The 'Encanto' actor chatted with ET on the set of Mario and Luigi's first big-screen adaptation.
It’s been 30 years since Nintendo characters Mario and Luigi first thwomped-booted onto the big screen in 1993’s Super Mario Bros. Following the success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and the Chris Pratt-led animated adaptation’s billion-dollar payoff, it’s easy to forget that lower down on the box office leaderboard is Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo’s take on pop culture’s most famous plumbers.
When 31-year-old Leguizamo chatted with ET on the set, the fan discussions, including concerns about the character's voices, clearly echoed its 2023 counterpart. “We do a kind of New York, Italian thing,” the actor explained in 1992, demonstrating the dialect for ET’s cameras. “Not too strong. We're not going for that New York talk. 'Let's talk coffee.' We're not doing that. We're doing more like 'Hey, how ya doing? Talk to me.'"
While there was plenty of discourse surrounding Pratt’s casting, Hoskins (who died in 2014) and Leguizamo, as they played on-camera siblings, faced similar skepticism. “I buy into us looking like brothers,” Leguizamo affirmed of the resemblance between him and the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? actor. “We've got the same little beady eyes.”
When he landed the role, Leguizamo’s biggest connection to the video game canon was via Donkey Kong cabinets, noting that he spent a lot of time hanging out “at the arcades in New York City in Time Square” in his youth. Another fan? Seth Rogen, who voiced the character three decades later and eagerly pointed out that, technically, “Mario is a spin-off of Donkey Kong.”
Of course, like many early Nintendo fans, the Platonic star didn’t believe the adaptation was worthy of its source material. “I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so I was kind of there for every iteration of this,” Rogen recalled to ET. “It was exciting to get to be a part of something that, like, explored this kind of these worlds in a way that actually, like, did them justice cinematically, as opposed to the original, the first [Super Mario Bros.] movie which did not.”
In the 1993 film, the brothers find themselves transported to a gritty, Blade Runner aesthetic-inspired world featuring several familiar characters and motifs from the video game franchise. The bold translation, in stark contrast to the literal translation from Illumination Studio’s computer animators, swung for the fences. But sitting on the North Carolina set, which had previously been the location of a cement factory before turning into King Koopa’s steampunk nightmare, the first big-screen Luigi was optimistic.
“I read a lot of comic books. I admit. I read comics,” Leguizamo said. “And just the world [of Super Mario Bros.] was so incredible. Just the thwomp boots. And the lizard thing. The devolution. The dinosaur theme behind it. The dinosaurification thing behind it. The people who are half-dinosaur and half-human. All that stuff really sold me.”
Last month, Leguizamo reflected on his experience with GQ, sharing praise for the movie's directors, Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton. "They gave me an opportunity -- they stuck their neck out to put a Latin guy as as lead, to play Bob Hoskins' brother," he remembered. "That was unheard of at the time. It was so innovative."
"The movie was not received as well as we'd hoped," Leguizamo recalled to the outlet, before acknowledging the adaptation's present-day status as a cult classic. "We all had big hopes for it, but it was the first video game [movie] of the era, of all time. Nobody was prepared for that. It did okay, but then kids fell in love with it and found it on DVD and VHS. A lot of people come up to me and [say] they love it, so, through their eyes, I love it."