John Leguizamo’s Golden Advice To Artists

When I worked as an entertainment reporter in New York, I interviewed John Leguizamo when he starred in David Mamet’s play, American Buffalo, a tale about small time crooks who come to blows over their own greed and desire. We were backstage at its Broadway debut, and the press and fans were in a frenzy, flashing cameras at him and competing for the best shot. He remained cool and seemed oblivious to the attention. When we finally spoke, he was very generous with his time, which allowed for a philosophical look at the show’s themes. During our interview, the conversation turned to unhealthy human desires like fame and recognition. “Believe me, fame has no substance on any level,” he said. “You have to focus on the moment, not what it will bring you.” He went on to talk about what he really valued in life, like human connection and family. I was amazed this was coming from a world class celebrity, one who was currently being mobbed with all the mass adulation he’d ever need to feel like he’d truly arrived.

In the entertainment news world, I was used to working outside the celebrity bubble, while still having a front row view of it. In my observations, it was obvious who had let fame go to their heads, and who remained down to earth and unaffected. Observing the way he held himself in the face of this excitement and the unique roles he’d chosen over the years, I realized he was an artist who took pleasure in the process of his craft and the fulfillment he felt while doing the work, not for the standing ovation he received after the show.

I experienced a similar moment in a scene study acting class in Toronto recently with one of my favourite teachers. He connects with all his students, because he explains things in a universal way that anyone can apply to their lives. While breaking down the importance of a character’s objective in a scene, he explained, ”You have to find your need on why you become a performer and how it defines you.” What that means is that you have to find the true reason why you love your art. This statement struck me hard, as I began to understand the genuine purpose a person should choose artistry in their lives. Some people chase after it because they want to impress others, or they hope fame will help them feel less alone. But if you want gratification in your life, you have to choose artistry because you get something out of the process of creation. Asking yourself why you truly want this is a scary and important step towards emotional contentment as an artist, but it’s worth it, and telling yourself the truth now could save you years of anxiety. Create because you love to create. It’s that simple.

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