-Pay sitting here in Amsterdam with mister Leon.
Yes, sitting here, snow and all.
– It hasn’t snowed like this in a long time, you brought the snow over here.
I am innocent, I will have nothing of such. We will see how the weather is when I leave Amsterdam haha!
– This is not your first time in Amsterdam.
No I have been in Amsterdam many times before. It’s my first time performing though. And the first time for the Cannabis Cup.
– Most people only know you as an actor.
Yes, I think that’s appropriate since I have been in 28, 29 movies and only have one record. So yeah I would think most people know me from acting haha.
– Well there’s also a lot of people that don’t know you.
Yeah of course.
– For the people that don’t know you, how did you become an actor? Let’s go to the acting part first.
Hmmm, how did I become an actor. Well, when I was in grade school in 7th grade, I saw a Rock N Roll revival at my sister’s high school and in my old grade school, in 8th grade they had a variety show, so I said we could do that. So that next year we did it and it was great and they made us do it another night cause it was so popular.
– How old were you?
I was 13. Then I went to an academy where they had no drama department so I just excelled in athletics and got scholarship offers in basketball. For some reason I wanted to go to Los Angeles, I had never been to LA in my life.
– Why? Was it the glamour or something?
No I don’t know why. It wasn’t even so much LA, it was California.
– The warm weather huh?
Yeah, the winters in New York were killing me. While I was on campus one day, a graduate film student chased me down and begged me to be in his movie. I asked why me? You got all these people over there studying theatre and arts. He said it’s just the way you look. You look like you should be in movies, you should be in my movie. I said ok I will try this. So I was on the set and I had an experience that we all have had in our lives. Have you ever sat across the table from someone and you’re just meeting them, like right now hehe, and you feel like you’ve known them so much longer than the time you’ve spent with them? That’s how I felt on the set. And I felt really comfortable even though it was a new experience for me. It changed me, I changed my major, became a Theatre major and decided to study theatre, arts and drama and acting and I started doing my thing and now I am talking to you so I guess I’ve made it. Haha!
– Yes you’re in Amsterdam now, you’ve made it! What was your first big break in the film industry? What do you consider your first big break?
I think anytime you do a movie, your first movie, that’s your biggest break. Just the fact that you get a part. I guess my first movies were my biggest breaks.
– It doesn’t have to be big, famous worldwide movies?
Well no, because what happens….well they were, my first movies haha. But I thought that’s all there was haha!
– Wow, spoiled!
Well yeah I was, from the beginning I was very spoiled. It’s breaking in, getting into the business, people getting to know about you, seeing your work. You getting more work, that’s always your biggest break. Of course things happen afterwards, you may do an outstanding performance that people really take to or you’re lucky enough to be in a really good movie and people take notice to that. Those are other plateaus.
– So there’s not one movie that you consider your big break? I guess your first movie?
Well no no no no, I would say the Flamingo Kid with Matt Dillon, directed by Garry Marshall. I was really young. Those are my friends up till today, Matt Dillon and Fisher Stevens from that movie. It was the best reviewed movie of the year. When you get to be in your first couple of movies and they’re quality, its really good cause that’s how people look at you, as a quality performer. So you try and have to prove that to them. I was very blessed to be in that situation. I am about stories; I am a storyteller that’s why I am in movies with stories. It’s about being important to the story. Whatever role I play is important to the story, whether it is the lead role or it’s a role that turns the story around, as long as it’s important to the story, you can’t tell the story without it. That’s my criteria.
– You also have another side to you. Which is why you are here. Actually, you are here for the Cannabis Cup, how did that come about?
Wow, well for a few years now, one of the guys that is part of the Cannabis Cup, tried to hook me up with Steve Hager, who is the editor of High Times magazine, so that happened. Through a publicist, Lee Wallman, who is a publicist for the Stony Awards in Los Angeles, she was my publicist for a while, she also had people like Will Smith and all. But she saw us perform at the House of Blues, sold out show with Barris Hammond. Last year she asked if I wanted to come to the Stony Awards as a celebrity but I couldn’t make it. And this year she saw the band and she asked if we wanted to come to the Stony Awards and maybe even play. I thought that was a good idea and ran it by Steve and played the Stony Awards out in Los Angeles. We did our thing and that’s how Steve asked us to perform at the Cannabis Cup.
