FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
People have asked various questions about me and my showcase, so I
have written a mock interview to answer the most frequently asked ones.
Q: When was this showcase made? And how long did it take you to put all this together?
A: It took six months for me to shoot 52 scenes, in which I played a total of 102 different characters. I shot 42 scenes during a five-month period from December, 1992 through May, 1993, then I shot an additional 10 scenes in January, 1994. This was before the age of digital camcorders and digital editing. I didn't even have a computer at the time. So all of the scenes were shot on VHS videotape and edited linearly with two VHS decks. No digital equipment of any kind was used, so you can imagine how arduous and time-consuming the entire process was.Q: How did the idea for this project come about?
A: The idea for this one-man showcase was born out of the sheer frustration of trying to break into the movie business. I started out as an actor in the mid-Eighties doing off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway in NYC, but by the late Eighties I decided to concentrate on writing and directing more than acting, and I moved to L.A. with the goal of selling a screenplay and then attaching myself as either the director or star. Some of the scripts I wrote had lead roles I specifically created for myself, while other scripts had no roles for me at all.
By the early Nineties, I had made little progress getting my foot in the door. I got tired of sending out headshots and query letters, so I decided to come up with a different way to break into the business. I decided to do something unique, something that would stand out, something that would showcase all of my abilities in one package and grab people's attention. Years earlier, I had made an acting demo tape on which I performed some monologues from various plays. Taking my cue from that, I came up with the idea of performing scenes from my own screenplays.
The project actually started out quite modestly, and I originally intended to shoot just ten scenes from my drama screenplays and play only male characters. I approached the project with the mindset of portraying the types of characters I'd normally be cast as, such as the roles I had written for myself. But I soon realized that to showcase my acting and writing as fully as possible, I needed to put together a collection of scenes that would represent all of my scripts and display the widest range of characters and situations. None of my comedy scripts had scenes which didn't include both male and female characters, so I decided to play women as well. Once I made that choice, it removed a lot of limitations and gave me greater freedom in the selection of scenes. Once I was willing to think outside of the box, it opened up the whole project and enabled me to select the best scenes from all of my scripts -- even if they included characters I'd normally never play, such as a woman, or a black man, or a ten year old boy. The result was a far more well-rounded collection of scenes than I could have done otherwise.
The genesis of this project can probably be traced all the way back to 1973, however, when my parents bought me a Kodak Ektasound Super8 movie camera for my eleventh birthday. Prior to that, I had always expressed myself creatively through writing and drawing, but from that point on that camera allowed me to bring my stories to life, and it was the next step in a natural progression. For the next several years, I made many short movies and cartoons, and while I cast friends and classmates in my live-action films, I usually performed all the voices for my animated cartoons myself. So as a child, I was already creating worlds and populating them with people from my imagination and performing the characters myself, and in many ways, making this one-man showcase two decades later was simply taking that practice to the extreme, to its fullest manifestation.Q: This project must have been a big undertaking for just one person. Did you really do everything by yourself?
A: Yes. I handled every aspect of the production -- writing, acting, shooting, directing, lighting, make-up, costumes, sound mixing, etc. I literally functioned as a one-man movie studio. And all with a budget of less than $500. In fact, the total budget for wigs and costumes, which I got from various thrift shops around the San Fernando Valley, was under $100! I actually spent far more on videotape than I did on costumes.Q: You appear as women in some of your scenes. Are you gay?
A: No, I'm 100% straight. Always have been, always will be.Q: If you're not gay, why do you play women?
A: My showcase is a one-man show, so naturally I portray all of the characters, both male and female. From a 10 year old boy to a black rapper to an exotic dancer to a 60 year old businessman, I play everyone in these scenes regardless of who or what they are.
I'll be brutally honest and say that it amazes me and annoys me when some people fixate on the female characters, even though they represent only a third of the total characters I portrayed, and try to read something into it or try to draw conclusions outside the context of the showcase. I think that says more about them than it does about me. Did anyone ask Dustin Hoffman if he's gay when he did "Tootsie"? Did anyone ask Patrick Swayze (RIP) or Wesley Snipes if they're gay when they did "To Wong Foo"? Did anyone ask John Travolta if he's gay when he did "Hairspray"? Of course not. Any sensible person would recognize that they are actors playing roles, and read nothing into it beyond that.
