by Biko Kennedy
This story for anyone who dares to stand out in a crowd boasts itself as a classic and is celebrated as such.
While lead actor Leon Robinson was in Jamaica a few months ago, we sat with him to discuss everything from his early acting gigs to embarking on his musical career which is laced with Reggae music.
In this, part one of a three part interview; we introduce to you: Leon…the actor.
Jamaicansmusic: You've starred in over 30 movies; do you have a dream role that you haven't played?
Leon Robinson: I'd like to think that my dream roles are ahead of me. I think they'll probably be something that I'd be producing myself. There's just so many roles to play – many genres of movies – and I'd like to consider myself a versatile actor and the sky's the limit as to the choices I can make and the many roles I can play and the biggest thing in this business is to continue to try to create situations where you can play different roles as fans would like to see you play the same role over and over again. Because they'd obviously love you as certain characters but you just have to keep growing as an actor and make them fall in love with new characters (chuckles).
JAmusic: How is it that you prepare for your roles mentally and physically? Especially the iconic ones like David Ruffin of Temptation, Little Richard…
LR: Well it's a different process each time. For me whenever you play someone who's actually a human being that has walked and talked on this earth and has friends and relatives and people that knew them I think you have a higher standard to try and reach because people actually knew that person so you want to be as convincing and it's not so much so looking like the person or sounding like them it's more capturing their spirit. That's really the main thing. For example for Cool Runnings; I had my entire place with nothing but pictures of every sprinter there was and I'd match my body up against theirs and I would just try be convincing as a runner because I knew that if I didn't look like an athlete at the beginning of the movie then you wouldn't believe that I was an athlete during the movie. So I think that one of the most important things that I've realize is the first time you see a character in a film that's when you're usually sold and you follow whatever he does and you believe it. Like an actor would come on the screen with guns blazing and you'd be like "He looks like he's rough", so you follow and believe everything he does. And for me in Cool Runnings the first time you saw me on the screen you could see that I looked like an athlete and you're convinced that I am. Another example would be David Ruffin from the Temptations; I would constantly have old footage of him playing all the time, even in the middle of the day I'd just burst out in a move, just trying to make it like almost second hand for me to actually [portray him]. Because I think that the more you are that person the less you have to act while you're working.
JAmusic: You do seem to yearn for the more memorable roles; take us back to the day you received that call to play the lead in Cool Runnings.
LR: It was kind of funny because Disney was scouting locations and such and it was really strange because I was always in Jamaica at that particular time – I'd usually spend at least 3 months out of the year here – so I was actually [in Jamaica] while they were scouting at one point and that's when we actually first talked about the film and they were like "I can't believe it, everywhere we go to scout locations people was saying that "a Leon a do the movie", you're like their favourite actor down here", and I just said it's cause I spend a lot of time down here. So eventually when the movie came around they cast me to be in the movie as the lead and what happened is that the director at the time fell out, Brian Gibson, and he went on to do 'What's Love Got to Do With It?' so Jon Turteltaub came around and they and to recast it again and they casted me again (chuckles). And the rest is, as they say, is history (laughs).
JAmusic: What's the key to longevity in the performing arts?
LR: Wow…I wish I knew (laughs). I think the key thing in entertainment in general to longevity is to (a) have a foundation; I trained to be an actor, I know how to break down a character and become a character and convince people who I am. So it's important to have a foundation. A lot of people now get into the business with Reality TV and Youtube and might be good in the moment but they normally don't go much further than that, so I think the key is to have a good foundation and (b) I think you just need to stay current. Just take a good look at yourself and the work that you're doing and are you current? Are you someone that new people [to your career] will see today and go "Wow"?
JAmusic: What do tell others inspired by your career who wants to become an actor or actress?
LR: I think that anyone who's going into the entertainment business I think the most important thing is to find who you are, that unique quality that you possess. Because that's the one thing that you can do and you possess that no one else can do better than you. I know that no matter how much I train or how much I hang around you, I'd never be a better you than you. So if you put that out there – that unique quality that is you and find the best you – then no one can out do you. And I think in this business we have so many followers - who I call Indians - and not enough Chiefs. Everyone imitates everyone look at the rappers; as soon as they get a record deal they want to dress the way other rappers dress and have on the same glasses and do the same poses. No one is trying to defy the odds anymore.
JAmusic: You had two films released in 2012 - Soul Ties and Ex-Free - could you talk a bit on them?
LR: Ex-Free is a romantic comedy, which means being free of your ex, that everyone will be interested in and it's a story where three women kidnap their exes in the hopes of becoming free of relationship baggage in search of the truth behind the breakup and Soul Ties is about a young woman's faith in her beloved collides head on with her faith in people. It's based on the Novel "Soul Ties" by Tee Ashira, that begins as a tale of gut wrenching heartache but ends in a triumphant redemption that not only touches the soul but it leaves a welcome mat at the door of awakening.
JAmusic: When was it that you realized that acting was what you wanted to undertake as a career path?
LR: Acting was something that kind of found me, I didn't pursue it really. I was in Los Angeles on a basketball scholarship at Royal Marymount University and a graduate film student ran up to me while in college and begged me to be in their production and I was just like "why me? I'm sure there are lots of people in the drama department that'd love to be in it." And he was like it's just the way I looked, I just had a look that he needed in the production and I tried it. Now I'm not someone who is crazy adventurous but I try most things if it's safe…So I tried it – it was called the 'Photographer' – and while on set it just felt so comfortable and natural acting on the set that I changed my major and studied drama, started acting and having lead roles in varying movies and I must have made it cause now I'm talking to you (laughs).