Leon Robinson, known on stage as just Leon, is a critically acclaimed actor and singer that has graced the entertainment world with his talents for decades. He’s starred in some of the most classic films to date, The Temptations, Cool Runnings, Waiting to Exhale, The Five Heartbeats, and we all remember his iconic lines from just about every one. For his latest appearance, Leon is one of many stars in Paul D. Hannah’s stage play Before You Say I Do, presented by Soul Choice Theatre. After attending the show, I ran into him at a local restaurant in downtown Columbia, SC. That short, parking lot conversation led to the opportunity to interview the star and learn a little more about him.
Let’s just say the man is very attentive to details, because he remembered my hair and the color of my nails. Impressed is an understatement. He’s always struck me as the type of celebrity who might be just as calm and smooth in person as he is on camera. My assumption holds true. The lover of Reggae music, island food, and tequila is simply a genuine, laid back guy, who loves to spread love.
You’re one of the stars in Paul D. Hannah’s play Before You Say I Do. I’ve seen it and loved it. But for those who haven’t seen it, what do you say they can expect to take from the play?
Well, I think you should come in there knowing or being prepared to laugh a lot. Maybe shed a tear…and learn. I think it’s very much couple’s therapy. There are things in this play that the couples learn about themselves that everyone needs to learn about themselves, and the person you’re about to marry, or they’re already married to. Although the play is very entertaining, it truly does have some strong messages in it and things to learn from.
I was going to ask if you felt like married or even divorced couples would take something or learn from this as well.
Oh yeah! Married, divorced couples, anybody even considering marriage, or been married. Even if not, just coming in there you’ll see there’s so many things to learn about yourselves. You know? People in any sort of relationship, the way you conduct yourself, the things that you keep, or don’t look at within yourself. Because lots of times in relationships, the problem is you. You have to look at how you’re conducting yourself in this relationship. We go from one relationship to the other. Many times, making the same exact mistakes because we never took the time to try to look at ourselves and see what we were doing.
Do you think that your character [Edward] is similar to Leon at all?
Hmm… you say at all. He is not similar to me, but I wouldn’t say not at all. I mean there are some things that my character might have believed or believes that Leon also believes. But umm… he is far from me. (laughs)
I’ve seen it, so I got you!
So, we’ve seen you star in so many films. Especially classic films, some that are very important to black culture. What was your inspiration for stepping into the acting field?
My inspiration? You know, I don’t really know what my inspiration was. When I was very young, in like 7th grade, I saw my sister’s high school (senior) class do this Rock’n’Roll revival. I went to a Catholic school, and they did this variety show, and I told them I could do this. So I choreographed, and did all these numbers, and brought these characters to life, and it was a huge success. But I went to an all-boys academy, and they had no drama department. So I didn’t think much of it after that, I just excelled in athletics.
It wasn’t until I was on a basketball scholarship in Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, that a graduate film student chased me down campus and begged me to be in his movie. And I was like, Why don’t you get somebody in the drama department? I’m sure they would love to be in this movie. He was like I’m gonna be honest with you, I’ve been watching you and observing you and it’s something about the way you are, your look, your style. I just want to be the first person to put you in a movie, because I think you’re going to be in the movies. I’m like okay; I did the movie. I had the experience that we all have, you know? You ever sit down and talk to someone for the first time, and you feel as though you’ve known them much longer than the time you’ve spent with them?
Right! Exactly…and that’s the way I felt on the film set. So, I changed my major and became a drama major. I started studying theatre, acting, and continued to do so in New York and Los Angeles, and here you go. Now I’m talking to you!
Here we are!
So out of all films, plays, everything you’ve done, what was your most memorable or favorite production?
Memorable or favorite production… You know, that’s interesting. Because when you say production to me, do you mean the overall film or do you mean the actual production of it?
Um… I would say overall film.
Right, right, right. I don’t have a favorite. My favorite film is the one that you like the most. Because that’s who I make movies for. I make movies for you and anybody that watches them. I don’t really watch myself. After the initial screening or whatever, I don’t really watch myself because I’m too critical. I start to pick myself apart, so I kind of just leave it. I let people tell me how much they like the movie or what they got out of it. Because what I got out of it and what I think is going to be different.
So you’re watching to enhance your performance versus everyone else watching it for entertainment?
Well, no. Because when I first watch a movie that I’m in, I’m strictly watching for entertainment and seeing how people are going to react to it, or how they feel, or whether I can honestly say this is a good movie or not. But if I start to watch it several times, then all of a sudden, the concentration starts to go on me, and I’m like why’d I hold my mouth like that? I need to stand up straight! You know? So it’s like after a while, I don’t like to watch too much because I don’t want to spoil it for myself.
