Even if you don’t recognize John Leguizamo by name, there’s a good chance you’ve seen one of his movies. Since the 1980s, the prolific actor/comedian has been in more than 70 films. In September alone he had two premieres-the sci-fi adventure Gamer and the comedy Rage-and this month his highly anticipated drama The Ministers hits theaters.
In addition to crisscrossing the country to promote his films, Leguizamo has scheduled a stopover in Santa Barbara as part of UCSB’s Arts & Lectures program to, as he explained, give a talk about his life. “I’ll be an example of what not to do. So you can live vicariously through me and move beyond me.”
I caught up with Leguizamo last month via email after an arranged phone interview-which he was to give in the car on his way to the airport-fell through. The reason: He forgot to charge his cell phone. You’d think he’d have people to do that for him, but no. Supremely talented and yet still a regular schlep like the rest of us. Nice.
You have three different film projects out this month and next. Is there one you enjoyed making more than the others? If I had to choose, which I can, I’d say Ministers because it was the most challenging. I play twin brothers, so it could be twice as good or twice as bad. I like the risk factor. Rage was just pure arty fun. [Director] Sally Potter-no relation to the children’s movies [Harry Potter]-is a consummate artist. It was like working with a painter like Dal-. You go in there and you craft and play and fine-tune, and she’s looking for essences. Gotta love that. Gamer was just raucous. Boys being boys. Just a lotta yelling and running and killing. I’m an overgrown boy anyhow.
How difficult was it playing the roles of twin brothers Dante and Perfecto in The Ministers? Playing twins is always a movie baffler. How do you make it so believable the audience is taken out by the vain choice? (Some might think I did it for double the salary. Nope. Twice the work for the same pay is what I say.) Director Franc. Reyes selected an actor that looked like me from behind and partial-side view. Then the actor who was me off-screen and I had to learn the scenes from both sides and he had the double task of learning my gestures and choices. So one day I’d be Perfecto and do all the scenes in one location as him and then come back the next day and do all the scenes as Dante. Great brain exercise. But all this meticulous work made it very plausible that I wasn’t just talking to myself but instead that it was two characters really talking to each other.
You have an eclectic list of films under your belt, from sci-fi to drama to comedy to animation. Which genre is your favorite? Well, comedy is the hardest, because your mistakes in drama are usually the gold. Not so in a comedy. Your mistakes are usually non-laughs in the theater. Comedy is like music. Very precise, very musical, very mathematical.
Sid is my favorite of the Ice Age characters. Where did the inspiration for his voice come from? I actually got it from watching Discovery footage of sloths and learned that they stored food in their cheek pouches and it fermented. So I walked around with food in my cheeks and I started talking, and Sid was born.
What other projects do you have in the works? Well, I’m touring with my new show around the world: My World Wide Tour of Fugly. It’s my next one-man show about my career, and how [it] went right and how I went wrong.
John Leguizamo will appear Wednesday, October 7, at 8 p.m. at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. For ticket info, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.