John Leguizamo on bringing the ‘intellectual hustle’ of chess to life

John Leguizamo directed and stars in the how-to-play-chess tutorial “Critical Thinking.”

“1988, I’d watch national champions play at Washington Square Park. The intellectual hustle looked badass exciting. I got hooked but, an amateur dilettante, I could never beat them. Not that good. I can survive the first three to five moves — then forget it. I’d go to try and take their money, but all I could get were the moves. However, what I learned was how to play chess.

“The winter of 2018, this shoot took just 20 days and cost $3 million to make. I was teaching real tough mostly black and Latino kids in a rough neighborhood near the bridge in Miami. And they got good enough to enter a national championship.”

Yeah, but why? Maybe 11 humans care about a knight jumping a rook. Tweezing your chin has more action.

“Look, this is the game as you’d never seen it before. Impossible to show chess on camera. It’s all mental. But we taught them to play. Taught them the strategies. In ’98, I played with five guys. I created exact moves. Now, making the pieces — king, queen, bishop lifesize — I’ve made the game accessible.”

To catch a rook being rooked, the film — on demand — is getting raves.

Emotionally falling to ‘Pieces’

To see other moves, try “Pieces of a Woman.” It’s about a Boston couple who give birth at home. It stars Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Vanessa Kirby and premieres at the Venice Film Festival then Toronto. Martin Scorsese liked it enough to ask to add his name, be made executive producer, and he says: “I was emotionally invested in it from the first scene… It’s a privilege to help it find the wide audience it deserves.”

Screen time

Whiffs of post-coronavirus health are returning to Hollywood. Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” resumed production in Australia. It closed March 19 when Tom Hanks was diagnosed with the virus. He plays Elvis’ manager the Colonel… “Wheel of Fortune” spun back. A redesigned platform allows 6 feet of space around Pat Sajak. Each contestant’s own device fits into the wheel, so now they spin the thing without touching it… Doug Liman, who says he’ll direct Tom Cruise in outer space (?*%%$#!), has another earthly project. A pandemic romantic, comedic heist thing with Anne Hathaway. “Lockdown.” Taking place on this planet.

Words matter

Real estate yentas say no home/condo/shack/BnB/share/estate can again have a “master bedroom.” “Master” conjures slavery. So what Augusta’s golf tournament calls itself next spring, who knows? Henceforth — even a bum sponging on a friend’s share in Rockaway — that mattress will now be called “owner’s bedroom”… Yesterday, I did my manicure. Today, I do my pedicure. Tomorrow, the white hair’s back to brown. Primping in this pandemic’s making me anorexic.

No Blaz-ting

Stop knocking de Blasio. You can’t move him, dump him, replace or sideswipe him. A president you can impeach. A San Franciscan serpent — for whom nobody voted, yet has delusions of adequacy — can shut a hardworking hairdresser’s salon. But only the governor can zap the mayor. Cuomo knows it. It’s been suggested to him. He won’t do it. If you have nothing else on your mind, figure out why.


Nannies are taking their charges to play “Hide and go shop.”

Only in New York, kids, only in New York.

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