TCM: Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule Leon to sit down with The Channel Magazine and catch up with you.
LEON: Thank you for having me.
TCM: When I first saw you act in the early to mid 80’s, I saw you in All The Right Moves and The Flamingo Kid. You’ve really had a great long career thus far. One of my favorite roles you took on was David Ruffin in the hit television mini series, The Temptations. Were you a fan of the Temps prior to taking on the lead role of the iconic Motown group?
LEON: Most definitely!! All of Motown music, Smokey, Marvin Gaye, Stevie and of course the Temptations cause this was the music of parents. I would hear it in our home growing up. Even at a very early age, I was in awe of Smokey’s song writing and I really liked his last name too!
TCM: The look and mannerisms were so spot on between the original David Ruffin and yourself. When taking on that kind of role, how much prep time is involved? Are you one of those actors that live the role prior to starting production so you can really get into character the most or do you just kind of show up and flip the acting switch and your suddenly in character mode?
LEON: First of all, Thank you for the compliments. I can never have too much prep time for a role and often in this business you don’t have that luxury. I’m a method actor at heart, so if given the time, I like to become my character before I play the role and stay that way until completed. There is also an added responsibility when you are playing a real person that has family and friends. You want to do him and those who knew him right. Luckily, due to weeks of music and dance rehearsals, I was given that time. Some of my co-stars in The Temptations movie, who all gave great performances, probably didn’t like me that much during that time (or so I heard) but that was David Ruffin not Leon. I would hope that my method of acting helped their performances as well.
TCM: Outside of acting you have a music career and your group is called Leon & The Peoples. Great name by the way. Tell us a little bit about your music with your band?
LEON: My band Leon & The Peoples music is our own blend Reggae Soul music with a little bit Rock thrown in or as it’s been said Reggae/Soul Rock-n-Roll. We play positive, thought provoking, catchy music. If Sly & The Family Stone had a reggae drum and bass back beat in 2015, hopefully you would think of us!!
TCM: How long have you had this career in music outside of acting and have you always wanted to be a musician?
LEON: My band as been together for over 10 years and before that I was singing professionally w/ other bands in downtown NYC. All of those bands were playing straight Reggae music. I guess I always wanted to sing, even before acting. As a college freshman, I wrote and performed a song for the Special Olympics in LA.
TCM: Were your parents musical or actors and that’s what inspired you to get into the business?
LEON: No one in my family was in the business, Hell, no one I even knew was in the business. My dad had a nice voice and sang often in the house but that was the extent of it. I never even saw an actor growing up, let alone know one.
TCM: Having such a vast career in musical driven productions such as The Temptations, The Five Heartbeats, Little Richard, and of coarse opposite Madonna in her hit video “Like a Prayer,” do you feel that obviously helps when you take on these roles? For example taking on Little Richard seems to be no easy task and yet you did it so well?
LEON: Well. Thanks again for the kind words; I think all your experiences, especially the roles you a have played help us w/ certain aspects of your next role. Little Richard was an interesting situation cause it was the first time I heard doubts about me being able to play a role. Little Richard was a lot different from me but so was David Ruffin and so was Derice Bannock in Cool Runnings is how I looked at it.
TCM: Let’s go back quickly to the 90’s, great decade of work for you. You’ve got The Five Heartbeats, then your the bad guy opposite Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger also with John Lithgow, then Cool Runnings with the late great John Candy, Above the Rim, Waiting to Exhale with Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett, The Temptations movie, you then starred in the HBO series OZ in the late 90’s which was excellent by the way. Tell us about John Candy and working along side of him. What was that experience like?
LEON: John Candy was a wonderful guy! Funny, generous and good to work with. I remember being opposed to him playing the coach. It was between him and Scott Glen, a more serious actor who I later worked with in a movie called Buffalo Soldiers starring Joaquin Phoenix. Now, couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the role other then John Candy. He was great!
