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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

Regency Hotel
October 12, 2007

Opposite Photo:
Giovanna Mezzogiorno
and Benjamine Bratt in
Love in the Time of Cholera


Mike Newell and Scott Steindorff

The Interview with Director Mike Newell and Producer Scott Steindorff

Question: What was the process of getting the rights to the novel?

Scott 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?

Mike 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.

Scott 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 of Cholera

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 a balance?

Mike 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 it.

Question: Is there ever any way to get the literal fact of it? Films like A Clockwork Orange, Lolita and Sophie’s Choice,…

Mike 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 outplay death.

Question: Even more than love, (Cholera is) a story of obsession.

Mike Newell: 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?

Scott 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.

Mike 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.

Scott 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.

Mike 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.

Scott 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.

Giovanna Mezzogiorno in
Love in the Time of Cholera

The Interview 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?

Giovanna Mezzogiorno: Very fun. Great working with everybody. Everybody was fun. We had a great time.

Question: How did this part come to you?

Giovanna 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?

Giovanna 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?

Giovanna 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.

Giovanna 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…

Question: Had you read the book before the project?

Giovanna Mezzogiorno: 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 different perception.

Question: You’re very popular in Italian cinema and I was wondering how you got your start.

Giovanna 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 Rome now?

Giovanna Mezzogiorno: I live in Rome now, yes.

Question: Where did you learn to speak English so well?

Giovanna 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” mean mid-day.

Giovanna 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)

Question: In the film, you go from playing very young to very old. Which was the biggest challenge?

Giovanna 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 English-language productions?

Giovanna 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

The Interview 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 film.

Question:You’re playing a good man in this film who is still the wrong guy.

Benjamin 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.

Question: Why do you think he marries her? You said he didn’t really love her, but he was pursuing her.

Benjamin 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…

Benjamin 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?

Benjamin 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?

Benjamin 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 physical state.

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 that relationship?

Benjamin 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?

Benjamin 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 there.

Question: What are the different satisfactions in doing film, television and theater?

Benjamin 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

The Interview 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 his career.

Question: When Allegra (his real daughter) is old enough to date, are you going to be that kind of protective dad?

John 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 little bit.

Question: So that was an easy role for you to play?

John 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?

John 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?

John 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.

Question: How much room is there to improvise when you’re working with an acclaimed piece of literature?

John 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?

John 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 of love.

Question: What did you do to make him less of a villain?

John 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 that.

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?

John 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?

John 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 playing music.

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?

John 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?

John 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?

John 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…

John 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?

John 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?

John 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?

John 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?

John 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?

John 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, but theater.





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