An aspiring and successful actor, Che is deeply immersed in the Rochester cultural scene. So much so, we’ve named him Che of The Town!
Exclusively for Talker, Che has solicited and is conducting interviews from about 50 Rochestarians working in a diversity of creative fields.
For the full series, see Che of The Town: Interviews (1-32)
In today’s highlight, we turn our attention to Christian B. Leadley, a professionally trained and incredibly talented actor from Rochester and an Alum of the Geva Theatre Summer Academy. One thing that stands out about Christian is his youthful energy and a very imaginative mind.
Introducing Christian B. Leadley, From Aquinas Institute to making it in the Big Apple
Tell us a little about yourself, where your from, grew up, what H.S./College you attended etc.
I was born and raised in Rochester, NY. I went to Aquinas Institute of Rochester (shout out to Mr. Mancini, Mr. Shook, and Mrs. Krickmire who were tireless in their encouragement of me as an actor and theater artist) and spent my high school summers at Geva Summer Theater Conservatory; I was/am a pretty hardcore theater nerd. *adjusts glasses* *uses inhaler* I had other interests like sports and science, but to be honest, I knew pretty early on that I loved telling stories and entertaining people. Deciding to go to an acting conservatory like Syracuse University was a fairly easy choice. I loved my time there and I had phenomenal teachers that helped me sharpen and hone my skills as an actor, singer, dancer, and story teller. After that, I moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting and I’ve been here ever since.
What inspired you to be an artist/entertainer? Early experiences worth sharing?
I think there were various sources of inspiration for me as an artist. Both of my parents have a love for literature and the arts (my middle name is Bernard because my father’s favorite playwright is George Bernard Shaw, or so the story goes) and I spent more than a handful of my summers doing theater camps or pottery camps or writing camps. I have a voracious appetite for learning new things, and I think my parents sensed that and tried to expose me to as many new things as possible. My mother took me to the theater constantly and we watched loads of classic movies and television together when I was young.
There’s actually a story she loves to tell where I was about eight and she took me to see the Second National tour of Miss Saigon while it was passing through Rochester. I got dressed up and we sat in an upper balcony where she could quietly explain to me the things that were happening. I loved it. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Afterwards, in the lobby, we ran into an older couple she knew from work and they very skeptically asked if I wasn’t just a little too young to be watching a show like this. I still remember my mother saying that it was important to her that she expose meto as much culture and art as early as possible. They nodded very seriously and the older man leaned over to me and said “So, what did you learn from the show, young man?” I looked up and very earnestly replied, “I learned what a pimp is!”… My mother buried her face in her hands and the older man’s wife couldn’t stop laughing. But mom and I didn’t stop going to the theater every chance we got.
In school, I had a myriad of teachers who encouraged me to participate as much and as often as possible in theater. From elementary school teachers like Mrs. Weider that cast me in my first show, Pirates of Penzance (I was a very shy police officer), to Mr.Mancini that cast me in my first Shakespeare play and gave me my first lead in Midsummer Night’s Dream (I wrote my lines on my arm at one point. I was terrified of getting such famous lines wrong.) to Mrs.Krickmire and Mr.Shook that challenged me with roles like John Proctor or Horatio. They all believed in me and it’s because of them that I began and continued learning to express myself artistically. The best part is, most of them are still teaching! They’re still out there, sharing their knowledge and love of art with new generations of would-be artists and dreamers like me.
Talk about a time where you have faced adversity/conflict and have triumphed.
I remember in college having just finished a staged workshop of one musical and with less than 24 hours turnaround, I started rehearsing another that opened in something like 9 days. It was a lot. Maybe too much. But I couldn’t pass up a golden opportunity. My voice was already ragged from singing nonstop for a month straight, but I was excited by the opportunity and didn’t want to let my friend down. I had my classes during the day and then we rehearsed late into the night. We were all tired, but as the newcomer, I refused to let them see me bleed. I pushed myself hard, harder than I ever had before, and was sleeping about two or three hours a night for a week straight. But you can’t do that kind of thing without consequences— Two nights before opening, I had a mental breakdown. Like, full-on, crawl in the corner, curl up into a ball under a table, rock back and forward while hyperventilating and crying bitter tears breakdown. My body had decided to remind me that I am not in fact superhuman.
