John Leguizamo, known for writing and starring in Mambo Mouth, Sexaholix, Spic-O-Rama, Freak, and Ghetto Klown, is back with Latin History for Morons (July 1-Aug. 14), directed by Tony Taccone at California’s Berkeley Repertory Theatre and slated to run at New York City’s Public Theater (March 17-April 23, 2017).
Why’d you choose such a broad subject as Latin history?
I started to feel like it was weird that we, Latin people, hadn’t been in World War II movies, World War I movies, and I never learned anything about any Latin hero in growing up, in textbooks, or TV, or movies. So I started doing research. What I found was a treasure trove of Latin heroes. We participated in every single war America has had, in large numbers, and are never given credit for it. It’s crazy! So that became my mission, to make this palatable and put it out there so that people pay attention.
I don’t remember learning any of that in school either.
We were there during the American Revolution; we had three big generals who were awarded. I mean, 10,000 Latin people fought in the Civil War, women and men. That’s huge numbers. It’s just bizarre how our contributions were always sort of kept out. And, you know, it’s important for kids forming their identity, for the way America looks at Latin people; as an antidote to Trump, it’s really important that our contributions be reclaimed.
How did you research for it?
For like 15 years, sort of studying, reading every book I could get. I wrote to some historians and then I started Googling, just everywhere I could to find information, hunting books down. The thing is, it’s still comedy. At first I had way too much history in it; I was like, “Uh oh, I’ve got to scale it back.” Now, I have a healthy balance and it’s more to wake people up, and then they go and do the further research.
What’s been the most challenging subject to approach?
I always try to put something that was sort of toxic in my life into my work, and then build a comedy around it. That’s the way I deal with my trauma. So it’s a big challenge, it’s always very difficult. It’s always sort of psychically painful, but at the end I come out healed, and I think the audience does too.
Which one actor, other than yourself, would you trust to perform in your one-man shows?
I would say John Turturro. There’s never an actor like him onstage. He’s electric, man. Electric, and powerful, and subtle. He has so many levels onstage. I did my first play ever with him at the Public Theater, La Puta Vida, and I was watching every night and learning from it.
What’s been your most embarrassing onstage mishap?
I ran onstage for Freak too fast at the end of the second act; I’d gone to the bathroom, and I’d forgotten to zip up. I had a lot of costume changes so I didn’t have underwear. I don’t think anybody saw, but I knew. I felt the wind and I was like: I can’t focus, I can’t concentrate, but if I zip up now everybody is going to notice. So I had to wait for a moment where I turned around and tried to pull my zipper up without hurting myself.
What’s the last book that you read?
I was actually reading a Loreta Velazquez biography. She’s one of the people I talk about in my play, so I was reading her life story again. She wrote an autobiography of herself in the 1860s. She fought in the Civil War, she actually fought; she was a Cuban woman. I was reading her autobiography because it’s so wild.
What’s the most played song on your iPod?
It’s got to be Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta.”
What is always in your fridge?
Oh, wow. I’ve got to say, it’s kombucha. I love that sucker. It’s just like, you get all your probiotics, you know, your viticultures, without dairy, so I just love it. And it’s kind of fermented so it feels like alcohol, but you’re not drinking.
If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
Yeah, that got deep. Sorry.
I guess I would ask him right now: Who’s going to be president of the United States, November 2016? I have to make plans. See if I have to renew my passport.
Is there one person that you most envy?
I guess Junot Díaz. He wrote this incredible novel called The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. He won a Pulitzer and it was so brilliantly written and fantastic, man, on so many levels. You know, it had a street vibe to it, an urban vibe to it, a historical vibe to it—oh my God, it’s all the things that I love in literature. A combination of the highbrow, lowbrow, you know, historic, the street. I love that mix of everything. I wish I had written it.