I've seen a site or two on the internet where I'm referred to as a transvestite actor. Come again? Did they somehow miss the fact that two-thirds of the characters I played are male? One of the characters I played is a black rapper. Does that make me a transracial actor, then? Some of the characters I played are aliens from another planet. Does that make me a trans-species actor? Maybe they should simply consider the concept that I'm an actor, period, and that I chose to bring to life the worlds and situations I created in my scripts and bring to life the wide variety of people in them.
It reached a point of such absurdity that one person online went so far as to embark on a campaign to generate as much ridicule toward my project as possible, as though he had a personal axe to grind. He would post images of my female characters on message boards and mock me and try to stir up the crowd. He seemed obsessed and completely hung up on the fact I had played some women. It was almost a vendetta. Pretty pathetic, I'd say.
I portray a wide variety of people in this showcase. Some of them are male, some of them are female. Some are white, some are black. Some are young, some are old. Some are human, some are alien. I portrayed such a wide variety of people and personalities that I honestly thought no one would even attempt to pigeonhole me or label me in any way. And yet some people look only at the female characters and cannot see beyond that. They say, "Look at all the effort he put into looking like those women, there must be something going on." And they overlook and disregard all the effort I put into transforming myself into a black man, or a ten year old boy, or a sixty year old man. They refuse to acknowledge the dedication and seriousness with which I threw myself into this project, and instead seek a way to ridicule and mock me. To people like this, my response is: "Get over it and grow up."Q: You look pretty convincing as a woman. Have you ever worked, or considered working, as a female impersonator?
A: No. I've been offered such work in the past because of my showcase, but I've turned it down. I have no interest in such work, and I portrayed women solely for the purposes of this showcase. Actually, I don't consider what I did in this showcase to be female impersonation per se. Rather, it is an actor portraying female characters, as was done in the time of Shakespeare.
Aside from my showcase, the only other time I have performed in drag was way back in 1983 in an off-off-Broadway production of a play called "Welfare". I played two very different characters in that production, on alternating nights -- a very macho, drug-using street tough named Aldo; and a very effeminate gay transvestite named Belle.
To be honest, I see little difference between playing a woman, playing a ten year old boy, or playing a black man. All of these are characters who are far removed from who and what I really am, and as an actor, I did what was necessary to portray each of them and bring them to life. Each character had its own requirements. For example, I had to cover my entire face, ears, neck, chest, and hands with dark brown make-up to transform myself into the black rapper. To portray the ten year old boy, I stuffed cotton in my cheeks to make my face pudgier and wore a bowl-cut wig. And to transform myself into a variety of different women, I had to wear not only make-up but a wide range of female clothing, false cleavage, padding, wigs, and everything else necessary to create the illusion. In the end, however, it's all the same to me. In each case, I simply created the physical appearance to go along with the personality I was portraying, whatever the age, gender, or ethnicity. Like a human chameleon, I disguised myself as a large number of different people as required by the scenes.
Q: Which character took the most amount of time and effort to create?
A: Obviously, the female characters took the most time and effort because of all the make-up, clothing, hairstyling, and other things involved. Some required more work than others. But two of the male characters came a close second. One, the black rapper, took a great deal of time because I had to cover so much of myself with the dark brown make-up. Another, an elderly alien military officer, required a great deal of liquid latex wrinkles and whitening of my hair to create his aged appearance.
Q: Some of your female characters have cleavage that looks very realistic. How did you do this?
A: I used a latex rubber female chest called a Treasure Chest, which I picked up at a theatrical supply shop. It strapped on around the neck and behind the back and covered the entire chest area. It was actually quite uncomfortable to wear under the hot lights while shooting scenes, and it made my chest perspire profusely. My torso would be literally drenched in sweat. By the end of the first five-month period of shooting, it had become discolored and brittle, and I had to replace it for the additional scenes.
Q: Did you shave your legs or eyebrows for the female characters?
