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THEATER

Just Try to Shut Him Up

John Leguizamo speaks his mind: on stage (in his one-man 'Freak' show), offstage--heck, even when he can't talk.

May 31, 1998|Patrick Pacheco | Patrick Pacheco is a regular contributor to Calendar from New York

A: I hate them sometimes--not individually--no, yes, I do hate them individually sometimes. When I get all ego, and I feel I just did something so funny, the funniest thing ever, why aren't they laughing? And I'll think, "Go ahead, John, flip them the bird." But I'll just put the anger in the line and then a couple of scenes later they'll laugh where I never got a laugh before, and I'll love each and every one of them.

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Q: You've just described your relationship with your family, the way you'd defuse your parents' anger at you by making them laugh.

A: Well, all my criteria for experiencing the world is just the things I learned from my family, and I've annexed a few other emotional vocabulary, but it's still the same dynamics. So then definitely the audience becomes my family. Sometimes I hate them, like when parents try to control you by demeaning your power and other times they are unconditionally loving. Theater is good therapy. That's what America needs--more theater, less Jerry Springer.

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Q: You're pretty rough on your family in "Freak," especially your parents. I know that your mom cried for weeks after seeing the show because you aired so much dirty laundry. How did you celebrate Mother's Day with her?

A: Well, the play and not talking at all have opened up new synapses in my brain. 'Cause I have to listen a lot and answer in my head. So my mom just talks and talks and tells me everything she feels and thinks, and I can't really respond so she's just a little Chatty Cathy and it brings us closer, 'cause I used to just kind of ignore her. For Mother's Day we went to the Haute Cuisine of Latin people, Patria, and just ate and feasted like some Hapsburgs (i.e. Rulers of Spain).

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Q: You and your dad were bitterly estranged for two years. He's even called the press to complain about you and the show and deny that he was alcoholic or that he physically abused you, your mother and brother. I understand that he came to see "Freak" recently. How did that go?

A: I was over with the show. Standing ovation. I come downstairs to greet my adoring public in the back room and I'm smiling and I look over and I see this shadow, and then I see this scowl, and it's my father. I turned white and he's beet red and he's foaming at the mouth and he waits till everybody leaves and he says, "How dare you! Is this what you think of me!" He says it twice 'cause he's dramatic. And then runs out of the theater and I chase him and he runs into his Lexus, mother of pearl (scary I know), and we drive around and I yell at him and curse him and tell him all the things I never said to him, and then he cries and we hug and I feel amazing, like the world knows everything and sets you up like its puppet and pulls your strings 'cause everything is kind of for a reason. Now we talk, well, I fax him, 'cause I can't talk as you know.

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Q: What is it that you said to him in the car?

A: I think I said very similar things to what I said in the play, not funny though. But he denied everything in the play so I just gave him the details of each experience and that was my emotional enema. And Dad is coming to the Tonys, so that's the first thing he's ever attended with me in my life so it's pretty emotional. So the Tony voters better make me win 'cause it's that damn important.

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Q: When you were putting together the show, was there any area that you decided not to venture into because it was just too personal?

A: The only thing that was cut out was my divorce [from actress Yelba Osorio] 'cause I was bitter, and people said I was misogynist so I didn't have the distance.

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Q: You've described the ambition of your parents, who came from Colombia when you were 4, as "immigrant drive on crack." They worked 50 hours a week, seven days a week. How do you describe your own ambition?

A: My drive is like a starving man in Ecuador. It's not just about power. But I wanna do things that are my innermost dreams, and I want to see them actualized, and I don't want anything to get in the way. No obstacle, no barriers, no limits are going to keep me from making those things a reality, 'cause I feel they are everything I've been building toward my whole 33 years of my skinny Latin life.

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Q: How do you fault your parents if they were just trying to reach a point where you could have the luxury of pursuing that?

A: Because their lives were so devoid of a quality that was the enjoyment of life. Their lives were about providing and nothing else. Money mattered so much. But I swore my life was only going to be about meaning when I was very young. I didn't want to be anything like my parents, so hardened and embittered and angry at things when it was all material. I used to hate to own anything. Obviously I've gotten over that fact, as you can see now I'm gadget crazy.

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Q: Isn't it ironic, then, that you're making bags of money? You must be pulling in $50,000 per week on "Freak."

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