- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Great character actors are the ones who create so many memorable, recognizable characters on film, television and stage, that you may not always know the name of the person bringing them to life. Leon Russom is one of those great character actors. Having appeared in stage, film and television productions for five decades, he has amassed an impressive collection of appearances across mediums and genres, recurring roles and one-offs.
Go back to the late 1960s and you’ll find an appearance in the now long-running Guiding Light, hit the 1970s and you’ll find him popping up in places like Kojak and Mission: Impossible, jump into the 1980s and you’ll catch him in All My Children, Spencer: For Hire, Tales from the Darkside, and movies like Silver Bullet and No Way Out. The 90’s finds him showing up on everything from 21 Jump Street, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Seinfeld, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and The Big Lebowski. When you hit the new millennium, you can find him in JAG, The West Wing, NCIS, Alias, Bones, and of course, his popular run on Fox’s Prison Break. Leon has a diverse filmography and one that leaves its mark.
In this year’s breakout horror hit, A Quiet Place, Russom has a brief appearance, but one that is important to the story. We recently sat down to talk about his appearance and what it was like working with the film’s director, writer and co-star, John Krasinski,
Please Note: It is recommended that you read this interview AFTER you have seen the film as some key moments the film are discussed which would be considered spoilers for those yet to enjoy the movie. .
A Quiet Place is available to own on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD and On Demand now from Paramount Home Entertainment.
HTF: Preparing for this interview I looked up your body of work and realized I have seen you everywhere and I am a fan of your work. Now, you have such a brief appearance in A Quiet Place, but it is also a very important one – I mean, it’s crazy, so let me start with that scene. When you have a scene like that, brief but it's intense, how do you prepare? How do you work to understand what brought that character to that place to do what he does? I’m trying to avoid spoilers but how do you prepare for a moment like that because it's a very striking moment in the film?
Leon Russom: Well, first I read the script and thought it was really wonderful. Normally when people ask me if I want to do one day on anything I just prefer to say no. I'm basically sort of semi-retired. I do theater mostly. But I had just done King Lear and had tons of facial hair [when] I got this call from a former manager that [heard from] John Krasinski's people. I said, "Well, show me the script," and [read it] and I fell in love with [it]. I think it's just a brilliant idea and I could see that though the character doesn't speak, he marks a turning point in the story, and ups the ante of what's going on. So I sent a photograph of what I looked like now and they instantly emailed me back and said, "Well, we want you if you want to do it."
A few weeks later I flew to Upstate New York and met John. Most of our conversation was two fan boy's talking about how wonderful how Roger Deakins is. We both are in love with his work. And so we didn't really talk about [the role]. I prepared for it, I know something about grief. We all do if we can just find moments in our past. And that horrible thing where the whole world just seems black and inexplicable, your brain shuts down, and you become horrified at existence itself. And that's what happening to him. His wife has been killed by this thing, and I assume that they have had at least as long of struggle as [the Abbott] family. And he can't take it anymore. But then he knows that if he makes a noise, a scream he can get himself killed. He wants the suicide, but there's the biological thing of your body doesn't want you to kill it. A lot of what was going on was him trying very hard to break past natural self-preservation. So what you see is the struggle to scream because he knows what's going to happen the moment he does it.
HTF: And it's mirrored later in the film, too
[John Krasinski is] so confident that I'd watch him go from actor to director to writer in the blink of an eye without any real transition. It's all down to him because he knew what he was after and he knew what he wanted to make. Directors are not always that ease and comfortable
Leon Russom: Yes. It sets up a motive for John [Krasinski]. And John was wonderful. Since we're both actors a lot of what we did with each other was intuitive. The big thing he made clear to me while we were standing in the woods between shots is that this man is past being able to even think about other people in the world. At one point I made eye contact with the little boy, Noah [Jupe], and with my eyes was telling him to “get the hell out,” because of what I was about to do. John came up to me and he said, "This man's past being able to see anyone else. This is all about him. This is about his problem and his determination so that he's past caring about what happens to anything, or anybody." And that helped a lot. I had utter confidence in John because one, he had written the script, and two, he's so relaxed and he so knows what he wants. He's so confident that I'd watch him go from actor to director to writer in the blink of an eye without any real transition. It's all down to him because he knew what he was after and he knew what he wanted to make. Directors are not always that ease and comfortable.
It wasn't even like work. It was like a group of people who are all after the same thing, all going in the same direction and feeling very good about it, which is a wonderful atmosphere to have on a set.
HTF: I've heard others say that working with a director who is an actor that you click a little easier because I guess they've walked in those shoes, so they know what it is either you need to hear, or the direction that you need to get, in language that an actor will better understand. And that's what you found with John?
Leon Russom: Right. But more so than with anyone I've ever worked with. The thing I can't emphasize enough is his sheer certainty, his absolute confidence in what he was doing and that communicates to everybody else. It wasn't even like work. It was like a group of people who are all after the same thing, all going in the same direction and feeling very good about it, which is a wonderful atmosphere to have on a set.