A: No. I had read about what happened to Dustin Hoffman when he did "Tootsie". They'd partially plucked his eyebrows, and he had trouble growing them back. No way was I going to take that risk, so I covered my eyebrows with liquid latex, which basically forms a second skin when dry, then covered the latex with make-up. This made my forehead a blank canvas, upon which I drew new eyebrows as needed.
As for my legs, the hairless appearance was an illusion I created using one of two methods, depending on the character. The simplest method was wearing a pair of thick, flesh-colored tights I also picked up at a theatrical supply shop. The other method involved wearing eight layers of pantyhose. That's what it took to camouflage the thick, dark hair on my legs. Like wearing the latex chest, this was uncomfortable and hot. In fact, I lost nearly twenty pounds during the first five months I worked on the scenes, mostly because of everything I had to wear as the female characters and all the work involved. I can't imagine what Travolta went through when he did "Hairspray". He was practically encased in a rubber body, not to mention the facial prosthetics. Robin Williams went through much the same thing for "Mrs. Doubtfire".
Q: As a straight actor, how did you become involved in drag in the first place?
A: My first venture into drag came as a result of being cast as both Aldo and Belle in the 1983 off-off-Broadway production of "Welfare" that I mentioned earlier. As an actor, I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity to flex my acting muscles and portray such contrasts in attitude and personality as were embodied by that pair of characters, and I really threw myself into playing them. I created back stories for them and even psychological profiles. I designed every detail of each character's look and put together everything I needed to create them, including their costumes and props. I wanted it to be difficult for people who saw me as one character to believe it was the same person playing the other character. It was a prelude to what I would do a decade later for 102 characters instead of just two.
"Welfare" was our summer showcase at the New York Academy of Theatrical Arts that year, and the cast consisted of the students in my class. During early dress rehearsals, I played the Aldo character. Aldo was quite intense, and during the second half of the play he went through the throes of drug withdrawal and became violent. After seeing that, none of my cast mates could envision me as Belle. Earlier that year, they had seen me perform such leading man parts as William Holden's role in "Picnic" and Robert Redford's role in "Barefoot in the Park", so a role in drag seemed like quite a stretch. The first time I showed up for rehearsals as Belle, they didn't recognize me at all, even though they knew I was scheduled to rehearse as that character and were expecting it.
The theater was located on the second floor of a small building on Fifth Avenue near Greenwich Village, and I rode up alone in the tiny elevator that day, nervous about how I would be received. When the door opened, two of my female cast mates stood outside in the hall, talking. They stopped to look at me, and I said nothing, just looked back at them. From their quizzical expressions, I could see they were thinking something along the lines of, "Can we help you, miss?" Who was this woman they had never seen before? Was she lost, had she wandered into the wrong building or onto the wrong floor by mistake? After leaving them in suspense for a few seconds, I finally said, "You don't know who it is, huh?" As soon as they heard my voice, their eyes opened wide and they blurted out, "Oh my God, it's Laz!" They were absolutely floored and amazed.
Not everyone in the cast had arrived yet, so every time someone else got there, I was introduced to them as somebody's sister or cousin, and each was completely unaware of the charade until I spoke. It was quite a trip seeing people I had worked with for the past nine months not recognize me when I stood right in front of them. I'm surprised we got any work done that day, such was the atmosphere created by my appearance as Belle. In fact, when we broke for lunch, some of my cast mates convinced me to accompany them to a nearby restaurant and see how many people I could fool. As long as I didn't open my mouth and talk, nobody knew I wasn't anything but what I appeared to be, not even the waitress. And during the actual performances of the play, no one in the audience knew I was a guy or that the character was a transvestite until I said my first line of dialog. Until that moment, people assumed I was an actress playing a female. Our director even pushed me to make the character more flamboyant because people didn't know I was a guy at first, and he said, "If you think I'm making fun of you, I'm giving you the biggest compliment I can give an actor."
I learned two things from my experience during "Welfare": 1) As an actor, I could completely immerse myself in a character and become the person, and portray just about anyone regardless of how far they might be from the real me; and 2) I could look quite attractive and real as a girl, and I could completely disguise myself and be totally incognito, like an undercover spy. The fact that I could pull off appearing as a woman meant, if nothing else, that my acting opportunities had increased and that I could do roles that I had never previously considered, and I was willing to use this newfound ability for dramatic or comedic acting jobs as applicable.
