Interview With Actor Viv Leacock, “Hailey Dean Mystery: Murder With Love” and More

By Ruth on October 23, 2016 in Interview, movie, mystery, television
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For a more recent interview with Viv Leacock, please click here.

Have you ever seen a picture of an actor as you’re scrolling online and you stop and wonder, “Now, where have I seen him before? He looks familiar!” Well, chances are pretty good that you have seen Viv Leacock in something before–probably more than once. He’s a Hallmark favorite in recent times, but he is beginning to pop up almost everywhere from BBC America to the CW to TNT–and so the list goes on. Recently, I was able to chat with Viv about his career–from its unusual inception to its skyrocketing success this year. But we discussed so much more than his career….

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RH: It’s so nice to get to talk to you. I was looking over all the things you’ve been in , and I was like, “I’ve seen you in that and that and that–” I’ve seen you in so many things. I didn’t realize how much Hallmark stuff you’d done recently.

VL: Hallmark really likes me a lot {laughs}

I know. I looked at your picture and thought you looked familiar. You were just in The Julius House: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery

Hallmark has been really good to me. There are so many times when I think, “All right, they’re not gonna let me do it ’cause I just did one.” But no, I just worked for them not too long ago, and they cleared me to work on whatever. They’ve just been great. And I have three small kids, and I like that when it comes to Hallmark,  I don’t have to worry about content. It’s a good feeling.

I understand completely. I have a thirteen-year-old daughter, and we live with my parents. So Hallmark is the thing we can have on TV, and everybody is happy. Well, sometimes, my daughter gets bored. She loves the mysteries, but the love stories are sometimes boring for her. 

 I have a ten-year-old daughter and two boys that are eight and a half and six. I’m a mystery buff, and so I like to put on old episodes of Columbo for Vienna, my daughter, and she will sit down and watch those with me. She loves the murder mysteries, and she gets into all that. She likes figuring out who did it, and that’s very cool. So for me to be a part of Hailey Dean is amazing. She asked me what I was doing on this one, and I said, “I kind of get to be like Columbo. I don’t really figure everything out. Hailey Dean figures everything out. But I get to help her.”

So going back to the beginning, what was it that made you decide to become an actor?

Interestingly enough, I didn’t want to be an actor. I wanted to be Eddie Murphy. I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. That was my first love. Even though Eddie had gone into television and then film, him as a stand-up comedian was mesmerizing for me. I’m old enough to have listened to comedy albums on the record player. There were a lot of albums we were not supposed to be listening to, you know, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy. But the command of that stage and that stage presence was something I had witnessed in my own house because my father is an incredible entertainer. He never worked a day in his life as an entertainer. He was a pipe fitter and worked in refineries. He’s amazing with his hands. But he should have been a dancer. He should have been a comedian. He could have been any kind of entertainer. And so I would watch my father with his natural ability to crack jokes and entertain a crowd, and I fell in love with that. And that’s something I loved to do.

My older brother Richard, who lives in LA now, when we were kids, my brother started acting. I was twelve years old at the time, and he’s six years older than me. He started acting on 21 Jumpstreet. He did like six or seven episodes of that. He did tons of stuff, and he was always encouraging me to get into acting, and I didn’t want to. He actually took me to my first audition when I was eight. I should say I didn’t want to do it. I hated it. But it came to find me. Acting kept coming around in my life. I tried my hand at a stand-up. I had a lot of fun doing that. But acting wouldn’t go away. It kept coming back around until I finally decided to check out one of my brother’s acting classes with a fellow named Mark Brandon. He’s another actor in town. For the first time, I kinda saw that it was a cool process in acting–to connect with somebody else and to make something out of the words on the page. And I just fell in love with acting over the course of a night. That was 1996.

