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Saje Nicole

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Page 185 of 295

People - Leon on Madonna, Tupac, Co-Parenting with RHOA’s Cynthia Bailey By Allison Kugel Actor Leon cuts a slim and regal frame. Once upon a time, his soulful eyes, defined facial structure and silken voice compelled Madonna to cast him as the saintly figure come-to-life and racial martyr in her culturally provocative Like A Prayer video during MTV’s golden era. It was a career-making turn that made headlines around the world. Leon went on to play memorable roles on screen, from embattled former basketball great in 1994’s Above the Rim opposite the late Tupac Shakur to David Ruffin in 1998’s biopic about Motown legends The Temptations, and his critically acclaimed portrayal of Little Richard in the 2000 biopic about the eccentric late singer’s life. Other notable film roles include The Five Heartbeats, Cool Runnings, Waiting to Exhale, Ali, Cliffhanger, and Get Rich or Die Tryin’. The common thread throughout these films is Leon’s arresting and charismatic presence. It transforms even the quietest moment into something memorable that transcends years, and even decades. Next up is 2022’s A Day to Die opposite Bruce Willis. On the small screen Leon has starred in HBO’s Oz and Showtimes City on a Hill, and RHOA fans have caught glimpses of him with his daughter, Noelle Robinson, and her mother, former model, Cynthia Bailey. His recent BET projects include A Luv Tale and Games People Play. Allison Kugel: You’ve had so many iconic roles and appearances over the years, and you’ve played a part in some amazing pop culture history. The first thing I want to ask you about is waaay back in 1989 when you were Madonna’s male lead in the controversial music video for her song, Like A Prayer. How were you cast in the Like a Prayer video, first of all? Leon: My agent called me and said they were interested in seeing me for this music video with Madonna and I told them I wasn’t interested. Allison: Why? Leon: Well, why would I be at that time? I was in acting at the time, and I had just started doing studio movies. Allison: But you didn’t think at the time that MTV was this amazing platform, and Madonna was the top artist? Leon: No, I wasn’t thinking that way because I was a serious actor, and you didn’t see serious actors in music videos back then, dancing around. I thought, “If I’m in this music video with Madonna, I’ll be dancing around doing something like that. I didn’t really know, and at the time I’m trying to pick and choose and I’m trying to do something with my career. I didn’t think dancing around in a music video with Madonna was going to elevate it (laugh). That was my thinking. Then, maybe a week or two later they came back again and said to my agent, “Listen, Mary Lambert (the video’s director) would like to meet Leon.” Then my agent said that Mary Lambert was a feature film director. And she said, “You know, maybe something can come out of this meeting even if you don’t do the music video.” I went to meet her and there was nothing but women around everywhere. We hit it off, it was great, and then they wanted me to meet Madonna, and Madonna and I hit it off. Madonna walked in and said, “I don’t even know what to say, because everyone in the world is telling me that you’re the guy (laugh).”

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