HTF: And that's such an impressive piece of work. I had read that John wasn't particularly interested in the horror genre, but there was something about this story. And it doesn't feel quite like a horror, does it?
Leon Russom: No. and John’s very much a family man. He's got two little girls and so for him it was about the struggle of that family and their concern for each other, and their own problems within the family unit. And the horror was the set up around it. He got wonderful performances from those two children.
HTF: Oh, they were terrific
Leon Russom: I think they're quite amazing.
HTF: Let’s talk about you. You're an actor that I know just where I've seen you, even if the appearance is fleeting scenes within a show or a film. You stand out and I think that speaks to you as a performers. Two of my favorite franchises of all time are The X-Files and Star Trek, and you've been in both. I knew exactly who you were from The X-Files pilot, and then of course you bookended your story in a later season. And of course you appeared in Star Trek VI and later in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Your performances resonate and I think that's incredibly important for a character actor. And I will tell you that long after we've spoken, when I think back to A Quiet Place, I'm going to think back to your short appearance. Because with that single yell, you tell the world that you weren't just a crazy random person, but that you had lived through this trauma and arrived at this point where you couldn't go on and as you said, struggled to do something that you're body didn't want you to do. That's incredibly hard to do in a fleeting moment with no dialogue. So I think that’s a testament I think to your performance.
[The Coen’s] brilliance about actors is that they cast unbelievably well. I know that in No Country for Old Men the first old man that Bardem flips a coin with, I watched him and I thought, "This actor is astonishing."
Leon Russom: Thank you. Most people know me basically from The Big Lebowski and John had seen that when he was in high and that had a lot to do with [him hiring me] (laughs).
HTF: Talking of the Coen Brother’s Big Lebowski, you got to work with them again in their True Grit remake, talk about working with them.
Leon Russom: The Coen brothers are different than John in that they have the same kind of confidence. I mean, they wrote it and all of that but they're not actors. So they don't give you the same kind of comfort that John does. But they are wonderful to work with. And if you came on the set you wouldn't know which were the two that were directing because they blend in with the crew. They too create a wonderful atmosphere for working. The only way that they're different is that they're writers/filmmakers but they're not actors. And John has a little bit more ease with actors. [The Coen’s] brilliance about actors is that they cast unbelievably well. I know that in No Country for Old Men the first old man that Bardem flips a coin with, I watched him and I thought, "This actor is astonishing." But they found him and [can always] find the right person for what they have in their mind. And then they let them go. They may say faster or slower, but they don't really get into psychological stuff. They figure they're the person they cast, must be the right one for the part [laughter] or they wouldn't have cast them.
I love pure horror movies, too. I mean, how can you not like Rosemary's Baby or Jaws?
HTF: Getting back to A Quiet Place, do you typically like horror films? I mean, this film is more a family drama that's couched around the external horror…
Leon Russom: I like good horror movies. I think Get Out was wonderful because the way it banged genres together so that you had lots of different things going on. But I love pure horror movies, too. I mean, how can you not like Rosemary's Baby or Jaws? I don't like so much the fancy dressed ones the like the hammer films, or the 35th Dracula or the 90th Frankenstein? I'm not interested in those. The originals are out of sight, they're so wonderful. Horror is not my genre of choice but I really love the good horror movies.
I've managed to work for 50 years in films and television and mostly on stage, that's what I do mostly. And just by luck I've wound up in six or eight iconic kind of films…
HTF: I think that perhaps you have to be pleased that you chose to appear in A Quiet Place, which will be ranked among the very best of the horror films, 10, 15, 20 years from now people will be looking back and say, "You remember when A Quiet Place came out? Let's put that at the top of the list," because it's that good.
Leon Russom: And that's really nice. I mean, I'm clearly not a star. I've managed to work for 50 years in films and television and mostly on stage, that's what I do mostly. And just by luck I've wound up in six or eight iconic kind of films, when you put together Star Trek and The X-Files and others. Who knew that Lebowski would become every teenagers dream? Or who knew that an actor from a sitcom would be a brilliant filmmaker? I mean, I'm sure that that's a great surprise to most of the world.
HTF: While you appear only briefly in A Quiet Place, you appear throughout The Midnighters (available on DVD and streaming now). You've spent years on the stage and in film and in television, but outside of The Midnighters, which is about to come out, do you have anything else on the horizon?
Leon Russom: Well, I'm about to do a play here in LA that's political. It's about the issues of water rights in Northern California, which has become a very big deal. And it's by a brilliant Hispanic writer named Octavio Solis. We've workshopped it and he's been writing it with the actors around, reading it as soon as he's written it. And then he'll call you a couple days later and you come back and you do it again. And so in about three weeks I start rehearsal for that and we'll do that here in LA. It’s called A Hole in the Sky.
HTF: Oh, that's terrific. Leon, thank you so much. It's been great talking to you.
Leon Russom: Thank you, Neil!