John Leguizamo has long been one of cinema’s most vaunted chameleons. Reach back into his hefty filmography and you’ll recall the time he played the Latin American drag queen Chi-Chi Rodriguez in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. Or the eccentric, fin-de-siècle Parisian renaissance man Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin Rouge. He’s used his elasticity to great success to voice Sid, the sloth in the Ice Age trilogy, of which a third installment comes out next summer. Most recently, the Colombian-born Leguizamo wrapped the autobiographical, New York-based film Fugly!, which he co-wrote and produced and calls his passion project. With his newest bare-bones one-man show, Ghetto Klown, set to debut imminently, the veteran star found a few minutes in his jam-packed day to update us on what exactly is going on.
You’ve done many live performances. Do you enjoy that over movies? There’s nothing like performing live, it’s like a religious experience. The vibe and the energy at the end, the way you connect with the audience. They give you the screams and the applause and you’re like, Wow. In a movie, people run out and get popcorn and they’re texting the whole time. You can’t really do that in theatre, or the performer will yell at you.
How does creating a persona of yourself compare to playing a fictional character? I think I started creating a persona of myself in Sexaholics. It’s how you have to start to see yourself in these things. I’m playing that guy up there who happens to be me, but I’m [also] writing for him, so it’s kind of trippy. I started doing readings from it in college with index cards. I would get drunk and play colleges, and then at the end I would run home real quick, and try to write what I had said before I passed out. That’s how the show really developed. In Ghetto Klown, I’m really learning to be much freer with it and owning it.
In addition to the autobiographical comedy shows, you also wrote a memoir called Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends: My Life. Do you have an easier time writing things based on your life or creating fiction? It’s hard to say. Initially, it’s easier to write stuff that’s near you, but in the end it’s much tougher because you’ve got to be really objective and really honest. I think it’s an incredible thing once you accomplish it, but it’s kind of a brutal journey. It’s easier to write fictional things because you can just make anything up, you know?
You’re pretty frank when discussing other famous people you’ve worked with. Does anyone ever get pissed off? Oh yeah, a couple people have. Some assistant of mine told me to ‘cease and desist.’ For real, their lawyer called me. Some other celeb said he was gonna punch me out. He was really pissed off at me.
Let’s talk about Fugly! You wrote, produced, and starred in the film. Yes I did. That was a passion project of mine. I knew working with [De Villa] again, that he could take my script and make it an award magnet. [It’s an] independent film with Radha Mitchell and Ioan Gruffid. It’s basically the story of this guy who breaks up with the love of his life and he tries to get her back by killing himself. He ends up almost dying, and when his life flashes before him, he sees all the mistakes he made and gets a second chance to get her back.
Why do you call it an un-romantic comedy? We’re doing it more from the guy’s point of view, the guy’s sense of romanticism, which is a little different. We do fall in love, no doubt, but we also fall out of love. And we have to constantly keep falling back in love.
There is a link on your website to your channel on UrbanoTV.com. It looks kind of like YouTube. What’s that all about? We’re launching a whole website, so it’s in the beta stages. We’re going to do all kinds of content, mostly webisodes and parodies. We’re talking to Sofia Vergara, Benjamin Bratt, and Rosario Dawson.
Are you trying to use the internet to connect more with your fans? It’s been interesting, because you have to be much more open than you think. You have to start sharing a lot. All of a sudden you’re twittering where you’re at, so now by accident, you gave [away] the fact that you’re not home. You’re kind of setting yourself up for a lot of strange situations. People get a little stalk-y. They start thinking you’re really having a relationship with them and you’re really not, we’re just twittering! The lines start to blur for some people.
Do you feel a responsibility to play Latino roles? It’s who I am, I always play a Latino role, that or I have them give the character a Latino name. I don’t mind having that responsibility.
Lets talk about the other films you did this year and who you worked with, starting with The Lincoln Lawyer. That was fun. I worked with [director] Brad Furman before. We did a movie called the The Take, and we really had a great time. We became friends and he asked me to do this cameo part in The Lincoln Lawyer. I got to work with Matthew McConaughey and all of my favorite people. They were kind of aggressive scenes; I walked out with few a black and blues.
And the Vanishing on 7th Street? That’s coming out in February with Hayden Christensen and Thandie Newton. I really dug it. It’s kind of an intellectual horror movie about what happens to you when you feel weak, and you feel like you don’t exist or you don’t matter. Do you start to disappear and fade away? It was really fascinating.
And what about One for the Money? That’s with Katherine Heigl. It was a lot of fun working with her. She’s very serious about her acting which is great, but she’s still funny. The movie is based on these big novels, One for the Money, Two for the Dough—they go up to like eleven and this is her first. Katherine’s character is a New Jersey bounty hunter. That we wrapped a long time ago so it should be coming out in the summer of 2011.
Out of all of these projects, what’s been your best experience? I couldn’t believe what I got in a one-man-show, how far and deep I went with it. I had never done that before, so that was an artistic coup for me in a lot of ways. Fugly! was amazing too, because I coudn’t believe the cast we got and how much fun we were having, I didn’t want it to end. Doing independent films is the best. There is so much freedom that it’s almost like doing theatre. I had the vision, but [the final product] was more than I expected. It was funnier than I thought it was going to be, it was edgier, it was more dramatic. Fugly! was incredible.