John Leguizamo on 'Ice': The Actor & His Love of Animation

John Leguizamo is a man who has proved to be incredible versatile regarding the roles he takes. A protégé of the legendary acting teacher Lee Strasburg, he’s won multiple awards in whatever field or genre he’s taken, from playing a drag queen in Julie Newmar to the nightmarish clown in Spawn.

Yet one of his favorite roles? Try Sid in the Ice Age franchise. In fact, he loves being an animation voice actor.

“It’s always been my dream to meet Mel Blanc and those old guys, and just sit down and talk to those guys,” Leguizamo admits. “I mean Blanc was a god. I mean I’m one of those guys who put 50 different voices in one of those recording devices. I even have a Slumdog Millionaire kind of voice. Live action is always harder. Animation is just pure joy. For me, there’s nothing difficult.”

Leguizamo is out touting his latest animated effort, the third installment of the series, Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs . It doesn’t take much to see he has a blast with each and every movie…and poking a little fun at his fellow co-stars.

“Me and Ray (Romano) are from Queens. Ray’s from the fancy part of the tracks, Forest Hills,” Romano jibes. “I’m from Jackson Heights. I mean I love the Celtics. I must be the only New Yorker who loves them. I love Garnett. But the Red Sox?”

Then after his quick shot at Bostonian Dennis Leary, Leguizamo re-focuses his sharp wit on Romano.

“I mean I really enjoy Ray Romano’s voice,” the actor kids. “He thinks he’s doing a unique voice for Manny. He does! He swears (in a dead-on impression of Romano) ‘I’m doing a voice, John. Believe it or not.’”

Yet when it comes to developing the voice of his own character, Sid, then Leguizamo returns to his own rapid-fire New Yorker’s accent.

“I feel great about that, because I fought the hardest to do that. Everyone else backed out,” he says. “That’s because I love cartoons. I did a couple before I did Ice Age. I feel if I’m going to do an animated film, I’m going to do a voice. I don’t want to see John Leguizamo. I want people to feel Sid. I want to forget who John Leguizamo is.

“I went to zoos and studied sloths. I even got Discovery Channel footage and learned they keep food in their cheek pouches. So I stuffed a sandwich in my mouth to develop that voice. That’s when I went ‘Oh my gosh! There it is!’ Then I called the producer, Chris Wedge, and immediately went ‘Hey! Guess who this is!’ When he didn’t get it, I went ‘It’s Sid, you jerk!’”

If you haven’t guessed by now, Leguizamo is an actor who knows his ‘toons.

“I love cartoons,” he declares. “Miyazaki’s my favorite. I can’t way for his new film. I mean I look at a film like Up and I see a lot of Miyazaki influences. The floating house? C’mon. It’s like Castle In the Sky. He brings adult humor and depth you never see into what’s supposed to be children’s films. I also can’t wait to see the new Astro Boy.

Now when it comes to comedy, Americans do it better. We got the comedy realm wrapped. Now my wife and I love Family Guy, but I don’t let the kids watch that. I do let them watch all the classics though, like the Looney Tunes. We even watch Gigantor together, and Kimba, the White Lion, Marine Boy, Rocky & Bullwinkle, the original Astro Boy. All that stuff. I use Dora the Explorer and Go Diego to teach my kids Spanish.”

As for the latest film itself? Probably the best move is it puts two-thirds of the original team of Manny the Mammoth, Diego the Sabretooth, and Sid are back together again. As is probably very well known, in the last film Manny found a new lover in the form of Ellie, a female mammoth who once thought she was a possum. In this latest chapter, Manny and Ellie are now, to put it nicely, in a family way. Diego is going through his own issues and decides it might be time to leave “the herd.” This puts Sid in a minor crisis, and through a series of mishaps discovers his own private Pellucidar. Manny, Ellie, Diego, not forgetting Crash and Eddie, must now travel that treacherous land to save their rather slow-witted pal from a gory doom.

Now some might say the real magic of the first Ice Age was the chemistry between the original three characters. Leguizamo will admit there’s a particularly effective magic between Leary, Romano and himself.

“I know. I think I’ll fight for it next film,” he acknowledges. “Now the family’s so big, it’s hard to get everyone in. It’s like when you want to see Martin & Lewis, you want to see Martin & Lewis. When you go to see the Three Stooges, you want to see Moe, Larry & Curly. You don’t want to see Shemp or those other guys. I think for Ice Age 4 we should definitely do it and see what happens. I think it should be like a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby kind of thing and let the chips fall where they may.

“The good thing for me is now I get my own story. I like that,” he adds. “I mean Ray and Dennis have to deal with this whole Captain Ahab-like weasel (Buck, voiced by Simon Pegg), that whole Moby Dick thing going on. I have to admit, I love the adventure part of it. That whole toxic laughing gas was absolutely great. There are a lot of great, weird moments I enjoyed.

“But what I really enjoyed was the magic of Ice Age. With a lot of other animated movies, they’re wall-to-wall yacking. This movie has never been afraid about silence. It’s not afraid of playing things strictly on the physical realm instead of the verbal. They aren’t afraid of going Chuck Jones or Tex Avery.”

This leads to director Carlos Saldanha, who definitely must be a Jones disciple.

“Yeah!” Leguizamo agrees “We all can see where his influences come from. He’s got to be. What you got to hope is he then turns everyone’s attention to the masters. I think the Scrat is the Coyote, with a twist. I admit I wasn’t ever really crazy about the Coyote, but with the Scrat they figured out something that even Chuck didn’t. There’s just something really hilarious about that Scrat. I’ve seen all those takes about fifty times and I’m still laughing over them.”

Apparently Leguizamo isn’t alone in this opinion. He went to a special screening of Ice Age 3 and came back more than pleased.

“We brought the film to Ronald McDonald House the other day and showed it to the kids,” he recalls. “To see them cracking up and laughing from the first frame was pretty great. The kids love it. Now many are teenagers and they’re still loving it. I mean, wherever I go, when kids find out I’m Sid, at first they’re taken aback, then you see them light up.”

Leguizamo also feels pretty secure with the future of the franchise.

“You know, they’ve gotten smarter,” he says about his bosses at Fox and Blue Ridge. “The first time they had no script ready [for Ice Age 2- ed]. They didn’t know what they had in their hands. They were about to put the last nail on the coffin of Fox Animation. Then Ice Age came out, blew up, and saved the quarter for Fox Studios. Now, they got the script. They haven’t told me a thing about it, but I understand it’s already written. They are waiting. They are waiting for July 2, you know?”

No doubt we’ll find that out after the film opens up on Wednesday, July 1.

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