‘Ghetto Klown:’ John Leguizamo’s life in pictures

Actor John Leguizamo
Actor John Leguizamo

John Leguizamo’s 2011 autobiographical one-man play turned HBO special Ghetto Klown is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s now a graphic novel, bringing faces to the people who shaped the comedian-actor’s personal life and career.

The Queens, New York, native, who got his start in showbiz playing a cocaine dealer in Miami Vice at the tender age of 19, is “ecstatic” about how the book came out.

“My stories translated perfectly into a cartoon,” says Leguizamo, who will be at the Miami Book Fair at 6:30 p.m. Sunday. “Flipping through the pages I feel like someone rummaged through my memory banks. It’s trippy, man!”

To get the visuals down, the book’s artists — New York illustrators Christa Cassano and Shamus Beyale — studied the play’s script, looked at Leguizamo’s photo albums and visited his old neighborhood.

“They filled in all the blanks and created the environment like I remembered it,” Leguizamo marvels. “They put me right back there, looking like I did back in the day. You can finally see all the characters and family members that I have acted out countless times.”

The 51-year-old star thinks graphic novels could be a big trend.

“Hopefully, we reach a younger crowd,” he says. “Life has become so demanding in this new millennium. We’re pulled in so many directions. We’ve kind of lost control of our schedules. Who has time to sit down to tackle James Joyce’s Ulysses or Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past?”

Ha! We forgot for a moment how funny Leguizamo is, and then swiftly realize why this supreme talent ascended to the heights he has in his three decades in the business.

He’s nothing if not flexible, managing to hit practically every note on the entertainment circuit — standup, plays, movies, TV.

A vast movie career includes dozens of standout roles in dramas (Carlito’s Way), comedies (To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar), action flicks (Die Hard 2, Collateral Damage), animation (the Ice Age franchise).

Is there anything he can’t or won’t do?

“I’ve been really lucky, but I also put in the work,” he says. “Some people think acting is something you can or can’t do. I respected the craft, and I studied with the best teachers in the world.”

Though the married father of two does subscribe to the old saying: “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.”

“Oh, that’s a little more complicated, I gotta say. Standup ain’t easy. It’s like tennis. You gotta be able to put a sting on the ball,” Leguizamo says. “Comedians, we have a whole other level of pressure. It’s like a UFC fight. You gotta go in that cage, give it everything and may not come out alive.”

These days, Leguizamo is back to drama, with Bloodline on Netflix and filmed in the Keys — “a dream-scenario project.”

“What amazing talent; the nicest, coolest people,” he says of the show about a family with dark secrets. “It’s such a collaborative experience. Plus there are worse gigs. It’s pretty damn beautiful down there.”

Playing Ozzy Delvecchio, a mysterious troublemaker, is right up the multi-hyphenate’s alley.

“We are allowed to give input into our character. That’s the way it should be. It’s not, ‘Say the line the way you’re supposed to.’ You don’t get good television without artistic freedom.”