Leguizamo a 'Klass' act in one-man show

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John Leguizamo shows a clip from "To Wong Foo" during his one-man show dubbed "Klass Klown."

Don't let the title of John Leguizamo's new one-man show fool you.

Even though his fifth live show is called "Klass Klown," the 45-year-old actor and comedian offers more than just laughs. Leguizamo says his solo show is an inspiring, honest and raw story "about a man as a performing artist."

"Klass Klown" - spelled with a "k," as Leguizamo says, because misspelling is what class clowns do - opened last night at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, where it runs through Wednesday.

Leguizamo, who's been in films like "Super Mario Bros.," "Moulin Rouge!" and "Ice Age", sat with the Daily News earlier this week to talk about the show, his upcoming movie and his love affair with theater.

Q: I've heard "Klass Klown" is based on your 2006 memoir ("Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends: My Life").

A: I would say it's the opposite. The 2006 memoir is based on my play, because my play was first. I've been writing this for a long time.

I was doing college readings. I would drink a lot and would go out there with my index cards and talk about my life to college students, then run home before I fell asleep and write down what I was saying. That was the birth of the show and the book.

Q: What similarities are there between the college readings and this new performance?

A: The personal wasn't as much in the college tours as it is now. It was more so strictly career, and all the ups and downs and the problems, and how to overcome them. But now, the personal has infiltrated throughout the whole entire piece. That's the difference. That, and it's a play.

Q: You've had a variety of roles in films like "Carlito's Way" and "Romeo + Juliet," and especially in "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar," where you play a laugh-out-loud drag queen. Is there any particular movie genre you prefer?

A: I prefer "To Wong Foo," where it's drama and comedy together. I really like that more than I like a full comedy or a full drama. It's kind of like when I do my one-man shows - I feel like you can have all of that as a comic. Why does it have to be shallow, glib or disposable? I think you can really make things count and go to dark places and still make people crack up.

Q: Is there a lot of that darkness in "Klass Klown"?

A: Yeah, there is actually. I'm trying to go darker than I have. I try to do what I do in my film acting, when I'm as raw and real as I can be, and I'm trying to do that on stage while making people laugh. It's been a lot of fun trying to do that. It's scary, but fun.

Q: Do you dish about former co-stars in "Klass Klown"?

A: Yes.

Q: Go ahead.

A: I try to tell the stories as fair as I can, because I can't help but be a little biased. It's my interpretation of things and I'm showing the world through my subjective eye. With the throw-down between Patrick Swayze and I [during "To Wong Foo"] I looked at his [autobiography] when he talked about the same incident, so I tried to see it from his point of view as well. That's the only one I think might be the most objective of the experiences.

Q: What happened between you and Patrick Swayze?

A: Even though Douglas Carter Beane wrote an amazing part, I used to love to rewrite stuff and I ad-lib like crazy. Patrick was having a hard time - I don't know personally or something - and all my ad-libs just drove him up a wall and one morning we started fisticuffing. Wesley [Snipes] was like, "Go ahead John, I got your back!" The director was like, "Girls, girls - I mean, boys please!" We had a beer after and it was all good.

Q: You've gotten a lot of backlash from your memoir. Are you worried the play might reopen old wounds?

A: Yeah . . . [laughs] but I've been taking boxing classes. I've got a coach.

Q: You're a brutally honest person, even about your own life. What can audience members expect in this show?

A: The whole show is a raw examination of myself. It's the stuff you only talk about with your manager or your therapist. I'm also trying to do three-person scenes. I used to only do two-person scenes, so this is the first time I'm trying a couple of three-person scenes. It's more complicated when you're one person to execute and for people to follow, but I'm trying.

Q: Do you enjoy doing stage and theater more than film and TV?

A: Stage and theater was always the best writing in the world. Sometimes with the classics and talented playwrights . . . you can't find that [writing] anywhere. Movies and television take from these great pieces of theater because you can take a lot more risks in theater. You take the time to develop it and it's a work of art. It ends up influencing everything.

Q: You've done TV, theater and film. Is there any other media you'd like to conquer?

A: You know, there is. I'd like to do that Woody Allen thing where I direct, write and star in a feature at the same time. I don't think I can, but I'd like to try it someday.

Q: No radio or comic books?

A: Actually, I think I want to do a graphic novel, on this show, maybe. I've really been thinking about it.

Q: Any other future projects?

A: I'm in this movie called "Vanishing on 7th Street" [due out later this year], with Thandie Newton and Hayden Christensen and I think it's going to be pretty incredible. Brad Anderson directed it and he did "The Machinist," which was wild. This is another really weird, incredible and intellectual horror film.

"Klass Klown," Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St., 8 tonight, tomorrow, Monday-Wednesday; 7 p.m. Sunday; $39, 215-985-0420, www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.