John Leguizamo has long mastered the art of playing charismatic but provocative villainous characters who are driven by a genuine, but at-times misguided, attempt to improve their lives and demonstrate their worth to society. That’s certainly the case for his antagonist of Scrooge, the leader of a team of mercenaries who break into the compound of one of America’s richest families, in his upcoming Christmas action-comedy, ‘Violent Night.’
The bold, cutting-edge film is anchored by authentic characters, including Scrooge, and their sincere hope that they’ll be accepted by not only society, but also the people closest to them. The movie’s distinct characters are supported by stellar, groundbreaking stunts and heartfelt humor that’s anchored in reality and taps into the true spirit of Christmas.
‘Violent Night’ hails from production company 87North, which has also produced such action films as ‘John Wick,’ ‘Atomic Blonde,’ ‘Nobody,’ Bullet Train,’ ‘Deadpool 2’ and ‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.’ 87North’s Kelly McCormick, David Leitch and Guy Danella served as producers on ‘Violent Night,’ which Universal Pictures is releasing in theaters this Friday, December 2.
‘Violent Night’ was written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, who also penned the script for ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ together. The comedy was directed by Tommy Wirkola.
In ‘Violent Night,’ a team of mercenaries breaks into the compound of the wealthy Lightstone family on Christmas Eve. The team of mercenaries is instructed by Scrooge to take everyone in the Lightstone family hostage, including Jason (Alex Hassell), his estranged wife, Linda (Alexis Louder), and their young daughter, Trudy (Leah Brady).
While struggling to stay safe and protect her family throughout the night, the latter forms an unexpected, heartfelt bond with Santa Claus (David Harbour). As members of the family and Santa are all struggling to find a way to find purpose in their lives again and reconnect with the people they love, the latter musters up the strength to not only offer vital assistance to his new friend Trudy and her relatives, while also dispatching the intruders.
Leguizamo generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Violent Night’ during a post-screening Q&A at the Regal Union Square in New York City. Among other things, the actor discussed that he was in part inspired to take on the role of Scrooge in the film because he appreciated the way Casey and Miller interwove the humor, action sequences and emotional sentiment into the diverse cast of characters. The actor also mentioned that he enjoyed working with Leitch and all of the producers at 87North, who used their experience to create unique action sequences and stunts for the movie.
Question (Q): ‘Violent Night’ isn’t like other movies; it’s violent and over-the-top, but also serious. When you were reading the script, what pulled you into this story?
John Leguizamo (JL): I read a lot of scripts, and some of them are really difficult to read, so I don’t even finish them. But this was a page-turner. It was so fun, I couldn’t believe what they were doing in this script. It was hilarious at all times and incredibly violent and gory, but you also felt something.
What’s crazy though is when I saw the movie, I choked up; I didn’t expect to almost cry at the end, but it snuck up on me. I don’t how Tommy Wirkola, the director, and the writers did it, but they got me.
Q: That’s an impressive balance in a movie – when it has violence and ridiculousness, but then also hits you with the heart.
JL: Yes! I’ve never seen a director weave those three elements together like that before. The violence is so beautifully choreographed – it’s like ballet action. The family is so funny, especially Edi Patterson, who plays the sister.
Q: You’re funny, too! Have you watched the film with a crowd yet?
JL: Yes, I saw it at New York Comic Con last month, and it was insane.
Q: Your character of Mr. Scrooge hates Christmas. Who is this character to you?
JL: Well, we worked on the backstory together. I didn’t need the audience to like my character, but I at least want them to understand a little bit of the Freudian history behind him.
**SPOILER ALERT** He has a tough childhood, as he killed this old man by accident. He then goes to jail and then finally gets out. He then works for this rich family that’s really criminal. So he’s like a Robbin Hood that’s kind of toxic. **END SPOILER ALERT**
Q: Is he actually a bad guy? The Lightstones, I don’t know about.
JL: Well, killing other people who are bad still isn’t good.
Q: What was your experience like of filming some scenes outside?
JL: I love Canada, but I’m never going to Winnipeg again. I swear, I’ll never shoot there again. It was 35 degrees below zero, and we shot at night, outdoors.
My first day in Winnipeg, no one warned me about the weather; someone should have called me and said something. When I got there and got off the plane, I went right to my apartment. I was hungry because I hadn’t eaten since I flew in from here in New York.
