Category: Shot Caller Published on Thursday, 15 April 2010 00:32 Written by Jamaal Johnson Hits: 1755
Leo Breckenridge grew up in the projects of Norfolk, Va. where he endured constant custody battles between his crack-addicted mother and manic-depressive father. Yet he found inspiration at a Christian summer camp at the age of 12 that changed his life forever. Through his new relationship with God and inner drive to succeed, Leo has overcome his tumultuous childhood to become an executive producer, host, model, and actor--working with individuals like Tony Award winner Hinton Battle. The 24 year-old Leo speaks with Swaggakings to discuss his past, present, God, and living life in ‘The Light’.
SK: In your bio it briefly speaks about your rough childhood and how you found strength in the Lord to carry on. Who initially introduced you to the church and the power of faith?
LB: My mother. No one else.
When I first experinced God it was as if I had found home. It was the first time in my life that I felt that I could trust the hand that was stretched out to me.
SK: It states that later your mom too was able to over her addiction with the help and power of faith and love of God. Did her and your journey coincide in which you could act as pillars for one another? Could you describe what the transformation was like?
LB: I wasn’t with my mother at this time because my dad had custody of me. But when we both began to see eye-to-eye spiritually it completely changed our relationship. I often feel that I didn’t see my mom evolve. My mother just became one of the most giving people I have ever met.
SK: How has it changed your relationship with your mother?
LB: I can finally say that I got my mom now because I never had her before. These days I can look up to her spiritually because no matter what she may have been in the past, she did not let it dictate her future. From her I learned the spirit of fighting against the odds.
SK: Now not to dwell on the past or bring up negativity, but can you speak on how your relationship with your father has helped mold you as a Black Male?
LB: I learned a lot from my dad despite the tumultuous time I spent with him. He was educated with a degree in civil engineering and had his own business, Brekenridge Engineering Services. He taught me the fundamentals of how to be a man that takes care of his family. He helped me with my homework, all of that. Something that I carry with me to this day that he taught me is that I can do whatever I want as long as my grades and business were taken care of. I could stay out late or go anywhere as long as I maintained my grades. If my grades fell, there was going to be hell to pay when I got home…literally. (lol)
SK: Who helped you through this journey of finding God and living through him?
LB: It was a host of people man, friends of mine whom I grew up with in the church that I would now consider brothers; the deacon, and the reverends. You know it is one thing to be an example of a man, and another to be an example of a man of faith. And by watching them and how they handled things, it taught me how to be a spiritual person.
SK: Growing up in a hectic childhood, you said that they also helped you enjoy later parts of your life via vacations and sporting events…
LB: That’s right! They took me places that I would have never been able to see otherwise. They were there to pull me out of crazy situations I had no reason being in like, “Man come here.” It was a lot of the reason I went to church--which lead to starting my career in hosting.
“Some problems are set up by the person themselves. You set it up, you knock it down.”
SK: Right! I remember you were saying that it was one of your Deacons who got you into hosting…
LB: It was actually my youth minister, Reverend Michael. I had started (well Imma say God had started) an all African-American Christian male step team in which we traveled all over the country performing--winning first place on a regular basis. After I had started college, Rev. Michael asked me to host a youth step show at the church. I would say that was my first major hosting situation. From there I became like the local go-to-host for step shows (lol) and it grew from there.
SK: You were telling me how you learned to persevere regardless of the situation by watching your mom overcome her addiction to crack cocaine, and by watching the men of your church. What is one of the most important things you have learned about overcoming through the power of faith?
LB: The most important thing I learned is that faith without work is dead. You can’t have faith and not do anything.
SK: In secular terms, “Don’t just talk about it. Be about it.”
LB: Exactly. Put up or shut up.
SK: Your bio says that your cousin Dale encouraged you to attend your first theater class. What is the story behind that?
LB: This was back when I was living in Norfolk, Va. Dale is my cousin from my father’s side. He definitely wasn’t the type of guy you would type-cast to go that kind of thing, but he had gotten some information about it and asked me to come with him. At that point in my life I was going through so much hell in my house that I would have went to basket weaving class just to get out my own home. So I went and it was just a place I could escape [from reality]. It’s part of the reason why, in my adult life, I continue to pursue this profession. As an actor I can be a part of a person’s escape from whatever maybe going on in their life.
SK: How old were you?
LB: I was 11
SK: So you found acting therapeutic?
LB: I found it therapeutic and a way to process my emotions. I found out in my adult life that a lot of the things I have been through, other people have been through it. I say that other people have been through it because the characters I portray are dealing with the same issues.
“An example of someone who is living a life of light is Lil Mo.”
SK: What have been some of your greatest obstacles in the arena of acting?
LB: One of them was stepping out and being comfortable with the fact that I was an actor. The second was when I booked a tour to work with Tony Award winner Hinton Battle. I had to go to Atlanta. I had to go through a lot to get there, and there was a lot that I didn’t know because I do not have any formal training in acting—which blows people’s minds. I was in a situation where I was working with these professionals who knew what they were doing, and I was pretty much receiving on-the-job training. In the end I was able to deliver the performance Hinton was looking for--which blew my mind. I still get choked up when I think about it.
SK: Going back to when your cousin initially invited you to the theater…was it because he saw something in you? What made him invite you to the class?
LB: Naw, it wasn’t even like that. It was off the strength that me and my cousin were close...so who else was he going to go with? You know what I mean?
SK: So you went just to keep him company.
SK: You are definitely a highly motivated and high energy person. Have you always been this way? Where do you get your drive from?