However, I found no opportunity to exploit this ability during the remainder of my theatrical experience in New York, and I didn't put it to use again until I worked on my one-man showcase. Only once during the remainder of the Eighties was I offered a role in drag, a bit part as a hooker in an NYU student film. The character was not a transvestite but a woman, and they could have cast an actual woman, but they wanted the gimmick of casting a male actor. But I was cast in the Al Pacino role in a production of "American Buffalo" at the same time, and I opted for that. I could have done both roles, but I elected to portray the Pacino character with a week's worth of beard stubble and refused to shave. So I passed up my one chance to stand on a street corner on Manhattan's Lower East Side in a faux fur coat and go-go boots. LOL
So that's how I came to get involved in drag. It may seem unusual to some people, and perhaps it is. There are plenty of gay drag queens and female impersonators, but it is a rare situation to see a heterosexual actor who includes drag in his bag of tricks and has female characters in his repertoire. You don't see that every day. But that's part of what evolved in my work, an aspect I hadn't planned or anticipated and more or less stumbled into. And as I said, a female character is just another character to me, a personage to portray and bring to life. That it happens to be the opposite sex makes it different from any kind of male character, of course, and more challenging, but in the end it's still just a character.
Q: You do both comedy and drama in your showcase. Which do you enjoy most?
A: That's a difficult choice for me to make, so I'll have to say that I enjoy both and don't prefer one over the other. But I must admit that when I first started out as an actor in the early Eighties, I was quite serious and intense and comedy was not my forte. I generally came across as the complex, brooding type, a mixture of James Dean and Al Pacino, and it was difficult for me to let loose and be wacky or zany. Somewhere along the way, though, I loosened up and developed a knack for comedy. I think it really started when I began writing comedy. As I developed the ability to create comical situations and dialog, my ability to perform comedy developed likewise.
I've often described my writing process as simply transcribing what I see and hear in my head. As I write a scene, I see and hear the characters in my head. I hear the way they talk, I see the way they behave, and what I write is basically a description of what I see and hear. Performing it is simply taking it one step further and using myself as the instrument to portray what I see and hear in my head. So my acting process is simply bringing to life what I see and hear in my head. As I became more adept at writing comedy, I became more adept at performing it.Q: Do you have a favorite scene or character in your showcase?
A: That's another difficult question to answer, as I have various favorites among the scenes and characters. But if I were forced to pick one single scene that I like the most, it would have to be MeetAgain01, the scene from my screenplay "Till We Meet Again". I love everything about that scene: the characters; the dialog; the black-and-white look; the whole Forties Hollywood atmosphere. It comes across as more than just a scene and feels like a mini-movie. Interestingly, it's a scene that I almost didn't shoot. It wasn't on the list of scenes I planned to make, and I tacked it on at the end of shooting in May of 1993. It was the last scene I shot of the original 42 scenes I made, and I'm glad that I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to include it.
As for favorite characters, I have quite a few, but if I had to narrow it down to one male character and one female character, I know exactly who I'd pick. My favorite male character would be Mike Masters, the smuggler from my science-fiction trilogy "Temporary Heroes" who later becomes a resistance leader. I wrote this character specifically for myself, and I based a lot of him on several Humphrey Bogart characters. He's quite a rogue at first and extremely apolitical, but circumstances force him to take a stand and become a heroic figure.
It's very easy to tell which characters are the ones I specifically wrote for myself, because I played them looking exactly as I normally do without any alterations to my appearance. Mike Masters is one of them, and Steve Fulton from "Triangle" and Paul Baxter from "The Stranger Within" are the others.
My favorite female character would be, hands down, Sonia Marquez, the hot-blooded Latin real estate agent from my comedy "A New Life". She's a real spitfire, very direct and no-nonsense, and she knows what she wants and doesn't put up with any crap. When she barges right into the men's room in the scene NewLife02 and confronts Jack because he stood her up, that's quintessential Sonia. She's actually a minor character in that script and disappears from the storyline less than halfway through, but she has a very strong presence and makes a great impact. I would love to meet a real-life Sonia. She's my kind of girl.
