When I was five years old, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was revived for CBS. I was a little too young to understand the humor, but I can recall watching the reunion special that served as the pilot. That was my first introduction to my newest interview subject, Leigh French. Leigh was, of course, an essential part of the first Comedy Hour from the 60s, most memorably playing the character of Goldie O’Keefe, host of the Share A Little Tea With Goldie segments.
As I grew older, I would become familiar with Leigh French in a new way as she worked as an ADR coordinator on some of the most well-known movies of the past three-and-a-half decades, working on movies ranging from three Best Picture Oscar winners, Rain Man, Driving Miss Daisy and Forrest Gump, to movies directed by both Rob Reiner and his late father, Carl Reiner. With all of her many credits, I knew Leigh French would make for an amazing interview subject. We’d been talking since at least 2019, but over the course of several conversations in 2020, we put together the interview you’re now reading. If you love retro pop culture as I do, you’ll love getting to meet Ms. French, a versatile talent who has been a part of scores of amazing projects on both the small and big screens.
Say hello to Leigh French!
Johnny: I have my questions ready to go.
Johnny: Let’s just jump right in, starting with this: You first broke through as part of a legendary San Francisco improvisational theatre company, The Committee. Which characters and sketches that you created with them were you most proud of having originated?
Leigh: If I can digress a bit from what you asked me, that’s a very tricky one about whether I have a favorite character. The thing about The Committee was that it was really and truly the first successful improvisational theater in San Francisco. There had certainly been people who used improvisation for acting classes and things like that, but to the best of my knowledge, in San Francisco and on the West Coast, The Committee was the first successful improvisational theater that existed. Some of the actors in what I will refer to as the Original Company came from Chicago’s Second City. They started The Committee as Second City did more social parody, and the actors who formed the Original Company wanted to do more political satire. They came and started a theater in San Francisco called The Committee, which was very successful for a long time. It was a 300 seat theater that also served dinner. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I became a member of what was called the Second Company. I was an improvisational actress there for about three years before I was hired to come to L.A, Hollywood to work down here. Because it was an improvisational theater, we did thirteen shows a week, with three shows on Saturday, and were dark one day a week. The first show was pieces and skits that proved to be successful and worked, and the second show was always totally improvised. There were ultimately hundreds of characters, and that was the most incredible, fun creative part of it…Exploring and being able to bounce in and out of so many characters. I ultimately was hired to come down to Los Angeles because of a particular character that some scouts from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had seen, which was a Berkeley radical. I had done a few funny scenes with that character. There were so many funny characters, but it was harder for women to break in. There were only two women in the company at the time. There were always six or seven men, so the women who could improvise and hang with the guys had to be incredibly versatile, and really had to fight for all their stuff, frankly. It wasn’t particularly women-centric. Now there’s a lot of women in improvisation, but back in those days, not so much at all. I won’t go on and on about that. That’s a whole other book (laughing). I would have to say there were so many characters that I just kind of enjoyed every single one of them, but the Berkeley radical was the one that I would say sort of gave me entree to L.A, and ultimately to the Smothers Brothers. That’s what they hired me to do some scenes on their show with. Ultimately, I didn’t want to do that on their show, and I came up with the Goldie Keefe character, who was certainly a contemporary during the 60s. She was the hippie character whose original name was Mary Jane Roach, but the censors made me change it. From then on, I was appointed a personal censor to catch anything I might try to slip through (laughing).
Johnny: Alright. That does lead me to ask about the Share A Little Tea With Goldie segments. Of those segments, which was the funniest and which was the most meaningful?
Leigh: Funniest? I’m happy to report that the reason why I kept getting picked up for the show, and ultimately became a series regular with them, was because every scene I ever did worked and was really pretty funny. Now that I think about it, it was really an amazing time, and I had an amazing opportunity. It’s when everything just clicks. The time clicks. The character clicks. I was writing my own stuff with the help of another writer because, as you can tell, I’m pretty long-winded. I always needed somebody to get me in my time zone. This is really hard because I absolutely liked every one of those that I did. I don’t think I could even pick. It would be like saying, “Well, which child do you like better?”. (Laughing) I don’t know. I liked them all, and they all came out of such an incredible passion for me. When I would come up with the bits for the show I was on, I would think about the issues of the day, and I would just take them and run with them. Share A Little Tea was always something I did alone, an all-in-one talk to the camera that was sort of designed to be a woman’s show. One time, though, one of the segments had a guest, and that was the only time I ever had a guest on my show. It was Don Knotts, and he put that segment on his album. That was pretty hysterical, frankly. That was a really funny bit that we did together. He was playing a psychiatrist in his Don Knotts way, and he wanted to interview me because he actually thought I probably wasn’t sane because of all the things I liked to talk about. In the course of it, he goes pretty wacky on the show, and it was just pretty funny for everybody watching it. He was fun to work with. I never thought much about a favorite, but I don’t think I could pick particularly any. In the meaningful realm, I think it was on Glen Campbell’s program, originally called the Summer Brothers Smothers Show, and later called the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. I was a regular on that, and I wasn’t doing the Goldie Keefe character. I was doing the Weather Girl, and I think you may have mentioned that weather report. It was a very long segment that went from Hate to Hope. Have you ever seen it?
Johnny: I have seen it. The version that I saw came from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and not the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, but I have seen it, and it’s a very powerful segment.
Leigh: I almost didn’t get to do it because they thought it was way too controversial, but they did let me, and the response from it was amazing. Frankly, imagine how long ago that was, and if I did it today and just changed a little of the slang and the dates, it would be as significant today as it was decades ago. Do you know what I’m saying?
Leigh: It was very meaningful. I had a couple of other meaningful ones. I did some good underground bits that got across censorship a few times. My pieces always had secret messages in them for people who could understand those. I wrote in double entendre all the time, so that certain things the censors thought meant something, our contemporaries knew meant something else (laughing).
Johnny: I can see that. It’s like how, in the late 60s on variety shows, you would hear someone refer to being stoned. For the older generation, they thought it meant being drunk. For the hippies and Baby Boomers, stoned wasn’t being drunk. It was marijuana.
Leigh: Right. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was a very smart, sometimes controversial, politically inclined show. They broke through a lot of barriers. I mean, having Pete Seeger on the show when the CBS executives didn’t want him on the show? This was during the Vietnam War, and they were trying to get across a lot of messages about certain things in our culture that we found pretty reprehensible, and not okay. We tried to do it through music and humor, and then ultimately the show was taken off the air because of it.
Johnny: It’s rather sad that it was. When you mention the guest stars, that leads me to ask: Of all the guests, young and old, that you worked with on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, who were your favorites to work with, besides Don Knotts?
Leigh: I loved working with Jonathan Winters…Unbelievable. I did a segment with Jonathan Winters that was a different character, and that might have been on the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. The character that’s most remembered to Goldie Keefe, because that was the segment I did a lot of, but there were a lot of other characters that I did. There was a character that I did called Kentucky Rose, and as alluded to, I did a segment playing that character opposite Jonathan Winters. He was incredibly amazing and fun, and being a young actress, the opportunity to work with him was sort of divine because he was truly funny, and somebody that I admired. The thing about the Smothers Brothers is that they mixed up a lot of amazing people like Jonathan Winters and Tallulah Bankhead. These were sort of older actors that were not really working at the time, but they brought them on to do skits and different things. I mean, I worked with Jack Benny, and that may have been one of the last times he worked. I don’t know, but for me as a young actress, these were all people I grew up looking at as a kid, and part of why I became an actress that focused, to some degree, on comedy. It was just amazing to have an opportunity to work with so many amazing people. This was probably the last time a lot of them worked, frankly, because they were pretty old at the time, and I was still pretty young at the time (laughing). I was in awe of all their talent and their work. They inspired me to no end. Kate Smith was on once. Jimmy Durante was on once. Also, The Beatles were on, and that was amazing. Just being part of that time and all those wonderfully talented people, and being given the opportunity to work with them and carry my own weight in the story was pretty cool.
Johnny: Do you have any stories about working with Jack Benny?
