|Britt Leach in "Baby Boom"|
For people who go to the movies and watch prime time television; the name Britt Leach probably won't ring any bells. But if you saw the man's face, you'd recognize him.
Leach makes his living as a character actor in Hollywood, and he's finally scored a good part in a film that may make his face and name more recognizable -- and bankable. The movie is "Baby Boom," and Leach plays second banana to no less than Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard. And he even gets to sing in the film.
"Charles (Shyer, the film's co-writer and director) called me at home and said, 'Do you sing?' And I said, 'Yeah, I sing -- in the shower, and around the house, and I have for 40 years,' " Leach said during a phone interview from the United Artists offices in Los Angeles Thursday.
The 49-year-old Gadsden, Ala., native had met Shyer years before -- in the '60s -- when the struggling actor was sweeping floors and acting at the Century City Playhouse. Before landing work in commercials and theater, Leach drove a cab, worked at a bookstore and was a timekeeper at McDonnell Aircraft.
"When I was about 30 I started getting acting work and I haven't had to do anything (else) since," Leach recalled. By that time, the graduate of Northwestern University's theater department had a wife and two kids, and it was gratifying to finally see the years of training payoff. His first role on a TV series was on "Bonanza."
"I actually remember the lines. I was sort of a villain. Well, not really a villain, but I've done a lot of goofy parts in my life. And I said to this young woman that Michael Landon was apparently interested in, I said, 'Miss Laurie, you daince as pritty as you look,' " Leach said, beginning to chuckle as he affected a country bumpkin accent.
"And she said, 'Thank you.' And I said, "I'm gonna daince every daince with you the rest of this evenin'.' And then, of course, Michael Landon rescued her. I've set up quite a few rescues in my day."
Leach's next TV role was on the detective series "Mannix."
"I just got a residual (payment) for it, as a matter of fact," he said, "for $6.87."
Leach really is the epitome of the working actor. His stage work has included roles in "Waiting for Godot," "American Dream," "Epiphany" and "Arms and the Man."A sampling of his TV credits reads like the best and worst of network programming during the past 15 years: "The Waltons," "M-A-S-H," "Newhart," "Three's Company," "CHiPs," "Hill Street Blues," "Dallas," "Sanford and Son," "The Partridge Family," "Wonder Woman," "The Odd Couple" and "Amazing Stories."
A living can be made guesting on series TV, he said, since the scale wage is $2,000 per episode, and another $2,000 if the show is rerun later in the season. Ten guest spots on sitcoms will get an actor through a year without starving.
Typically, he's played easygoing characters, or rural types -- like plumber/musician Vern Boone in "Baby Boom." But there have been a few heavies.
"In 'Jackson County Jail' I molested Yvette Mimieux, in one of my favorite scenes I've done," Leach said. "Then I did a 'St. Elsewhere' where I played an assassin -- I assassinated a senator. What a pleasure that was to do, too. I like doing those kinds of things. I like that kind of stretch, it's a very exciting thing for me as an actor."
Leach recalled working on location twice in Utah -- once as a storekeeper who got an axe in his skull in the controversial slasher film "Silent Night, Deadly Night" -- which was filmed in Heber City -- and the other was "In Search of Historic Jesus."
Leach, who became a grandfather a month and a half ago, said he doubted he'd do that kind of film again, due to the gratuitous violence. He's more committed to quality work -- in films, as opposed to television -- nowadays.
"As a result of doing 'Baby Boom' -- I felt it was going to be as good as it was -- I decided I was going to really stand back and see what I wanted to do," he explained. "I've had several (offers), and I've decided against them. And I'm hanging tough on this. I've even changed agents -- I have great hopes."