Q: Do you have any favorite actors or actresses that influenced you?
A: I have quite a few favorites scattered across decades of Hollywood history, but the performers I admire the most are from the Thirties and Forties. The movies from that era are the ones I most enjoyed during childhood and early adulthood, and the actors and actresses in those movies had the most influence on me. My love for that era of Hollywood is what inspired me to write "Till We Meet Again", a drama which takes place during those two decades and which combines elements from my favorite movies of that period.
My favorite actors from that era include Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Clark Gable, and John Garfield. The character of Mike Masters in "Temporary Heroes" is based on several Bogart roles, and the screenplay itself is an homage to two Bogart movies in particular, "Casablanca" and "To Have and Have Not". The character of Steve Fulton in my noir screenplay "Triangle" started out as my attempt to combine elements of several characters Garfield played.
As for actresses, two of my favorites are Jean Harlow and Lauren Bacall; Harlow for her zaniness and Bacall for her cool elegance. And again, some of the female characters I created in my screenplays mirror the types of characters these actresses portrayed. Lana the nightclub singer in "Temporary Heroes" is modeled after Bacall's role in "To Have and Have Not", while Lola in "Till We Meet Again" is based in part on Harlow. And if you watch my performances as Sonia in the scenes NewLife01 and NewLife02, you'll see a lot of Harlow in her mannerisms, particularly the way she tosses her head to punctuate what she says.
I was going to take my passion for old Hollywood to the max by actually appearing as Bogart in one scene from "Till We Meet Again" and as both Gable and Harlow in another scene, but I left my Bogie on the cutting room floor and I scrapped the second scene entirely.Q: You play a lot of different characters and types of people in your showcase. Who is the real Laz Rojas?
A: I can imagine it's pretty difficult to pin down the real me seeing me as so many different characters. Not only did I change my appearance quite drastically for many of them, I also portrayed a wide range of personalities. But if you want to know who the real me is, you can get a good idea by watching two of the characters in particular. Steve Fulton from "Triangle", one of the characters I specifically wrote for myself, is pretty much the way I am in real life. If you watch my performances as him in the scenes Triangle01, Triangle02, and Triangle03, you're basically watching Laz Rojas. The same goes for Paul Baxter from "The Stranger Within". If you watch him in the scenes Stranger01 and Stranger03, you're watching me.
I can most certainly tell you that a character such as the exotic dancer in the scene Heroes08 is most definitely not me, regardless of how well I may have portrayed her. LOLQ: Those music videos you made of some of your female characters are so different from the scenes in your showcase, how did you come up with the idea of doing them?
A: Those videos were a radical departure from what I did in the showcase, and at the same time, a natural progression from it. Having played women in the showcase, and many different kinds of women, I wanted to see just how far I could go with that and what I was capable of pulling off. I wanted to push the envelope and put some of those characters in a context that went beyond the scope of the showcase and in which I would be completely and totally unrecognizable.
The idea actually came about while I was watching several Playboy Video Centerfold tapes one night, which feature playmates in stylized visual sequences set to music. One of the tapes I watched featured Pamela Anderson, and during part of it, she pranced around in lingerie accompanied by some 1940's style music. The music reminded me of the character of Lola, the 1940's Hollywood starlet in the scene MeetAgain01, and I started wondering what it would be like if Lola performed in a video like this. After considering it for a while, I came up with the idea of starring her in a black-and-white Forties style music video.
In the beginning, it was really just an experiment. I decided to use the very same piece of music from the Pam Anderson tape and shoot some footage of myself as Lola to go with it and see what happened. I didn't really plan out the video at all, I just shot sequences and camera angles at random and worried about assembling it all later. The only thing that guided me was attempting to portray what the Lola character would do if she were performing in and posing for a Playboy-style video. It was like performance art, so there was a greater amount of freedom for improvisation than I normally had in scripted scenes, and I just went with it and explored whatever popped into my head.
