Monday, November 07, 2011

A character actor with lots of character

Luis Guzman has got a memorable face. He may not be a household name when it comes to film actors, but he’s got an impressive resume which means you’d know him to see him because you’ve probably seen him in several great films. From his distinctive accent to his charming lisp to his unconventional face, Guzman has got a presence that stands out and makes you remember him. If you don’t know his name, you definitely know his face.

Since the 80's, Guzman has appeared in countless films from small indie pictures to big blockbusters and he's also done a lot of work in television. He's a veteran character actor who's carved a niche for himself as a reputable supporting actor (and frequent bad buy), appearing in numerous films alongside some major Hollywood heavyweights like George Clooney and Al Pacino. Unlike those actors whose names appear above the title marquee, who earn huge paychecks and whose celebrity status often outshines their work, Guzman has consistently turned in interesting and compelling performances and has built a solid career by making a bunch of movies each year, with or without major roles and huge paychecks. He has earned recognition simply for the diversity and quality of his work.

He’s gotten a lot of work thanks to two directors who have cast Guzman in several of their films – Steven Soderbergh and Paul Thomas Anderson. Soderbergh cast Guzman in three of his big projects – Out of Sight, The Limey and Traffic, and Guzman appeared in P.T. Anderson’s superb ensemble films Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and in Punch-Drunk Love.

What I like most about Guzman is how honest and natural his screen presence is. I always feel like I’m watching a real guy up there on the big screen and not simply a guy pretending to be another guy. Guzman’s acting is authentic, believable and surprisingly diverse. He’s got impressive comedic talent. He doesn’t have to try to be funny. He just is. He’s also got proven dramatic acting chops which speak to his talent more than anything. He’s an actor’s actor who generally stars in films featuring large casts with several subplots and story lines. He’s been lauded by directors for his strong work ethic and his dedication to his craft.

Early on in his career, Guzman was often typecast as a drug dealer or a violent criminal, but he kept at it and stayed with it and was eventually offered other roles. Today he’s become one of the most heavily employed supporting actors in film. Some of the best actors aren't those whose names we hear and see all the time, but rather those lesser known actors who work and work and work, building vast acting resumes and are notable to film audiences as "that guy" who makes good films better and bad films bearable and an actor who doesn't just play a character, but who has character.

What are your favourite Luis Guzman films? Let us know in the comments section.


  1. Outstanding in Boogie Nights but utterly utterly wasted in Arthur recently. Though I guess he may have enjoyed trying out being Robin to Russell Brands Batman (that idea may have made a better movie!)

  2. He's done a lot of great character stuff, but I have to say when he does comedy I really like him. While he was totally wasted in Arthur, he's the part I remember most (other than Helen Mirren in Darth Vader, but that's from the trailer).

  3. Luis Guzman is one of my favorite actors working. There is nothing false about him. In fact, I remember watching him on the old IFC TV show Jon Favreau used to have called Dinner for Five. Guzman was a guest along with three other actors as he talked about Carlito's Way and working with Al Pacino and Brian de Palma.

    He talked about how the production early one was a bit tense and when Luis was on set to work. He told de Palma, "I don't act. I just do it". de Palma suddenly laughed as he said, "OK, everyone. Luis is just going to do it.". It eased everything as the film became more fun to do.

    My favorite Guzman performance is definitely The Limey. He had what I think is a supporting role that is for the ages.

    I also loved him in The Count of Monte Cristo where I think he stole the whole film from nearly everyone. The guy can do anything and I can buy him in those roles.

  4. @pturner1010 - I agree - Guzman was fantastic in Boogie Nights. In fact, that film made every actor/actress shine because P.T. Anderson gave them so much to work with and directed his cast beautifully.

    I'm so burned out on remakes that I skipped Arthur. It doesn't sound like I missed much (other than Guzman, so I may have to check it out when it comes to TV at least to see him in it.)

    @Jess - He's definitely one of the best character actors working in film today. His comedic work is great to watch. It sounds like Guzman did in Arthur what he does best - make a bad film memorable.

    @thevoid00 - Guzman does come across as a real, genuine guy and I think that's what makes his onscreen presence so appealing.

