Loyal fans of the witty and action-packed heist series 'Leverage' are used to seeing Christian Kane as the gang's muscle. But as he did on 'Angel', Kane took to the mic in a recent episode and sung his way into the hearts of 'Leverage' fans -- old & new.
Hardcore fans of Leverage star Christian Kane have known for quite a long time now that the Dallas, Texas-born actor has a singing voice that could put any American Idol finalist to shame. In 2000, during a second season episode of Angel (the Buffy, The Vampire Slayer TV spin-off about a evil-fighting vampire with a soul), Kane's character in the series, Lindsey McDonald (a lawyer for an evil supernatural law firm Wolfram and Hart) strapped on an acoustic guitar in Season Two, and sang an impressive, radio playlist-worthy song so that The Host, Loren -- an Empath demon and the owner of the all-monsters welcomed club – could see into Lindsey's future -- per lawyer McDonald's request. It was an impressive vocal performance that had the ghouls, goblins and cast and crew members on their feet (and hooves) giving Kane a heartfelt and meaningful standing ovation. A little over a decade later, the 36-year-old Kane was once again singing for the cameras, but instead of performing for the monsters of Angel, Kane was both strumming his guitar and recording “Thinking Of You,” (a song he co-wrote for his Leverage character, Eliot Spencer) in the studio and playing it for a crowd of extras of a fictional country music bar in Portland, Oregon (the city where Leverage is filmed). Kane's performance received the same type of reaction from country music-lovers as it did from the undead ten years earlier when he sang for Loren.
Christian Kane in 'Leverage'
In “The Studio Job” episode of Leverage – the weekly action series (now in it's third season) about a crew of high-tech crooks that attempt to steal from wealthy criminals and corrupt businessmen in order to return what loot and valuables that was stolen and give it back to the needy) – this episode's mission is to take down a corrupt record executive (perfectly played by veteran actor/singer John Schneider). To do so, the Leverage crew (which is made up of a first-class ensemble cast that includes Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Beth Riesling, Aldis Hodge and Kane) must infiltrates the world of country music to bring down the crooked music exec (Schneider) by inadvertently turning Eliot into a genuine country music star. This gives Kane the chance to perform the original song “Thinking of You.”
“It's always great when I can combine my love of music with my love of acting,” the hilarious, loyal and talented actor, who spent most of his childhood and teenage days growing up in Oklahoma, said during a recent phone call. “I hate to self-promote myself or anything, (laughs) but if you really like what you hear on the show there's a five-song EP of more music on iTunes. I just hope Leverage fans like what we did with the episode, and I lived up to their expectations. The folks who watch Leverage every week are Number One on my list, and I think I can speak on behalf of the rest of the cast, by saying we hope we're doing something really special that they can't wait to see every week – singing or not.” (laughs)
Christian Kane in "The Studio Job" episode of 'Leverage'
Did you grow up listening to country music, was that something playing in the house all the time, or were your parents rock and rollers, and you just picked it up somewhere else? “I could lie about it and tell you that I've been a country fan my whole life, but the fact of the matter is, mom and dad met in the rodeo, and they had country music blaring all of my whole childhood. So when I when I started, or was even old enough to listen to my own music, I went straight to rock and roll. But, it's funny how moving to Los Angeles can move you right back to your roots, and I just went back to country. (laughs) Yes, so I did, I grew up with country, and I know it very, very well, but you know when Guns and Roses came out, that was my calling card.”
How did the song come about? Did you co-write especially for the episode. “The song is a song I wrote a couple of years ago. I tried to put something that was going to be on the album that's coming out now, and is actually coming out in October. But the single's coming out – the actual single's coming out September 1.
Christian Kane in 'Leverage'
Aren't you getting a good friend to direct the music video? “Yeah, that's another great thing about it – Tim Hutton directed the music video, and Tim directed "Drive" by The Cars, and videos for Don Henley and Neil Young. So, this is old hat for him. So for my co-worker and one of my best friends to direct my video was an honor, and then those both come out together first week of September. But I couldn’t find the song on the album that I really wanted to do for this, and then I looked at this older song that I had, and I was like 'Oh, this is it.' And so we've decided now to put this song on the album. And the great thing about this song is this song is actually going to be available on iTunes, "Thinking of You", the night the episode airs. So after the episode airs, if you like this song, you can go to iTunes and download it. And so we're really excited about that.”
Who had the idea to have you do a song on Leverage? “It was a little bit of collaboration between me and (producer) John Rogers. Also, (producer) Dean Devlin is a fan of the music, so Dean gave it the green light.”
So how can fans get the EP? “You'll have to go get my five-song EP on iTunes, Christian Kane. I did a lot of self promotion which you just now, didn’t I? I used it. It's a five-song EP, and the first single, "House Rules", is on that, and that's available on iTunes right now.”
Tim Hutton, Beth Riesling and Christian Kane in 'Leverage'
“Thinking Of You is beautifully written. Did you write both the music and the lyrics? “I did, me and Blair Daly, actually, ironically, the guy that wrote 'The House Rules,' which was my first single, we wrote that together in about 30 minutes. I had something to say that day. You know most of my songs are about a girl, if they're not about a girl, they're about beer drinking. But this one's about a girl, and I get a lot of my influences from love, and more importantly, heartache. So, I had something to say that day, and we really wrote it in like 30 minutes, it just liked poured out on the page. And so you know he was playing guitar, and we were both coming up with some stuff, so yes, I collaborated on it – me and Blair collaborated together on music and lyrics.”
