The Leverage gang (L-R): Gina Bellman (as Sophie Devereaux), Christian Kane (as Eliot Spencer), Timothy Hutton (as Nathan "Nate" Ford), Aldis Hodge (as Alex Hardison) and Beth Riesgraf (as Parker)
Robbing from the rich and giving to the poor — back in Medieval England that was the battle cry of the legendary Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. Throughout the centuries, others have followed in the heroic outlaw’s footsteps, including modern literature, TV, and feature film characters.
In the popular TNT series Leverage, former insurance fraud investigator Nathan “Nate” Ford (Timothy Hutton) and his team are in the business of staging elaborate cons on behalf of clients who are victimized by individuals or big businesses whose wealth and influence provide them immunity from the typical avenues of justice.
Nate’s associates include Parker (Beth Riesgraf), an expert thief, cat burglar, pickpocket, and safe-cracker. Trained at a young age by expert thief Archie Leach, her thieving skills combined with physical prowess, strength and concentration make her a tremendous asset to the team.
The latter half of Leverage’s fourth season debuted last Sunday, November 27 at 9:00 p.m. EST/PST on TNT with the episode “The Experimental Job.” Prior to the show’s mid-season return, Beth Riesgraf chatted on the phone with me as well as other journalists about the upcoming exploits of Parker and her fellow con artists. Series leading man Timothy Hutton was able to join the call in its final minutes. The following is an edited version of our Q & A (beware, there are some spoilers). Enjoy!
Beth, one of the cool things about this show is you get to do so many different kinds of things, and in the season opener you get to do some really goofy comedy as well as bash some people over the head with a chair, which is always fun. Do you have a knack or a feeling for comedy as it is and is it fun when you get to do something kind of broad like that?
BETH RIESGRAF: First of all, thanks for the question. Yes, I love doing comedy and I love the physicality of both comedy and the stunt work that I get to do. I feel really lucky that I get to mix it up as much as I do. The writers are really generous with sort of giving us lots of interesting material to work with.
And yes, in this episode “The Experimental Job” it's a mix of dealing with my relationship with Hardison and, like you said, there’s comedy in it and also a fight scene where I get to break a chair over a guy and do all kinds of other fun things. I like it all. I don’t prefer one or the other. I think if I did too much of one or the other I might get bored with it. So I like the mix.
You don't do it in “The Experimental Job,” but in some of the earlier episodes your character demonstrates these gymnastic cat burglar-like skills. Does stuff like that come easily to you? Are you somebody who maneuvers well and slides through small spaces and things like that? Would you make a good cat burglar?
BR: I think I would make a really good cat burglar [she jokes]. My sports background has helped me quite a bit, I think. I'm certainly nowhere near as agile or limber as an actual gymnast so I don't want to flatter myself too much here. The stunt girls come in and kick major butt when they need to, and I’m lucky enough to just sort of do a back bend or whatever so it looks like I'm going into the flip and then I can do the move coming out of it. That's how we get away with most of it. But yes, I'm pretty good at crawling through the air ducts and those types of things.
What is your background in sports?
BR: I grew up in the Midwest and I played a lot of sports to keep myself busy, mostly softball, tennis, some soccer and I even taught tennis lessons to kids for a while in high school when I was growing up.
Leverage is a TV show that I love because it always tends to surprise the audience. Was there anything in the remaining episodes of season four that surprised you when you first read the scripts?
BR: Yes, there are actually a few things that surprised me. In the season finale you’ll see that we actually call on some old friends to come back. I love that idea and the way that the writers approached this season's finale because it is something we've touched on before but they brought it to a whole new level.
Unfortunately I can't really say any more about that one. I feel like we broke format quite a bit this year in general, and I can tell you that in the back half of season four we essentially do a spoof on the show The Office in an episode called “The Office Job.” We experiment a little with what Parker and Hardison may have been like if they had gone to college. So we sort of pushed some of those buttons, and because they’re not like “normal” people, their reaction to things are maybe sort of different from those of your average college kid.
