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Luis Guzman, the Puerto Rican-born actor known for playing tough guys in everything from Miami Vice, his first acting role, to Boogie Nights and How to Make It in America, leads a much different life than many fans would imagine.
“I got like 600 acres of land. That way nobody can find me.”
This is how Guzman describes his home in rural Vermont, where he moved early in his career against the advice of management, who told him, “What are you doing? You’re taking yourself out of the loop.”
“I’m here talking about it today, right?” he asks us in this episode of Off the Cuff. “So I must have been doing pretty good, wouldn’t you say?” Indeed he has. Though Guzman jokes that his “dream was always to become a rock star” (a dream he’ll get to partially fulfill playing a roadie in the upcoming Cameron Crowe series Roadies), he earned his first paychecks as a social worker in New York City, helping youths “take charge of their lives” and get off welfare.
“I didn’t have a masters degree, but I had a degree from the streets,” he explains with little irony. “That carried enough weight that it got me the job.”
Though he had dabbled in street theater (“doing six, seven, eight roles in somebody’s play”) as a hobby, Guzman never considered acting as a profession until he ran into an old friend who was writing on a hot new TV show called Miami Vice and encouraged him to audition while they were casting in New York.
“A few weeks later, I’m co-starring on the season premiere of Miami Vice,” he recalls, still in disbelief. “I had no idea what I was doing.”
Guzman tells us about his next roles in films such as Carlito’s Way and Sidney Lumet‘s Q&A — not a bad start for someone who didn’t know what he was doing — and eventually in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Boogie Nights and Steven Soderbergh‘s Out of Sight. And of course, we had to ask about his still-mourned HBO series How to Make It in America — not that he was prepared to indulge anyone’s pity.
“I’m not even gonna dive into that subject because I will hurt feelings,” he warns before adding, “So many people were inspired by that. You know how many people have come up to me and said, ‘Lu, that show inspired me to move to New York’?”
He can now be seen in the comedic indie film Ana Maria in Novela Land in which a young woman is so obsessed with her favorite Spanish telenovela that she is transported, Freak Friday-like, into the fictional life of one of its characters. Though Guzman had fun making the movie, he has never been a big fan of its subject matter, admitting he “grew fond of hating telenovelas” when his mother forced him to watch them growing up.
“I’m an artist,” he says to help explain why he can move so easily between big-name projects and smaller films. “And every project that I do — no matter how big, how small, or in between — to me, each thing is getting a fresh canvas and just painting it and putting my stroke on it.”
“Just keeping it moving, you know?”
Listen to Guzman’s full interview in this episode of Off the Cuff, and be sure to subscribe to #THRpodcasts on iTunes for all the latest episodes.
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