John Leguizamo’s career has gone through multiple stages of artistic transition that it could be hard to keep up with such a dynamic force. As a performer, he has transcended every stereotype in the Latin community by digesting it and spitting it back out for the masses. In turn he’s knocked down every door that has oppressed the actors that came before him, while bridging the cultural dividing line in his work.
In the industry, he’s a name that’s recognizable on every level and in practically every medium. Abandoning the label of comedian early on, Leguizamo honed his craft, as he fleshed out an impressive film career while simultaneously making fearless leaps into theater with his intimately personal and critically acclaimed one man shows like Mambo Mouth, Freak, and his most recent, 2010’s Ghetto Klown.
Although Leguizamo could probably take it easy for the rest of his life, he has the energy of an actor just cutting his teeth, and it shows through the evolution of his work, and the talents that work with him. Actor-director Jon Favreau, who pulls triple duty alongside Leguizamo in the new film Chef, highlights his qualities. “He’s not just a comedian. He’s a really hard worker. He’s an actor’s actor. Most actor’s want to do something else after a certain point but he loves it. He always acts like he’s very lucky to be on the set and a lot of people lose that after some time,” said Favreau.
Whether he’s peeling the layers back on his infectious energy in his one man plays, or stealing the show in films like To Wong Foo, or his most recent role in Chef, Leguizamo’s journey as an artist ties all the parts that make his career in one through line — he’s unapologetically honest and always in the moment.
In Chef John Leguizamo plays a supporting role as Martin, a sous chef, who joins the recently unemployed chef Carl (Jon Favreau) in an unexpected food truck venture. In doing so he, along with Carl’s son, aids his former boss in an attempt to reclaim his creative promise in his work while piecing an estranged father-son relationship back together.
John Leguizamo was kind enough to sit down with The Inquisitr’s Niki Cruz for an exclusive one on one interview to speak about his newest film Chef and his expansive career.
THE INQUISITR: Chef really does a fantastic job of connecting food to memories. What are some of your favorite memories that’s tied to food that you love?
JOHN LEGUIZAMO: Obviously Latin food has the most memories for me. Chino Latino which is Cuban Chinese food which we used to do at every holiday. We would go to this restaurant and order fried plantains and fried rice, or black beans and sweet and sour shrimp. It’s the weirdest combo of food but we loved that stuff. Also, of course pernil, which is the meat we’re using in the movie.
You do a mean impersonation of your co-star Sofia Vergara. Has she heard it?
She didn’t hear it. I was afraid! I was afraid she wouldn’t find it as flattering.
You’ve had such a varied career what made you say yes to a film like Chef?
Definitely Jon Favreau. He’s a master filmmaker. He’s made me laugh so many times. I loved Elf, and Swingers. I love his work and I thought it was a great honor to be chosen to be in this movie, and to be given the freedom to improvise. Plus I loved the script and the story he was telling. It’s really touching, pertinent and unique.
A relationship between the director and an actor is always very interesting in that it can make or break a movie. Since Jon has the perspective of an actor as well, how was it like working with him?
It is very interesting. He respects actors and he knows the process so he gives you the freedom and the comfort. He’s a very nurturing dude, and he’s pretty generous himself, so it’s fun. Working with a great director, you’re always going to look great. It’s like working with a great coach, you’re going to go to great places when you have somebody who knows how to get the best out of people.
Chef features social media in a big way, which is fairly new for a film. Your bio line on your Twitter right now is pretty brilliant. How often do you update it?
I update the bio all the time! We’re always changing, and you discover — “oh I’m more like this, oh wait, now I’m different,” which is okay. We all have to evolve. Otherwise you stop surviving.
It’s odd that Twitter is looked at as a personal brand. Your twitter line has the potential to represent you as a person. I know you mentioned sitting on a tweet for 24 hours, but do you ever think about the pressures of branding since you’re a public figure?
Yeah. Tweeting is actually the most intellectual out of all the social media. When I tweet political stuff I get a lot of love and hate instantly. I get a lot of hate tweets whenever I put something against guns or pro-choice, and the affirmative action ban. The things you put on Twitter can have devastating effects and you have to be careful. I tell my kids, “This is permanent. Don’t put anything out there that you’re not willing to stand with for the rest of your life.” It’s unfortunate that they have to grow up with all that pressure but they have to know that it’s serious. A lot of people have shot themselves in the foot. You can’t treat social media like you’re having a conversation. It’s just not the same thing. It’s not as harmless. It can be incredibly helpful and it can make careers or put forth political movements — it’s a powerful thing.
I’m a huge fan of your theater work – I’ve seen Freak, Ghetto Klown, and Mambo Mouth. You’ve broken so many conventions in the Latin community as a performer. Did you set out to do that originally?
I went in thinking that things have to change. It couldn’t be the same status quo that just existed. It just didn’t make sense with the lifestyle or what was going on in America. It seemed like the media was so far behind with reality, especially when I came along during Mambo Mouth. I just started writing my own stuff because I felt like everything was so far behind and I said, “Let me show you what I see. The world in my perspective.” And that’s why I started creating my own stuff.
What were some of the performers you looked up to as a kid?
Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters were my favorites. Lily Tomlin’s one man show definitely influenced me. Eric Bogosian and Spalding Gray, and Whoopi Goldberg too. They were all their own pioneers in their own way. I definitely took it and created my own hybrid sort of the autobiographical one man play. That’s what I helped pioneer.
You also wrote an autobiography, Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends: My Life, which borrowed from the material that you performed in your one man show Freak. A lot of your work in the theater seems to inform your other work as a performer. Was that always your intention?
I didn’t really think of it that way, but I guess that’s what happened in a way. I wrote the autobiography and then that influenced Ghetto Klown, and now Ghetto Klown is going to be a graphic novel, and that’s incredible. I love messing the genres up.
In every medium you do you’re very frank in all of your work as far as discussing what hasn’t worked out in your career. It’s easy for some actors to get stuck in a specific period in their career and become jaded. How did you overcome that slump?
I guess because I’m very self generating and I don’t rely on Hollywood to further my career. I don’t expect Hollywood to get me or understand what I’m about. I create my own stuff and if there’s a great movie, and I get to work with great directors that’s an added plus, you know? But I’m still going to do my thing on my own schedule.
When you perform work that’s very personal do you ever gain a new perspective as you’re working through it? Does it add other layers or is it like ripping off a band-aid?
It’s all of that. When you go deeper you’re definitely going to reach new levels. You’re going to regenerate and inspire yourself because you’re pushing the boundaries, and all of a sudden you’re invigorated, and you feel like you have more courage to try different things. In the process it is like peeling off a band-aid. You’re peeling off scabs and opening up wounds, but at the end it just makes you stronger and better. It does have to hurt a little bit for your growth.
It must be so tiring. Your run with performing Ghetto Klown was five years straight.
It was the hardest one to do because it was about my life and my career, and that’s a really difficult paradigm to crack. People have tried and it just didn’t work. It took me years to figure out what the ingredients were, and then it was inspiring to other people like Mike Tyson who saw it, and has his own show.
Do you separate yourself from the material after all is said and done?
Absolutely. I’m doing something different. My next thing is going to be so different. I don’t want to repeat myself and I don’t want to go to the personal stuff anymore. I want to go more political, historical and social. It’s a history of Latin people for those with ADHD.
Sounds exciting! Can’t wait to check that one out.