    That's a great quote from Guzman. He definitely does his thing very well.

    I haven't seen The Limey, but after doing research for this post, I've got a few Luis Guzman films on my must-see list and that's one of them.

    Agreed - he was really good in The Count of Monte Cristo.

  5. I've always enjoyed seeing him pop up in great films, but it was only recently that I actually became aware of his name and had a proper look at his body of work, which is quite impressive.

    He's a great supporting actor. I liked him in Carlito's Way and Snake Eyes as well as the ones you mentioned.

  6. Great post.

    The first thing I ever saw Guzman in would probably be 1988's Crocodile Dundee II, but the first movie I saw with him where I can still remember his role was in 1998's Out of Sight as the escaped prisoner who just HAD to know how a magic trick was performed.

    While looking through his credits I noticed one titled I Kicked Luis Guzman in the Face. I hope they didn't make him audition for it.

  7. Luis is definitely one of our Favorite actors. So real and authentic. He's played so many different roles so well. A Puerto Rican jewel in Hollywood. Thanks for the great post!

  8. Guzman is, as you said, an actor who appears more or less as a real person on screen instead of a guy playing a role. That works to his benefit, because he's almost always worth watching. It also works against him, because he blends so naturally into a film's landscape.

    In a lot of ways, Guzman is like a referee. If he's doing is job well, you don't really notice him unless you try.

    I love him in almost everything I've seen him in, and that's the highest praise I think anyone can give an actor.

  9. He's hilarious in How to Make it ! Love that show.

  10. I don't know whether it's his best role, but The Limey is my favourite film in which he's appeared.

  11. dEmon4:00 pm

    No matter if you love or hate the movie he's in, you never walk away hating his particular character, whether he's good, bad or indifferent. While not a movie, I highly recommend his performance in How To Make It In America.

  12. Love Guzman in The Count of Monte Cristo! He's got such screen presence and the way he delivers his lines is inimitable!

    I should check out The Limey. I mean, him AND Terrence Stamp, that's gotta be good.

  13. Luiz Guzman is great- when I saw your article I remembered the remake of the duck sauce song- do you know it? hilarious, just check youtube.
    Also, as an actor, he is good and memorable: Count of Monte Cristo, Boogie Nights, How to make it in America etc.

  14. @Jack L – He’s a welcome addition to any film and it wasn’t until I saw him in Boogie Nights that I really thought, “Who is this guy? He’s great.”

    I agree – Carlito’s Way is one of his better films.

    @Chip Lary – Thanks – I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

    Out of Sight was a great movie and it’s a vehicle that made all of its stars shine, even Jennifer Lopez. Luis Guzman’s role was funny and memorable and he was a great member of the amazing ensemble cast in that film.

    I noticed I Kicked Luis Guzman in the Face when I was looking at his filmography for this post. The title of the film alone has got me intrigued.

    @SPEEDbit – His diversity as an actor is really impressive. The pride is definitely warranted! Thanks – I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

    @SJHoneywell – the referee analogy is interesting, and you make a good point – perhaps that’s why he’s kind of existed below the radar. I can’t recall a disappointing or underwhelming performance by him even though he’s appeared in some forgettable films – and that is high praise indeed.

    @5plitreel – I haven’t seen How To Make It In America. Thanks for the mention. I’d love to check Guzman out in a comedic role and I’ve heard great things about that show.

    @Colin – I think The Limey is a great Guzman film because it’s the closest I think he’s come to a starring role and lots of Guzman face-time in a film is always a good thing, in my opinion.

    @dEmon – I concur. Although the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 wasn’t the greatest film, I really enjoyed Luis Guzman as a member of the bad guys and I was really disappointed – SPOILER ALERT – when his character was killed. I wanted to see more of him.

    A second endorsement for him in How To Make It In America – I don’t suppose you can lend a friend seasons of the show since I haven’t seen an episode yet, or is it a show I can just pick up without seeing what happened before?

    @ruth – The Count of Monte Cristo is among his more memorable films and I also thought he was great in it.

    The Limey is worth seeing.

    @Aziza – I don’t know the remake of duck sauce song – I will check it out on Youtube – thanks for the mention.


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