man’s love story. I didn’t know
that going in. Yeah he loves this one woman
with everything in his heart, waits for her
fifty-one years, but he waits for her by going
to bed with six-hundred-and-twenty other women.
I can wait like that! We’d all like
to wait like that. Six hundred of the finest
Latin women you’ll ever seen in your
life—I can totally wait. Then he says
he’s a virgin at eighty—you’ve
never seen eighty year old people hit skins
like that on camera.
How much room is there
to improvise when you’re working with
an acclaimed piece of literature?
Leguizamo: There’s a little bit
of room. You’ve got to understand, it’s
not really Shakespeare. It is a great piece
of literature, but the part of it that’s
really important and impactful is not the
text from the translation. It’s the
thoughts—eternal peace. That’s
the beauty of the novel. Of course we’re
allowed to add a little bit. You have to be
of the period. We had a lot of work on accents—Javier
is from Spain, Ben’s from San Francisco,
I’m from San Francisco. We all had to
try to get on the same sort of sound.
Question: How much rehearsal
went into this?
Leguizamo: Lots. I think it was incredible.
Most of the great directors I’ve worked
with—De Palma, Spike Lee—like
rehearsals. Rehearsals make a huge difference.
Sidney Lumet used to do them—I was talking
to Pacino, they did three weeks of rehearsals
for Dog Day Afternoon, and that looks like
it was just improvised. It’s amazing.
He demanded three weeks, which is the most
I’ve heard, but it makes sense. And
in this process, we all rehearsed the scenes
together with Mike and talked about the characters,
what he wanted, what I wanted…you want
your ideas to merge together. That’s
the beauty of it. You want a little combativeness
of ideas. I wanted to make sure this guy wasn’t
just a villain, some obnoxious creep dad.
I wanted to humanize him and bring a little
humor to it. I wanted to bring a serio-comic
thing with it, bring a little comic relief
at the same time that he is the antagonist
Question: What did you do
to make him less of a villain?
Leguizamo: I tried, when I was talking
to her, to understand that it was a tough
love. It wasn’t anything but out of
pure, incredible love—that’s real
love. Anybody can be a friend to their kids,
but that’s not really parenting. I know
Question: You have some
of the best Latino actors in the business
working on this film. Was that part of the
appeal of joining the project?
Leguizamo: Oh yeah, so much appeal.
The appeal was coming from everywhere. The
appeal was coming from this great piece of
literature—he’s one of the great
Latin giants of literature. Being in Colombia,
where I was born. Javier Bardem, Catalina
Sandino Moreno, Benjamin Bratt—working
with them. And Mike Newell. When I saw Donnie
Brasco, I thought it was incredible.
I love that movie. Pacino’s work in
that is phenomenal. The great thing about
it was, we all really hung out together. That
doesn’t usually happen. I just did a
movie where as soon as they wrapped, everybody
[was gone]. But here we hung out every night.
We went out for drinks, we went dancing together.
We hung out with my kids.
Question: What was like
being in Colombia?
Leguizamo: It was awesome. This is
one of the greatest cities in the Americas.
It’s one of the oldest and largest European
forted cities. They took all the gold from
the Incas, thousands and thousands of tons
of gold, melted it and took it to Spain. Then
all the pirates started coming—that’s
why they were all the Caribbean, Captain Morgan
and all that, believe it or not. They would
attack. They burnt that city a couple of times
so they started making giant fortresses in
the 1600s. It’s phenomenal. No cars
allowed, you can only go by horse and carriage.
Every restaurants got a salsa band playing
live music, like that Wim Wenders movie, Buena
Vista Social Club,-- that good old guys
Question: You said you read
both the Spanish and English versions of the
story. How close is the film to the essence
of the book?
Leguizamo: That’s what’s
incredible about this piece of literature—the
structure is so tight, like an old Greek forum
or pyramid, it’s so perfect, it’s
perfect for a movie. From the Spanish to the
English to the movie, the Spanish still holds
tight. In terms of the Spanish to the English,
there’s a big difference. In Spanish
it’s James Joyce-ian; then you understand
his incredible greatness. It’s language
from the 1800s that’s obsolete that
he researched; he makes up language. I almost
got an aneurysm reading it in Spanish. In
English you get a really good sense of the
story and the essence of it, but you don’t
get the literary fireworks.
