John Leguizamo stars in his one-man show “Ghetto Klown.” | AP Photo/Amanda Schwab, StarPix
John Leguizamo is bringing his critically acclaimed, one-man autobiographical show “Ghetto Klown” back to where it all began.
The actor/comedian debuted what would become his fifth one-man play in Chicago in 2011, before taking the hugely autobiographical work to Broadway.
A lot has happened in between, Leguizamo reveals, including several feature films, the HBO premier of “Ghetto Klown,” hitting a milestone birthday, and the loss of fellow actor/comedian Robin Williams.
Q. You worked with Robin Williams in “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar,” and I’m sure your paths crossed over the years. What thoughts came to you when you heard of his suicide?
John Leguizamo: It’s so sad and tragic to know that all this time he was such a troubled man. I guess that’s where greatness comes from — a lot of pain, and getting over adversity.
Q. What was it like to work with him on “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.”
JL: I was thrilled out of my mind. I was trying to act like a chick and goofing with him and he was so quick. It’s like he’s driving Ferarri in his mind. [Laughs] I was driving a Prius or something. Trying to keep up with him was just ridiculous. He was incredible.
Q. You recently turned 50. Did you freak out?
JL: I’m embracing it. Latin people age well. At 50 you’re captain of your soul. You’re half a century old so you’re definitely wiser. Great things happen at 50! I looked it up! An oak tree doesn’t produce acorns till its 50. Julia [Child] was 50 when she wrote her first cook book. [Charles] Darwin was 50 when he wrote “The Origin of Species.” Col. Sanders was what, 60 when he started? So 50 is like the beginning of everything!
Q. You have three kids who are teens. How’s that working out for you?
JL: [Laughing] Teenagers are nature’s way of telling you you gotta get them out of your house fast! Give them the skills to get out of your house fast. These kids are their own people; they have their own thing going. Luckily “Ice Age 5” is coming out [in 2016] so I can afford a bigger house.
Q. Do you enjoy doing animated film voice work?
JL: I love it. Mel Blanc [who voiced Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd] was hero of mine. It’s cool because when you voice these characters people don’t necessarily recognize the artist just hearing that voice. I love to give a lifeblood to an animated creature.
WATCH (NSFW): A clip from “Ghetto Klown”:
Q. “Ghetto Klown” had its original pre-Broadway run in Chicago (under the title “John Leguizamo Warms Up”) three years ago. Why Chicago, and how has the show changed since then?
JL: Chicago has always been my first big venue [choice] because Chicago people love theater and they really make you fell that they appreciate what you’re doing up there on stage. The show has changed quite a bit because it’s a living piece. The ending now is very different. The poetry comes across more. A lot of stuff got cut. New stuff added in. It’s much more compressed, much tighter. We took out the intermission, so we keep it at 90 minutes or so.
Q. How difficult is to to this this type of one-man show where its completely autobiographical?
JL: It’s really scary to do these shows, but anything worthwile is very scary. I’m sharing all these hard knocks of my life, these very personal things. Things I’m ashamed of. Things I’m proud of. It was very cathartic. Talking aout my depression, that was hard; performance anxiety and the nervous breakdown — those were hard to talk about on stage, but I do it. It’s hard to share. When I’m doing it on stage, I have moment of anxiety before I talk about my anxiety. As actors or comedians, I think were definitely more prone to ups and downs because those ups and downs are so much bigger and higher, and not that our lives are necessarily more interesting. We live under a microscope! But I’ve always been going to therapy; since I was 17. I was out of control in high school. They made me go to therapy for four years. That saved my life; gave me the tools for my life. I love therapy. I love that someone can take an interest in me. [Laughs] It’s the most natural of relationships: I pay and you listen to me! I’m here and still moving forward.
Q. You joined the case of the film “The Nest,” which stars Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph. What’s it like to work with those three powerhouse comediennes?
JL: I’ve never worked with such incredibly generous and talented, funny women. On set, there’s no drama, no vanity, no ego from anybody! They want you to excel. They’re ad libbing like crazy the whole time so they’re totally freaking funny. I went to comedy heaven on this one.
Q. Your latest film, “Cymbelline” is hitting the film festival circuit. Is it hard to do Shakespeare on the big screen?
JL: Shakespeare is always tough. You read it and you’re like, “ I can do this.” [Laughs] Then you start and you’re like, “I can’t do this! How do I get out of this? I don’t want to sound like I’m doing iambic pentameter. It’s not conversational, you know? When you need the histrionics you bring the histrionics!
John Leguizamo, ‘Ghetto Klown,’ 8 p.m. Sept. 13, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State. $39-$79. Visit ticketmaster.com