Over the next couple of years, I went to workshops. I did class a little bit, but I had to find my way with that because of the whole stand-up thing. I had a different kind of cadence, a different kind of way of thinking about things. I ad lib a lot, and that wasn’t necessarily something that people were happy about when I first started ’cause I wasn’t someone who was proven. And I refused to be anybody but me. I don’t want to say it was a problem, but it was something I really stuck to my guns about. For example, I don’t curse in real life. And I wouldn’t. I refused to. And of course, many of the roles I was auditioning for were roles where that was required. And so I would change the words so I wouldn’t have to swear. And what ended up happening is I realized it wasn’t me. It’s not me. It’s that guy. I’m portraying somebody, and I had to do the best job I could to truthfully portray somebody other than myself with the tools that I have. And I can’t let the other actors down by not giving what I’m supposed to and not saying the words that the writer has so painstakingly written. It took about ten years for me to change my tune on that. To answer your original question, it was my big brother who was responsible for me becoming an actor. A hundred percent.

wp-1477252877215.jpgAs I’ve been looking over your credits, you have been in some amazing things, but it looks like maybe your more substantial roles have been within the last few years. 

Yes, you are right. It really kicked in as of this year. This is the first year that I’ve kind of gone to another level. I’m the guy in town who did a lot of indie stuff.  I’m very well-known in the independent film circuit ’cause I have this different way of being who I am. I started out on something huge. I did a couple of small things, and then I landed a role in I Spy with Eddie Murphy. My part was a supporting lead part in the movie. I worked with him for four months. To get that size of part, he had to approve my audition. And the first thing Eddie said to me when he met me was, “You real funny, man.” And I was like, “Well, I can die now,” ’cause I literally got what I wanted. It was the craziest thing in the world. It was great just to share a space with the guy. I had been waiting to do that since I was eight years old, and here I had just turned twenty-seven when I started working on that movie. And here I was working beside this other guy that I had wanted to work with. He copied Richard Pryor. I copied him. He did everything Richard Pryor did. I did everything he did except swear. It’s an interesting thing if you hear me crack Eddie Murphy jokes without swearing. It’s difficult. So now I was working with him, and it was the strangest feeling in the world because it was like winning the lottery when you’re eighteen years old.

ispyThe greatest thing about that project I Spy was the director of that movie, Betty Thomas, she came into town. We filmed in Vancouver and we filmed in Budapest. It was Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson, Malcolm McDowell, Famke Janssen, and Gary Cole. Betty came into town with a bit of a negative thought process on the comedic black actors in town because she felt that she wasn’t gonna find what she was looking for here. To that point, the line producer had to push her to go into the auditions. She didn’t want to sit in on the actual sessions, but it’s a requirement that you have to. In order to justify bringing some actors from the U.S., she had to be able to say, “I saw the talent they have here, and I didn’t like them.” There’s not a lot of brothers in town. This part was written specifically for African Americans. And so I was like, “There’s a list of guys who have to pass away before they consider me or anybody else in Vancouver.” But that’s not the way it was because when I went in there, Betty was just like, “Woh, this guy got it!” I did the audition. I won her over. And it was cool ’cause there were two parts in this movie, same size character, supporting leads, part of Eddie Murphy’s entourage. And they brought my brother in. At the time, he was working on a TV show in Toronto called Doc with Billy Ray Cyrus. And they flew him in for him to audition with me for the two characters that played the assistants. And my brother and I both booked the parts. And we were all set to work with Eddie Murphy together. My brother’s TV schedule was very tight. They worked it out, but there were some days when he was going to be flying from Vancouver to Toronto and back the next day to make the schedule work.

And then the craziest thing in the world happened. 9/11 happened. And the world shut down. And production shut down. So the whole schedule got changed, and my brother couldn’t do the movie. So it was like the best moment of my life and one of the saddest moments because I booked that with my brother and then we didn’t get to do it. There are three people that shape who I am. My father, my older brother, and Eddie Murphy. And that is the truth. And here I would have had the opportunity to be around two of them. I worked for four months with Eddie, and it was amazing. He was really cool with me. Eddie Murphy did my off-camera lines.  He sat beside the camera on an apple box feeding me lines. I couldn’t believe it. We got along really well. We clicked. We had the best time in the world. Eddie Murphy is really a legend, and I was very fortunate to work with him. And I still have access to Eddie after all these years–personal access. I could call Eddie right now {laughs}. Not a lot of people can say that.

