Leon Lopez has been on our TV screens as an actor for many years, including notable roles in Brookside and EastEnders. Recently, this multi-talented man has become known for his work behind the camera, with his first feature film as a director, Soft Lad, premiering in 2015. Soft Lad is about two men falling in love and coming to terms with their sexuality.
Out Of Time, Leon’s second feature film, directed in 2018, is now available on Amazon Prime. It centres around a young person (Connor) and Connor’s parents Sam and Danny. Leon has also directed many of our favourite soaps, as well as continuing to act and make music. It was great to interview Leon about his work as a director and also LGBTQ+ representation in film and TV.
You directed the award-winning Out of Time. Can you tell us about the film and what drew you to the project?
The film is about a young person who is coming to terms with who they really are. It is a story about a trans person told from the parents point of view. To tell a trans story from a trans perspective…. I do really feel it is important to be trans and I wouldn’t have been comfortable directing this film if it was told from that viewpoint. However, this was coming from the point of view of a parent. I found that really interesting and I thought it was a side of the narrative that isn’t really spoken about or touched on as much.
Do you have a favourite character in Out of Time?
I don’t really have a favourite character. I find especially when you direct something… If instantly you take to one person or another it skews your idea of the piece as a whole, so I always just try to tell the story. I can empathise and see myself in certain parts and certain characters at different times – the loneliness that Connor feels, who is the youth character in the show and then the confusion that his mum feels at times and then the fighting against the toxic masculinity that his father feels. When I find elements of myself in them then that helps me tell the story with a bit more truth.
What would you describe as your career highlight to date?
As a director I’d say my career highlight is every time I book a job. When I did my very first feature length film Soft Lad and that got picked up by Peccadillo Pictures, that was a massive highlight because that moved me over into directing other films like Out of Time. It then helped to get me the work that I’m doing on soap operas now like Hollyoaks, Emmerdale and Coronation Street, so I guess they are maybe the highlights so far.
What is your view on LGBTQ+ roles and representation in film and TV?
As a gay man I do find I empathise a lot more, especially when I’m working with an actor who’s gay, playing a gay role, I find they’re going to understand a lot more what’s going on within the mindset. Then people say gay people can’t play straight, but most of the time, at some point in their lives, most gay people have… been straight, before they realised who they were, or before the world allowed them to be who they are, so I feel to put yourself in those shoes is slightly different. Again, that’s not to say straight people can’t play gay, but I know for a fact, if you’re playing a character, a sensitive storyline about a gay man maybe having sex for the first time… How are you going to know what it feels like? Nowadays, I would never really cast a non-trans actor to play a trans character.
Can you elaborate further on how you cast LGBTQ+ roles?
When you think of the gay roles, out there you have gay actors who are being overlooked for straight actors because of profile. But then, how is the gay actor ever going to get the profile if they’re always being overlooked for those roles? And then when a straight actor plays a gay character it’s seen as risky and it’s seen as them taking a chance. When a gay actor plays a straight character it’s never seen in the same light – it’s like that’s safe and that’s OK.
That’s really insightful – so, for example, gay actors should play gay roles?
It’s not just as simple as saying gay people should play gay roles… But I do think there is some merit in allowing gay actors to play gay roles and not just being overlooked by straight people who then go on to win awards for it, whereas if a gay actor took on a similar role they’re not even put up for the same awards.
Do you have any advice for LGBTQ+ people and people of colour who would like to work in film and TV?
Just go out and do it, especially nowadays with the advancements in mobile phone technology and digital camera technology. For me I decided I wanted to do something, so I went and got a camera and started doing it and only from doing it off my own back. [Some people] don’t want to be a cameraman or a lighting person or sound person. But by learning those skills… I’m not necessarily the best at them, but by having an understanding of them it gave me a bigger understanding of everything that goes into film-making, so I think go out there and make stuff.
You can follow Leon on Instagram here.