Leigh: When it comes to Jack Benny, I don’t have any specific stories that come to mind. He was Jack Benny, in my eyes a true comedic star, as were a number of what we’ll call “the old-timers” from the earlier days. For me, it was basically marveling at being able to watch Jack in rehearsal, doing what he did, basically how he functioned as a performer in his participation on that show. I was a very young actress at the time, with this amazing opportunity to be in the company of the incredible, special stars of comedy, like Jack Benny or Jimmy Durante or Tallulah Bankhead, all of these amazing actors of a time that was basically coming to its’ end. They were fairily old at the time they were on the show, but they certainly still had what I would call their chops and their talents. Watching everybody in their own realm, how they studied or rehearsed or contributed to the material, was just amazing for me to be able to watch. I sort of saw myself as the observer with a privileged position, at that time, to be able to participate with them, which I did. I mean, there were some scenes I was in with them in the course of the show, so it was just amazing for me. I sort of followed their lead. Let’s put it that way (laughing).
Johnny: Definitely. It is interesting to look back on shows like The Smothers Brothers’ and see the intergenerational mingling, how one episode could simaltaneously have a crooner and then an acid rock band as musical guests…
Johnny: It was a very diverse time, and how lucky you were to be a part of it.
Leigh: They WERE the diverse time. Other shows didn’t do that. That was the thing that made them so cutting edge, and also problematic for censorship and executives. There’s an interesting documentary called Smothered….
Johnny: I’ve seen it.
Leigh: Yeah, so you know the arc of what was really going on, and that show was sort of an arc of that period of time. We thought things were changing, and as I look at it today, I’m not so sure it happened.
Johnny: Hopefully, positive changes are coming.
Leigh: They’d better be, I tell you. It’s never been like this.
Johnny: It’s definitely a dark time, but I do have faith that things are going to get better. To go back to you, going away from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and to another 60s acting credit, you played Cobalt Blue in the I Spy episode “Tag, You’re It”. Knowing that Bill Cosby was a sleaze even in the 60s, were you nervous about working on the same project as him?
Leigh: You know, I love that you found the name of that character. That was a really fun episode to do. That was one of my first jobs in Hollywood. I was working at The Committee, and they’d brought me down to do this episode. There was nothing I knew about Bill Cosby at the time that was negative at all. I never heard anything about him that was negative. He was a comedian, so I didn’t have any reluctance whatsoever. There was no part of me that was nervous or concerned. I actually thought, “Wow, this is pretty cool. I’m working with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. This is pretty fun guest-starring on an episode”. I never heard anything about either one. Now, many years later, cut to all of what you do find out about Bill Cosby, which is all pretty horrifying and disgusting and disappointing. What I do remember is that when a bit before the I Spy guest stint, I was on the lot and Bill came by in his car. He asked me my name and what was I doing there, and if I recall correctly, I was working on a different show at the time, Hey Landlord. Bill offered me his dressing room because he was going to be gone for a few days, and I said, “Oh, wow. That’s really cool. Yeah”, so I got to use the star’s dressing room. Years later, I was like, “Wow, I’m glad he never came back when I was there” (laughing), but I, personally, never had any interactiopn with him that was like what we found out later, other than him wanting to know about me and whether I wanted to come over to his dressing room before he left. He said, “I’ll be gone, so you might as well have a nice place to stay while you’re working here”. I said, “That would be great”, and he said, “I’ll see you in a few days when I get back”. Something happened and he didn’t come back, and 40 years later, I was like, “God, I’m glad he never came back”. You never know, but I never had any issues.
Johnny: Alright. Well, speaking of things that you never know about, according to the IMDB, you served as a production assistant on several episodes of the late 60s TV series Then Came Bronson. Did you spend time as a production assistant to gauge a different career possibility?
Leigh: You know, I have no recollection of that. They may have transposed something else because you know they don’t get it all right on IMDB, but there was another thing that relates to this, which was that I did co-write a short film with Lynne Littman that she directed called Running My Way. I also worked on that in different capacities because it wasn’t that I was looking for a different career, but I just liked doing everything. You keep getting hired because someone says, “She’s good at that”, but I like writing. I like singing. I like dancing. I liked the behind-the-scenes side of film and television. I probably wouldn’t have minded putting a little more focus on that, but I had such an opportunity and I was busy doing other things. I did like working on that film, writing, doing some production design and art direction, and I did do a few things like that along the way. I did a few projects with people doing short films and developmental things, and I always really liked that creative end of it. I like working with people on other projects and trying to develop things, but I don’t remember working on Then Came Bronson. That stumped me.
Johnny: Well, we’ll move along to my next question. You appeared in several automotive-related 70s movies, including Aloha, Bobby and Rose, White Line Fever, and The Great Smokey Roadblock. What do you think made automobile movies such a big thing in the 70s, and was it coincidence that you found roles in several films of that nature?
Leigh: You know, until I read that question and you asked me that, I hadn’t put that together, but you’re absolutely right about that. Now, one thing about that is that the person who wrote and directed Aloha, Bobby and Rose, Floyd Mutrux, also wrote and directed The Hollywood Knights, and he’s quite a car guy. He’s very much about the vintage period of cars, and the music of those periods. Cars used to fit in to the culture of those times. It was a big deal. I personally just sold my ’62 Ford, so I’m also one of those people who likes those early American cars. I never put it together about the car theme, and it’s kind of true. I think it was about a period of time before our iPhones and our computers and all that. Cars were the things that got teenagers and young people before adulthood to be able to be together. I think that might be what it was in terms of those other movies because having a car meant you could get away from your parents. You could go to a movie drive-in or a food drive-in, so car culture was a really important aspect of growing up. I think that’s what it was with these movies, except for White Line Fever and The Great Smokey Roadblock. I just think it may be coincidence, but there was a lot about cars to early American youth. I think that if you look at American Graffiti, there was a lot of car stuff in there, and it really came about because people connected that way. You just couldn’t wait to have a car, and that’s probably why I ended up with my ’62 Ford forever, plus I have my old hippie van in my driveway as well. When it came to the characters, I loved doing movies and I loved doing every one of those characters. I also had a penchant for those characters because I’m sort of considered a Southerner. Even though I was an Army Brat, I was born in Kentucky. My father’s from North Carolina and my mother’s from Kentucky. I also had an ability, just from my own personal knowledge, to be able to come up with and find those characters pretty easily for myself. Those experiences were really fun, really great.
Johnny: Alright. To go a little more in-depth about The Great Smokey Roadblock, you worked with some major talents on that movie, including two Oscar winners in Henry Fonda and Susan Sarandon. As an actor is always learning something new in their craft with each role, what did talents like Fonda and Sarandon help you learn with acting?
Leigh: I don’t know if I learned anything, but I have to say that the experience of being in the company of people I admire, although Susan was pretty young there, too, was the most extraordinary thing for me. I felt like I just fit right in. I don’t mean that as bragging. I mean that as like being able to play with a band. Henry Fonda was pretty old then, and I don’t think he worked much after that if I recall. He did, but not a lot. He was such an incredibly gracious actor for being as famous as he was, and being in his company was always a delight. He was a really graceful person in the context of working together, and I think any time you’re working with people at the same level, you’re always looking to see where they go to get to where they are. How do they learn their lines? How some people don’t learn their lines. Yes, everything is stimulating in that you’ll always pick up something from whom you’re working with, and from my point of view, everybody ought to. It’s kind of like respecting everybody’s process, and also, since you’re on location, you’re living together for however long you’re there, and so there’s your experience of being a community and a group. You eat together. Some days you work, some days you don’t, but you’re hanging out together, which is as important an experience as the work you’re doing there also. I found that very true when I worked on a few Paul Newman movies, which were some of my favorite experiences. The same thing was true there, being able to work with people who are truly great at what they do.
Johnny: That’s always something good. I can relate to that with the interviews I do, because the people who I interview are good at what they do, and you’re a perfect example of that.
Leigh: Oh, thank you.