– Leon is over here performing as a musician, not as an actor.
Well, either way, you can also look at it as me acting like I am a musician, on stage.
– But that would mean, that you’re acting that you have love for music. I don’t believe that.
No no no, I definitely have love for music. Especially when I am singing my own lyrics.
– So yes, you are here as a musician, we had to establish that.
Without a doubt.
– When did you start doing music professionally?
My band has been together for almost 6 years now. Leon & The Peoples. We have played all around the country, played on BET’s 106 & Park.
– But before all of that, you never had the wish or the dream to become a musician, besides acting?
Well yeah, in actuality what happened was with so many actors people don’t even know that their first love is music. I had a whole curriculum of everything. I would do dance classes in the morning, we would do ballet or jazz and then we would go to voice lessons, stuff like that and then we would do musical theatre too. So we did it all, it was never just one thing. And one thing just popped up before the other and so I never pursued singing, I pursued acting. And I was lucky enough to get into some musical projects that I got casted for that. (Five Heartbeats, The Temptations etc.)
– Was that a coincidence or did you also aim for that?
No it was a coincidence. Someone saw me….well you asked me about my big break. There are different big breaks in different categories. Not so much as acting, but as far as publicity and notoriety. Funny thing is that I did a music video that got me worldwide attention.
– That was the Madonna one.
Right, Like a Prayer. I didn’t think anything like that would ever happen so it was weird. There were people from Italy, France etc asking Who is Leon? So that’s what definitely gave me notoriety and people started looking at different roles.
The thing with music is really a trip cause what happened was, I always had love for music, especially reggae music. As I started becoming more popular as an actor, especially after Cool Runnings, every reggae festival was glad to have me as a guest. And all of sudden I started MC-ing. I have MC’d for every major reggae fest. From SunFest to Reggae On the River, I was the guy and I was bringing on acts. I admired the acts, I had guys like from Third World asking me if they could do one more song. And I was like you’re asking me? I am fan so that was crazy haha. And being around so many musicians and stuff like that, I directed a video for Steel Pulse, they were also in a movie of mine. I just started singing with these guys, just acapella and they were like “Man, you love music so much, how come you don’t do music?” And it was funny cause one time I was hosting a show at the Universal Amphitheatre in LA. It was Maxi Priest and Steel Pulse and a bunch of people like that. And I went out on stage with acts like that, all screaming and stuff like that. And this dude came up to me and said “Did you think about having a record contract?” I was like “You haven’t even heard me sing.” He said “But yeah look at this reaction.” I said well it’s gotta be about the music man. And then I went to be a part of a band with some great guys but I broke off with that cause I wanted to do my own stuff and formed The Peoples. Started making music, the first single is produced by Barris Hammond and took it from there.
– The first album: The Road Less Traveled is the debut album. It’s been out for a while now, 2005 am I correct?
Yeah it says 2005 but we didn’t really put it out until the following year. We had recorded it but didn’t really put it out until we had a good deal and all to really put it out.
– It’s described as reggae-soul, the music you make. I have listened to the album and it’s very positive. Happy music. It is snowing today and when I was listening to it, I felt like sunshine and summertime.
The thing is, we’ve played live a few years before we made the record. The record is a combination of what we do live for the most part, the songs that we do live.
– Why didn’t you do more songs for the album? I thought it was kind of short.
– Yeah, it listens so easy, before I knew it the album was over.
Well I don’t think we have less than most albums.
– But if you have been playing for so many years, don’t you have more on your repertoire?
Well yeah we recorded probably about 18 or 20. And the 13 are the ones that passed and made the record.
– Is there an outlook on a new album already?
Oh yeah definitely. Everything is written and all. We have all the songs already. The thing is, it’s a different marketplace today. You have to stay ahead of the curve, you can’t be all old school and say hey I’m gonna do it this way. You have to watch what’s really happening today, how the kids are doing and what they’re buying. And the kids are buying singles. So you’re going to see singles first. It’s better if you’re just giving them what they want. And hopefully there’s a reason to make a whole reocrd with a concept, which is great, which is what I love to do.