I was on this massive high–this was 2001, when we filmed this. It carried me into 2002, because the movie didn’t come out till November 2002. So I could ride this wave. I was starting to go out for big things. I went out to LA for pilot season in 2002. I was down there for four months. I got really close to being on a sketch comedy show that Cedric the Entertainer had. It came down to between me and another guy. And it went to the other guy. And that was kinda the last thing I did in LA. I had to go back home. I had to make money.

So I came back to Vancouver, and there’s no real star system in Canada. Even though I had done something massive, at that point in my career, I ended up going backwards. I didn’t have to start from the beginning, but I didn’t go out for something the size of that role again until this year. It kicked in this year with my recurring guest star role on Frequency. That’s kind of what kicked it off this year. And then I landed Dirk Gently.

I was noticing that. Now, I have not seen Frequency. I’ve heard of it, but didn’t realize it was a new series. I’ve really been trying to keep up with as many TV series as I can, but–

There’s just so many.

So with Frequency, it is a recurring guest star?

Yes, I’ve only done one episode so far because my schedule with Dirk Gently kept getting in the way. A couple times, I have tried to go back to Frequency, but I keep booking stuff. I never seem to get back. So at this point, I’m not sure if they’re gonna write around that or if they’re gonna try to bring me back. I don’t know. I think they’re doing twenty episodes, but hopefully I’ll get in there at some point.

wp-1477252768776.jpgI’ve also booked the Hailey Dean series, which is amazing ’cause Kellie {Martin} is incredible. So fun, so easy going. I don’t know if she’ll tell you this, but we clicked over our mutual love of the movie Lethal Weapon 2. And a lot of what you’ll see in the movie is us playing Riggs and Murtaugh. {laughs} It’s our version. That’s a little inside knowledge.

So I know you’re in the first one that airs this Sunday {October 23}, but are you getting ready to film the second one?

I know it’s been approved, but I don’t have any dates or details.  I’ve heard that maybe the end of November they might start filming the next one, but there’s nothing official at this point.

I know you’re also in–I know it’s an independent film–but I’ve heard a lot about Dark Harvest. I know it’s running the festival circuit right now.

Yes, it is, and it’s racking up awards. It’s the little film that couldn’t. It’s really smartly-written. It’s got a lot of great actors in it. Hugh Dillon. Of course, James Hutson, who wrote, produced, directed, stars in it–he’s a really good dude. I play his best friend, and he’s really cool. We had a lot of fun doing it. It took awhile to do it, but we got it done, and he got it out there. He’s put a lot of energy into putting it into festivals, and it’s getting a lot of accolades. It was kinda up my alley as far as the way it was shot. I don’t mind improv-ing a lot. I’m good with that. There was a script, but he knew my comedic base and how I like to improv and ad lib. He was totally fine with me throwing in extra things here and there. It makes the relationship that he and I have in the film really special.

Well, that’s great. It will be one of those films that once it runs the festival circuit, hopefully they can get it out into distribution. 

He’s got a lot of people lined up wanting to distribute it. Probably sooner than later.

I also wanted to talk to you about Dirk Gently. I have not heard about this one, so I’m glad I noticed it. The premiere has already happened.

Yes, it came out the night before Hailey Dean.

So this particular series says it’s based on a book series.

Yes, by Douglas Adams. Are you familiar with the movie The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

I have not seen it, but I’ve heard of it and have a general idea about it.

That is based off a Douglas Adams book by the same name. He’s a very difficult author to adapt. His material is so massively overwritten. It’s incredibly intelligent. Simple plot lines, but a massive amount of detail around those plot lines. So what happens a lot of times is that people either drop away a lot of the expository information and try to focus on the case, in which case, you’re not adapting a Douglas Adams novel any more to a movie. You’re kind of basing it off that, but you’re losing a lot of the reason that people read the books ’cause it’s such an amazing and interesting way of telling a story. To undertake this, you need to have somebody very special at the helm. The writer, executive producer, and creator, Max Landis, is that guy. And our other executive producer Arvind Ethan David is pretty special too. Max and Arvind both fell in love with Douglas Adams’ novels when they were kids. They’ve literally both been waiting their whole lives to make this show. They didn’t know each other, but when they met, they knew they were the guys who were supposed to do this. You have to have a love for it. It would be like if people didn’t get Shakespeare. Everybody knows he’s amazing, but it would be like if a pocketful of people thought he was amazing, and then they tried to adapt his works to movies and television to let everybody else know about him. It’s difficult. You’re trying to convey something to the masses who may not know where you’re coming from. I’m telling you, when you see the show, it’s incredible and they pull it off. The slogan for that show is, “Everything is connected.” Literally, everything you see and everything you hear in that show is connected to something else. Like every word is connected. I’m massively proud to be on it and to be part of the universe that those guys have created. Honestly, we had a screening of it just this past week, and the critics loved it. The people kept talking about how funny it was. The audience was laughing, and everybody was having a good time. This year has been very cool. I’m very proud of a lot of the stuff I’ve gotten the chance to work on.