Johnny: To go into the 80s, in 1980’s The Hollywood Knights, you played Jacqueline Freedman. That movie was an early example of the nostalgia for the 1960s that would be popular throughout the 1980s. What was it like to revisit the 60s on film, but playing an authority figure as opposed to the rebels you played in the actual 60s?
Leigh: (Laughing) It’s funny that you figured that out because I’d never really gotten to play a grown-up before, and I wanted to. I had a lot of versatility from working in The Committee and as an actor, and I had that ability and I knew it. Floyd Mutrux, the writer and director, said, “Go for it”, and it was very fun to be one of those kind of straitlaced characters. That was a lot of fun for me to play somebody who was way out of what I was normally seen as, and I believe Dick Schaal played the guy I was having an affair with in the back of a car. It was a lot of fun being one of those uptight, square, straight women (laughing).
Johnny: Definitely. Late last year, I interviewed another Hollywood Knights star, Kim Hopkins, and she told me that most of her scenes had been deleted, but she had seen them later. Were there any scenes of yours’ that were deleted, but you still managed to see anyway?
Leigh: You know, that’s always an actor’s fear. When you sign on, you don’t know if you’ll get cut out, but I think I managed to stay in the movie, let’s put it that way. I don’t think anything got cut out. Every once in a while, I’ve been asked to come back and add things for storytelling purposes that they didn’t put together correctly, but I’m happy to report I stayed in the movie.
Johnny: Alright. Moving along into 1981, my first exposure to your work came via your role as a Prehistoric Woman in Mel Brooks’ History Of The World, Part 1. What was it like working for a comedic legend like Mr. Brooks?
Leigh: Amazing…That whole thing was amazing. It was surreal because it was so much fun, and I was working with really funny, amazingly talented people that I admired. Besides Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar played my boyfriend in that, and working with Sid Caesar was a highlight and touchstone for me in my career. When I was doing that, I played a cavewoman and had to wear a leather outfit with dirt all over my body and bones in my hair, and my young daughter thought that was the most amazing thing, that I had a job where I got to go to work every day and play in the dirt. Every day, I decided I would come home like this and take my shower at home, so my kids saw me come home every day from shooting, and I would be covered in dirt, and she thought it was great that I got to go to work and play in the dirt all day. That was a great, fun working experience, and Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar were the highlights for me.
Johnny: Yep, two great talents. Do you have any Sid Caesar stories?
Leigh: Not really, other than it was an incredible opportunity, and fun to work on. It was amazing to have the opportunity to work with Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks. It was a highlight.
Johnny: Alright. Moving from comedy into horror, your first involvement with the Halloween franchise also came in 1981 when you played Gary’s Mother in Halloween II. What do you recall the most about that shoot?
Leigh: I played the mother of a kid who had a razorblade stuck between his teeth the entire day. (Laughing) That was for a friend of mine who was directing it, and it was sort of a fun thing to want to be part of. It was just a small part, but it was fun to be working with a friend, frankly. I do remember being worried about the kid who played my son with the razorblade stuck between his teeth. It was fake, but still…
Johnny: Alright. Around this time in your career, you started making a new name for yourself in the fields of ADR and voice-over. What led you to working behind the scenes?
Leigh: Well, aging out as a woman in Hollywood, and that’s the truth of how this goes. It’s a little less clear as you get to be a little older now, but it was very true that you were asked to go in for less and less auditions or parts. I still had a really good year when I decided to go into ADR full-time and start my own company. It was also basically a new craft, but it was clear that women aged out in Hollywood. It was just the truth. There are a lot more parts for men, hence there are a lot more parts for all ages of men. For women, that’s not so true, and so I didn’t want to find myself in that position because I wanted to sort of reinvent myself because I have a lot of skills and things I’m capable of doing. I started doing voiceovers just on my own for directors and people who wanted me to do things in their movies that just happened to be voiceovers. I could do all kinds of voices and characters, and so I started doing that on my own just for the fun of it. It then became more apparent to me that I could do it on a bigger and broader scale. I knew a lot about it, and a fair amount about filmmaking as I’d been a film major at San Francisco State. It was really abour transitioning to still be able to be an actor, and not get aged out as a woman. It was a pretty good idea (laughing), and I’ve done pretty well in the voiceover and ADR worlds, and I’m really grateful for that.
Johnny: You certainly are, and so now I would like to ask about some of the many films you’ve done ADR and voice work on. As opposed to the on-screen questions, I’ll be jumping around with films instead of going chronologically. To start off, you worked on ADR for three winners of the Best Picture Oscar, one of which was Forrest Gump. What went into the ADR for that movie?
Leigh: I’m trying to remember specifically about that movie because we used a large group of actors on it. The thing I’ll say, which may relate to that and other things, is that my approach to being an ADR coordinator had to do with actually making sure that all the actors who came in to fulfill what needed to be done in vocal effects were right. It was like casting a movie for me, so as Forrest Gump took place in the South, I was very careful to make sure everything was authentic about the background vocal effects that were in every project I worked on or coordinated. If it took place in New Orleans, I wanted people who could sound like they were actually in New Orleans and do that. If you slide over to New York in a couple of later scenes, there had to be people who could do both of those voices. Being really good at ADR means you have to be vocally mult-talented so that you can be authentic. I used to have a term that I liked called Documentary ADR. I wanted it to sound very authentic with whatever we were doing, even if it was just background vocal effects. We did a lot of specific voiceovers, like newscasters, announcers at ballgames, cops over the radio, cars that talk, answering machines with characters saying things. I did every episode of 24, and you needed people who spoke Russian or Chinese or what-have-you. It’s the approach to absolutely addressing where each scene is taking place that makes it sound completely authentic, and you put together a very talented group of improvisational actors. We improvised it all. There was no script or rule, unless it was a newscast or something, and then it sounds authentic. I approached it from a pretty high bar, frankly, and I would have to say I think it worked pretty good most of the time. I can’t think of it ever not working when I worked on something because I was pretty obsessive about making sure it was appropriate to the movie. You’re having to support actors like Tom Hanks. You’re supporting directors. You’re supporting writers. You have to have a lot of respect for what they’ve already done, so when you walk in and have a group of actors address exactly what they’ve done, you lay it in the movie and the scene and the area that you’re working on, whether it’s a crime scene or a park or a medical center, and it sounds completely authentic.
Johnny: Well, you certainly did a great job with Forrest Gump.
Leigh: Wasn’t that a great movie?
Johnny; It absolutely was.
Leigh: I liked that one. I’ve noticed that, during this period of shutdown, it’s playing a lot.
Johnny: Well, to go to my next question: You were an ADR coordinator on 1988’s Best Picture winner Rain Man, a movie I admit I have mixed feelings about, being as I’m on the autism spectrum myself. Did you recruit any talents on the spectrum to work on that movie, or did working on Rain Man help you to learn to work with talents on the spectrum?
Leigh: I found that a really cool question, and I’d love to know from you if something about that movie bothered you because I’ve never heard anybody say that.
Johnny: Well, I guess it’s because for me, growing up, not much was known about autism spectrum disorders, certainly not as much as they are now…
Johnny: …And it is a spectrum, but, basically, the shorthand for autism at the time was Dustin Hoffman as the character of Raymond…
Leigh: Oh, okay.
Johnny: If you were to say you were autistic, people would say, “Oh, like Rain Man!”.
Leigh: I see. Sure, that makes sense how it would come down. There are people you know, and you realized later that your cousin must have been autistic, but you didn’t know that. People would say, “He’s different”, or whatever it was. There wasn’t any real consciousness about anything like that, and it’s unfortunate. It’s the same way there wasn’t anything related to kids’ gender, and how they identify or don’t identify. There was a whole lot of boxing in of young people, and it’s a terrible shame, honestly. My younger daughter is an interpreter for the deaf, and I’ve learned a lot from her even now, in this age, about how people relate to deaf people and things like that, what they say or don’t say. I’ve been very educated about that, but those are things I don’t think people addressed significantly or often enough, and I’m glad there seems to be more awareness about it now. There needs to be more awareness of it, and I certainly keep trying to learn as much as I can about anything on that order.
