If you’re a fan of ’90s cinema, you likely saw at least a handful of stellar performances from actor Leon.
His résumé is chock-full of classic films, including The Temptations, Cool Runnings, Waiting to Exhale, The Five Heartbeats, and Above the Rim. The actor has been active in Hollywood since the early ’80s, and even today he continues to introduce us to emotionally stirring characters that stay in our minds and hearts long after we’re done watching.
One of Leon’s latest projects is a touching drama written and directed by Leila Djansi, Where Children Play. The film centers on Bellissima “Bell” McCain, played by Teyonah Parris (Chi-Raq). When her mother dies, Bell returns to Georgia to pay her respects, but the traumatizing events from her childhood that caused her to run away in the first place are coming back to haunt her. Bell finds out that her father, David McCain — played by Leon — is very ill, so she helps with nursing him. But she has a very dark past with her father, and she’s eventually forced to face the truth.
Also starring Macy Gray and Brian White, Where Children Play uses the story of one young Black woman and delves into experiences that many others like her can relate to. The film refreshingly exposes abusive situations that are often swept under the rug in many families.
Although Bell’s father is not too likable to viewers, Leon provides the necessary humanity to bring the character alive and maybe even allow audiences to find some sympathy for David. But the character wasn’t an easy one to portray, and Leon explained why in an interview with rolling out.
What initially attracted you to this role?
To be perfectly honest with you, I wasn’t attracted to it at all. I turned it down because I didn’t want to do it. It’s a hard role. He’s not a very likable guy, and being a father of a teenage girl myself, it was hard to tackle for me. But it’s really about the overall story, not about my character. I though it was a story that needed to be told, and I knew I could play the role well. So, after some persuading, I decided to do it.
So it was playing an abuser that made you hesitant?
Of course. An abusive person that was inflicting pain on his family like that, an alcoholic — there weren’t a lot of redeeming qualities of him, at least while he was young.
What helped you get into character?
A character may not be sympathetic to the audience, but for me, he’s sympathetic always because there’s a reason he’s in the situation he’s in, and I feel for him. He’s a man that’s been broken. He lost his job, things aren’t going his way, and sometimes you’re in pain and you’re trapped. And sometimes when you’re in pain and misery, you know, misery loves company.
What message would you want for audiences to get from not only your character, but also the film overall?
I want them to be engaged in the story and realize that we as a people are very diverse and we have a lot of stories to tell. And anytime a story is being told from a young woman of color’s perspective, I think it’s a positive, and I hope we see a lot more of it.
You’ve been in a long list of films. Do you have a favorite?
I don’t have one of those. It’s like [asking] which one of your kids is your favorite. I don’t make movies for myself. I make them for you and everyone else that watches them.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
I’m doing a movie with Leila Djansi, the director of this film. I’m very impassioned by it; it’s called Hosanna. And it’s about our failed immigration system and an immigrant coming here from West Africa who’s trying his best to live the American dream and finds out it’s anything but.
Where Children Play is now available on DVD and digital download.