Leon has been in the entertainment industry for over 30 years. His name has been attached to some of the most memorable films including The Five Heartbeats, Cool Runnings, and The Temptations. He is also a successful musician and a loving father, as seen in his cameo appearances on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
Rolling out had the opportunity to catch up with Leon after his “Blacks in Hollywood” panel at the 2016 Black Women’s Expo in Chicago and talk with him about his lengthy and successful career.
You have been in the business for over 30 years and have worked on over 70 projects. What do you attribute your longevity to?
I have been blessed to be a part of some memorable story lines that people seem to love and want to watch over and over again. I have been able to keep myself relevant and current. I think I was blessed by my parents because my genes have been working out for me. That is something I can take no credit for [laughs]. I have also been able to do projects that keep me out there, feed the public, and keep them wanting more. I have been lucky.
What are your most popular projects?
I can’t say I really know. But I can tell you what people tell me. People love The Five Heartbeats andThe Temptations. People from the neighborhood, my peers, celebrities, and even Pat Riley, the owner of the Miami Heat have shouted out David Ruffin lines at me. Cool Runnings gets love everywhere I go – even outside of America. I can’t go anywhere where there is basketball around and people don’t mention Above the Rim with Tupac. Just today people were calling me Russell from Waiting to Exhale here at The Black Women’s Expo. And more worldwide than anything was my stint in the “Like a Prayer” video with Madonna. That was her biggest video ever. I was St. Thomas and it had people up in arms.
What type of characters do you enjoy playing?
I hope to always play characters that can show a wide range of emotions from tears of joy and everything in between. I realize that you don’t always get a chance to do that. Raw stories are the ones that I am most drawn to. Sometimes you need to be a certain way to move the story forward and sometimes you get to play a much more well-rounded character.
What was a game changing moment in your career?
Robert Townsend saw me at the MTV Music Awards with Madonna and called my agent and had me meet him outside of a theater. He was getting people together for his movie The Five Heartbeats. He told me that he saw me as someone that could be a movie idol. Someone that black women and women in general would come to movies to see like they do some of the white actors. And I was like really, you see that in me? It was very flattering. I think when you are an actor in this business, encouragement from people who are doing things and seeing things in you – helps you and gives you confidence that you are on the right path.
You have a successful band. Tell us about your music career.
My band Leon and the Peoples have been together for over 10 years now. Our first record came out in 2007 and was nominated for an International Reggae and World Music Award. We are just doing our thing and touring the country. We have a record deal with Spectra Music Label and the first single off the forthcoming album is called “Love is a Beautiful Thing” and it debuted at #3 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales Charts. We have a new single coming out May 13th called “I’d Look Good on You” and the album will hopefully be out in the summer.
You and Cynthia Bailey have a daughter together and we have seen you on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” over the past few years. Why did you choose to appear on that show?
The main reason why I knew I had to was because I have one child and that is my Noelle. Everyone needs to know that I am raising her. Since she appears on the show, it would be weird if you never saw me. Cynthia and I talked about it before she started taping. I told her that when I come down to visit my daughter that I would do scenes that involved my daughter and be my true self. I have personally never watched the show but I hear that people really like me on it from my social media.
On the show you and Cynthia make co-parenting and blending a family look easy. What is the secret to that success?
Cynthia is my family. As far as Peter is concerned, everything is about my daughter. I would make a concerted effort to get along with any man Cynthia were to live with because he is in the house with my daughter on a day to day basis. I couldn’t imagine being at odds with a man that had that kind of contact with my daughter.
There are rumors that Cynthia and Peter are heading for divorce. Last season, viewers saw you on ‘RHOA’ encouraging Cynthia to work on her marriage. What are your thoughts on where things are now?
When people get married I think they are taking vows to at the very least try their hardest because things are not going to be easy. There will be times when you are unhappy and you are going to have to work through it. But there comes a point when it just doesn’t work out or people drift apart. It appears some of that is going on with her and Peter right now. I can’t imagine on Peter’s end that it is pleasant or he is going through a good time. And I know for sure Cynthia is not. I feel for the both of them. I wish them both well. I am sure that regardless of what happens – both of them will be fine, flourish, and do well in their endeavors.
What’s next for you?
I have a new project titled Hosanna coming out soon. I will also continue touring with my band.
Follow Leon on Twitter @justleon. Also learn more about his music at www.leonandthepeoples.net.