Johnny: I hope I didn’t come across as disparaging your work on Rain Man.
Leigh: Oh, no, not at all. Absolutely not. It didn’t even cross my mind about that. What I was more curious about was what other people thought about it, which would probably be a great college class, frankly. I mean, I didn’t know, but some college has a credited class about the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and about a lot of issues brought up on that show. This instructor found out that one of the kids in the class knows me because she’s the daughter of one of the guys I do a lot of voiceovers with, and then they sent me more questions than you could imagine. Awareness was just beginning, you know? I think it’s helped so many people have something they can understand about themselves that got pushed behind them and nobody dealt with. Lots of adults who realize how they were treated or what was going on with them might be able to better address it now because nobody ever dealt with them.
Johnny: I can see that, and I certainly admire anybody, like yourself, who is willing to continue learning and always ready to expand their horizons. That’s certainly something I admire as a man on the autism spectrum.
Leigh: Well, thank you. For me, personally, I just don’t think there’s anything else to do. I admired you enormously that you broached the subject.
Johnny: It’s something that’s often crossed my mind. I still get pop-cultural comparisons to this day, only nowadays they’re not saying, “Oh, you’re like Rain Man”. Instead, they’re saying, “Oh, you’re like Sheldon”, making reference to The Big Bang Theory, a show I kind of feel is a minstrel show version of life on the autism spectrum.
Leigh: That’s interesting. Did you ever watch Parenthood?
Johnny: The movie or the series?
Leigh: The series.
Johnny: I never did get around to catching it, although I’ve been meaning to.
Leigh: Okay. Put it on your list. I think, personally, it’s an excellent series. I was surprised. The name threw me off terribly and I wasn’t going to watch it, but I started watching it accidentally. The actor who plays the autistic child that grows up through the series, so you get to watch his arc as one part of the show, is an incredibly wonderful young actor who started with me looping. That was a piece of why I wanted to watch the show. I wanted to watch this kid whom I discovered to loop. I knew his dad, and he said, “He’s so good. He just wants to be acting”. I think at the time I started working with him, he was six, and he clearly had something special. I don’t think he’s autistic. I don’t know him that well that I would speculate, but he played an autistic kid in the show, and he’s an interesting young human being anyway. I think a lot of people learned from the arc of watching that, and a family in terms of that. It went on for some years. It was very successful with great actors.
Johnny: Well, if it ends up on NBC’s Peacock streaming service, I’ll check it out.
Leigh: …But if you’re bored by episode three, forget about it (laughing). We’ve all got our tastes in whatever we watch, certainly.
Johnny: Well, to go to my next question: In between Rain Man and Forrest Gump, you worked on another Best Picture winner, Driving Miss Daisy. As ADR work can often involve matching actors’ voices when they aren’t able to do looping, did you match any of the actors yourself?
Leigh: There’s a lot of voice matching in what I’ve done. Some of it got me in trouble (laughing). I’m not going to name names, but a lot of times in films, there are issues going on between actors and actresses and directors. All films need looping in post-production, meaning the sound isn’t good. If a car goes over or an airplane goes over, they can’t put it in the film because it’s what they might call a dirty track. It doesn’t have to be the star. It could be anybody who had lines. You have to come in and loop your own part, meaning you have to redo those lines that are not audible in the movie, so they have to fix them. They call it “fixing it in post”. It’s a famous term in Hollywood to describe work on a movie that isn’t going well. Yes, that happens a lot. Sometimes the people who have a lot of power don’t want to come in and do that because they want something else done, so they’re going to hold up the movie and not do their personal looping, so the producers will bring in actors sometimes who can sound like that actor and mimic their voices. They’re good performers, and they can really make it work, so there are various actors who have that ability. There’s a number of movies with bits and pieces where who you think you’re listening to is not who you’re listening to. On occasion, and it’s too bad, a lot of people get hired locally for smaller parts when they’re shooting in another place, and when it doesn’t work, they need somebody to come in and actually fix the part, so they will revoice the actor totally. When I do that, I certainly try to sound, in some vein, like that person, so when they hear it, they think they did it. I feel bad for those actors, so that’s kind of what happens. Yes, I’ve done a lot of voice matching and a lot of revoices through the years. Doing that is a little like karaoke acting (laughing). You’ve got the person who’s done the performance, and now what you’re doing is changing their voice in it. It’s like lip-syncing, I guess, in a weird way, but I feel bad for the actors we do it for. It’s a lot of fun to do, though, (laughing). I once did a whole lead in a movie because the girl was English, and in the final cut, they realized they didn’t want her to be English. They then revoiced her entire part so she would be American, so I did that. You know what ADR stands for? Automated dialogue replacement. Did you know that? Hardly anybody knows that. People who do this professionally don’t know that.
Johnny: I think I’ve heard that when I’ve interviewed other voice actors. To move to my next question: Jumping back to 1985, one of your earliest ADR credits was serving as part of the walla group for the Cannon Films release American Ninja 2: The Confrontation. I’ve interviewed quite a few Cannon Films veterans, and opinions on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus have been mixed to negative, so what were your opinions of working for them?
Leigh: Okay. Those were my very early days, and I had no contact with them personally, but what was true for me was the opportunities I was given to do so many movies that they did. A lot of them needed to be redone as they were shot in a lot of different places around the world, so I, personally, am grateful that I got to work on a lot of films, because I started doing all of the ADR and all of the revoices. I learned how to do more kung-fu fighting sounds than you could ever imagine working on those films. For me, I didn’t have anything to do with the producers. I always worked with the directors and sound people, who were terrific, always terrific. I did a lot of them, and I really learned how to do ADR well. I got a lot of opportunities to break down films and learn how to do that, so personally, I’m grateful. I had nothing to do with Golan and Globus, so I have nothing to say about them in any vein, negative or otherwise. I didn’t have any relationship with them personally.
Johnny: Alright. To go to my next question: Heading forward to 1996, you were the ADR coordinator for the Robert Altman film Kansas City. Altman’s movies were known for their love of dialogue, especially when it overlapped, so was working on a Robert Altman movie harder than some of your other ADR credits?
Leigh: No, it wasn’t. This is odd, but for me, the harder the job, the more I loved it. Does that make any sense?
Leigh: The more challenging, the harder, the more I had to think about it, the more I had to come up with…For me, that’s the exciting piece of it. Because of who I am, in terms of what I bring to the table, I want to go to the most extreme thing I can think of that makes it right. For me, that’s exciting. It’s like people who want to jump off mountains or airplanes. I wouldn’t dare do that, but for me, anything in my realm that creates a challenge? I’ll figure it out, and I’ll enjoy the process. I *WILL* figure it out, and I’ll do it, and it will be great, or we’ll find someone who can do it. (Laughing) Doesn’t that sound totally egotistical? Doing something right and at as high a bar as you can climb for yourself, and pushing yourself to the limits, is really fun.
Johnny: Oh, definitely. I wouldn’t call it egotistical at all. After all, as the comedian Andrew “Dice” Clay says, “If you’re good and you know it, why hide it?”.
Leigh: Yeah, but sometimes you can get in a little trouble because somebody else might want to settle for less. I would say, “I don’t think that’s right. I think we need to do it again”, and they would say, “We don’t need to do it again. We’re running out of time”. “I don’t feel good about that. I think we need to do it again”, (laughing) so there’s that.
Johnny: Alright. Well, moving back to 1987, you did the ADR for Carl Reiner’s film Summer School, and also provided voices for student extras. What was your favorite part of working on that movie?
Leigh: Working with Carl Reiner, one of my favorite people of all time. He and Sid Caesar were buddies in the Your Show Of Shows days, and Carl Reiner is just one of my favorite people ever, as is his son, Rob. I’ve done a few films with Carl, and I’ve done most of Rob’s films. They’re just unbelievable. Now there’s an example, in both cases, when you’re working on a soundstage with them, especially when you have a little more time when doing ADR, where it’s amazing to hear them tell the stories of things they’re thinking, or their views of current events. Having the opportunity to be in their company, for me, there’s nothing, I can say, better than that. They’re two of the most amazing people…Smart, funny, everything…
Johnny: They definitely are that.
