ITGS: Todd & the Book of Pure Evil’s Chris Leavins

 EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW!

Todd & The Book of Pure Evil has been making waves lately. And for good reason. The reviews on the Season 1 DVD have been outrageously positive, and I expect more of the same as the Season 2 DVD is set to drop soon (in Canada, at least). We previously spoke with Todd himself, Alex House, and I think a good time was had by all. Or just me. Whatever. We’re here today with another member of the cast who we all know and love as Atticus Murphy Jr., Crowley High’s Guidance Counselor, which is what he is. Please join me in welcoming Chris Leavins as he steps Inside the Grizzly Studio.

Supascoot: I want to thank you for taking the time today to answer a few questions for us. You have got to be busy being all around awesome and hilarious. Hmmm. That’s not a question… Are you busy being all around awesome and hilarious?

Chris Leavins: Busy? No, being awesome and hilarious comes so effortlessly that it doesn’t feel like busy-work at all.

Tell us a little about yourself. Again, not a question, but I insist!

Well, let’s see, I’m Canadian. It might also surprise people to know I’m white. I’m also male but I’m willing to change that if the right role comes along. Also, my favorite food is nachos.

This seems like an obvious question, but did the move from Canada to LA greatly affect your career? What was your biggest challenge moving into that market?

I not sure how it affected my career, but it definitely affected who I am as a person. Most Canadian actors move to Los Angeles hoping to get jobs on American shows in order to increase their profile and increase their worth to producers. Looking back on it, I guess those were my motives  too.  But when I  actually made the move, I wasn’t very passionate about pursuing acting. Nobody in LA knew me so I had nothing to lose.  I started to do stand-up, and I enrolled in classes at UCLA. I wrote and performed everyday.  I had acted exclusively in dramas before I made the move, and my time in California taught me I can also do comedy. I literally did not think of myself as a comedic actor until I was 33 years old. Los Angeles opened up a whole new self to me.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to play Atticus Murphy Jr. on Todd & TBOPE?

It’s a long convoluted story, but the short version boils down to the fact that I had worked on other projects with some of the producers of TATBOPE. Three days before the pilot was scheduled to shoot, the actor they’d hired dropped out, and I was offered the role. I said no quite a few times because I didn’t think there was enough time for me to prepare, but the network kept insisting, and I’m glad they did.  They believed in me, when I didn’t believe in myself.

What were your first impressions of the show when you got the script?

I didn’t get it. It went right over my head. But that’s normal for me. I rarely understand what a project is going to turn out like, and it can be several years before I see it for what it truly is. Quite often I’m just running on instinct. I’ll give you an example. In the very first episode of TATBOPE that we shot (Episode 5 “Monster Fat”) I had a scene where I announce to the kids that I’m a member of their gang. When they left the room I did an aside to the camera and said “I’m a gang member.” That line was not in the script. I improvised it, but it made it into the cut. About a year later, one of the producers mentioned how he thought that line was really funny. I had no idea why he thought that. Then just last week, I was walking home from the gym near my home in Los Angeles, and I saw a cop frisking a real life gang member. It clicked for me. In the scene, I was speaking as Atticus would, and Atticus would have no idea what a gang member was. There is no question, at the time I said that line, I was reaching for a joke, but it took me three years to understand what actually made that joke funny.

Was it a prerequisite to watch the original short film or were you able to just jump right into it?

Believe it or not, I was actually at the original screening when it played the Toronto Film Festival way back in 2003. I distinctly remember commenting to friends that I thought it would make a great TV show, but I’ve tried verifying this and can’t. Life is weird. There was no Atticus character in the original short. Little did I know I’d be working on the show seven years later.

You have a certain style to your humor that is fairly evident in Atticus’ character, is this enforced by the script or do you find yourself making your own changes to suit your style?

I make very few changes to the script. At least I try not to. I really make it my mission to serve the writers and their writing. That doesn’t mean I don’t challenge them or ask for changes, or that other words don’t come out instinctively, but the guys who write this show are so smart that I have no problem deferring to them. They are also cool enough that once they have the performance from me that they’re happy with, they allow me to improvise. My absolute proudest moment in the second season is when Atticus is using binoculars to scope out students in episode two (THE STUDENT BODY ). My character is looking at Goths, Cheerleaders, and Jocks and the original script referred to them as such. I thought Atticus was so naïve that he wouldn’t even know what a Goth, Jock, or Cheerleader was, so I improvised brand new terms for them. I was delighted when the producers used the terms that I came up with.

You’ve gone through 2 amazing seasons now, and Atticus as a character has probably been through the most drastic changes. How has your portrayal of him stayed the same throughout these changes?

