Leguizamo bandleader for ‘Esquivel’

Actor will produce and star in pic

John Leguizamo is attached to star in the title role of “Esquivel,” a biopic of the famed Mexican bandleader Juan Garcia Esquivel for Fox Searchlight and Leguizamo’s Gotham-based Lower East Side Films.

Based on their pitch, the project will be written and directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, the duo behind the documentary “Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s.”

Leguizamo, David Bar Katz and Kathy DeMarco will produce, and David Lewis will take exec-producing chores. Searchlight’s Matt Gannon brought in the project and will supervise the film.

“Esquivel” is set in the 1960s and will chronicle the life and career of the Mexican composer, producer and band leader.

Esquivel’s recordings were sprung from obscurity in late 1994 when the Bar None label issued “Space Age Bachelor Pad Music,” a term that had been applied to the hi-fi music he pioneered in the 1960s.

Coupled with reissues on other labels, Esquivel soon became the sultan of exotica and was reinstated, as Variety had reported in the 1960s, as being “to pop music approximately what Aaron Copland is to serious music or what a John Coltrane is to jazz.”

Born in Mexico in 1918, Esquivel moved to the U.S. in 1957 to record for RCA Victor. His arrangements took full advantage of the stereo phenomenon through bongos, glass-shattering brass, worldless vocals, sparkling xylophones and steel guitar. As his arrival coincided with the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, Esquivel was in essence the last great big band leader; although he was able to work into the 1970s in Las Vegas and Reno showrooms, he returned to Mexico, where he now lives, and retired in the ’80s.

He also arranged and wrote for television and film and his work has been featured in more than 400 TV episodes.

Leguizamo was seen last year in New Line’s “Spawn,” and currently is starring in his one-man show “Freak,” which makes its Broadway bow Feb. 12 at the Cort Theater.

Leguizamo’s other credits include Fox’s “Romeo and Juliet,” TriStar’s “The Fan” and New Line’s “The Pest.”

Lower East Side was formed last year by Leguizamo and screenwriter Katz, who hired their longtime agent Lewis to run the banner, which has a two-year, first-look deal at New Line Cinema (Daily Variety, August 29, 1996).

Leguizamo is repped by Scott Lambert and Brian Gersh at the William Morris Agency and attorney Jason Sloane of Hansen, Jacobson, Teller & Hoberman.

Pulcini and Springer Berman are represented the Irv Schecter Co.