Leigh: …And they are the most respectful people of what everybody brings in the room to do for them. In Summer School, I think we did the panting of a dog, and even something as strange as that, Carl’s like, “Oh, best panting of a dog I’ve ever heard!”.
Johnny: It’s great to get positive feedback like that.
Leigh: The best.
Johnny: Although many of Rob Reiner’s films you’ve worked on have been acclaimed, there was one that wasn’t, and that was North, which, going by critical reception, many feel is not only the worst movie of 1994, but one of the worst movies of all time.
Leigh: (Laughing) Which one was it?
Johnny: North. When working on North, did any of the jokes make you cringe or regret working on the movie?
Leigh: No, not at all. Here’s the thing: When you’re working on a movie, it hasn’t been released. It’s not all cut, and you don’t really know how it’s going to end up. You just don’t know, so I never think about it that way, ever. I don’t think about it because I come to the table with what I do and can do. Periodically, I’ll work on a student film that’s probably not going to make it and not do well, but I’ll tell you, if I walked in the room of a low-budget film, I will do the same work that I do for Rob Reiner or Robert Zemeckis. I do the same work, and I leave my opinion about the film at home. My opinion is about, “Am I doing the best job I can do, and am I bringing the best actors in the room who can do the best job?”. If I hear one of them disparage anything, I will walk them outside in the hall and say, “Guys, you do your work in that room, and you bring your A game when you walk in the room with me”. For the number of people who are doing their best in those rooms? A lot of the time it works…Sometimes it doesn’t work (laughing). You know what I mean? Judgment is flawed. It’s not for me to take into account. There were times when there were things that a kid may have been in the room and I didn’t want them to see something, but it’s because it was an image on the screen I thought they shouldn’t be exposed to. Other than that, you recognize somebody’s whole body of work. You walk in the room and you want to support them, and you hope this turns out well. If it doesn’t, it’s like, “You know? You did your best. NEXT!” (laughing), because who can hit it every time? Nobody. You know what I mean?…
Johnny: That’s true.
Leigh: …But the people, the talent, and the respect they’re giving each other is what’s important. I mean, occasionally I’ve worked with directors who were just awful people, and that’s more likely what would be a problem for me. “We’ll make our way through this, and then I don’t care if it makes a zillion dollars. That guy’s awful. That guy’s not nice”. Mostly, though, I’ve had the best experience with the best people.
Johnny: That’s very good. Staying with Rob Reiner, what critics viewed as one of Reiner’s worst films in North was followed by what they considered one of his best with The American President, where you were also ADR coordinator…
Johnny: What was it like to work with Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue?
Leigh: I think Aaron Sorkin is just brilliant. That’s all I can say. You always feel like you’re in the company of a masterful person. When you know what you’re working on is something special because of how it was written, or because of a performance you’re seeing, it’s enjoyable to be part of something you know is really well-done. I worked on Glengarry Glen Ross. That was another film that, when you were working on it, you could tell it was really special, as was working with Ed Harris on Pollock. There are experiences that are more of a highlight than others, but for me, you bring the same game. Sometimes what you get out of it is extra special, and there have been plenty of those times because you’re working with incredibly talented people, and that’s always special.
Johnny: It certainly is. Staying with Castle Rock films, you worked on the voice casting for 2003’s A Mighty Wind, a gentle satire of the folk music boom of the 60s. As you had a lot of entertainment experiences in the 60s, of course, how did you utilize your experiences in the decade to cast that film?
Leigh: I’ve done most of Chris Guest’s films, and he’s a very funny, talented and great improviser. He knows very specifically what he wants when we’re doing ADR, and so basically you’re at an advantage because he can tell you what he wants. The people on the screen are the funny ones. You don’t ever want to compete in ADR with the talent on the screen. Being able to genuinely improvise authentically is the key. The characters on the screen are funny, so you don’t want to compete with what they’ve done. You just want to enhance and respect, and be really authentic and work around their dialogue. You just have to adjust what you’re doing per situation.
Johnny: Well, I certainly think you did a great job with the ADR work on that movie.
Leigh: I loved working with Chris Guest. I love all his movies.
Johnny: I hope he’ll make another one soon, and I hope you’ll be involved in it, but to stick with you: You worked in the ADR department on several Miramax and Dimension Films releases, including The Yards and Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back. Did you ever have to deal with the now-incarcerated Harvey Weinstein (Leigh laughs), or did you manage to dodge that bullet when working for Miramax?
Leigh: I dodged the bullet (laughing). I dodged that bullet. Oh, my gosh. Oh, what a terrible story. The story of what has happened in Hollywood, and the pressure that has been brought on women to bear to even work in this town, is terrible, and I hope light and information is being shed so dramatically on all of this. Everybody is scared shitless. Nobody is ever going to consider any pressure or bullying or sexual interest that would force any woman to be forced to choose between her career and her body. No, thank you. I am very fortunate, and I think a lot of it comes down to that, you know? I certainly experienced the pressure when I was younger, but I also had a lot of force that just said, “Get out of my way”. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of work and a lot of opportunities that I didn’t have to make those choices, but boy, oh boy, I don’t know. That’s another book, isn’t it?
Johnny: I was just going to say that, when it comes to Harvey Weinstein, I hated him even before all the sexual abuse came out. I mean, I read about stuff like him harassing Sydney Pollack on his deathbed over working on The Reader.
Leigh: Oh, you’re kidding. I didn’t know that story.
Johnny: Yeah. Basically, Sydney Pollack was dying of cancer, and his final project, same with Anthony Minghella, was The Reader, a Weinstein Company release. Harvey Weinstein was bothering Sydney Pollack on his death bed, and also bothering Anthony Minghella’s widow…
Leigh: Oh my god!
Johnny: …With his issues with The Reader. That disgusted me even before all this other crap came out. I’m sad for those who did have to deal with Weinstein, but I’m glad that you managed to dodge that bullet.
Leigh: Yeah, definitely.
Johnny: On a lighter note, jumping back to the 80s, and a more positive credit, you were the ADR coordinator for 1988’s Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark. As a 60s improv veteran with The Committee, what was it like to be working with the 80s improvisers of The Groundlings, like Cassandra Peterson and John Paragon?
Leigh: Well, you know, when we’re doing ADR, not all those people are showing up at the same time. That was just fun to work on that film. It was a really fun lark, and very cool. I remember it as a very positive and fun experience, although I don’t quite remember if they came in when we were doing group.
Johnny: Alright. Well, I’ll move to my next question: In 1989, you were part of the loop group for the classic fantasy drama Field Of Dreams. What was your favorite part of working on that film?
Leigh: I loved working with Phil Alden Robinson. He’s a great guy to work with. He’s very specific, and he knows what he wants. He’s fun, and such a talented fellow. Working with him was probably my favorite part of working on that film, that and The Sum Of All Fears. What a scary film was that.
Johnny: I definitely liked Field Of Dreams. I mean, I’m not into baseball, but having lost my father at a young age, I could definitely relate to that.
Leigh: That’s a great, hopeful film…
Johnny: It certainly is…
Leigh: …And it’s the line from the film, “If you build it, he will come”. That line has lived forever, and also, there are a couple of people who got inspired by it and actually built things. Without that inspiration, it never would have happened. I think that film inspired a lot of people to believe they could do things that they couldn’t.
Johnny: A very noble message that we all need.
Johnny: To move to my next question: You worked as the ADR coordinator for two Robin Williams movies, 1989’s Dead Poets Society and 1992’s Toys. What was it like to work with Robin Williams?
Leigh: I also did Mrs. Doubtfire, which I loved. I didn’t directly work with Robin in any of the ADR sessions, but when Robin was a young actor, he used to come and watch The Committee work when I was there. Some of us got to hang out with him and just get to know him a bit, back in the early days when he was working his craft. When you’re doing ADR, you rarely get to work with any of the people who are actually in the film. It doesn’t happen very often. You’re augmenting everything and working around them, but they’re not actually in the studio with you.