There's another [fourth season] episode that I really like. It's actually two episodes that are going to air one after the other. The first one is “Girls' Night Out” followed by “Boys' Night Out.” Both episodes take place on the same night and you get to see what the girls are doing and then next week what the guys were doing at the same time. They’re actually a lot of fun. I think fans are going to get a kick out of them because if they are paying close attention they'll catch a few things that are pretty funny.
Now that you've settled into this role, is there something that you'd like to see your character do someday?
BR: I just want to see her to continue to develop without normalizing too much. I think it’s important to keep Parker unique, quirky, and dangerous, because without all of that she's not Parker, you know? I’d like to see her grow stronger in those areas by being more certain about herself as well as those around her when it comes to being able to trust them and loyalties, etc.
Out of curiosity, when are you folks due back in Portland [Oregon] to start shooting season five?
BR: We don't have a start date as of yet, but I'm assuming late February or early March. That's usually when we kind of get going.
Now that [NBC’s] Grimm is also shooting in Portland, are you worried that you might start running out of locations that won't already have been featured on some other TV show?
BR: You know, I think it's so cool that more and more people are filming there. It is awesome for Portland and Oregon, in general. I've met some of the other actors on those shows and they’re great people. So I'm not worried about it because the tones of the shows are so different from one another. I think even if Grimm shot in the same location as us, it’s going to look totally different, you know?
It would actually be kind of neat to have a crossover at one point. One of the Grimm creatures could roam through a shot with Parker and she wonders if she’s just had a hallucination or something.
Any hints yet about what might be coming up in season five?
BR: I think fans are going to be pleasantly surprised, and then especially in the back half of season four we break format a bit by experimenting with new sorts of ideas and ways to have the Leverage team get in and out of situations.
I already talked about the spoof we’re doing of The Office as well as the episodes “Girls’ Night Out” and “Boys’ Night Out.” And then the season four finale is just phenomenal. [Executive producer] Dean Devlin knows how to make an impact with explosions and fights, so I think the diehard Leverage fans are going to love it because the season finale also harkens back to some of the show’s roots. People who have been watching the whole time will have an inside track as far as what the characters are talking about, but anyone who is new to the show will still also get a really action-packed episode.
Beth, you talked about growing up in the Midwest and I’ve read that you came from Las Vegas as well as Belle Plaine, Minnesota. What ages were you at each place?
BR: Oh, I’m glad you know about Belle Plaine. I moved from Belle Plaine when I was 13 and then I lived in Las Vegas until I was about 20.
What caused you to move to Las Vegas at that age and was it a culture shock for you when you did?
BR: Yes, it was a total culture shock, but I'm so thankful to my parents that we made the move. I have five older sisters, so four of them were off in college doing their thing and my parents are actually in construction and have two companies. They were doing more and more work on the West Coast and finding the winters harder and harder to sort of get through. They wanted to be closer together because my dad travels a lot. My dad had done a job in, I believe, Arizona and then Las Vegas. My mom and I went to visit and thought it was beautiful and warm and she wanted to get the heck out of Dodge. So they moved me and the next eldest sister to Vegas.
So I did junior high and high school there, and I suppose the biggest culture shock was going from a class size of, I think, 53 people to a school of like 700 kids. I mean it was a big shock, but thankfully I adjusted pretty quickly. To be honest, it was I think one of the best things my patents ever did for me. I hated it at first but then I grew to love like being outside and meeting new people and stuff.
How did the years in Las Vegas maybe affect you? Do you think you would have been in show business if you hadn't moved? What do you think would have been different about your life if you hadn't?
BR: That's a really good question. I am so thankful that I spent the amount of time there growing up that I did because I think it gave me a sense of the importance of community and family and staying close to the people that you really care about. Also, I grew up on 300 acres of land with horses and had so much freedom and independence at such a young age that I feel like that really helped me sort of ground myself.
So I was able to take all of that with me. I was pretty open when I went to Las Vegas in terms of receiving new friends and new experiences. Obviously I grew up really quickly that way, too, but I felt like I had the best of both worlds, you know? If I had stayed there [Minnesota] I don't know if I would have ended up in show business. Then again the Minneapolis theater scene is so gorgeous and amazing, and part of how I found about acting was through the children's theater in Minneapolis.
