John Leguizamo is bringing his latest performance piece, John Leguizamo Live!, to the Leo Rich Theater next Friday and Saturday, Aug. 21 and 22. In anticipation of his Tucson visit, I talked to Leguizamo about the show, his past performance pieces and some tumultuous moments in his Hollywood career.
Back in '92, my roommate and I were flipping through some channels, and he comes across some hot chick dancing with her back to the camera. He says some colorful remarks about what he wanted to do to this sexy girl. Then the girl turned around, and it was the dude from Casualties of War—it was actually you in full drag for Mambo Mouth, your first well-known performance piece.
That was one of the seven characters I played in Mambo Mouth. I wasn't even in the theater for that one; I was in the hallway of the American Place Theatre: 70 fold-up seats, loose-leaf for Playbill. Word of mouth got out, and all of a sudden, we had Arthur Miller there, Sam Shepard, John Malkovich, Al Pacino. I had been acting already, and doing comedy clubs ... mostly performance art. I came up at the time when Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio) was big, along with Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin and Spalding Gray.
Your shows aren't prototypical standup?
I always thought of them more as plays. I don't know if that's the way people take it, but that's the way I thought of it in my head. The new one is a play to me as well. After Mambo Mouth, things started to get more linear with my shows. Freak was completely linear, covering from my birth to age 16. Sexaholix was up to the birth of my kids, and this new one, John Leguizamo Live!, is about my career.
What can people buying tickets expect?
People are saying that the show has been incredibly inspiring to them, which is great to hear. What I'm trying to do is give examples of what not to do in your artistic career. I take a lot of moments from what happened in my career, from movies like Spawn; Romeo + Juliet; To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar, and all the conflicts I had. When you are trying to do good work, and you are an idealistic punk, you are going to run into conflicts with people.
Who did you have fights with?
I had a fight with Steven Seagal on the set of Executive Decision. Well, I didn't really fight him. ... He just knocked me out. I didn't even see it coming. We were doing rehearsal, and I was supposed to be his right-hand man. I started cracking up at something he said. It wasn't funny, but I was laughing, and he assumed I was mocking him or something. He fucking threw me against a brick wall and knocked all of the air out of me.
Were you unconscious?
I was on the floor. He's 6 foot 5. ... He runs like a girl, but he hits like a dude.
When you talk about To Wong Foo in the new show, I have to assume that was a happy experience. Was it?
Happyish. ... I had a great time with Wesley Snipes. We became best friends after that. I didn't get along with anybody else.
So you didn't get along with The Swayze?
No. Patrick and I weren't after the same things. To me, being in a movie was like a chance to do some jazz and be fluid, you know what I mean? To invent every opportunity. But Patrick was more old-school and liked to do it as it was written. I wasn't about that. So ... we had words.
You had a physical fight with Patrick Swayze, too?
Yeah, that one was physical. Patrick is actually a good dude. It was a really stressful, long shoot. We were in these uncomfortable—what do you call those things?—gender benders. We were wearing these things, and they were crushing our nuts. We were a little bit tense, angry and aggravated. I was really out of control, rewriting every line, coming up with monologues.
When you fought, were you in full To Wong Foo drag?
He was in fuck-me pumps; I'm in hot pants, and here we are, ripping each other's wigs off and tearing off the clip-on earrings.
I was going through your biography. I had totally forgotten you were the one who shot Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry. You also shot Pacino in Carlito's Way.
Yep. ... I killed Al Pacino. I only wounded Harrison. ... Movies aren't good anymore. They're boring. It's just like a ride now. There's no thought involved. It's not like '70s filmmaking, when you were thinking, and made to question yourself and humanity.
I would agree with you in that the '70s were a great decade for cinema, but we still get the occasional year when I'm pretty impressed with what's coming out.
It's only because your standards have been lowered. If you go back and watch some of those '70s movies, some of the foreign films, you'd realize that the good movies you think you are seeing today were already done much better in the '70s. Best decade for American cinema.
There was one year when I must've called 15 movies great or excellent.
Yeah ... like what?
Well, I don't know, it was like ...
They must've been really memorable! (Laughs.) "I have no clue; I don't remember, but I loved the hell out of it! Changed my life ... can't tell you what they were, though!"
I liked Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain!
Didn't see that, but I love Darren. The Wrestler was an incredibly well-directed movie.
This year is mediocre. But Up is one of the best movies I've ever seen.
Have you ever watched Hayao Miyazaki?
Yeah ... Spirited Away.
Up is such a rip-off of Castle in the Sky and Howl's Moving Castle. It's like, come on people—at least give props to where things originated.
Oh, man ... you just nailed me. I missed that.
I think there were a couple of reviews where they actually did point that out and make the comparison. And I was like, "Thank you; now you've got my respect."
I know you've said indie film is what you prefer to do, but you are in a big-budget studio film coming up: Gamer, with Gerard Butler.
I did just a cameo in Gamer. I did it because I love the directors. ... They are just out of there minds, just crazy. So they asked me as a favor to be in it. It's just a cameo.
You easily had the best part in the latest Ice Age movie, a film I wasn't too crazy about. I kind of wanted the movie to just be about your character, Sid.
Good ... call Fox! They write some good stuff for me. I actually like it when it's just Manny the Mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano) and me ... that odd couple kind of thing, when the two of us are allowed to riff and go nuts.
Tucson is a cool town.
I've heard great things about Tucson. These are the last dates of the tour, then I have to go do a couple of movies. Yeah, Tucson is going to see something really raw, really brutal ... masochistic, even.
And that equates to a good time, right?
Oh yeah. You'll never see something like this again.