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Leon: Playing The Role, from Music Icon to Undercover Brother

leon

 

Actor Leon has long been known by his female fans

for just being Leon. A gifted actor and artist, the New York native is what

most ladies consider “a tall drink of water” by any standard.

 

Leon made his impression on us in some of the

most memorable films of our era, including The

Five Heartbeats, Above The Rim

and Waiting To Exhale; and he’s had

recurring roles in TV series like Oz

and Resurrection Blvd.

 

While he respects that fans admire him for his natural

charm, he prides himself on the craft that he meticulously hones for every role

he takes on.

 

As he’s been promoting the recent DVD release of

the film Cover, in which he plays a

singer on the DL, Leon has been touring with the stage production 3 Ways To Get A Husband, focusing on

performances with his band Leon and The Peoples, and prepping for some new projects.

We got a few moments of his time to find out how he keeps his career

interesting.

  AllHipHop.com: You’ve been on the scene for a

couple of decades now really strong. Tell us a little about the process for you

in [becoming a] true mainstream actor.

 

Leon: I don’t really know. The process for me has

basically been the same – trying to do what I can to display my talent and tell

all kinds of stories, then hopefully it will affect people and make them

memorable. I’ve always had this thing where it’s not how many roles you play or

how much money you get paid, once you do it, it’s whether they remember it or

not. That’s all that really matters.

 

AllHipHop.com: In terms of working on a film set

or a TV series like Resurrection Blvd

and Oz which were very popular with

their respective audiences, how is it for you going from film to TV, and which do

you prefer?

 

Leon: I like both processes. They’re basically the

same, using the same directors and talent. A series is different because you’re

playing a character over a period of time with new pages every week and things

like that. Although I’ve never really delved into a series where I was a

regular character for years and years, that would be a different situation I’d

imagine. The only difference with film is that a film is telling one specific

story, it’s not stretched out, you have a pivotal scene and it means a lot.

Hopefully you have enough time to tackle it the way you want, because it’s

never going to be played again.

 

AllHipHop.com: You’ve done a series of movies that

were musically-based [The Five Heartbeats,

The Temptations, Little Richard, Mr. Rock

& Roll]. Were these movies that you sought out, or did people look for

you because they knew you could pull it off?

 

Leon: Yeah, I was approached by Robert Townsend to

be in The Five Heartbeats. He pulled

me aside and said he thought I could be [in it] so I was like, “Wow”.

“Just In Case” from The Five Heartbeats

Then I remember when I was doing The Five

Heartbeats I met Otis Williams from The Temptations, and he told me he was

writing a book and that he wanted me to play him if they ever made a movie. So he

wrote the book, and Suzanne de Passe and Motown was gonna do it, they called me

in for a meeting, and I think they thought I was gonna have another choice for

a role.

 

They asked me what I role I wanted to play,

because they knew Otis wanted me to play him, I said “I’d love to play

Otis, but I’d probably best suit this project if I played David Ruffin, they

were all like, “[sighs] We were hoping you said that!” [laughs]

Leon as David Ruffin in The Temptations

And

then Little Richard was something

that NBC came after me to do, and they only really wanted to make the movie if

I could play the role. I guess that was just a different situation, which was

great because it gave me the chance to also find and pick the director that I

wanted. And I got Robert Townsend to direct me in Little Richard.

 “I truly believe that some people are right for

certain roles regardless of whatever their training might be, because they

happen to have what that character possesses. It doesn’t mean that they’re

necessarily a great actor, it’s just that they’re right for the role.”AllHipHop.com: You’ve worked with a number of

classically trained actors, comedians, singers and rappers. Have you found any

differences in working with a method actor and an actor who’s not classically

trained?

 

Leon:  I

worked with Tupac of course, who played my younger brother in Above The Rim. It’s a different

atmosphere most definitely when you’re on the set with trained method actors

who stay in character the entire time. I love it myself, it’s the way I came

up. To walk on the set with everything being the way that it is and feeling

that process, it’s a much more serious environment, but it doesn’t always

lend  to the best product.

