He who laughs last laughs the best.
And John Leguizamo, who was called “fugly” (beyond ugly, to put it nicely) at school, makes use of the nickname that made him suffer in a new anti-romantic comedy that he stars in and co-wrote.
“When I was a teenager, I went to school and a girl told me ‘fugly!’ ‘Look at Leguizamo, he is fugly!’ Everyone started laughing. For a few months I was the Fugly of the class, and it was horrible. Then I swore I would have revenge,” the 50-year-old Colombian-American actor said with a laugh.
In Fugly!, which opens Friday in South Florida and is also on video on demand, Leguizamo plays Jesse Sanchez, a nerdy kid who grew up in the shadow of his more-attractive brother. He discovers a new world in college, where he becomes sort of a Don Juan, and debuts as an actor, getting the stereotypical Latino roles: the drug dealer, the rapist.
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Radha Mitchell appears as Lara, Jesse’s platonic love, and Rosie Perez plays as a sexy poet in search of a man to launch her career.
Although he’s had a varied career, with credits that include Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge! and Ice Age, Leguizamo said he achieved film success only because of his acclaimed Broadway monologues Freak and Sexaholix ... A Love Story.
“That was my life!” Leguizamo said in a recent phone interview with the Associated Press.
“At the beginning it was like that, exactly like Jesse at the beginning of his career. ... I played the role of the drug dealer or the gangster or the killer. That’s why I started writing my plays, as an antidote to all that. And from there I had some success that helped me launch the career of my dreams,” he said, recalling the role of Vinny in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam as one of the first in which he wasn’t typecast.
Leguizamo said Fugly! isn’t an autobiographical film but a work of fiction that draws on many of his life experiences, including the monologues, with new ones written for the character of Jesse.
“That was what launched me and helped me be an artist and feel like a whole man, like an American, because I could say whatever I wanted in my own way,” he said of his one-man shows. “In Hollywood it is a little hard to completely express yourself as you want to.”
His advice for Latino actors worried about being typecast: “You have to say yes to everything at the beginning, you have to try all sorts of roles and learn from everything, but at the same time you have to study with the best drama and literature teachers, try to get better and learn to produce your own plays.”
Leguizamo’s next projects include voice work in Ice Age 5 and a new Amy Poehler-Tina Fey comedy, The Next. He is publishing his first graphic novel, Ghetto Klown, based on his play of the same name, in early 2015.
“We changed it a little for the graphic novel, and it’s coming out amazingly,” he said. The book is being illustrated by cartoonist Christa Cassano, and will be published by Abrams ComicArts.