Johnny: I have to admit: Having interviewed several voice-over actors and ADR coordinators in the past, I was a little confused about things like that, but interviewing you has certainly enlightened me about the process.
Leigh: Yeah. Generally speaking, after the film is cut together, the editing is pretty complete as a rule, with the exception of animation. With a film or a TV show, as I’ve done thousands of episodes of television ADR, you go in and you put the sound into every scene of the film, so you’re working around that all of the time. Sometimes you’re listening on headsets because you’re working around their dialogue, and you accomodate whatever that is, so you’re both working and not working in the scenes with them all, because you’re working in a sound studio and you’re watching the picture simaltaneously, they call it a cue, each cue at a time. Some movies I’ve done have had 300 cues, and sometimes it takes two or three days to do a feature film and put together the ADR. You do every single scene in a movie that has any kind of background or vocal effects, which is pretty much most of a movie wherever you are: A scene in a police station, an office, a lunchroom, a hospital, a homeless shelter, the street, whatever it is. If you’re at a crime scene, you’re doing the crime scene dialogue around the prinicple detective, right?
Leigh: You then do specifics. If Tom Selleck’s character says, “Hey, buddy. Get me a photo of this, would you?”, you hear a voice go, “Right away, sarge”. You don’t see that line. You hear it, because that’s one of our ADR people. When you see a SWAT team banging through a door, they’re not recorded. No background is recorded, and so when you hear Mark Wahlberg go, “Alright, let’s get in here”, and then you hear all these voices going, “Alright, on my count. 1, 2, 3!”, we do all that. When they go in the house, you’ll hear, “I’ll take this side, you take that side”. “All clear in here”. “Hey, sarge. Should we get pictures of this?”. “No, don’t go in there. It’s a crime scene”. We improvise everything you hear.
Johnny: I have to admit: When you’re giving your description, I feel like I’m right there in the studio with you. You’re that good.
Leigh: (Laughing) That’s what happens. If you have six SWAT guys to put together, you actually put together four becaus they’ll sound like more guys, and then they work out the scene and they record it. When they do, they’re improvising the whole time, so the actors who do this have to be very, very versed in accurate police dialogue, SWAT dialogue, firefighter dialogue, military dialogue, everything. You have to do a lot of research to do ADR and be good at it. You have to be exactly spot-on. If it’s in New Orleans, I’ll call the New Orleans police department and I’ll get information from them. How do they designate their cars in New Orleans? The city is divided into quadrants, while New York is not. Cars in L.A have military codes on them. Cars in New York have a different code. We do all this so wherever a movie is done, it’s accurate. People have tons of files of research so they do it correctly. We do the research before we come in. We’re in a dark room, and then they put up the first cue. Scene one: It’s the background of a police department, and the police department is in Chicago, and then we’ll do a take of background voices, and then a busier scene, and then specifics, which is what you can call the dialogue we pepper on top of things. We’ll do things related to somebody answering stuff. “Hey, Mabel. Could you grab me that file?”. “Oh, yeah. Here you go”. (Laughing) Whatever it is, we improvise it, hence you don’t actually work with the main actors. You sound like you’re working with them. Occasionally, you might because that person’s going to come in and do their own looping, and if they’re on the phone, they want to hear the voice on the other side of the phone. You’ll come and work with that actor, so it’s all timed out right. That was the tutorial.
Johnny: I certainly thank you for sharing that with me. It definitely shed a lot of light on the process. To go back to my questions: Jumping into 2012, you were the loop group coordinator for another Rob Reiner film, The Magic Of Belle Isle, which was filmed in my hometown on Greenwood Lake, NY.
Leigh: Oh, wow. That looks like a beautiful place.
Johnny: I certainly think it is. My question is: Did you consider casting citizens of the town with acting aspirations as part of your loop group, or was that not allowed because of union laws and the like?
Leigh: Well, more than likely, yes. I’m only doing union work, so you have to hire union actors, and you need to hire actors who have this particular skill set, to be able to improvise and all of that. We would do a lot of research about, “What is Greenwood Lake and what do they sound like there?”.
To that point, if I’m doing a movie that’s about a military base, and I know certain actors I know and have worked with have military experience, and a number of them have, it’s always good to have somebody who’s actually had experience in that category. If you’re doing a movie about tennis, you’re at an advantage if you have some actors you can bring in who know what tennis is about, the same with golf or speed racing. Your life experience always brings more to the party, so to speak. It’s the same way that, if you’re doing a film with all African-Americans in a certain place, you certainly want to bring in African-American actors.
Johnny: Speaking of which, returning to 1988, you were part of the ADR group for the classic Eddie Murphy comedy Coming To America. For those who enjoy the movie, and there are many, where can your voice be heard in there?
Leigh: Oh my gosh, probably, in some fashion, everywhere you hear women, because I can imagine being part of whatever group or scene they needed women. We used pretty big groups on that movie.
Johnny: Well, I certainly enjoyed that movie.
Leigh: Yeah, it was great.
Johnny: The next time I see it, I’ll try and listen for your voice.
Leigh: Here’s where you can hear a lot of people’s specific voices, which was also an Eddie Murphy movie: Dr. Doolittle. We’re all those animal voices. I don’t remember which ones I am, but we did all those voices.
Johnny: Oh, that was also a good movie.
Leigh: That’s an example where you do specific stuff in ADR. We did a lot of voices of all those little animals. There was also a Nancy Meyers movie, What Women Want, where you can hear all the thinking going on in everybody’s head, and we did all that, too.
Johnny: Definitely a lot of group activity.
Leigh: A lot of specifics there. I did all the Shrek movies, and there’s a lot of specifics in the animated movies.
Johnny: Definitely there is. Going to 1998, you returned to the Halloween franchise by casting voices for Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. Having already acted in Halloween II, how did you experience on that film play into your work on Halloween H20?
Leigh: Like I said, with ADR, it’s the same. I cast the scenes. I can’t remember specifically, but whether there were older or younger voices, I approached each project independently. I just bring whatever that scene needs. I break down a movie, look at it, and decide what’s the best combination of actors who can satisfy this director’s needs.
Johnny: Well, you certainly do a great job of it. I know I’ve said that a lot, but the extensive list of your credits is proof of your great talent. To jump into the modern day, once the coronavirus blows over, and things start to get back in motion in the entertainment industry, can you reveal what projects you’ll be working on?
Leigh: You know, I think that’s a question that probably a lot of people in this town are asking themselves right about now. I think a lot of TV shows that were going on are not going to come back, and I think some projects that were greenlit are not going to get made. I think money is going to be a big issue. I don’t know. I have pretty much hung up my ADR coordinator hat, which doesn’t mean I’ve hung up my creative side. There’s actually a couple of movies in my head I’d like to write. That doesn’t mean anything will come of them. I just want to write them. I don’t know if I want to go fishing or grow tomatoes like Marlon Brando in The Godfather. I don’t know. This is bringing up a lot of questions for people in this business because it’s shut down. I haven’t been out of my house for almost two months. That’s really crazy for me, trying to figure out how to keep your brains going, and be productive in some fashion, and not let this get the best of you. I know a lot of people are getting depressed, and I’m trying to avoid any of those thoughts.
Johnny: Well, if I may, I would certainly encourage you to write. Having talked to you, you certainly have great stories, and knowing the depth of your versatility and your creativity, I would encourage you to write.
Leigh: Oh, that’s really very sweet of you, very kind.
Johnny: That’s no problem.
Leigh: Oh, you know one of my favorite films I worked on? That’s Bull Durham.
Johnny: What made Bull Durham such a favorite?
Leigh: First of all, I really liked the movie, and I got to do a lot of really specific things on that movie. I loved doing specific things on that movie. I got to do some more acting-centric stuff. For example, I’m the voice of the stadium anouncer in the movie, and I loved doing that particular piece. I liked working with the director, Ron Shelton. I mean, it was just really fun to do those backgrounds in that ballpark that surrounded those characters. I would have to say that was a real favorite for me.