So I decided to go look for some food. I looked on Google and there were all of these restaurants around. When I then left my apartment, my phone died within three minutes from the cold. My hands then started hurting because I was holding my phone outside. I was getting frostbite in my hands, and couldn’t even close them.
I then looked around and everything was white. So I couldn’t tell where my apartment building was because my phone was dead, and I started having a panic attack. I finally found my apartment building, but I didn’t eat at all that day.
Q: You also filmed a lot of the movie outside.
JL: Yes, and it hurt. The scene where I first appear, my body wasn’t showing me being intense or angry; instead, my jaw was just frozen.
Q: So you were going method.
JL: I like going method, but not when I’m that cold.
**SPOILER ALERT** Q: In your first scene, you show up and kill a guy who was in one scene, but the audience is made to like. You then come in and kill him, which establishes your character right off the bat. How did you approach that scene, and make sure the message is sent about why he’s here? Was there anything you wanted to establish in that moment?
JL: I didn’t want to come across as a villain villain; I wanted to come across as a guy who has a job to do, which is killing people. (Audience laughs.)
As an actor, you have to believe that your character, even though he’s the villain, is in the right. You have to believe that you’re the hero of the story. So you’re doing psychological acrobatics within your own head. **END SPOILER ALERT**
Q: Did you try to work in any kind of dialogue to explain that?
JL: I had a lot of input, and they kept a lot of it. Edi Patterson and everyone else also added a lot of ad-libbing, which they kept in.
Q: This is a Universal movie, so I think it’s no coincidence that it references ‘Halloween Ends when you say, “Christmas dies tonight.” It was like, “Oh, evil dies tonight.” Was that in the script, or did you add it?
JL: That in the script.
Q: The action in this film is from the 87North team. When the trailer came out, everyone was like, “It’s ‘John Wick’ with Santa Claus.”
JL: Yes, David Leitch, who directed the first ‘John Wick’ (as well as ‘Atomic Blonde’ and ‘Bullet Train’ for 87North), came to this film to produce it. He got all of us actors the best action coordinator in the world, Jonathan Eusebio, who’s amazing.
They worked with me for about a month to do the last sequence, **SPOILER ALERT** which is about 50 punches and moves. I could barely remember all of it, as 50 moves is a lot. I barely used my stunt guy, though, but executing it was so challenging that I couldn’t even get out of bed the next day. **END SPOILER ALERT**
Q: After working with the 87North team, are there any stunts or skills that you feel that you’ve become a lot better at doing?
JL: Every time you do a stunt, you learn something – mainly to never do it again. (Audience laughs.)
But you learn to pull your punches. If you’re going to punch a brick wall with all your might, you have to pull (your hand) back before you hit your knuckles and bash them in.
That’s how you also fight with other actors. That way you can pull punches with full force, but then pull (your hand) back at the last minute. Otherwise, you punch them for real, or your punch looks weak.
Q: Have you ever punched someone on a set by accident?
JL: I have, but I don’t punch that hard!
Q: You were only in a couple of scenes with David Harbour in this movie. What was your experience like working with him?
JL: We had a few great scenes together! My favorite scene to do was when I tie him up with the lights. To watch David’s work was so beautiful, and we had great rapport. I think he’s a brilliant actor, and I feel like he was actually channeling Santa.
Q: When David stepped off set and was still in his Santa gear, was he cracking jokes, or was he serious again?
JL: He’s very method; he didn’t snap out of it. He was Santa 24/7, except on the weekends; on the weekends, he would snap out of it, and we would hang out. He would joke around then, but he didn’t joke on set.
Q: When you’re on set and cursing at people, like the Lightstone family, I’m assuming it’s kind of fun. But how do you establish permission with your co-stars to go that far?
JL: I’m kind of methody too, but I turn it off as soon I get in my car and go home. But on set, I didn’t hang out with them that much; I instead stayed angry by myself.
It was exhausting because I had to keep the tension going all the time, and be revved up. I drive a lot of the scenes, so I had to keep up the rage, and think about the things that make me upset in life.
But I liked going in there and scaring them and being angry. They wouldn’t talk to me because they thought that I was just an angry actor, which was fine by me because it helped.