Veteran actor-singer Leon jumped at the opportunity to be in “A Luv Tale: The Series,” an eight-episode web show telling the story of four queer women of color in Harlem.
In the show, screening June 27 at Frameline 43, the San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, he plays George, the sex-starved husband of Candice (Vanessa Williams), a bi-curious woman who begins an affair with a significantly younger, out lesbian named Taylor (Sheria Irving).
“It was a character that was right in my demographic, and I loved what Sidra was trying to do,” says Leon, who didn’t appear in Sidra Smith’s award-winning 1999 LGBTQ romantic comedy “A Luv Tale,” the movie on which the new series is based.
“Now, with filmmakers showing more diversity, we are beginning to explore not just race issues, but issues around sex, gender and everything in between. But it’s still not something we see enough of in our entertainment,” says Leon.
As an African-American man, Leon, 57, understands all too well what it means to get less screen time. At the beginning of his career, he was relegated to small, supporting roles in major movies such as 1983’s “All the Right Moves,” 1984’s “The Flamingo Kid” and 1988’s “Colors” (credited under his birth name Leon Robinson).
“When I started, that was the only work,” he says. “It was a predominantly white cast with one or two black characters.”
He came into the public eye after appearing in Madonna’s controversial 1989 “Like a Prayer” video, playing a black saint who kisses Madonna’s character in an ecstatic dream. The scene caused a major backlash after the Vatican deemed it blasphemous, but many, including director Mary Lambert, have suggested the outrage came, in part, as a result of racism.
Eventually, Leon was cast in bigger roles, including the 1991 film “The Five Heartbeats” and TV movies “The Temptations” (1998) and “Little Richard” (2000), for which he was nominated for an Emmy. He went on to launch his own real-life band, Leon and the Peoples, as well. The group will tour its sophomore album, 2018’s “Love Is A Beautiful Thing,” in the fall.
Whether acting or making music, Leon’s goal is the same: to tell a good story that will engage his audience. It’s what originally drew him to “A Luv Tale: The Series.”
“Sidra’s storylines are very interesting, so when the public sees the series, I hope they’re entertained and buy into the characters, whether they’re people like them or not,” Leon says. “That is the main objective whenever you tell a story — to bring these characters to life to where people believe in the characters and want to follow their journeys.”
IF YOU GO
A Luv Tale: The Series
Presented by Frameline43
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F.
When: 6:45 p.m. June 27
Note: Creator-writer Sidra Smith and actors Vanessa Williams and Sheria Irving are expected to attend.