Silly Little Show-Biz Book Club #19 John Leguizamo's True Hollywood Stories

Silly Little Show-Biz Book Club #19 John Leguizamo's True Hollywood Stories

One of my favorite features here at the A.V Club is Random Roles. Doing Random Roles feeds into my insatiable curiosity about shitty movies and, to a lesser extent, the mysteries of the human condition. I also appreciate that I don't have to do research for Random Roles. I just fire up the old computer box, log onto Internet Movie Database, get a crusty old character on the Ameche and whammo, soon all my lingering questions about what it was like to, I dunno, bask in Stephen Baldwin's outsized shadow on the set of The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas have been answered.

Ideally, Random Roles provides a window into an actor's personality, if not their eternal soul. Who could have guessed that Jeremy Davies is a little on the eccentric/pretentious side? Or that Steve Zahn is an amiable dude? When I interviewed Larry Miller for the column I was worried that readers would find his graciousness boring/sycophantic. So I was gratified that readers embraced Mr. Miller as a nice man who improves everything he appears in by virtue of his genial, avuncular presence. Sometimes both readers and Random Roles subjects pleasantly surprise me.

John Leguizamo's freewheeling memoir/tell-some, Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas, and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends is a little like Random Roles: The Book in that Leguizamo talks mad shit about all the random-ass characters he's played. Reading Leguizamo's slangy, casual book is like spending a couple of hours drinking beer with the author.

Pimps is fun but it doesn't feel like a real book, especially since I read Carrie Fisher's brain-meltingly awesome Wishful Drinking around the same time I read Leguizamo's gossipy memoir. Fisher is an actress who became a great writer and an elegant prose stylist. Leguizamo, in sharp comparison, is an actor who wrote a book.

Of course Leguizamo is no neophyte when it comes to writing, having penned a series of one-man shows. The one-man show is Leguizamo's medium; Pimps fatally lacks the electricity and energy the author brings to his live performances. Anecdotes that would probably kill onstage fall flat on the page.

Leguizamo habitually uses his family as fodder for his monologues but here his account of life growing up the progeny of an absent, authoritarian father and a flamboyant mother devolves into facile shtick. Pimps is refreshingly candid but it'd feel rawer and more vital if Leguizamo let the truth bleed and ache instead of alchemizing it into jokes and shtick.

Not surprisingly, Leguizamo grew up a class clown, a shameless ham with a bottomless need for attention and validation. So he was perfectly suited to acting. Leguizamo landed an early, ill-fated role on Broadway as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and was amused to discover that co-star F. Murray Abraham carries his Academy Award with him everywhere he goes.

Pimps' most admirable quality is Leguizamo's willingness/eagerness to talk shit about his contemporaries. The author is refreshingly unafraid of burning bridges though he tends to take a very Leguizamocentric view of the entertainment world. Consequently when considering his career and life Leguizamo tends to return to the following questions: 1. How much screen time did I, John Leguizamo, score? 2. How much of my hilarious Leguizamotastic improvisation made it into the finished film? 3. How did the other actors respond to my hilarious improvisation?

In Pimps, Leguizamo's professional colleagues respond to his madcap shenanigoats with appreciation, guffaws and sometimes fisticuffs. Patrick Swayze got so pissed off with Leguizamo's shenantics that he lost his temper and very nearly pummeled his co-star with his fists. Leguizamo was much more enamored of To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar co-star Wesley Snipes, who he reverently quotes as boasting, "I'm-a martial art my way into the hearts of America." How's that working out for you, Mr. Snipes? True to form, Snipes recently martial-arted his way out of paying taxes and martial-arted his way out of A movies. He could very well martial-art his way into prison as well.

Swayze isn't the only big strong manly man on Leguizamo's shit list for responding poorly to the author's zany riffing. While working on Executive Decision, Leguizamo gets body-slammed by a testosterone-poisoned Seagal and enrages Russell by constantly going off-script.

The author's Leguizamocentric view of the world can seem myopic at times. The author lingers lovingly over the half-forgotten likes of Empire, an intriguingly mediocre crime drama about a drug dealer who hooks up with a Wall street shark, and Undefeated, his directorial debut, but deeply regrets appearing in Moulin Rouge, the international smash.

The crucial difference is that Empire and Undefeated are both John Leguizamo vehicles, while Moulin Rouge was merely a pop-culture phenomenon in which Leguizamo had far too little screentime and is cruelly denied an opportunity to do his overly caffeinated shtick. Have I mentioned yet that Mr. Leguizamo likes to improvise? Cause he totally does. It's like his favorite thing ever.

At this point you're probably impatiently wondering, what about House Of Buggin'? In one of the book's more telling passages Leguizamo writes that he was green with envy when House of Buggin' co-star Dave Herman scored more laughs than him. Leguizamo is winningly upfront about being an egomaniacal, laugh-crazed attention whore but that doesn't make him any less of an egomaniacal, laugh-crazed attention whore. Pimps is filled with both self-deprecation and self-aggrandizement.

Leguizamo's attention-whore tendencies reached their apex in a strangely hypnotic 1997 vehicle called The Pest that cast Leguizamo as a zany funster pursued by crazed hunter Jeffrey Jones. According to Leguizamo, the film's screenplay was written in three days on a dare by a friend who'd never written anything before. I found this surprising, since I naturally assumed that the "script" for The Pest was written on a cocktail napkin and read, in its entirety, "John Leguizamo does his trademark shenantigoats. Verily, his character is a one-man house of buggin'"

When Leguizamo workshopped his various one-man shows his friends, family and collaborators tend to tell him to go deeper and darker, to move beyond easy jokes and broad caricatures. I wish Leguizamo had taken that advice when he was writing this entertaining, reasonably engaging if ultimately shallow, superficial memoir.

Speaking of silly show-biz books, I recently started an Amazon blog on the page for my forthcoming memoir, The Big Rewind (available for pre-order now!). I'm going to try to keep the memoir-pimping to a minimum but if you're interested in my online foolishness it's probably worth a look. The Amazon blog is a woefully premature attempt to martial-art my way into the hearts of book-buyers before my debut drops. If you guys like it, then I'll probably blog pretty regularly there. If not, I'll probably hold off blogging there until closer to my book's release date.

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