We Talk To John Leguizamo About The New One-Man Show He’s Bringing To Town.
John Leguizamo is one of the most lauded solo performance artists in theatrical history. Sure, he’s best known for his work in Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, Carlito’s Way, To Wong Foo and countless other films, but it’s in his theatrical roots that he has conveyed his most personal stories. This week, he’ll bring his latest — and final — autobiographic one-man show, “Ghetto Klown,” to the Majestic Theater for a three-night run beginning February 16.
For those who aren’t familiar with the John Leguizamo autobiographical franchise, can you tell them a little bit about what they’re going to see with “Ghetto Clown?”
Well, this is the latest and the newest installment, and this one is going to be about all the people who helped me, all the people who stood in my way, all the people who I need to get revenge on, all the people I need to praise and just me getting to where I am today. So, it’s all the Hollywood stories. I tell stories about what happened to me in Carlito’s Way with Pacino, how he helped me out. How Swayze and I dressed as chicks in To Wong Foo and started PMSing at the same time — and started getting a little too emotional with each other and fighting and then making up. So I tell all the stories to show you that, if I can make it, y’all can make it.
How ridiculously inspiring.
Exactly! That’s the point of the evening.
I got a chance to see you perform your earlier works, “Freak” and “Sexaholix,” in New York. How exactly does this differ from those? Those were some of the best theatre performances I ever saw.
Thank you, man! That’s very kind of you! Well, “Freak” was about when I was a little kid, so I was about 16 and lost my virginity. “Sexaholix” was all about all my failed sexual failures. Thank you for finding that funny. This one’s about my career.
Sexual failures are always funny!
Yeah, they are. I mean, you better laugh at it because otherwise you’re going to cry. This one’s about my career. This is about why I wanted to be an artist and all the struggles — like trying to clean up my accent so I didn’t sound so ghetto and so New York. The teacher’s all, “You have to work on your tongue with this.” She sounded like Katherine Hepburn — but she didn’t have to work on her speech, I did. Working with Lee Strasberg and he died the day I was in his class…
All those things, all those little steps to get me to where I am and then how I undid myself — because a lot of us undo ourselves — and how to get back up on your feet.
OK, wait, hold on: Lee Strasburg died when you were in class with him?
I was in his class one day. I did an emotional memory exercise recalling when my dog died — but I never really liked that dog, so I wasn’t really emotional. I was kind of emotionally constipated. Lee comes up to me and says, “I know you’re faking it. You’re disconnected. Connect to the material. You’re the dog. Be the dog.” So I was like “Rrrrr!” I wanted to bite him so bad. Anyway, what happened was, he died that night. Now, I don’t know if it was because of my acting or maybe he just had a nice long life and it was time. I don’t know what happened. Either way, I’ll never forget that. It made me work on my acting really hard because I felt so culpable.
Well, hopefully you got the dog scene right the next time, thinking about Lee Strasberg.
I learned to pick somebody I cared about. I realized that was the first big mistake.
Is it therapeutic at all, being up in front of hundreds of people at a time, talking about your life? Is that why this is all sort of happening?
It starts out being incredibly therapeutic because I’m writing about all the trauma and all the hilarious and all the ridiculous things that life sends your way, just to get it out of my system like an exorcism. Then it becomes this great healing thing because I’m like “Wow, I’m dealing with all the battles of losing my best friend to the business because his ego blew up.” My father doesn’t even talk to me because I wrote about him in a play and all this stuff. I write about it, and I get it out there, and it gets out of my system, but then my family, all of a sudden they feel like I’m in the wrong because I talk about them and then I have more problems. So this will be the last one.
Really? This is it? You’re gonna wrap it up after this?
Yeah, they had an intervention with me. They talked me out. They said, “You just need to stop.” And I will. I’ll talk about other people. Now I’ll talk about Pacino and I’ll talk about Baz Luhrmann, Benicio del Toro.
Looking at your tour schedule, I’m seeing a ton of dates in Texas. Have you spent a lot of time down here before?
Yeah, I have. “Sexaholix” is the first time that I toured, and I went all over the country — and Texas was amazing. I had a blast in Texas. I was at McAllen, Corpus Christi, El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Houston. That’s why I’m back.