By Michael Klam
Somewhere in the madhouse of John Leguizamo’s mind, characters Bennie Blanco from the Bronx and Captain Vegetable from Sesame Street meet up for lunch to discuss world domination.
Sid, the irksome, semi-loveable sloth from Ice Age, and Clown, the bloated blue-faced demon from Spawn, are also there, hungry and driving each other nuts.
Leguizamo’s real-life stage muse (the entire 80’s avant-garde theater crew) joins in for a bite. Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian and Karen Finley feast on words and ideas.
His managers, past and present, run around eagerly serving customers.
Al Pacino whispers advice on acting. Leonardo DiCaprio wanders off. Robert Deniro pays the check.
When considering the Emmy Award-winner actor’s influences, performance career and memories, it is no wonder his upcoming one-person show at the La Jolla Playhouse is called Diary of a Madman.
“It’s the minutia,” Leguizamo said. “I was taking inventory of my life and just trying to understand how I ended up where I ended up,” he said.
“Life is kind of crazy. It’s all great and bad and good and everything happens for a purpose, but you don’t realize until later,” he said. “I don’t know, there’s something fascinating about the choices we make in life, right or wrong.”
Leguizamo’s choices have composed an extensive, wild ride of a career in theater, television and movies.
The prolific artist wrote and performed in the Off-Broadway sensation Mambo Mouth in 1991 where he portrayed seven different characters, and also the award-winning piece Spic-O-Rama in 1993.
“I’m not going to knock Broadway,” Leguizamo said, “Broadway can be a powerful experience, but I generally love Off-Broadway. It is always edgier, wittier, and that’s the thing that I love,” Leguizamo explained. “You’re brave to jump into this kind of theater.”
“It’s a much more satisfying life,” he said.
Leguizamo unloaded Freak on Broadway in 1998, which also aired on HBO, directed by Spike Lee. In 2001 Leguizamo returned to Broadway with Sexaholix…a Love Story, directed by Peter Askin, which won a Tony Award nomination and toured widely, including here in San Diego.
His work in Hollywood includes Carlito’s Way, Casualties of War, Love in the Time of Cholera with Javier Bardem and Benjamin Bratt, The Happening with Mark Wahlberg, and Righteous Kill with Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino.
The actor considers The Take with Rosie Perez to be one of his favorite projects, as well as Where God Left His Shoes, directed by Salvatore Stabile; and he also appeared in Moulin Rouge, Summer of Sam, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, and Dr. Doolittle.
He is the voice of Sid in all three Ice Age movies. “I’ve always loved animation,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be the Latin Mel Blanc, one of my early goals I’ve given up since,” he said.
During the 2005-2006 TV season, he played an emotionally disturbed Victor Clemente on ER. And all the way back in 1995, he produced, created and starred in the short-lived House of Buggin’ where he portrayed a myriad of characters.
Leguizamo is set to appear on Sesame Street again coming soon. “I do love doing the shows my kids want. They’re like my agents for the kid stuff,” Leguizamo said.
All of his one-person shows will be available on DVD in the fall, he said.
In Diary of a Madman at La Jolla Playhouse, he will guide audiences on an uncensored trip through vivid accounts of his youth in Queens, his early acting career, and through the present. Audiences can expect “good dirt,” he said, from his time on major movie sets and the roles he has played opposite Hollywood’s biggest film stars.
“Cheap dirt is just to get ratings and exploit people,” Leguizamo explained. “Hopefully there’s a reason and a point why I’m talking about all this.”
“I definitely touch on my first influences, teachers, friends that were influential and certain types of shows and then certain types of movies that inspired me,” he said.
“I touch on what elements — it’s very Freudian in that way — what elements in my life propelled me to be who I am and to pursue and maintain this career.”
The actor said he’s looking forward to experimenting with the San Diego audience. He said some inspiration only happens when working with an audience. He has epiphanies and the show changes, tightens up, he said.
“There’s a collective intelligence that happens when you are in front of a crowd.”
Leguizamo said he still gets jittery before a performance. “But I love it,” he added. “I get so much clarity when the adrenaline starts pumping.”
La Jolla Playhouse will present John Leguizamo Diary of a Madman as part of its Page To Stage program. The one-person show will run March 4 – 14, 2010 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre. Performances take place Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm; Sunday at 2:00 pm. www.lajollaplayhouse.com/