John Leguizamo Talks 'Latin History For Morons' and His Musical Heroes

John Leguizamo attends the premiere of "The Infiltrator" at AMC Loews Lincoln Square on July 11, 2016, in New York.
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

John Leguizamo attends the premiere of "The Infiltrator" at AMC Loews Lincoln Square on July 11, 2016, in New York. 

After his 1991 show Mambo Mouth launched John Leguizamo’s career as a malleable comedian, his latest play, Latin History for Morons (at New York’s Public Theater through April 23), has loftier goals: to redefine America’s past as most know it. The 52-year-old explains how music fits into his history lesson.

Billboard: What brought you to create this piece in this way?
Leguizamo: In theater, you can be free. That’s how Lin-Manuel Miranda got to do the most revolutionary piece of theater with Hamilton: color-blind casting in roles in which they would never cast Latinos if it were a film or TV show. It just goes to show that Hollywood and cable are way behind.

Is listening to music a big part of your writing process?
Absolutely. Chopin or Billy Eckstine or Miles Davis — that stuff helps me, more when I’ve already written and I need a little energy to keep editing.

What allows Latin music to stay so cross-generational?
I think it’s inherited memory. You heard your abuelitos play Tito Rodríguez and Sonora Matancera and it spoke to you then, and it still speaks to you. I hear tango and the power of that old-school merengue, bachata and vallenatos.

What does being Latino at this point in history mean to you?
We need to stand up and become a united front against a common enemy. It’s important for us to not be divided.

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