wp-1477252851628.jpgAre you able to tell us anything about your character?

Oh, I can speak about my character. I play a fella named Gripps. Gripps is part of a group of guys called the Rowdy 3, even though there’s four of them. We are vampires of a sort. Not the regular type of vampires–not the blood-sucking type of vampires. We feed off your energy. We can literally suck the energy out of you for us to feed and get stronger. We’re supernatural beings. Dirk Gently, the title character, gives off a very specific energy that we are attracted to. We show up from time to time. We feed off of Dirk Gently. That’s our primary task. Whatever gets in the way of us doing that is in our way. And we will do whatever we can to get to the thing that we’re feeding off of. What happens is if we scare you, we elicit fear, and fear is the best thing for us to feed off of. You’ll have to watch it. Then it will make sense. We’re called psychic vampires. We feed off your energy that is produced by way of your emotions.

So there are eight episodes in the season?

wp-1477252814626.jpgYes, and I am in all but one. I am in the pilot and six other episodes.  And I should explain too, that as far as the Rowdy 3 goes, we are connected and there’s kind of a mind meld happening with us. We have a leader of our group who was the one who was the most socialized before we were all put together. We were put together by people. Martin, the leader, is played by Michael Eklund, and he is the voice of the Rowdy 3. He’s like the brain of the Rowdy 3. Then there’s another character named Cross played by Zak Santiago He’s the fury of the Rowdy 3. He’s the paranoia of the Rowdy 3 as well. He’s always ready to fight. And then there’s Vogle played by an actor named Osric Chau. We actually escaped from the facility and broke him out. From the time he was a baby, we raised him. He is a product of our upbringing. He is the least able to fit into society ’cause he’s been taught by a bunch of lunatics. I play Gripps, and Gripps is the muscle of the group. He’s the strongest one. If you need something knocked down, someone knocked down, or if you need someone thrown very far or a truck flipped over, call me. {laughs}

It’s good that you brought up Zak Santiago ’cause that’s another Hallmark tie-in which is great for my readers.

Yeah, it’s nice to see that. Zak and I–it’s the second project we’ve done together–but we’ve known each other since we were about nineteen or twenty.

He’s very well-loved on Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

His character is hilarious on that. And he is the busiest guy in the world! Zak is tough to pin down. There were days he couldn’t be on Dirk ’cause he was doing another show called Shut Eye.

In addition to Dirk Gently and Hailey Dean, is there anything else upcoming you can mention?

Yes, I am a part of the ensemble for When We Rise which is coming out in January. In terms of the scope of the story, it’s amazing and ground-breaking and important. Lots of amazing actors on board. Loaded cast. And everybody put their heart and soul into it. It was cool. I got to play a pretty pivotal part. There’s a letter that needs to go to President Obama, and I help get it there.

Very recently–as in this past week–I just booked a part on a pilot called Let the Right One In. It’s a pilot for TNT. I started filming this weekend.

You have been having a very busy year.

It’s been fun. I’m not gonna complain.  It means juggling a household. My wife and I with three kids. My daughter is in the industry as well. It gets pretty busy. My wife has been out of town since Sunday, and I was in Los Angeles, and my wife’s sister had to watch the kids. It’s just the way it has to be.

It sounds like you guys are making it work. I often ask actors how they balance their personal and professional life, and I typically hear that it’s crazy, but you make it work. 