Question: Given that the
book, especially in Spanish, is such a work
of art, can a movie do justice to the book?
Or is it just a different medium?
Leguizamo: It is a different medium.
You’ve got to respect that, because
otherwise you’re going to fail. You
want to give as much due respect to he novel
as you can, but then you’ve got to depart
from there and go ‘What really works
on film?’ Otherwise you’re going
to fail on both ends. You’ve really
got to speak truth to what works visually,
because now it’s a visual medium.
Question: What was it like
coming together with this cast? Were you familiar
with everyone’s work?
Leguizamo: Yeah, I had seen Maria
Full of Grace [Moreno’s debut film],
I thought it was an incredible movie. Ben
I had met a couple times, Javier I had met
a couple times, Liev Schreiber—they’re
all great actors. That wasn’t a problem.
We got along really easy—I don’t
know if it was Cartegena or what. We would
all have dinner together and goof all the
time. Everybody was really incredibly friendly.
I think that was good that everyone was from
a different part, because nobody was competitive
with each other, there was no ego battle.
Everybody was really generous and cool. Javier
is the most generous party-giver, the craziest
party themes. His parties had themes. One
time he got people to ship in sand to his
apartment and it was Jamaican theme, if you
can tell what that means. It’s a euphemism…yeah.
Question: Cholera came from
a very specific time period…
Leguizamo: Yeah, you know it came from
New York—the cholera—to Latin
America. It came from the ships from England,
that had come from China, then it came to
New York ports then it came down to Latin
America, where it hit us a little worse because
of the water situation. But it makes for a
lot of passion, you have a lot less choices,
you have a lot less time—you’d
better hit something.
Question: How was working
with Giovanna Mezzogiorno?
Leguizamo: Oh man… my daughter.
What a daughter. It was great. We really tried
to make the father and [daughter] connection.
She’s fiery, she’s just as stubborn
as I am. We tried to work something out so
we were both equally fiery, temperamental.
Her English was good, and her Spanish was
great. We all worked with a coach. I had horseback
riding classes. I’ve ridden a lot, but
not to be able to gallop at full speed and
stop on a dime and make the horse walk back.
Question: Can you tell us
about a lucky break in your career?
Leguizamo: I guess it had to be Mambo
Mouth. I was just doing that because
I loved one-man shows, and to do that, and
then the reviews it got, and then to see Pacino
in the audience, and Raul Julia… all
those people in the audience, it was incredible.
Arthur Miller was there.
Question: What led to that?
Leguizamo: The late 80s was that whole
performance art stuff. It was really big in
Manhattan, and so it was available—it
was fecund, downtown was fecund. There were
all these places and everybody was doing crazy
experimental stuff, it was so exciting. I
wanted to do my thing, my thing was different
from everybody else’s, but I still had
a chance. I got incredible reception—I
didn’t expect it.
Question: Can you talk
about working with Pacino and DeNiro on (the
upcoming film) Righteous Kill?
Leguizamo: It was amazing—the
two greatest American actors of our time.
They’re my heroes, and it was incredible.
They’re actually talking to each other
in the same room. In Heat they were
never in the same room. It was pretty wild
to see. They’re different schools of
acting—DeNiro becomes a character, and
Pacino is more himself.
Question: You’re one
of few people who’s made the transition
from comedy to drama. Do you ever miss stand-up,
and do you think comedy is harder than drama?
Leguizamo: Comedy is definitely harder.
You can’t make mistakes in comedy, then
you have no laughs. If you fumble the line,
if your timing is off—it’s unforgiving.
Drama, you can make mistakes, and mistakes
are usually your best stuff anyway, since
it’s more real and your emotions are
coming through. I miss doing comedies, absolutely.
I love the drama, I love the challenge of
that, but I definitely miss—not standup,