One word: Enthusiasm. The key to playing Atticus is that he throws 110% of himself into everything he does.

Atticus wasn’t the only one who went through changes. For example, early in Season 1 I was rooting for you to be a gang member, and at the end of Season 2 I wanted to rub your face in that mangoat shit. Did you experience a lot of reaction from fans with the ‘reversal’ of your character’s roles?

Really? Because most of the time when I meet people who like the show, they tell me they think Atticus is funny. I definitely work very hard to make him likeable. Not an easy feat considering he’s a satanist, and multiple murderer.

Where did ‘Holy Jupiter Shit’ come from? Easily one of my favorite Atticus phrases, which has managed to work itself into my daily vocab.

It was written for me. All the credit for that one goes to the writers. I like catchphrases too. Nothing makes me happier than when I take a random line the writers never intended to be a catchphrase and turn it into one.

Is it hard to leave the sweater vest at work? I feel like that would be a look that would follow me home for sure.

Forget the sweater vests, the hardest thing is wearing a moustache. We shoot three months per year, and I have to walk around in daily life looking like my phys-ed teacher from 1982.

Ha! Do you have any favorite episodes from Todd & The Book of Pure Evil?

I get asked this question a lot and I’m never quite sure how to answer it. I don’t want my favorites to take away from someone else’s favorites. I think the series has a really great momentum in episodes 8 through 13 of season two. If you’re looking for some of my favorites, that’d be a good place to start.

How about any funny or ridiculous, maybe even potentially cute stories from filming the show?

Every day on TATBOPE is ridiculous, cute, and funny. Although, the actors (Alex, Maggie, Bill, and Melanie) scare me a bit. They’re all in their 20s and they are ten times more poised, relaxed, and talented than I ever was at their age. I honestly don’t know how they do it. Watch the season two musical episode and you’ll see what I mean. I am super-interested to see where their careers go.

What’s a day in the life of Chris Leavins like? If you’re not filming or working on various projects, that is.

Pretty normal. I get my 11 am botox injection,  eat my stem cell smoothie, and practice my “acting” faces in the mirror for 16 hours. Regular actor stuff.

Now what would a day in the life of Atticus Murphy Jr. be like? When he’s not talking to his dead father’s head or plotting doomed ways to get the book, that is.

That’s a great question. And honestly I really struggle with the “reality” of his life, because it’s so unreal. I mean, I’m playing a high school guidance councillor who chopped his own father’s head off, and chases a flying book. I’ve thought a lot about what he does on his “downtime” and I really hope in season three that the writers show a bit more of that side of him.

Moving away from Todd for a second, why don’t you tell us a little bit about Cute with Chris?

Umm… Cute with Chris was one of the first video shows on YouTube. It was a weekly videoblog I created where people would send me pictures of their puppies and kittens and I would make fun of them. The show generated thousands of comments and pieces of fan art, and it inspired a very passionate community. I am only recently beginning to realize what an amazing hub for creativity it was. 

Was your time on Cute with Chris an asset into getting the role of Atticus?

Oh, God no. Nobody takes you seriously as an actor when you have a YouTube show about kittens.

Do you have any desire to get back to touring your one man show around again? Or a new live project we get to see?

I will definitely return to my roots as a solo performer at some point. My last project “The Chris Leavins Story Hour” is a literary concert series that’s available for free through iTunes. (Which you can find HERE)

You starred in the 1997 Canadian film The Hanging Garden, which was an intense and often times eccentric look at a family, and the abuse and situations that defined them. Your character, Sweet William, was a far cry from Atticus (but maybe not too far now that I think about it) on Todd & TBOPE. Do you have any desire to return to that sort of filmmaking?

I don’t really want to do indie films. I’d rather do a TV show or create another internet series, because you get to take a character on a journey. That’s the real fun for me. But I’m really happy that movie connected so deeply with people. Everybody worked really hard on that film, and they really cared about it.

Todd obviously isn’t your first time in a television series. From 1996-2000 you were on Traders, which was a Canadian Drama series that was huge. Like, competing with ER huge! You played Chris Todson, “the firm’s humourless head currency trader” who was a favorite of many fans of the show. What do you prefer working on? The drama heavy series or the gore filled humor of Todd?

There is no separating the two. Working on Traders was a life-changing experience for me. I am so grateful for that job. Everything you see me do on TATBOPE is a direct result of what I did on Traders and every job before it.  It sounds weird but, I could not do one without the other.

You starred or guested on a ton of Gemini nominated Drama series like The Eleventh Hour and Slings & Arrows. What are some of the different challenges you find working in a Drama series as opposed to something like Todd?

