Sunday, September 5, 2010

Paul Thomas Anderson Tribute Month: Actor Profiles (Luis Guzman)

***Here's a redone and updated piece that was originally written as part of my 'Great Ones' series a few years back.***

Great characters actors should be routinely celebrated, as some of the best can add layer upon layer of dimension to films good, bad and great. Luis Guzman is one of the best on the planet right now, and has been for the past couple of decades but I rarely see that fact mentioned. So here is a little tribute to a guy who consistently has made some of my favorite films even better than they would have been without him.
A friend of mine used to shout out "The GuzMan!!!" every time we would Luis' name would pop up in a film's opening credits. It was like a stamp of approval..."okay, the film might be bad but at least it has the Guzman in it." Often though the films have been good, because Guzman is a really smart actor and he has managed to work consistently with many of the best directors on the planet. Filmmakers like Brian De Palma, Steven Soderbergh, and Paul Thomas Anderson have recognized the greatness present in Guzman and their films have been made all the more special because of his presence.

Guzman was born in Puerto Rico around the time that Rock and Roll was being fully realized for the first time. His family moved to New York's lower East side when Luis was a kid, and it was in New York that he came of age. After graduating from college, Guzman became a social worker who acted in theater to make some extra money, and as time went on he found himself acting more and more. Outside of a small role in Robert M. Young's SHORT EYES though in 1977, Guzman didn't began to find steady acting work in front of the camera until the early eighties when he started doing television in such shows as MIAMI VICE (someone should write a book on how many great actors got their start on this Michael Mann created show), and THE EQUALIZER.
Guzman would appear in a variety of television shows and films throughout the eighties. The first time I remember seeing him was in Joseph Ruben's vastly underrated TRUE BELIEVER in 1989. Even at this early stage you could tell that there was something special about Guzman, and it was really noticeable in Sidney Lumet's 1990 drama Q & A where Guzman delivered a really memorable performance for the great director.
Many more television roles would follow before Guzman landed one of the great roles of his career in Brian De Palma's emotional and intense CARLITO'S WAY (1993). Guzman was especially memorable in this undervalued De Palma masterwork, and the role would lead him to the attention of a group a young filmmakers who were coming of age as the nineties progressed.
One of those young filmmakers was named Paul Thomas Anderson and he kept the young actor in mind as his career began. When the time came to shoot his second feature, the astonishing BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997), Anderson would hand Guzman the best part of his career up to that point. Luis Guzman is one of the secret weapons in BOOGIE NIGHT'S mighty arsenal. As the lovable club owner Maurice who wants nothing more than to make a film for Jack Horner to impress his friends at home, Guzman is funny, fresh and moving. It is impossible to imagine the film without him. Unfortunately some of his best work had to hit the cutting room floor due to time limitations, but Anderson thankfully included these in the deleted scenes on the BOOGIE NIGHTS DVD. One scene in particular involving Guzman and Heather Graham's Roller Girl is one of the most oddly touching moments of his career.
Guzman would hit a major winning streak after BOOGIE NIGHTS. Soderbergh loved him in it and cast him in the small but unforgettable role of the escaped convict Chino in OUT OF SIGHT (1998). Guzman shines next to George Clooney and particularly in a scene with Jennifer Lopez and Catherine Keener. De Palma's SNAKE EYES (1998) followed and then some solid work with Angelina Jolie in THE BONE COLLECTOR (1999) before Guzman would score another set of films with Anderson and Soderbergh.
Guzman is extremely memorable as one of the game show contestants in Anderson's unforgettable MAGNOLIA (1999) but he is even better in Soderbergh's THE LIMEY (1999) opposite Terence Stamp. THE LIMEY would give Guzman one of his largest roles, and he is commanding in the film. The fact that he holds his own with an actor of Stamp's stature says a lot. As Eduardo in Soderbergh's already legendary film, Guzman delivers an honest and striking performance that should have garnered him much more acclaim than it did. He is brilliant in the film, and one of its major highlights.

Anderson and Soderbergh would give him two more great roles in their films PUNCH DRUNK LOVE (2002) and TRAFFIC (2000) but for the most part it has been back to business as a scene stealing character actor this decade for the great Guzman. He did score a major role in the funny 2005 comedy WAITING opposite Ryan Reynolds. The WAITING DVD, be the way, has a jaw dropping behind the scenes practical joke involving Guzman that has to be seen to be believed. Outside of WAITING though Guzman hasn't recently been given roles as good as he is...which says more about the films being made right now rather than Luis Guzman. He has kept extremely busy though, appearing in a whopping 3 dozen or so films and television roles since WAITING, but he should be getting plum roles in more great films than he currently is. Hopefully they will be coming again for him soon.
Luis Guzman is one of the major actors on the scene today. He is someone who always makes a movie better than it would have been. As my friend said to me once..."If you are making movies now, you need to have Luis Guzman in your movie." I agree, this guy is one of the greats.

To read an interview with Luis where he talks on his life and career please visit this link.

To visit the site of Luis' company Wild Orchid Stables please click here.

To visit his official MySpace page, please click here.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

What a great tribute. Guzman is a terrific actor who often steals the films he is in. I don't think he gets the recognition he deserves. Character actors are often on the same level or even better than the movie stars of the film. I've enjoyed him in everything from Carlito's Way to Boogie Nights to Traffic and so on. He's always done an exceptional job.

Mr. Peel said...

You forgot the best part of Luis Guzman's role in MAGNOLIA--he plays Luis Guzman!

colinrudge0380 said...

I agree, a brilliant tribute - I also had that same reaction to seeing his name in a film during that fertile 98-99 period - fantastic, Luis Guzman is in it!

The Bone Collector was actually the very first film I imported from the US back in 2000 and while I think the film itself has problems it was film well worth getting for the great performances from Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie and Guzman (not to mention the welcome appearance of Michael Rooker. Hell, even Leland Orser and Queen Latifah, who normally make me run in terror from a film when I see their names, gave great performances!)

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith,
I agree. I need to do more on great character actors as they are often overlooked and not written on...

Thanks Mr. Peel,
I should have mentioned that! Brilliant move on Anderson's part I thought...

Thanks Colin,
You know I really like THE BONE COLLECTOR as well. Jolie is exceptional in it (as she is in all of her early roles)...I actually think it holds up as one of teh better serial killer films from the past decade...I appreciate the nice comments..

Phil said...

Jeremy, I just stumbled on your blog. Great work! Really fun to read and terrific writing! I agree wholeheartedly, more tributes need to be made for wonderful character actors whose work largely goes unheralded. Several years ago I hit a website that had nothing but short bios and photos of many great character actors, but I have subsequently lost the link. If I ever find it again I will send it on to you.

J.D. said...

Awesome tribute. I really dig Guzman and always enlivens whatever film he's in. I'm glad you mentioned Q&A - such an underrated film and he's so good in it, too.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks J.D.
I appreciate that. I really love this guy and his work so it's nice to hear some more good thoughts.