I knew maybe two thirds of the material including choreography. I could barely see straight I was so tired. My voice was gone. It sounded like I had gargled broken glass. My body was wrecked. All the confidence I had poured over myself to cover up my lack of knowledge of the material evaporated. Reality came crashing back in as my brain caved to the pressure of my annoyingly pragmatic side. I cried and threw up from the nerves. I was mortified of embarrassing myself. I wanted to quit. I had to quit. But I couldn’t. I knew if I came out the other side of this experience successfully, I could do anything I set my mind to. So I called my dad— the most logical and level-headed person I know—and he talked me down from the edge. He reminded me that I was there to do what I love and that I’d done difficult things before. That I should take care of my health, but that college is about testing your limits. This was the time to learn just how far I could push myself, but if I failed, so what? Nobody was going to judge me for trying my best— certainly not him. And that was exactly what I needed to hear. Sometimes you just need to be reminded that someone believes in you. That was an important lesson for me. This industry will pull you in a million directions and tear you apart if you let it. When you hit that wall, don’t try to do it alone. Reach out. What do you believe sets you apart from other artists/entertainers? I’m earnest, but I’m shameless. I consider myself an obsessive and driven person, and if all that’s stopping me is the awkwardness of making a bold choice, I’ll gladly set aside my ego for the chance at capturing something real inside of something big. I’ll walk into any audition room regardless of who’s behind the table and make absurd, out-there choices if I feel like it’s what the character demands. I’m not afraid to dig deep and cozy up to the weird, kooky, unsavory, or uncomfortable parts of a character. In fact, I actively seek them out just as much as I seek out the aspects that make them likable. My teachers beat into me that the embodiment of character shouldn’t just pick at a few major personality traits; that’s caricature and it makes for cliched acting. Who want’s that? On set or in the rehearsal room, I check my fear at the door. Sure, I collect it later and have neurotic late-night sessions where I second-guess everything I did and give myself panic attacks, but on the day, in the room or in front of the camera where it counts, I strive to be fearless.
Do you have other interests or hobbies? I write a lot. It’s become sort of a meditation for me. Poems, short stories, short films, feature films, series… There are folders and folders of writing sitting on my desktop and in notebooks in my office. I write about whatever’s on my mind. It’s how I get the demons out. I read; science fiction mostly, but also a fair amount of books on theoretical physics and mathematics, formal logic, and cognition. I also like books on sociology and group psychology. I also like books about how to survive the Zombie Apocalypse. I own and train with a katana twice a week. You know, just in case… I like cooking and mixology. A friend and I have a standing Monday date night where we explore new recipes and wine pairings. I recently bought a really awesome book from America’s Test Kitchen about the chemistry and science of cooking and I can’t put it down. I love nerding out with her about food. I recently bought my first DSLR and I’m trying to teach myself photography. My composition is garbage and I need to learn ho to adjust my frame rates and shutter speeds, but I’m learning. It’s really fun to just wander the city and capture moments. New York is filled with so many beautiful people and places. Spending 6 months in Utah last summer took me back to my outdoorsy roots and I’ve gone back to doing a lot of hiking, camping, skiing, and rock climbing. Any projects you have out or currently working on? The award-winning Here We Wait is currently releasing new episodes every Tuesday, 7pm EST and is available on Youtube and HereWeWait.com I was also fortunate enough to receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actor from the Indie Series Awards formy role in it and I absolutely loved working with this very talented team. It’s written and produced by the team at Multi-Hyphenate Productions (Olivia Baptista, Diane Chen, and Amber Porter), so GO SUPPORT WOMEN IN FILM AND WATCH IT. There are also two webseries in the pipeline that have released pilots and teasers available for viewing on YouTube. They are both the brainchildren of my good friend Matthew Lincoln, who heads the Production and VFX company, Jade Seal Productions. They’re both fantasy/sci-fi epics, filled with lots of action, stunts, and special effects. Timepiece is about an ancient race of wizards that are hunting each other in modern New York, and I write a lot. It’s become sort of a meditation for me. Poems, short stories, short films, feature films, series… Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years? I’d love to have a steady role on a tv or web series. Something like Quantico, The Expanse, Into the Badlands, or Stranger Things. Creating characters is my absolute favorite thing to do. Plus, steady-ish work like that would afford me enough unstructured free time to keep writing and producing my own stuff. Moving to LA might be in the cards too. New York will always be my artistic home, but I know there are people and opportunities out in LA that just don’t exist in the same way in NYC. What advice can you give to aspiring artists/entertainers? Be kind, grateful, and genuine to everyone that helps you, both within and outside of the entertainment industry. That restaurant manager that let you take off your lunch shift to go to that audition did just as much for you as that casting director that gave you your big break. Humility and never forgetting where you came from go a long way. Never be good at something you hate. They’ll make you do it forever. Nerd out. Don’t be ashamed to like the things you like. Love that thing you obsess over passionately and unabashedly. Let your freak flag fly. Who knows, it might even be the thing that gets you cast. Take care of yourself. Be hard on yourself and ask the tough questions, but if you need a break, take a break. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Do things that scare you. Seeds don’t become flowers without growing up. Finally, do what you want, but never at someone else’s expense. Collaborate, don’t dominate. How can we follow along in your journey? Social media? Follow me on my website, which I update frequently, Christianleadley.com, and on twitter and instagram @deadlyleadley.