Just like his character in the film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, John Leguizamo underwent a lot of work to becoming a queen.
“I always want to have an arc to my character,” Leguizamo says in a new featurette accompanying the Blu-ray release of To Wong Foo. Leguizamo said Chi Chi’s arc is from being a polished drag queen who also doesn’t completely love herself, to one who is both more polished and more self-accepting.
For those unfamiliar with the queer classic, it stars Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo as three New York City drag queens who take a cross-country road trip and end up stranded in the small town of Snydersville. The film also stars Blythe Danner and Stockard Channing and has cameos from Robin Williams and RuPaul.
As Chi Chi Rodriguez, Leguizamo played an ingenue drag queen — or “drag princess,” as Chi Chi infamously says in the film. Under the tutelage of Swayze and Snipes, Chi Chi goes on to become a full-on drag queen.
“It was all about accepting my ethnicity in it. I had my face done really light all the time. I have family members who have issues with self-hate and race and so their skin will be five times lighter than the color of their neck, and that always tripped me out, so I wanted to put a little bit of that into it,” he said. “At the end of the movie, my neck and my face matched. My face is much darker. So that was the arc. Chi Chi becomes polished but accepting of herself, mature, romantically grows. Instead of a taker, she becomes a giver.”
Leguizamo went on to earn a Golden Globe nomination for his work in To Wong Foo. Swayze was also nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Vita Boheme.
To Wong Foo’s re-release is part of a lineup of LGBTQ+ Pride Month re-releases from Shout! Factory that includes Boom!, Jeffrey, and Can’t Stop the Music. To Wong Foo’s Blu Ray is out on Tuesday, May 28. Aside from this featurette on Chi Chi, the Bluray also has a feature called “Easy Rider in Dresses,” about the making of the film.