LB: You’re right! I’ve always been a highly motivated, high energy person. I had to be. I didn’t grow up where I had 1,000 people cheering me on. I have people telling me that now, but growing up it wasn’t something I heard often. What I heard was, “We just wasn’t trying to stay in the projects.” But it wasn’t nothing like, “Go out and manifest the vision that God has given to you.” That is what motivates me. Like, I have family and friends that are proud of me. But when I lay my head down on my pillow; if I am proud of myself--that is really all that matters to me. It really doesn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks because I remember when I didn’t have anyone to say they were proud of me.
SK: There are so many people out here who have a hard time staying motivated or releasing their full potential, but it’s natural for you. How do you continue to push through, even during the bad days?
LB: Because everything I am doing, I feel has been ordained. A lot of people say, “Why me?” I look at myself and say, “Why not me?”
“You have everything you need to overcome any obstacle God puts in front of you.”
SK: Along with acting, you are also a talented model. How did you get into that profession?
LB: I had gotten word of the TJ’s DJ’s Tastemaker’s Only Conference  down in Miami in conjunction with Ozone magazine. At the time, I was doing a research project in Rhode Island and I had never modeled before. They asked for some pictures, but I didn’t have any, so I got a photographer I found online. I originally wanted to be a host, but they asked me to model instead. After that, a very good friend of mine, Dominick Adams asked me to do the launching of his clothing line Adonai Branded Eternal and it took off from there.
SK: Last year you had the honor of playing jazz legend and music great, Duke Ellington in the short film ‘U Street.’ How did you prepare for the roll?
LB: Well the funny thing is when I got there they were already in production with two other guys who have been showing up for the part of Duke Ellington. I walked in, auditioned, and they sent the other two guys home. One of whom boasted about playing on the Wire. The next day I was in the dressing room and we shot a scene on the stage of the Lincoln Theatre.
I definitely researched where he came from and the biggest thing was listening to his music. One of the guys on set asked me how I feel when I hear the word jazz. I had to really think about where Duke would come from when answering that question.
SK: We have some readers here who are going through trying times and have to deal with what seems to be insurmountable odds. What would you say to them to help them keep going?
LB: I would tell them that there’s nothing new under the sun. My encouragement to anybody; man, woman, cat, dog, or wolf would be to recognize the problem, speak to the problem, and start making considerable moves to handle the situation. Don’t turn around and act like it’s not there. Turn your problems into opportunities.
"No man is an island. There is strength in numbers."
SK: In your 24 years on this earth, who have been the influential people in your life besides those already mentioned whom you would like to recognize?
LB: Definitely my family and friends. Free formally of 106th and Park. Dr. Bobby Jones of Bobby Jones Gospel. My frat brother T.C. Carson from Living Single who has given me the most expert advice on how to navigate in this arena. Ummm there is a ton of other people, forgive me for forgetting.
SK: I attended the premier screening of your debut film as a producer, “The Last Assignment: A Short Film”, a wonderful job by-the-way. What made you want to make a film about the volatility of African-American’s right to vote?
LB: I think that it is the biggest issue that is taken lightly by us as a people. It was just a thought in my mind like, “Hmmm I wonder what would have happened if Bush decided ‘I’m not signing the renewal.’”
Yes, in “real life” we all have the basic right to vote, but if the voting rights of 1965 were not renewed, it would have put more hurdles in our way. Not just [African-Americans] but anyone who is not of European decent. What would happen? There are people in office who would love for that to happen.
SK: What was it like going from being in front of the camera to being behind the scenes?
LB: I always respected the directors and producers I worked with, but when I had to put those shoes on—I have a whole other respect. It was phenomenal to be in that supportive role of the art. It’s like my baby. I’m already doing a second screening. It’s like a feeling; I’m proud and humbled by the fact that it all came together. God blessed me with some people who were willing to invest financially.
SK: What are your goals for The last Assignment?
LB: We have submitted the film to BET’s 2010 Lens on Talent Competition so we are looking forward to hearing the results from that.
SK: What upcoming projects or events do you have where people can see and hear your talent?
LB: I host a music event every Sunday night at 7pm on U street NorthWest Dc at Liv Lounge. I am currently shooting my first feature film, an independent short called ‘Pretty Brown Eyes’.
SK: How does it feel too be ‘google-able’?
LB: LOL. It was crazy when I went to Google to type my name and Google finished it for me. It was an experience beyond anything I have ever experienced before.
SK: What is your ultimate goal?
LB: I want to be in a position where all day-every day I get to live out my purpose. I want to be one of the black male actors who host a major award show like the Tony’s and open the door for others to follow.
SK: You talk about your purpose often. For you, what do you feel God is telling you your purpose is?
LB: I believe God told me my purpose is to be in this industry [entertainment]. As a host, put people in a position to shine. As an actor, give people a way to escape. I think people’s purpose change over their lives. You may not always be a writer and I may not always be an actor. One day you may star in a movie and I may write a book.
SK: In a previous conversation, you talked a lot about ‘the light’, ‘the darkness’, and how you found your light. Can you explain what that means?
LB: Like for me, I don’t want people to think that my relationship with God is anything like I’m walking down the street flinging holy water. It’s all about living a life of light. It’s about those things that don’t feel good. Things that make you feel bad, sad, mad, used, or take away from you--to me those things are darkness. He wants you to live abundantly and to me that is light…anything else is considered darkness. Light is living a life of inspiration.
SK: Any last words?
LB:None of this would have been possible without God and people that support you. Get yourself a circle and rockout.
SK: How can the readers reach out to you or see more of your work?