Little things. I got you.
I know one thing that a lot of people I speak to don’t necessarily know about you is that you’re also a singer. You’re the lead singer of Leon and The Peoples. So, if you could tell the people about the group, how would you explain your group and genre?
Well…my band Leon and The Peoples, we’ve been together for like 11-12 years now. Our first album is coming out with Spectra Music Group in 2018. Our single “beautiful” was just released on Friday [10/6/17].
I love it!
Oh, thank you very much.
My band plays a mixture between Reggae and Soul music. Probably a mixture of some pop, and a little rock, but mainly just a message that will make you think, or a give a positive message usually, or at least a thought-provoking message. And we move butts when we perform. (laughs) Which is the main thing, because when I perform I love seeing people really enjoying our music, singing back to us, dancing, and I love it. I can’t wait to go on an extensive tour this next coming year for the new record.
And this track, “beautiful”, what was the inspiration behind the song lyrics? Because like you said, it’s something for the people. It gets people moving, and to me, it has that chill vibe, but also the vibe that makes you want to get up and two-step or dance with somebody.
Well the album is Love Is A Beautiful Thing, and all the records have something to do with some sort of love. “beautiful”, which is the first record, is a song that’s about telling the people in your life that they’re beautiful; whether it be your mother, your brother, your sister, your baby mother, whatever. You’re telling them that they’re beautiful and not being afraid to. I think, especially in these times, that we need to uplift each other. We need to make each other feel good.
Especially women! I feel as though now more than ever, maybe it’s because of this new administration, but women are standing up and trying to really take control of their lives and how they’re perceived…and I could not be more for them. There’s been a double standard that’s been placed on women since the beginning of time, and that double standard only exists for men to feel superior over women. Women need to try to erase that.
I just think that “beautiful” is a song that so many people responded to. I was like let that be the first record that comes out. Let people know what we’re thinking about, what kind of band we are, what kind of message we want to put out there, and people really love it. They love what it’s about, they love the feeling, they love the vibe. And I’m glad you like it!
Yeah…and just when I thought I couldn’t love you anymore…
It’s just rare to hear people these days expressing their love for one another and uplifting women to make us feel just as equal as human beings. So, I definitely appreciate that on a personal level.
So, the state of America, or Black America, what do you feel about our current state, considering the current administration and laws being put in place to hinder small, black communities? Do you feel we are making progress? At a standstill? Or there’s just so much more to go?
Well, of course there’s so much more to go. And I always feel as though in general we are making progress, we’ve always made progress. You can look at history and see how far we’ve come. Less than a year ago, we had a black president. You can’t come any further than that! So, unfortunately, this new administration has allowed racism, division to seep into our present day culture in a very strong way. The one thing I just really hope is that we can look at history and realize how we should handle this. Don’t make the same mistakes that we’ve made before. We don’t need to have race riots, we don’t need to have looting, we don’t even need to be attacking pro-Nazis or klan members when they have a parade. What we need to do is ignore them! That’s all we need to do. If we ignore them, it’s never news. The news is when we go out there and oppose them.
This is true. I only ask because of your response regarding women and current America.
But! Sliding back into music, could you give me your top three influences in the music industry?
Wow! That’s tough. That’s a tough one.
I know! Past or present, living or deceased, who would your top three be?
Um.. well one is living. I’ve done four tours with him, and he actually produced a song that’s on the forth coming record as well. He’s one of the greatest Reggae/Soul singers there is. His name is Beres Hammond. If you know him, you love him. If you don’t know him, you need to. (laughs) Alright?! And um…wow. It’s tough to say after that because I’m really a lover of songwriters. So from a young kid, I’ve always loved Smokey Robinson. His songwriting and what he contributed to the whole Motown genre as a whole is just amazing. I was really ecstatic and happy he was in The Temptations movie. And…wow… you know it’s really tough to say. I don’t think I would’ve ever even played Reggae music if at 12 years old I hadn’t heard Bob Marley. But then again, I have great reverence for other songwriters like James Taylor, who I recently had the pleasure of meeting and having long conversations with.
I think I gave you four, so… (laughs)
I mean, it’s a hard question for anyone. Especially music lovers. Sometimes you can’t choose one, because if one person or multiple artists can touch your soul with their words or songs, I know it’s difficult.
And it’s also so many different genres! So it’s tough.
So, when you’re out and about, do you ever find people having this preconceived opinion about you or how your personality might be? Or if it’s similar to characters you’ve played?