TATBOPE is very physical. If you are on TATBOPE, you need to be able to do things like sing, dance, fight, act like a goat, and hang out of a speeding van by your penis. I feel pretty lucky to get the roles I did on Eleventh Hour and Slings and Arrows but they were definitely not as demanding.

Now if you weren’t currently on Todd and could join the cast of any show currently on TV, what would it be?

After Atticus, I’m really in the mood for a hard-ass lawyer role. A guy who wears awesome designer suits, and destroys in cross-examination.  Is there a “Law & Order: TORONTO”?

Not yet at least. Was there a certain medium that inspired your career? Favorite Books, TV shows, Movies?

I’m the child of single working mother, so I watched about fourteen hours of TV a day when I was a kid. It was awesome.

Are you a geek at heart? As a geek myself I know working on TV series like Robocop and La Femme Nikita would have been ridiculously awesome. What do you geek out about, if anything?

I’m not a geek. The weird thing is, tons of my friends are geeks, and I am really familiar with geek culture. I wish I was a geek. They are a very adorable people.

If we are all blessed with a 3rd season of Todd, where would you like to see Atticus go? The end of Season 2 left you in quite a predicament!

I would like to see Atticus turn out to be the pure evil one. He’s the only character on the show who truly wants it. And he’s worked harder than anyone to achieve it. We haven’t defined what exactly the pure evil one is, and if there’s anyone who could make the world adore the pure evil one, it’s Atticus.

How behind the show is the network? Does SPACE have the same confidence in Todd that the fans do?

The show would not exist without SPACE. It’s really that simple. I don’t know how much more behind it they could have been.

“2 Girls, 1 Tongue”. Amazing. How fun was that to make?

I’m scared to answer this question. “2 Girls, 1 Tongue” is the season two musical episode, and yes, it is amazing.  In fact, I would classify it as f–king amazing. I don’t want to affect the way people view it. But no…it was not fun to make. It was really hard work. For everyone. None of us are professional singer/dancers so it was a real challenge to absorb and deliver the material. Especially since we were simultaneously filming the “Deathday Cake” episode. For me, the hardest part was looking like I knew how to play the piano when I’d never played one in my life. That said, as challenging as it was, I feel really lucky to be the guy who gets that challenge. It is a monumental piece of television.

I spoke to Alex about some of his moves, was your graceful prancing in “Welcome to the Horror of my Mind” choreographed or can you be held accountable?

It was choreographed. But I was lucky in that our great choreographer Sophia was secure enough to let me come up with the moves myself. I was adamant that if Atticus was going to dance it had to be hilarious. She helped me fill and improve what I instinctively came up with.  I could not have done it without her. You’d probably be interested to know that the “forest” we shot in is completely man-made. The trees are just Styrofoam trunks with branches screwed on them that were built in the soccer field behind the school we shoot in. The hardest part about doing my dance number was getting around the plywood brackets that held the “trees” up.

In the Season 2 Finale, “Black Tie Showdown”, you are in one of the best costumes of the series, which you sell completely. Were there a lot of scenes of the show that required you to be in the makeup chair?

I sold it because of the very supportive design team that was behind me. It was a very complicated rig to pull off. I was only in it for two days, and I wish I’d had a third day because I was just beginning to understand how the components came together.

What’s next for Chris Leavins? TV, Movies, Comedy Tour, Burlesque show? Feel free to pimp yourself out to the fullest here.

I’ve turned down acting roles to focus on writing.

Chris, I want to once again thank you for taking the time to talk to a fan. I’ve loved Todd since the first time I saw it, and your role as Atticus can account for 63% of that love.

63%? I was only shooting for 62%. Wow! I got a whole extra 1%  of the adoration I so desperately crave. I got news for you sucka– I ain’t givin’ it back.

Could I ask a favor? This is total fanboy request, but would you be able to maybe record something saying your classic line? (“All your dreams are dead”) I would love to include that as a sign off for the interview!

I only do that for people who love me 100%.

Fair enough. I guess it leaves it upon me to close the interview, and I do so with words to live by from Chris.

“Keep your emotions inside and kill them.
And if you can’t destroy your feelings all by yourself, alcohol is always there to help.”

Be Sure to grab Season 1 of Todd and The Book of Pure Evil here.

If you’re in Canada you can grab the Season 2 DVD which just came out today here.

It’s also currently airing in the UK on SyFy. Check your local listings.

Soundtracks to both seasons are available here & here.

Official Todd Website here.

For more Exclusive Interviews click here!

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