TCM: John died a year later in 1994 only to have made 3 other movies after Cool Runnings. This movie seems to be a staple film for the people of Jamaica. Is it still as popular there where you’re easily recognized as one of the Jamaican bobsled team when you walk down the street?
LEON: Cool Runnings is the biggest movie in the history of Jamaica. It plays in the airport bar and a there is a bobsled in the gift shop for people to sit in. Many people from all around the world come to Jamaica because of the movie. One of the reasons I was cast in Cool Runnings was because I was a popular actor in Jamaica. At that time I was living there at least 1/4 of the year and even more some years. When the producer, the late Dawn Steel was scouting locations, the locals would say to her, “Leon must be in the movie”!
TCM: What role do you feel was the most fun you ever played and what role was the most challenging?
LEON: This is a very hard question for me, as I consider the film making process as a whole to be challenging. To make a really good movie is not easy and requires a lot work and long hours. I would have to say the most fun experience had to be Cliffhanger because of the budget, living in Rome and shooting at at the famed Cinecittà, the hub of Italian cinema. Each cast member had a paid month and half off in the middle of the movie to travel Italy while they built sets and did some special effects. It was an awesome experience. I also played professional basketball for team Roma while was there too.
TCM: Is their a particular role you feel your known the most for that you’ve done in your career?
LEON: Surprisingly no! There are definitely roles that people recognize me from more than others. The Temptations, Cool Runnings, Waiting Exhale, Above the Rim, and The Five Heartbeats all get mention to me everyday! AOL did a poll of the top 25 African American films in the last 25 years and surprisingly (to me) I starred in five of them. The Five Heartbeats, the lowest grossing of them all at the box office was voted #1 over Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple.
TCM: Flash forward to today, you have a record deal with the Spectra Music Group. Great label by the way. Big history of successful records. Your new single is out now on iTunes called “Love is a Beautiful Thing.” Actually just heard it on the radio the other day right when I got the word we would be interviewing you. Tell us a bit about the new single and upcoming album?
LEON: Love Is A Beautiful Thing is our latest single and title of our forth coming album on Spectra Music. It’s a feel good track about real love, not that kind of love where you slobber on the same pillow with someone for years, go through big moments in your life and now you don’t even know each or where each other is even at in the world. It’s about that kind of love you have for your brother, your sister, mother your children. You may not like them at times but you always love them. Being and indie band and now having a label like Spectra behind us, really has us excited about getting our music to a worldwide audience. Which has always been our main goal.
TCM: Who are you listening to right now? Any new or old artists out there that your hooked on?
LEON: On my playlist currently is Michael Franti & Spearhead, Roachford (UK), J Booj, Morgan Heritage, Jason Mraz, Otis Redding & Beres Hammond always!!!
TCM: You are a part of a new play starting late Feb through March/April called “Things Your Man Won’t Do”. Can you tell us a little about that?
LEON: Things a Your Man Won’t Do is an exciting drama with an outstanding cast of Tichina Arnold (Martin TV show), Wendy Raquel Robinson (The Game), Brian White and Mekhi Phifer. I play a relationship therapist who is arrested while protesting the Ferguson trial decision and becomes the therapist of his bail bondsman, just to find out that the woman, his new patient is having problems with, is the woman I’ve been looking for that ran away from me but I know how to find her and take her from his patient, cause he will do, “Things Your Man Won’t Do”!!
LEON: I’m currently, shooting a serious drama “Where Children Play” in Los Angeles, and also star in the romantic comedy, “I Really Hate My Ex” due out April 15th, 2015 from Lions Gate.
TCM: Leon thank you for taking the time to sit down with The Channel Magazine. We wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors and we hope to talk with you again in the future. Make sure you get the new single “Love is a Beautiful Thing” available now on iTunes and look for the new album out later in the year. Also check out “Things Your Man Won’t Do” coming to a city near you. Thanks Leon!
LEON: Thanks for having me.
Written by Dan Ortiz.
Photos courtesy of Spectra Music Group.