Yeah! Of course. I mean because that’s how they know me. They don’t really know me other than my characters, which is how I prefer it. Unfortunately, we live in this…this YouTube, reality-based world now. So movie stars can’t be movie stars anymore, people are all in their business, and everything else. I prefer people to know me for my characters I play. I mean…unless I actually know you, but people know a little bit more about you now, for whatever reason.
Me for example, I’m an extremely private person. But since the mother of my child is on a reality show, people at least know how I am as a father now because I appear on that show– that I’ve never watched –but I appear on it, because that’s my daughter. I didn’t want anyone to believe that I wasn’t raising my daughter. So yeah, it’s different. I think other than the fact that they know a little bit about me as a dad, lots of times people address me as my characters. Sometimes they assume I’m a certain way, or think I’m coming in there and hold on tight to your girlfriend, because she may leave with me! I hear all this kind of stuff all the time and I’m like what are you talking about!? You guys are out of your minds! I’m not after anybody’s girlfriends. (laughs)
So you don’t want no problems?
Nah, nah. That’s how I get down.
I don’t want to get too personal. I don’t like to exploit people’s lives and children. I’m a mother.
You’re a mother! You’re a mother of what?
Yes. A ball of energy.
Great. I’m sure! It’s not going to stop for a while. (laughs)
Oh, I know!
But I just love to see black fathers showing that unconditional love and affection to their children. Seeing your Instagram account, of course I only see from a distance, but I admire the way you love your daughter and how you express to the world how much you love her. Is there one thing in particular you’d like for her to learn from you? To carry on through her adulthood?
One thing… Yeah, I guess the one thing I would want her to do is create her own path. To be a chief, not an Indian. There’s too many Indians in this world and not enough chiefs, too many people following what other people do, the way other people dress, the way other people talk, the way other people make music– everything else instead of coming up with your own. Being unique! I tell people this all the time, nobody can be a better you than you.
That’s a word! I can definitely respect that.
So, when it’s all said and done, what do you want to be remembered for? What do you want your legacy to be?
Eh… I don’t know. I’m too much in the middle of it to think about legacy. I hope that I am a part of or creator of memorable work. Work that lasts well beyond my time. I think I read a poll on AOL a few years back and they chronicled the Top 25 Movies Starring African-Americans, and I was in five of them! I was like wow! I guess I’m achieving my goal, but now the goal is to continue to do that. You know, can I get a few more on the list? You know what I’m saying? (laughs)
Do you see yourself continuing to balance the acting and music careers? Or do you plan to just take on one full-time?
No, no, no. Always balance. I’m an actor, first and foremost, this is how people know me. That’s how I make a living. Music is my love, and something that I’m very happy people think that I’m good enough to do and entertain people, and make money, and have record deals. I feel blessed that I can do both. My goal, ultimately, is to do them both at the same time. I used to think Elvis was a pretty cool cat when he made movies. He got to act, sing, kiss the prettiest woman, you know, that’s the kind of style I can live with! (laughs)
Not mad at that! Is there anything else that you have coming after Before You Say I Do that you can tell us about? Or do we need to just stay tuned?
I think you just need to stay tuned. There are a lot of things in the works. I have a production company called Motion Mob Films, and it’s based in New York. Then there’s a short film we just made called Make America Black Again in which I star in as the first, fully-black candidate that becomes president. And then I have another production called The Pulp of Avenue B, which I’m very excited about. It’s a comedy about a therapist, he’s a street therapist though. So he doesn’t have an office per se. He meets his clients in the park, coffee shops, in bed, wherever he needs to.
You know, some people need therapy in bed.
Yeah, I say where they’re comfortable.
My last question for you… that fountain of youth. Where does it come from, Leon?
You don’t age! Everybody thinks so, and I posted the photo I took with you on social media, and there was some jealousy!
Jealousy?! What for?
How did I get so lucky? What are you doing with Leon? Where are you at?!
Well you should’ve just told them that it wasn’t luck at all. That you saw me in a play, stalked me, waited until I came out, and then you asked for the picture! It was planned and you got a deal.
Nah, but as far as the fountain of youth, I can’t take credit for that. You know, mom, dad, genes, whatever. But a lot of it has to do with my attitude. I don’t feel older than I’ve ever felt. My sense of style, the way I dress, I’ve always stayed current, luckily, so has my body. (laughs) So, I don’t know! I don’t know.
Okay, okay. If you say so. People agree that you age so gracefully.
What do you mean age so gracefully? People say I’m not aging at all! That’s the problem. I don’t understand. Kevin Hart called me the black Benjamin Button! (laughs)
It’s pretty accurate! I’m just watching in amazement because we can only pray to be so lucky.
But you all put on an awesome show, loved it, and if I get a chance to, I’ll probably see it again.
Well if you do, say hi!
I will. You know I will!