You may not immediately recognise David Leon. Despite his leading man good looks, this 32-year- old actor quietly prides himself on his ability to take on diverse roles of varying magnitude, from playing a junkie in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla to a detective in ITV1’s Vera. “I’ve very rarely used my own voice or accent,” he says in a soft Newcastle lilt. “I try as much as possible to change things like hair and costume. Lots of people play the same thing over and over again, and I think perhaps I missed a trick there, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Friendly, polite and engaged, Leon immediately strikes you as a serious soul: thorough and dedicated to his art. Interesting, given that the former footballer refers to himself as having been a “tearaway” and talks about indulging in insulting banter with his mates. If Leon still has a rash, impetuous side, it’s kept well away from his work, especially now he’s turned to directing. He’ll soon start filming his loosely autobiographical debut, Driven, starring Misfits’ Iwan Rheon and Homeland’s Damian Lewis. During the shoot and interview, Leon is considered and diplomatic – warm and friendly without being flamboyant. He’s note perfect and professional under questioning but doesn’t seem to love the limelight; this is no extroverted thespian, more a student of human nature…
The Hunger: Do you have to be a bit of an amateur psychologist to be an actor? David Leon: A lot of people say you need to be an extrovert but I don’t believe that at all. It’s much more important to be interested in people. I’m fascinated by psychology – why people do what they do. The way different people live their lives is endlessly fascinating to me as an actor, but also as a filmmaker. I think the best acting comes from people who are quite introverted. You can put some people in front of a lens and they’re genuinely entertaining or charismatic – we all know people like that – but you have to be willing to open yourself up, show something more.
How did you develop your love of cinema?
Like any other kid, I was used to seeing studio Hollywood films like Alien, Terminator, Jurassic Park. All good films in their own right, but I remember being 15 when a lot of friends were talking about The Godfather, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and Mean Streets. It drove me to want to watch more obscure things – world cinema, foreign language. It has a strong influence on what I’m drawn to today. Film always has the ability to inspire and influence, but particularly when you’re young – you’re learning so much about yourself, about what makes you tick.
Read more of this interview in Issue 3, out on the 11th of October 2012, subscribe here.
What three things are you most passionate about in life?
Film, football and food. Not always in that order. I was born and brought up in the North East and I really didn’t have much choice because football was in my blood from a very early age. I played professionally until I was about 20. I was a bit of a tearaway and took it for granted in many ways, so I now realise how fortunate I am to be in this position – to be doing something that I really love for a living. And… a man loves his food, doesn’t he?
Of all the people that you’ve worked with, who have you been the most star-struck by?
I think I was most star-struck on my first job as an actor. I was really fortunate to work with Oliver Stone on a film called Alexander. I was in the film literally for five minutes but I was out on set for about six weeks in the desert in Morocco working with Anthony Hopkins, Val Kilmer, Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie. It was an amazing experience. I learnt more in that six weeks than I would have done in any other circumstances. When you are working with people of that kind of calibre you can’t help but be inspired. Initially it’s very overwhelming. You have to put up a front to pretend otherwise and earn their respect and trust.