 Leon, Tupac and Duane Martin in Above The Rim

I truly believe that some people are right for

certain roles regardless of whatever their training might be, because they

happen to have what that character possesses. It doesn’t mean that they’re

necessarily a great actor, it’s just that they’re right for the role. So you’re

gonna be in bed with people who haven’t had much experience or training, but

hopefully they’re right for the role and everything works out great.

 “Let’s just start talking about things, knowing who

we are and letting women know who their men are sleeping with, if it’s not just

them. As long as you have a choice it doesn’t matter, many women are still

gonna be with men who sleep with men.”

AllHipHop.com: This movie Cover [speaks on] a very controversial topic. We actually spoke to

Vivica Fox a little while ago about the importance underlying the message in

the film. You’ve never shied away from controversial roles. How was this movie

for you, and what do you think is the message in this film?

 

Leon: I don’t know if there is one message in this

film. What I like about this film is Bill Duke didn’t really try to take sides.

What’s most important and what you can only hope from this movie is that it

starts dialogue. That’s the problem that we’re having, the reason it’s

controversial is because we’re not talking about it. We’re not talking about it

in the Black churches, at home, or anywhere. Therefore it becomes this problem

that is never discussed and until we start discussing things it could never be

better.

 

For me, growing up in New York City and going to

clubs and things like that in The Village since I was 15 or 16-years-old, I’ve

seen almost everything. Homosexuality and things like that were never big issue

to me. Once I grew up and saw how other people were up in arms and how they

were reacting I was like, “Wow, this is a shock to me”. Homosexuality

has been around as long as heterosexuality, and it’s not going anywhere, and no

matter what you do or how you feel it’s not gonna change.

 

Let’s just start talking about things, knowing who

we are and letting women know who their men are sleeping with, if it’s not just

them. As long as you have a choice it doesn’t matter, many women are still

gonna be with men who sleep with men. That’s not gonna change, they’re still

gonna be with their man. It happens, 71% of women find out and stay with their

man, but at least they know and they’ve made that decision. That’s the only

thing that I’ve ever said with my opinion on it was that they have a right to

know.

 

But on the other side of the coin you have a

character like my character [Ryan Chambers, in Cover]. You say, “Be honest and open,” [but] are you serious? I’m a

famous guy and a ladies man, you think I’m gonna risk my career and family by

telling you that I’m on the DL and I see the way you react? You won’t even talk

about homosexuality in the churches or at home, but I’m gonna sit there and

tell you I’m one and have you treat me horribly and take everything I work for?

There’s the other side of the coin – you want men to be open and honest but you

don’t give them an open and honest arena to come out in.

“Life Is A Funny Game” from the movie Cover

 

AllHipHop.com: I know this is like asking you to

pick your favorite child, but what has been your favorite role to date?

 

Leon: I don’t really have a favorite role. Whatever

I’m doing at the moment is what I think about. Once I do it and let it go. I

don’t even watch my movies more than twice, because then I start picking them

apart and wishing I did something different. I just stay current, try to throw

myself into the role and become that role… not have anyone call me anything

else but my [character’s] name when I play that role, then I let it go and it

belongs to you.

 

AllHipHop.com: If you could go back in time and

take any movie that you could take a role in, what movie would it be, and what

part would you play?

 

Leon: That’s a really hard one, but on a whim

because you’re asking me… today I’ll say Black

Orpheus.

 

AllHipHop.com: Tell us what you have coming up for

the near future.

 

Leon: I have a movie coming out for the end of the

year which is called Capers. It’s a

comedy set in Brooklyn starring myself and Danny Masterson from That 70’s Show. I’m working on [Leon and

The Peoples] next record, we’re headlining the AIDS Walk concert in Central

Park. We got an International Reggae & World Music nomination for our CD

last year. We did nationwide tour with Beres Hammond and Marcia Griffiths last

year called the For The Love Of It tour. We’re just doing our thing making the

people happy. 

 

You can see Leon

and The Peoples perform in New York’s Central Park on Sunday, May 18, 2008 at

the AIDS Walk concert. Other appearances include Estelle, Loretta Devine,

Wilson Cruz, Sara Ramirez, and Jenifer Lewis. For more information go to www.aidswalk.net/newyork

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