John Leguizamo Reads His ‘Diary Of A Madman’
John Leguizamo has done a lot in his entertainment career. He’s shot Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way, was a demonic clown in the revolutionary comic-turned-movie Spawn, and played an artist in Moulin Rouge. He’s donned high heals as a drag queen in Too Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, and voiced a dim-witted sloth in the popular Ice Age animated movies. In addition to his acting, he’s been a writer, producer and stand-up comedian. He’s been awarded, rejected, even beaten.
Yes, John Leguizamo has done a lot on the big screen. And on television. And on stage. Now, he’s telling his version of that career – the good, the bad and everything in between – in his latest one-man show, Diary of a Madman, opening tonight at the La Jolla Playhouse.
Like Freak and Sexaholic, two of his earlier one-man productions, Leguizamo gets up close and personal in this raw, uninhibited tour-de-force show. In his trademark performance style, he explodes with energy, taking everyone on a non-stop, fever-pitch adventure and heating up the stage with vivid accounts of where he’s been and the colorful characters who’ve shaped different facets of his professional life. There will be stories about his outrageous avant-garde theater scene and anecdotes from major movie sets and personal tales of his encounters opposite some of Hollywood’s biggest film stars.
Diary of a Madman is part of the La Jolla Playhouse’s Page To Stage program. So even though Leguizamo has staged it several times across the country over the past year, he is constantly modifying the show with each performance. Just days before Leguizamo steps onto the San Diego stage, he took some time to talk to the San Diego Entertainer for a personal and uncensored preview of the show’s current incarnation.
In your own words, what is Diary of a Madman about?
Freak was about my teenage years and coming of age. Sexaholic was about all my sexual failures, up to meeting the love of my life. This one is about my career – what made me an artist, my good choices, my bad choices and the office politics of Hollywood that no one really talks about. When you are in Hollywood, office politics are on steroids. They are bigger and crazier with artists’ egos and the amount of money that’s involved.
What is the show’s format? Is it a one-man play or stand-up comedy?
My stuff has always been a crazy hybrid. It’s been a hybrid of a play, one-man show, at times there are characters talking to each other in little vignettes. At the same time, there is a lot of humor.
Any musical numbers?
It’s got a little dancing, and some singing off key.
You don’t sing that bad, do you?
No, not that bad. I have a great voice, but I just can’t carry a melody.
What kind of plot line can we expect from Diary of a Madman?
There is a linear story. It’s about what made me want to be an artist. What made me want to act and kept me acting after all the rejections.
You know, it’s difficult to become an actor. I try to present that whole struggle of an artist, a portrait of an artist. What does it take to make it? Why do you want to even bother acting?
What made you interested in telling this story, this part of your life?
I was always fascinated by the career stories, the movie set stories. I was always fascinated by the fact this shit happens. It’s actually a crazy soap opera behind every movie and I wanted to show that aspect of it.
There are so many people doing one-man stories of their lives now, but I don’t feel like they are telling the whole truth. I am trying to be as honest as I can. That’s why I have to keep working on it, because some of it gets me in trouble.
Like I wrote something about Patrick Swayze (Leguizamo first performed Diary of a Madman prior to Swayze’s death last year), and he wrote something back in his autobiography.
About what you said?
Yeah, yeah. What he wrote about was great. His point of view was even better than mine. But he answered me back. He had such a great twist on it, and gave it a happy ending. I thought, ‘Oh wow. I like the way he thinks.’
I interviewed Patrick many years ago, and he mentioned he enjoyed working with everyone in To Wong Foo.
He did. I got to say he is a lovely dude, but he wasn’t the easiest person to work with. I’m just being honest. He was trippy. I wasn’t easy to work with either, so that was part of it.
Your show is titled Diary of a Madman. Are you a mad man?
I’m a mad man when I am trying to be creative. When I am being creative, I am totally a mad man.
A diva on the set?
It’s not about my comfort. It’s not about my excesses or my eccentricities. It’s not that bullshit. I want to be channeling. I want to be experiencing something amazing. I want to be playing fucking games. I just want to explore shit. And I really expect it out of people, too. I’m there to explore and to explode, and not everyone is on that tip. But I’m not going to back down either.
Are there some things that are going to shock people in the show?
There is some raw nasty stuff, perhaps sometime to my own detriment. Hopefully there is a beauty to what I am doing – an artistry – so it’s not just confessions and self-exploitations.
What is the audience going to get out of this? Besides being a snapshot into your life, what is your goal?
A lot of people say, ‘I’m not an actor or anything, but I was really inspired by your show.’ That’s what a lot of people are saying across the country to me.
I think ultimately, I am trying to inspire people. The joy in life is not the result but the process of trying to get there and trying to keep doing it. That’s where life’s true joy is. It’s not the stupid limousines and first-rate accommodations. That’s not what makes you happy.
And how are your accommodations in San Diego right now?
Oh, they are really nice. La Jolla Playhouse is treating me well. This is pretty fancy.
Is there a story you can entice our readers with, as a little hint of your performance?
You know, I did Carlito’s Way with Al Pacino. I’m the only man in cinema history to shoot Al Pacino dean in a movie, which is my sad claim to fame.
At the time I was a crazy ad-libber. I was always making up my own dialog. Pacino kind of taught to just sit with it, just be comfortable with it, just ride with it. I enjoy telling that story. It’s a little bit more animated and aggressive in the play, but that’s the gist of it.
A little bit of advice from Al Pacino.
Yeah. Do less.
Talking about your ad-libbing, how much of your show is ad-libbed and how much of it is scripted?
It’s a process. At the beginning of the process, it’s much more ad-libbed. I definitely write it first. But when I get on my feet, it starts to be ad-libbed and improvised. At this point, it’s still mad improvised. I am changing things every day, cutting out scenes and adding scenes until I find it. Then when I find it, the improvisation slows down a little bit.
What’s it like working with director Fisher Stevens?
This is the first time me and him have worked together in this capacity. We did Super Mario Brothers together, and we did A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is our first collaboration together. He’s pretty amazing.
I knew he was the right person for this piece because he knows me; he’s a producer, director, actor and he just understands the business; and because he’s an incredibly funny dude, too. I knew he would get the tone I was trying to do. Plus, he would keep me honest, too.
John Leguizamo: Diary of a Madman
Part of the La Jolla Playhouses Page to Stage series
Mandell Weiss Forum, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive
(Located on the UCSD Campus via the Revelle Entrance)
Box Office: (858) 550-1010