After being thrown a few very rotten lemons when he was younger, John Leguizamo has now served up some ice-cold lemonade.
Inspired by a term girls once used to describe him, the Colombian-American star has co-written and co-produced a new movie called “Fugly!” In the film, which opens Friday, Leguizamo plays Jesse Sanchez, a Bronx-bred nerd growing up in the 1970s and the recipient of the titular unflattering nickname.
Warning: The trailer featured above is NSFW.
Over the course of "Fugly!," we watch as Jesse's luck with women improves, and his career in comedy takes off. The Latino comic reaches new heights of success until a near-death experience turns his life upside down.
“Fugly!” -- which Leguizamo describes as "an anti-romantic comedy" -- was directed by Alfredo de Villa and also stars Rosie Perez, Radha Mitchell, Ally Sheedy and Oscar-nominated actor Griffin Dunne. Last week, in anticipation of the film's theatrical release, Leguizamo spoke to The Huffington Post about why the movie and the story of Jesse's life are so personal to him.
Tell me about why you wrote “Fugly!”
Well, I wanted to do an anti-romantic comedy, a comedy for men basically. How we see love and how we see sex, from that point of view. The title “Fugly!” is because that’s what some girls called me when I was young and it, uh, scarred me. [laughs] So this movie is kind of like my revenge to them.
Yeah, you showed them.
Yeah, yeah, yeah!
So explain the “anti-romantic” part. Do you not consider yourself the romantic type?
No, I’m pretty romantic. But, you know, most guys see romance a little more through the sexual filter. You know what I mean? [laughs] There’s a heavy sexual component in that romancing. There’s an ulterior motive, always.
And speaking of “romance,” in the film Rosie Perez plays one of your romantic interests. You both are native New Yorkers and I imagine you guys are longtime friends behind the scenes.
Oh, longtime friends. I picked Rosie because I knew she could be funny, dramatic, she brings that New York realness.
In the past, your one-man shows have been really about your own life, as is the case with "Ghetto Klown," for example. So how much of yourself and your life is in the character of Jesse Sanchez?
It’s definitely fictionalized. But I definitely drew from my own life experiences because that’s what makes it valid, that’s what makes it relevant. You gotta tap real life to make it relevant.
Then what would you say is one similarity and one difference between you and Jesse?
Well, a big similarity is Jesse’s struggle as an actor, [that’s] definitely related to my life. And the biggest difference is that I got a lot more play than Jesse in life. [laughs] But I did plateau at some point. I did plateau in college. That’s the opposite. He got more in college than I got in college.
In the film, Jesse is a rising Latino star who hits a plateau with his career at one point. Obviously you’ve been in this industry for a long time, but is that a reflection of how you’ve perceived your career in the past?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, there are a lot of parallels. I’ve had my career-stalling moments, and then you have to dig yourself out of a ditch. The recession definitely put a dent in everybody’s career.
About that ditch -- in the entertainment industry we talk about the need for diversity a lot. You’ve always been vocal about it. Not many Latinos are able to write and produce their own work and bring it to life. Do you feel lucky?
I mean I do feel lucky, but I do feel like I had a hand in it. I mean, I have been writing for a long time and have been studying writing and talking to a lot of great writers for their advice. I’ve definitely quested for it and manifested it to happen, just because I am a writer and I love writing and I love cinema ... I’ve written a lot of plays and I co-wrote “Undefeated,” the HBO movie [...] but this is my first venture where I took more of a leap in the writing and I produced it. This is my biggest production to date.
And what felt right about this story?
I think it’s because it’s so personal. I can relate to it. I was playing somebody who was closer to myself than I ever have on film, aside from “Chef.” It’s very close to who I am.
Anything else you’d like people to know about “Fugly”?
I would love everybody to enjoy it. Oh, and also, it boasts the first fake male orgasm in cinema. [laughs]
[Editor's note: There was actually at least one prior case of this, with Jason Segel in "The Five-Year Engagement." Still, audiences can decide who pulled it off better when "Fugly!" hits theaters on Nov. 7.]
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.