The ABC miniseries event When We Rise airs its final two episodes tonight, March 3. The groundbreaking series by Milk screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black and inspired by LGBT activist Cleve Jones’s memoir “When We Rise: My Life in the Movement,” chronicles the personal and political lives, triumphs and heartbreak of LGBT individuals who pioneered the gay rights movement.
In the first of tonight’s two episodes, actor Viv Leacock portrays the father of a young girl who writes a heartfelt and moving letter to President Barack Obama about her family. In addition to his work on When We Rise, Leacock has a busy schedule working on Hallmark Channel’s Hailey Dean Mystery and BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
The Hudsucker was able to catch up with the actor to chat about the poignant miniseries, as well as other projects he has coming up.
The Hudsucker: When We Rise is being hailed as an epic, landmark television event. What was it like to be a part of this project?
Viv Leacock: On set there was a feeling that this was important work. There was a buzz on set and you knew you were a part of something special. No matter how big the star you would come across, everyone was proud to be involved.
The Hudsucker: It is an amazing cast and a beautiful script. What are your hopes for how the project is received by audiences?
Leacock: Given the state of the world at this point, I hope people watch closely and realize that the only way through is together. I would hope that people tune in to learn what love can do.
The Hudsucker: In When We Rise you play a father whose daughter writes a poignant letter to President Obama. What drew you to this role?
Leacock: In this particular case, I auditioned for a different part and then was offered the part I eventually played. The director, Dustin Lance Black, wanted me to play this father. The other character was homophobic and hostile and I really didn’t want the part. So I guess what drew me to the part I did play was how much I didn’t want to portray a hate-filled, fearful character.
The Hudsucker: You also play Gripps in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency — a show we absolutely love. We had a chance to chat with one of your co-stars, Alison Thornton too! How would you describe your character?
Leacock: Gripps is the muscle of the Rowdy 3. He is the stoic one. “Talk softly and carry a big stick” or in Gripps’ case, carry a sledgehammer.
The Hudsucker: The series is based off of a Douglas Adams novel, but he is often a difficult writer to adapt. What has been the most challenging thing about the show for you and is there anything rewarding as well?
Leacock: The most challenging part is all of us trying to keep a straight face during filming. The Rowdy 3 are one mind. The chemistry I have with my fellow Rowdies, Michael Ecklund, Zak Santiago and Osric Chau, is genuine and we laugh a lot off-camera. [But] the most rewarding part is being part of something you know is really special. This was made obvious when we discovered different parts of the crew would make it a point to come and watch our scenes.
The Hudsucker: You have a lot of projects going on — When We Rise, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and Hailey Dean Mystery just to name a few. You’re also a husband and a father. How do you find balance between your professional and personal lives with so much going on?
Leacock: My wife, Divina is the reason I have a balanced life. Period. I, like every other actor I know, are kinda like professional gamblers. We don’t care when, where or how inconvenient an audition is we are gonna get to it and try to get the part! There’s no set program to getting to the place where what you love doing can also take care of your loved ones. It’s a gamble that takes a massive amount of understanding from your significant other. Adding children to the mix is a completely different challenge. My kids became the physical faces of my drive to succeed. My wife and I have known each other since we were 13 so she knew what she was getting into!
The Hudsucker: We are big on origin stories here, so tell us what made you want to become an actor in the first place?
Leacock: Interestingly enough I didn’t want to be an actor at all. My first love was and will always be stand up comedy. My older brother, Richard Leacock, is an actor and started in the industry long before me. He tried to get me into acting as early as age eight but I resisted. It came back around at me at age 17 when a local agent approached me and suggested I give it a try. I did and booked the first audition I ever had! Not bad for a guy that didn’t wanna do it! It was a five episode arc on a show called Neon Rider. Being on that show taught me a lot but I still didn’t identify with being an “actor” so I walked away from the industry for seven years. That’s when I did stand up! My brother was still convinced that I should act as well so he dragged me to one of the acting classes he was taking and for the first time something just clicked for me. So to answer your question, I didn’t want to be an actor, but my brother and the acting gods wanted me to be one.
The Hudsucker: You’ve had quite a vibrant filmography since you first started acting in the late ’90s. What has been your favorite role to date?
Leacock: That’s easy, working opposite Eddie Murphy in I SPY. I idolized him growing up and especially because I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. He also had to personally approve me for the part. His first words to me were, “you’re really funny, man.” No one could ever tell me I wasn’t funny after that!
The Hudsucker: You have been in a lot of projects, many of them being recent and increasingly larger roles. What, for you, has been the turning point in your career?
Leacock: 2016 was a major turning point in my career. I had my first guest-starring role, booked three major recurring roles and found out that I will be a series regular. All I did was wait for a lot of the other guys in my category to leave town!
The Hudsucker: For those out there who want to kick start their own careers in the arts and film, what is the one piece of advice you’d give to someone wanting to become an actor?
Leacock: Make sure you want to do it for the right reasons. If you’re basing your success on what others think about you, you will be lacking the most important asset, which is confidence. You have to know that you’re enough and that you deserve to be there. We all have a story to tell.