I’ve been extremely fortunate in that my wife, Divina, she and I went to high school together. We started dating right after high school, and we’ve been together for twenty-four years at this point. She was around before any of this. We built a life for ourselves before it really started getting crazy. Always something that was really important to me was that we had a solid home base, house, and kids. I kind of feel like my life took two different tracks. Very early on, like I said, it was that explosion with I Spy, a trajectory that was leading me away from Vancouver and leading me to the U.S. I was going down that path a lot of actors take where you forego everything else to chase this other thing. Circumstances brought me back. After I Spy, I wasn’t getting the roles that were taking me back to Los Angeles with anything significant to say, and so I figured I had to do it from here. Building a career from here.

ldp_5015-aBuilding that home base for myself and Divina became the thing that I was going after. We needed to concentrate on having a life. The industry and what I’m chasing is amazing, but it’s not as important as nurturing a relationship between someone I was friends with for six years before we ever started going out. Then making sure that that was working. And then we got married and had kids, and we have to make sure that that is working. To concentrate on that. And then have the good fortune to make it through. It hasn’t always been as easy to get to this point. The industry is feast or famine, and so it becomes a very difficult thing. My wife is not in the industry, so it’s coming from a place outside the industry. But my wife is also self-employed. There have been years where we look back and I think, “How did we make it through?” But we did. And for everything ticking like it has now, and my kids–Vienna is ten, Lennox is eight and a half, and Elias is six. For us to have built this and now be able to run with this, I’m so happy that it’s worked out. You kinda think sometimes that you only have one shot at it, and my twenty-seven-year-old self would not really believe that he was gonna get another shot because that’s just the way the industry works. It doesn’t matter how talented I was. It’s just the nature of the parts I was getting. And yeah, it took a long time ’cause there’s fifteen years in between 2001 and 2016. But it’s finally kinda kicked in. Again, it’s feast or famine. I could be saying this, and then who knows? As of right now, all is going well and work is steady. And I don’t mind dealing with more than I’m used to.

That’s a really good way to look at it.

That’s the only way I can look at it. That’s been the reality. Without the support of this amazing group of people–my agent, my manager, and my family–it would be tough. My wife is absolutely incredible in that she has never complained about the fact that the industry can get in the way of a lot of stuff. It’s hard to plan things ’cause of course, I don’t always know my schedule. Until you become a little more established, it’s hard to tell when you will be or won’t be working. And that makes things difficult family-wise. I give props to my wife. She plans our life and makes it happen ’cause a lot of times, I’d be reluctant to plan things. But that’s the point of it all–you have to live. No matter what you think is gonna happen, you have to live. You have to keep pushing to have that normalcy or else you’re never gonna have it. As far as the industry, there’s not a lot of guys that get to say they chased down one dream, and I’ve also been able to chase another dream at the same time. It’s a rarity. I know how lucky I am.

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There is nothing like listening to the impactful story of an actor who has struggled to make it “big” in the industry, and after all these years, the work is coming so fast, he can barely keep up. I found Viv’s story inspirational and real. Those are the best kinds of tales, and the fact that Viv was so forthcoming with a copious amount of details made this interview something quite extraordinary. I appreciate the fact that he spoke of the people who have aided him on his quest as he realizes he could never have arrived where he is now without a support group like he has been gifted. Furthermore, I am fascinated with the fact that as phenomenal as it was for him to work with Eddie Murphy so many years ago, Viv sees that the most exciting days of his career are yet to come. I Spy was a dream come true for him, but now he is ready for the next adventure of his life instead of reliving the glory days of a bygone era. And in so doing, his career is advancing at such a frenetic pace, in pretty short order, everyone will know Viv by sight if not by name! And I know he couldn’t be any more pleased than he is right now. Be sure that you tune in to BBC America on Saturday nights to see Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (the pilot aired on October 22, so you have plenty of time to catch up). And don’t forget about Hailey Dean tonight (October 23) on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries network. Furthermore, please follow this remarkable, humble, charitable and kind man at the links below lest you miss out on his next adventures with TV and film. After all, I have no doubt that for Viv, the best is yet to come!

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

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