I shot the whole thing in one night and edited it over the next couple of days, and the finished result was unlike anything I had previously done. To be honest, I was rather shocked, but I was also fascinated and intrigued and amused by the sheer audacity of it, and I decided to create a second video featuring Lola. Since she appeared fully dressed all in black in the first one, I decided to have her appear in nothing but white lingerie in the second one. Once finished, the second video served as a perfect counterpoint to the first one, and the two of them together effectively portrayed a side of her that isn't evident in MeetAgain01. In that scene, you see only her Lucille Ball-like kooky side; but the music videos showcased her Betty Grable cheesecake style.
Pleased with how the Lola videos turned out, I decided to expand the concept and give some of the other female characters from my showcase the same treatment. I selected several more characters based on their different personalities and visual appearances: Sonia the hot-blooded Latin real estate agent; Pamela the quirky valley girl actress; Gina the sultry Italian lingerie model; Roxanne the trashy biker girl; Erika the arrogant German dominatrix; Darla the 1960's British pop singer/spy; and Maggie the 1950's bobby soxer. So what had started as an experiment and a lark evolved into a full-fledged project whose aim was to showcase each character and capture her personality in a musical and visual set-piece.
I worked on the project for about three months and shot footage for all of the characters, but after editing the videos for Sonia, Pam, and Roxanne, I lost interest in the whole thing and cancelled the rest of the project. Consequently, the videos for the other characters remain unedited to this day, because I didn't shoot enough material at the time to finish them. Looking back on it, I regret having abandoned the other videos I had planned, particularly the ones of Darla and Maggie. Both of those characters are specific to a certain decade and era, as is the case with Lola, and the costumes and music I was going to use would have evoked their time periods very effectively.
All things considered, these music videos were the most challenging bit of acting I've ever done. In the showcase, I had portrayed these characters in dramatic or comedic scenes through dialog and interaction with other characters; but here, there is no dialog, no story. In the case of each character, I had to portray a personality, and get across an attitude, through nothing but theme and mood and visual imagery. The results were artistic but rather erotic, as I tried to imitate and mimic the style and sensuality of the Playboy videos, and the series ultimately stands as a unique, unusual, and daring offshoot of my one-man showcase.
Q: So, did this showcase accomplish its objectives? Did it get you noticed?
A: In mainstream Hollywood studio circles, the answer is no. However, it did garner me something of a cult following in underground film and video circles, particularly in the film community at UT Austin. For the past decade and a half, copies of my showcase tape have been circulating all over the place, and I've been surprised to find commentary about them online from sources I had never had any contact with or been familiar with.
For the most part, the offers I have received have been such that I necessarily had to turn them down, such as the ones for work as a female impersonator. There have been scant few of the kind that are in line with my goals or intentions. One such offer came in early 2007, when I was contacted by the people making the movie "Pineapple Express" for Sony Pictures. The assistant to the director heard about my tape and asked me to send them a copy, and after viewing it, they asked me to go in for a casting session. Unfortunately, I was in Miami at the time and my father was gravely ill and dying, so I had no choice but to turn down the offer. Alternatively, they opted to include some snippets from my showcase tape in the movie instead.
As it stands now, my showcase has grown beyond its original purpose and developed an audience that was not my original target. What was originally intended as a demo of my acting, writing, and filmmaking, a collection of samples of my work, has come to be viewed as a work of art in and of itself that stands on its own as a one-of-a-kind creation. Someone once referred to it as "The World of Laz", a world inhabited by people created in my mind and all of them brought to life by me, and that's as apt and fitting a title for it as any I can think of.
Q: Do you have a blooper reel?
A: Oh, yes. When you do something like this all by yourself, there are bound to be mistakes. Technical problems, flubbed lines, you name it. I've assembled a collection of bloopers, and it's available on the Bloopers page.
In addition to bloopers, there were several scenes which were abandoned and never completed for various reasons. One of these scenes would have shown me as both Clark Gable and Jean Harlow on the MGM lot, but I wasn't satisfied with the way I looked as Gable and I cancelled the scene. I was also going to appear briefly as Humphrey Bogart in the black-and-white Forties scene MeetAgain01, but I didn't like my Bogie either, so although one of the characters mentions him, you never see him.