Johnny: That’s certainly a great movie to pick.
Leigh: I don’t know if I was credited, though. They were changing things around a lot, but I loved being that ballpark announcer. It was really fun.
Johnny: It’s interesting that you mention announcing, because I do have another question along those lines: In 1986, you voiced an announcer in Children Of A Lesser God. We had spoken about this earlier when discussing Rain Man, but besides this movie, have you ever worked with deaf actors on other projects?
Leigh: No, I have not. I mentioned earlier that my daughter is an interpreter for the deaf, and there have been a few shows that relate to that, but no, I haven’t worked with them specifically, besides Children Of A Lesser God. I’ve been to some of Deaf West’s productions, but I haven’t worked with them.
Johnny: Fair enough. I hope a day will come when you will, and that loops around to my next question: This may seem like an impossible question to answer, given the depth and breadth or actors and directors you’ve worked with, but are there any talents you’d like to work with that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
Leigh: Oh, boy. You know, I just love actors. I just think there are so many wonderful actors. I think we’re in a time right now where there’s a lot of good talent, but I couldn’t pin it down. It’s just too big a subject. There are actors where I just love watching their work. I love watching Helen Mirren work, for example. There are just so many wonderful actors that their work is amazing, especially depending on the part they’re playing. All parts are not created equal, and a lot of great actors sometimes have to take a job to pay the bills. I couldn’t even come down to one or two or three talents. I just like watching good actors work. I liked Benedict Cumberbatch before he was a major player. I said, “Oh my god, this guy’s amazing!”. I just appreciate good work. I’ve done a lot of animation, and that’s always fun to work on because that’s a whole other realm than live-action. I can’t answer that question because let’s put it this way: The list is too long (laughing). I will say that I’m a big fan of a lot of British dramas on television like PBS and The BBC. I like a lot of British actors.
Johnny: You mention your animation work. You’re the second voice-over coordinator I’ve interviewed who has worked in animation, the first being Mickie McGowan…
Leigh: Oh, yes, Mickie, a very nice person…
Johnny: She definitely is…
Leigh: …A lot of respect for her.
Johnny: Actually, interviewing her was the inspiration to track you down.
Leigh: Oh, that’s interesting.
Johnny: To stay with you, you worked on the Shrek movies. What are your favorite memories of those movies?
Leigh: Primarily, the work I had done in films and television was in the realm of the dramatic, doing the vocal stuff needed for any of those projects. It was really fun to work on animation because you really got to create all kinds of voices for whatever the situation was, and it gave people a lot of opportunity to expand their abilities. They already had them, but they didn’t get to use them in live-action, which is what I had always done. The reason I started that relationship with animation was because they were looking for actors and performers who did not do comedy animation voices like they do in cartoons. That’s a wonderful talent, and there’s an enormous number of wonderful actors who do cartoon voices, but they didn’t want those kinds of voices in these films, whether it was Bee Movie or Shrek or Antz or a number of the other animated films I did. They wanted voices that approximated human people, but who were bugs or animals. At that point, a lot of the leads of these movies were very well-known actors, and they weren’t doing cartoon voices. They may have done a slight something that made the voice a little different, but they were closer to people’s voices, so they wanted that kind of talent for those other kinds of voices, like little birds, or witches, or trees that could talk, all of that. It was really fun to be able to work in that realm, and to be able to find the right kinds of voices. It was really, really fun to do, and it’s always fun for actors to get to play at different levels of characters and sounds, whether it’s live-action or animation. For me, the more challenging something is, the more fun it is.
Johnny: That’s definitely a good way to live life. Staying with animation, as you mentioned, you worked in ADR on Bee Movie, a movie which has gained a second life in recent years as the source of many YouTube videos where they’ll remix it.
Leigh: I didn’t know that.
Johnny: Oh. Well, I was going to ask if you’ve seen any of those videos.
Leigh: No, but I’ll look for them, because I can see why that movie would serve that purpose.
Johnny: Yeah. That really goes for a lot of Dreamworks animation…
Leigh: …And Dreamworks was a wonderful studio and facility to work at.
Johnny: That does lead me to ask: Although the bulk of your animation work was at Dreamworks, you also worked for Disney on some of their family movies, not necessarily animated, but family-oriented, so what was your take on the Disney vs. Dreamworks rivalry?
Leigh: I think I mentioned this before, but I’m not part of it (laughing). It’s like, it’s a film and I’m hired, and I do the best work I can. I deliver the best work and bring in the best people. I certainly get involved in my own personal politics, but when it comes to entertainment, I wish everybody success.
Johnny: That’s certainly noble, and I certainly wish that as well.
Leigh: Not only that, but I’m grateful for every job I ever had, live-action or animation or whatever it might have been. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to use my own personal skills and talent to be successful in that way…
Johnny: …And it’s definitely been great work you’ve done. Staying with animation, to jump back into the 90s, you were the dialogue coach on Tom And Jerry: The Movie.
Leigh: Oh, wow. The dialogue coach. Ay ay ay.
Johnny: As the characters hadn’t really spoken in the classic shorts, did dialogue coaching mean helping Richard Kind and the late Dana Hill, who voiced Tom and Jerry, respectively, figure out ways to develop voices for the characters?
Leigh: I don’t recall working on that. There are some really wonderful dialogue coaches, and sometimes actors like having someone to run lines with if it’s part of a live-action project, but also sometimes about helping actors with period pieces or projects in certain locales. Maybe it’s a film in New Orleans, or Arkansas, or North Carolina, or New York. You know how, in Fargo, everybody had a specific Fargo accent? Dialogue coaches really help keep actors on point that what they’re doing is authentic, and I always think that’s something that most actors strive for, authenticity about their characters. That’s the only thing I can speak to in terms of dialogue coaching, but it definitely keeps actors on point if they’re working outside their range. I must say that British actors seem to have an incredible ability to do authentic accents, just amazing.
Johnny: I can definitely agree with that.
Leigh: I don’t know if it comes up in their actor training or what have you, but they really have an amazing ability at that. It’s not that American actors don’t, but British actors have a particular skill set at that. There’s a lot of British actors that people don’t even know are British.
Johnny: It extends to the singing as well. My late father was an Eric Clapton fan, and I didn’t know for years that Clapton was British.
Leigh: Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah, sure.
Johnny: To go back to you, of course, you mentioned working with Paul Newman, most notably in the film WUSA. What are your favorite memories of working with him?
Leigh: WUSA was amazing. The cast in that movie was unbelievable, and we got to be on location near New Orleans for several weeks. It was just the experience of being with Paul Newman, his wife, Joanne Woodward, an extraordinary actress, and the cast of that movie, being able to spend every day with them, to work on our scenes together. The caliber of acting that you get to work with and be part of? It was amazing to be part of because, in those days, I was still a young actor and these were among the first films I was a part of. It was just this amazing opportunity, and everyone was amazing and fun to be with. We would generally have dinner and eat together every night, and that was fun. Being able to work on your craft and your acting, and also being able to enjoy the company of these folks, was amazing. I also remember specifically that before Newman’s Own was launched, and the amazing generosity of that brand has donated all that money to charities, this is the truth of this, we would go to dinner at a restaurant near where we were shooting, and Paul Newman would make the salad dressing for the whole room. He made his own salad dressing, for real, and whenever we saw dailies, he would literally make the popcorn. He had a real thing then before all those food items, so it was fun to see how he was, and how he brought that to the world in terms of the hundreds of millions of dollars that are donated to charities every year as a result of his generosity.
Johnny: Definitely, and Newman came up with all sorts of foods. I’ve had his pizzas and they taste pretty good.
Leigh: Yeah. I’m a big fan of the salad dressing and the popcorn.
Johnny: When it comes to WUSA, I read on IMDB that the original cut was something like three hours long, and it was tremendously edited for release…
Leigh: Oh, I bet. Yeah.
Johnny: …So if the deleted scenes were ever found, and a new cut were to be put together for a Blu-Ray release, would you come out of retirement to work on the voice work, like restoring dialogue?