– Which brings me to a single, a song. New Day Obama. The adjusted version of New Day. Can you say something about that? We can get all political but you can just say something about the song.
It’s more about looking forward towards the future. It’s really about looking forward. What has been done is done. In order to make things better we have to look forward. And him being in the office is definitely one of the major steps that we have had cause the people elected one of us finally. Someone who actually knows and lived in the innercity. Someone who has been raised in a non typical household, by a single mom. Someone who knows what poverty is, someone who has met his wife in the same typical situation and probably still has sex with her. “Oooh no our president doesnt do that.” Haha. Just someone who understands. Which is so great. It saddens me that we had to let things go so bad before we voted for Change. But…
– ….better late than never?
Well no, cause we never really been given a choice. Obama came out of nowhere. And he came out of the fact that we wanted and needed a change. We didn’t have a candidate like him before. We didnt have someone who was preaching harmony and getting things together. He reaches out to everyone and says listen, we need to make this world a better place.
– Ok enough with the politics; let’s get back to Leon. As a creative person and having been in the industry for so long, what aspect of the entertainment business do you dislike most?
Wow, that’s a lot. I basically don’t like the business aspect. I love the art of it and that’s what drives me. The business side of it is so anti-art. It’s hard and you find yourself sometimes working on things that frustrate you because you are working with people who aren’t artistic, but are strictly commerce driven. But you have to understand that that’s a big part of it. You have to find a balance between the commerce and the art. Just try to do your best and put something out there. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. Its not about how much money you make. When someone sees you on the screen, you either doing your thing or you’re not. There’s no thing above your head saying “15 million dollars for this role.” It doesn’t say that. Once you’re in there, you’re in there and people like what they see or they don’t.
– How do you keep your creativity? What keeps you inspired to do the things that you love to do?
Music is a big part of it. Music is my sanity. Cause I don’t need a studio to write a song. I only need a place with a PA system, come in there and rock the crowd. It’s great but unfortunately, now that I made it my business, I have to deal with the business side, which is worse than the film business.
– Does it take away from music being your sanity?
No, cause it doesn’t affect the songs I write and perform. That’s the good part about it.
– If you wouldn’t be an actor or a musician, what would you be right now?
There are a lot of things that I can see myself doing but they require far too much schooling. But I would probably a trial lawyer.
– Can u tell us what you got in store for us in the near future, what some of the projects are that you are working on right now?
We just had a movie coming out called Cover, directed by Bill Duke and with Vivica Fox. It’s a really good movie, people are talking about it like crazy. It’s a hot topic today. I got another movie called Capers which is coming out.
– Is it coming out over here? Cover or Capers?
I don’t know actually what they are doing with it. Cover is out on DVD already in the States, it did play in the movie theatres. Other than that I have various projects I am working on. A movie about Sly and the Family Stone, which is a movie I really wanna do. I just think I am very right for the role. We are also in the process of writing new music. Which amongst 2 songs with Barris Hammond. Basically just writing more positive reggae soul music.
– Any words of advice for (upcoming) actors or musicians over here?
Yes I have the same words of advice for upcoming actors and musicians over here as anywhere else. That is that the most important thing is to be yourself. People everywhere are always trying to mimic others because they are successful. Or they wanna put new artists in boxes saying they sound like such and such. This world has too many followers and not enough leaders. So just stick to yourself and stay true to yourself.
– Do you see yourself doing collaborations with people from over here?
I would be very open to that. Without a doubt I would love it. I welcome it. I am always open to people from everywhere as long as their ideas are new and fresh. Especially if it’s something that’s popular over here, something that people would like. I love that sensibility. I might have an idea for a song and someone has a beat that makes them think the people over here will jump to then hey I am for it. Contact me.
– We are giving away 3 copies of The Road Less Traveled. Do you have a question for the readers/listeners to answer, in order to win a copy?
How many band members form Leon & The Peoples altogether?
– Thank you for this interview and enjoy the Cannabis Cup.
Thank you as well.
With special thanks to:
Victor Lewis from VicRae Inc.