So I feel I definitely would have gone down the road of the arts, especially because two of my older sisters went to MCAD, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. They exposed me to travel and that there were possibilities outside of the small town we grew up in.
Are there any new acting challenges you've discovered with your role of Parker in Leverage’s fourth season?
BR: I suppose the challenges could be just maintaining that balance of quirkiness and keeping her dangerous and the scale sort of tipped slightly so that she's never going to normalize in a sense. I think the moment Parker becomes too normal is the moment is she sort of loses the essence that makes her her. I've had lots of conversations with the writers as certain moments have come up in the show. I want to be sensitive to keeping her who she is and not really progressing too quickly in one area. After all, Parker has had a lifetime of experiences that have made her into the person we see today.
So in one episode she is not going to totally become a “normal” girlfriend to Hardison or anything like that. I want to make sure that we are careful about it and that adrenaline junkie in her stays there, you know? As much as I've loved helping her develop and seeing her grow more independent and all that, there are things about Parker that I don't want to see change. I definitely want to keep aware of the things about Parker that we need to remain true to.
This is sort of going back a little bit, but what initially attracted you to both the show and playing this particular character?
BR: Well, first off, I was an auditioning actor, so when I got the [Leverage] pilot script I was excited to go in and read for it because I thought the script was incredible. It was a really well-written story with such interesting characters and a vibrant or clear idea of who this group was and what they were going to be. I just got it right off the bat.
As far as the character, I thought Parker could be sort of anything that I wanted her to be. If I happened to fit what they were looking for, great but it felt like a playground to like go in and just do whatever I felt like doing to create her and I loved that. I didn't feel like there were any boundaries or that I had to be the sexy girl, the pretty girl, the girl next door or whatever. It was kind of like I could do whatever I wanted and it would be whoever she was, if that makes sense.
What would you say makes a career in this industry rewarding for you so far?
BR: So far, and especially with this job, we — the writers, producers, actors, and members of the crew — have had quite a few people approach us at conventions, online, walking down the street or wherever it may be and tell us that the show has somehow affected them in a positive way. I've even heard about a few instances where families have begun to reunite by watching the show. I've also gotten messages on Twitter about people who were in a similar situation that they saw on the show, whether it was trouble with a bank or their house or some sort of injustice happening, and it sparked an idea in them where they were actually able to go find help and do something about it, which is pretty major.
So I feel like I’m a part of something that represents justice and helping the little man, and right now in this day and age I think it’s really important to create hope and a spirit of play for people and I feel like our show does that. So that has been incredibly rewarding, and, obviously it's the entertainment industry and I'm not coming up with cures for diseases or anything like that. So I know the context of it, but I also know that people have shared [positive] stories with us and that really makes all the difference.
Timothy what is one of your favorite scenes from either the last season or the upcoming season that you can share with us?
TIMOTHY HUTTON: Well, coming up in the two part season finale there are some scenes that I enjoyed doing with Tom Skerritt. We also did an episode called "Boys' Night Out" and a lot of it is just me and an actor named Drew Powell. He was in an episode that we did in season one called “The 12-Step Job.” He returned in this upcoming episode and I very much enjoyed doing some scenes with him. It’s Nate and Hurley [Powell] back out on the road trying to run away from trouble.
So that was fun but, you know, at the end of the day the scenes that I like the most are when the five Leverage folks are together trying to figure out what to do when there is a crisis. When Plan A doesn't work and we have to shift into Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, all these different things start to come up and you see the characters at their best and at their worst all at the same time. Those I think for all of us are really very enjoyable to do.
You guys know your [Leverage] characters better than anybody except maybe the writers. So where would you like to see these characters end up when it is all said and done?
TH: Where would I like to see the characters end up? Well, probably as far away from one another as possible. They’re just starting to kind of work together really well and then there are kind of these little interpersonal situations going on between some of them. I don't know. It would be interesting to see, and the writers have some pretty amazing ideas about that very thing. What do you think, Beth?
BR: I would like to see them all very rich, not that money has anything to do with it, but I think as long as they can keep pulling their cons off, they’ll be able to help people and sort of do what makes them feel good. At the same time they will also be able to travel and do all the other things they love doing together or separately. I want to see them all succeed on many levels. I think we all probably want that.
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