Leigh: You mean if there had to be additional dialogue or what have you?
Leigh: Sure. I think I still have the ability to get back into my younger voice. I’m pretty good at doing all that stuff as a voiceover person at this point, so sure. It sounds great (laughing).
Johnny: I certainly hope it can happen. Moving into the 90s, you worked in ADR on the TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer. When you were working on that show, did you have any idea that it would become the cult classic that it did?
Leigh: I could imagine it, yes. I worked on all but one season, every episode, and that’s when the seasons were longer, like 22 or 23 episodes a season, so I’m sure I did over 100 episodes, as I did with Kiefer Sutherland’s show 24. Buffy was an extraordinarily fun series to work on, really and truly. Each episode was so different in terms of what you might have to do, whether it was three-headed dragons or monsters or voices in caves, stuff like that. It was really fun, from my perspective, to be able to do that kind of variety, every single week, doing voices. We got to do all of those extraneous other voices, so that was a really fun experience, and it was also a great series to work with a lot of actors, maybe six each episode. Usually three men and three women would come in and do a day’s work doing every vocal thing on the show, and it was really fun for actors to have the time and ability to come up with all those voices and characters. It was really fun.
Johnny: Did you work on the musical episode, Once More With Feeling?
Leigh: Yeah, we did work on that.
Johnny: That was probably one of the most stand-out episodes of the series.
Leigh: Well, it was certainly a challenging experience for all of them, and to put that together, I thought, was great.
Johnny: That does lead me to ask about music. You mentioned that you like singing, so have there been any projects that have really utilized your singing talent?
Leigh: No, not particularly, other than the fact that I did get to sing on the Smothers Brothers show a few times. I got to sing a number of times on that show as part of an ensemble, although I think I sang a couple of times with one or two other people in a duet or trio. It was just that sort of thing that, in my back pocket, if I hadn’t gone into acting, I would’ve gone into singing. Getting to sing a little here and there was fun for me, and I always feel like I’m faking it (laughing), but really fun.
Johnny: It definitely is. Jumping back to TV, although we’re kind of already there, you mentioned doing the ADR for 24. As the conceit of the series was that each season had 24 episodes to go with 24 hours in a day, and as Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer encountered many people in a day, how many actors did it take to fill out a season of that series?
Leigh: Are you talking about the ADR end?
Johnny: The ADR end.
Leigh: Well, generally speaking, we used to do each episode with six actors, but sometimes it would take a couple of more because you would add people because of what the show was about. If he went to Russia, or if he got captured by a Russian boat, you had to have actors who really spoke fluent Russian to do that because we were always improvising. I ended up being able to work with a lot of great Russian actors, or individuals who spoke fluent Russian. I worked with incredible Arabic-speaking actors who could speak fluent Arabic for various Middle Eastern story themes when we needed that. We had all sorts of shows and episodes that included numerous languages, and so you had to be able to do all of that authentically. Also, that show had a lot of newscasts on it, so certain episodes required that you have certain actors who were capable of doing very authentic primtetime newscasts that sound like the voices we hear on television today doing news. Each episode required something different as a rule, which is why you had to move some casting around. There would be six actors one week, but then there might be a week where you had eight actors or ten, and then another wekk you might only have four because, for most of that episode, Jack is in a warehouse and there aren’t many other actors in the scene. It would depend on the episodes, but there were 24 episodes a season, and that averaged six or seven actors a week, so that’s a lot of folks.
Johnny: Definitely. To go to my next question, what role would you say you’re most recognized for when you’re out and about?
Leigh: Oh, I think it’s the Smothers Brothers, honestly. The character of Goldie is the thing most people remember they were impacted by at a certain time in our country’s history with what was going on at the time and how television was. It was before so much product. There wasn’t any YouTube or Instagram or Facebook, so the audience that was watching the Smothers Brothers at that time ranged from youngish kids, like 7 or 8 or 9 years old, to their parents, and everybody was watching that show. It had an impact on a lot of people who could see themselves as part of that show. It was breaking a lot of rules in our culture at the time because it was anti-war, and there were a lot of references to marijuana and political actions that were going on. There was so much it dealt with over the course of the political history of our country, and I think it impacted a lot of people….
Johnny: It certainly did…
Leigh: …With a mixture of music, and it was all done with good spirit and humor.
Johnny: It was definitely great, and it definitely made an impact. I now come to my final question. I’ve asked this of quite a few talents who have been in the entertainment industry for a long time, so what advice would you give to somebody who wanted to break into the entertainment industry?
Leigh: If somebody wanted to become a successful actor in Hollywood?
Leigh: I would tell them to go to college and become a smart person in some way or another. Don’t be a personality. Be a really studied, consummate, trained actor that understands your own ability as an actor and your own skill set. If you can do that not in L.A, do it somewhere else in the country. Become a really trained actor, and as smart a human being as you can, so that you can become a really versatile actor, because if you’re a really versatile actor, you’ll have longevity. Otherwise, you’ll be a personality or a cute person, and you might get on a TV show, and you might get famous for 15 minutes, but you won’t be working when you’re 30 or 40. You really have to treat it as a profession, as a craft, as a career, and be very versatile, whatever that takes, whatever higher education you go to. It doesn’t mean there aren’t wonderful actors who didn’t do that, but I’ll bet you they studied, or they went to acting classes, or they started in a little theater in New York and did a lot of plays, but somehow, you have to be a studied actor. A lot of people think they’re just going to come to Hollywood because they’re more interested in being famous than being a skilled actor or performer. I mean, look at how many bands did one hit, and that was it. Likewise, you can look at a lot of TV shows and see a wonderful cast, and it’s on for about three years. If you go back and look at it, and wonder where they all went to, you can probably only find one or two still working. You want to be able to have longevity as you want to be able to transform yourself as you age. When your 20-year-old self doesn’t serve the casting, you’d better have a 30-year-old self that will because you want to keep doing your craft. Even for me, realizing the point where the on-camera work wasn’t going to hold me in my profession, and getting into voiceovers, it’s still a part of the same craft I started when I was 20 years old, or going to San Francisco State and studying acting there and having a degree in theater. It’s important because you’ve really got to be able to trust yourself and your skill set when you walk into those auditions.
Johnny: That’s very good advice, and it’s definitely something that a lot of aspiring actors need to keep in mind.
Leigh: Absolutely, and when an actor does get that first job, or whatever that wonderful thing is that happens for them, you’d better respect all the other people who are putting it together for you to be in the spotlight. The crew, the director, all the people that surround you with your performance…You must be respectful of them, and understand what they’re doing, too. I mean, that’s part of it, too.
Johnny: I think that applies not just to acting, but to any job in general.
Leigh: Oh, absolutely, but in this business, word gets around really fast (laughing). If you’re not well-thought of in terms of how you treat people, although some higher up in the hiearchy get away with it, it generally doesn’t work out so well. People should want to work with you, but that’s true of everything. I agree with you.
Johnny: Well, that does it for my questions. I thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
Leigh: I told my daughter this. I’m not a person that likes doing interviews. They’re generally constructed in a way that I’m not comfortable talking about myself, but I have to tell you, maybe talking to you about this because I’m at a point in my life where the onus on it is a little different, it’s been an interesting journey to talk to you, and I appreciate that. Thank you for searching me out.
Johnny: Well, I’m certainly flattered by it, and you’ve been a fantastic interview subject. This is not the last time we’re going to talk. I’m definitely going to be in touch again soon.
Leigh: Alright, cool. Well, thank you, and you have a good day.
Johnny: You have a good day as well.
Leigh: Okay. Take care.
Johnny: No problem. Bye.
I hope you all enjoyed reading this interview. I thank Leigh French for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me, and I thank my fellow Pop Geeks writer, and longtime friend, Adam Pope for helping with some of the screenshots.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview are conversations with actress/musician/fitness advocate Greta Blackburn, Groundlings veteran and comedy writer George McGrath, and Golden Globe-winning veteran actress Joanna Cassidy. Thank you as always for reading.