How are the other characters within the Leverage ensemble going to react to your character's obvious amazing talent to pull out this performance? How is it going to color the rest of the season and maybe next year with them realizing that you're just more than just the muscle of the team? “I don’t know, but the fact of the matter is, we're all playing a couple of different roles this year, we're all trying on each other's hats -- we're really experimenting with this year. So, at the same time, they've got their own stuff to deal with. I don’t think that they even noticed for a second. (laughs) At the same time, we're a family, we're a little bit self absorbed when it comes to characters, because we're so used to working as individuals, and working alone, that you know we're really worried about peace of mind and our state of mind, if you will, and not falling back off the track, and turning to crime again.”
Christian Kane in 'Leverage'
Leverage is a great show when it comes to balancing both the dramatic, the action and the comedy. So which of those is harder to play for you? Is it harder to get into those big complicated action sequences, or is it harder to nail the comedic timing? “No, the action stuff I've gotten, and you know I was on Angel for five years, and I've done a lot of films like Secondhand Lions, where actually all the physical stuff is not really that hard for me, and it takes a toll out on your body, but it's not that tough. I would say it was the comedy you know but I've surrounded myself with a good cast you know so I mean being the tough guy, that's what I was hired for, I was not hired for comedy. But I'm kind of like Jerry Seinfeld, man, I mean, they surround me with people that knew what they were doing when it came to comedy, so I just kind of feed off of them. And it's been a lot of fun, and the writers started writing Eliot a little bit more funny, so you know that's just the best thing in the world, and that's the best the point is that we don’t want to insult anybody by being so serious – it's ridiculous. We know that these people are sitting on the couch watching the show, and they have been so supportive and great fans. We know that at some point, we're going to hit on something that really touches home to them. We're going to be taking somebody down that directly affects their life. And we're going to throw punches for you, and I think that's what makes the show great.”
That can get deep. “It can, but at the same time, you want to be entertained, you just live that at the office, so you're sitting back on your couch with a beer and you've got to be entertained, and I think that's what we do. And I've said this before, but I take a lot from a quote Garth Brooks said, which is you know no matter what seat in the house, no matter if you had a backstage pass, no matter where you were, what mood you were in, whatever, I was the one that had the most fun. And we really are the ones having the most fun, and I think that that bleeds out into the living room, and I think that people need that right now in this economical time. I think that's why this show is so successful. I mean, this is a show for my dad, it's for the guys that can't throw punches when they get to the office, and so we do it for you. I think it's very important right now in America.”
Christian Kane in 'Leverage'
If you had to describe your character of Eliot in one word, what would it be, and why? “Wow. I would have to say vengeance. I think he's paying a lot of people back that have wronged him in his life, I really honestly do. I think it's mostly the people that sent him to kill people, I think that this is his thing, and in a sense of vengeance, I'm saying not vengeance as in like going in to kill people, I think it is the vengeance of doing well, and doing the good fight because he did so much bad for so long.”
One of your greatest performances was for the mini-series Into the West. That looks like it was hell to make. “It was. It was one of the toughest we've ever done, man. You know it was three months in Canada, and then three months in New Mexico. And we're out in the weather – it's not fake snow, and that's not fake dust, that's the real McCoy. So it was tough, but when you're working with Steven Spielberg and you're making a story that's I believe is really important to tell – because I'm Cherokee Indian, so it's like I was getting to play a Native American, so I really took this role really to heart. So, there's not a lot of times they're going to cast me as a Native American, and I really wanted to take it to heart. So it was a tough role, it was a lot of fun, I have got to say that, because those trains were real, those mines were real and the horses were real. So whatever we were doing, we were actually in that time period, so that's how much fun it was. But that's a hard day's work, man, when you're really in that situation.”
Beth Riesling, Aldis Hodges, Tim Hutton and Christian Kane in in 'Leverage'
You mentioned that you were Native American. What else do we not know about Christian Kane? Are you married, do you have kids? We really only know you as you know the guy from Angel, that's on TNT every morning, the guy on Into the West, and now in Leverage. Who in the heck are you? “You know, I got to be honest with you. I wish I could say that I was a better actor to where none of those people were me, and I was playing a role. But no, all those people are really a little bit of me. I mean, Eliot Spencer, on Leverage, is probably one of the closest roles to me that I've ever played. I hate to say that, because I don’t want to be the mean guy, but I'm just a country boy, man. I'm just a country boy living his dream, I really am. I mean, I wake up everyday, and I thank God for what he's given me, I'm very gracious, I'm very thankful. And I know this can all go away like that quick, so I'm just a gracious kid, man, walking through life, having a good time, getting paid for something that he would do for free.”
And you're single? “Yes, I'm single.”
Did you go to college in Oklahoma? “I did, yes, I went to the University of Oklahoma, yes. I majored in beer and women, and then I moved to L.A., I actually dropped out and moved to L.A. I'm not going to lie about that, but I knew that I wanted to be an actor, and there was nothing there for me to do anymore, so I went out west, and thank God I was blessed.”
I'm sure your parents didn’t like that idea idea much? “You know what, actually it's funny, I think I screwed up so much when I was younger, that they were just kind of tired of it. So when I told them, my dad was actually really supportive. I thought I was going to get knocked out, but instead he gave me a hug, and patted me on the butt, and wished me all the luck in the world. It shocked me.”
Christian Kane in 'Leverage'
At the end of the day, what do you hope for the most for yourself from this business? “Well, the tough thing about the entertainment business is longevity, and if you can achieve longevity, then you've had a successful life, and you've had a successful career. I don’t like to shut any doors, I like to be able to take different avenues. I don’t need to be Brad Pitt or Kenny Chesney, I really don’t. I just want to be Christian Kane, I just really want to do what I love for the rest of my life. And I want to be an actor like Gene Hackman, and if somebody allows me to do that, then I've done the right things, and I've made the right moves, and I don’t think that shutting doors on any sense – makes any sense whatsoever.”
“The Studio Job” episode of Leverage has begun its encore showings on TNT. Check your local listings for dates and air times.