Leland B. Martin never planned to be an actor. But after working a 9-5 job in finance, he was afraid he would wake up one day and regret he never lived his life to the fullest. He happened upon acting by chance and quickly fell in love. Now his acting is career taking off, and his role on BET’s new show, Boomerang, is sure to be his breakout role.
I got the chance to speak with Leland one-on-one about his unique path to acting, his new show, how he relates to his character, his love for Dragon Ball Z and so much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you got into acting originally.
After college, I was working at a big financial institution. It just didn’t make my heart flutter — the 9-5, the monotony of it all. I just felt like I would wake up and be that 65-year-old that never lived life the way he really, really wanted to live life. So I began to look for other things. I don’t believe in coincidences, at all, but I was going to lunch one day, and right next door to the deli where I was going to lunch was this big sign in the window that said “casting.” I wanted to see what was going on. I went inside, and there was a casting director in there and she said, “You don’t have any experience so I can’t put you in anything. But I’ll give you lessons on Tuesday and Thursday nights.” So I went on Tuesday and Thursday nights, fell in love with the craft and have been going at it since.
You never had any interest in acting as a kid or did any school productions or things like that?
Never. Never at all. I didn’t think twice about it. As a kid, I wanted to play basketball, play sports, and be a regular kid. And then my interests went towards business around college. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself doing anything in the arts, or acting, or music, or anything of that nature. So yeah, this is a complete spin for me [laughs].
Would you credit those acting lessons or that casting director with helping you — basically what would you credit with helping you decide acting is what you wanted to do for a living?
Life and circumstances, really. It wasn’t any particular person. At that point, I was just tired of the same old monotony. Then, once I started taking lessons, I fell in love with it. I then started going to different classes here and there, meeting different people within the craft itself and started to immerse myself in the community. I just loved how free people were and the ability to be someone else. Just everything that came with acting I started to love.
But the thing that hooked me was when I did Alaskaland. I did a film called Alaskaland. It was about 5-months into me acting that I auditioned for it. I was so serious about it that I drove from South Jersey to Washington, D.C. just to audition for it. I got the role, and they flew me out to Alaska. I got to see Alaska for the first time and all of these other things. They basically paid me to play pretend. At that point, I said, “When I go into work every day at Merrill Lynch, I have to act like I like being here.” So I said, “I might as well get paid to act [laughs].”
I know your career is just starting to take off, but do you have an acting “bucket list” of things you want to accomplish in your career? If so, what are some of the things on it?
Absolutely. Well, me personally, I want to write and produce my own feature films, partner with certain companies and big movie houses, and things of that nature to get my stuff out there to the world. I love acting. Acting is my first passion, but I also want to create and produce. So that’s one of the things on my list as well, to have something of my own natural creativity to call my own.
But on the acting level, to work on feature films: action, drama, comedy, just everything. I see myself as a multi-faceted talent, so I want to explore all of those things throughout my career.
In terms of the stuff you’re creating, scripts and stuff like that, is there a particular genre you’re interested in or is it whatever comes up?
Anything that comes up. Just like my acting. I’m pretty much multi-faceted when it comes to [writing, producing, directing, etc.]. It’s all across the board for me.
Let’s talk about this current project of yours that’s getting ready to come out, Boomerang. Tell our readers a little bit about what the show is about.
The world of Boomerang, the series, is based on a 1992 movie of the same name starring Eddie Murphy and Halle Berry. But it’s not a remake of the movie, it’s a continuation of the story. What we’re doing is we’re picking up 26-years later with the kid of Eddie Murphy’s character and Halley Berry’s character and the kid of Robin Givens’ character. We’re basically using that world and creating a new story completely. It’s a romantic comedy about timing, missed opportunities, and love. All those things usually work in life to where you can’t have everything; it’s like you have it, but then the timing is wrong and all of these different types of things that play into it. It’s the world of people who represent different views of society. We have people who are executives as well as my character who is a party promoter and a web series director, someone who is up-and-coming as far as creating his own content. We have the rebels and all the rest, so it’s just a whole spectrum of people.
With this being a continuation, do you have to know the original movie to watch this show?
Absolutely not. I mean, I would love for people to go back and actually watch the original movie because it’s great [laughs]. It’s amazing, and it was actually one of my favorite films growing up. But the show takes on a life of its own. It is definitely something you’ll be able to follow from the very beginning without any knowledge of the movie.
What was your audition process like?
I had to go in physically three times. It was about a month-long process, just getting the material, going in and performing it, receiving a callback, going in a week later or so, getting another callback, going in for producers, and performing for them. For my test with the network, I didn’t have to go in for that as they said my other tape was great. But they showed my tapes to the network, then about a week later I was approved and got the role.
That’s awesome. You play Ari Thomas, and as you mentioned, he’s a party promoter and content creator. What is he like? How does he fit into the story?
Ari Thomas is unapologetically himself. He’s the guy in the group that speaks his mind, and he doesn’t mind how you feel about him. He’s very open about who he is and what he wants and he goes for it. He’s consistently trying to get new opportunities to advance his career as a director. He’s the voice of reason sometimes, but he’s also the type of guy who [people are like], “Hey, we’re going to have fun with Ari,” because he knows where everybody is, and he knows how to have fun.
Do you think Ari is similar or different to the person that Leland is and in what ways?
I think [as an actor] you have to have similarities to your character. Ari has a lot of the same pieces as myself. Myself, I’m pretty unapologetic about who I am. I’m pretty blunt and straightforward like Ari is. I speak my mind. We’re different people, but we’re definitely similar in a lot of ways.
Is that something that was evident to you from the moment you read the script or is that something you saw in him as you got more scripts?
Just who the character is, and especially the unapologetic bluntness of him, that’s kind of right up my alley [laughs]. So I knew that side of things. And then just bringing elements [to him] of people that I knew. I knew that this would definitely be someone that I could relate to in a lot of different ways.
The series is created and executive produced by Lena Waithe and Ben Cory Jones, who are both creative geniuses. What was it like to work with them and to have them around?
Amazing. There was such connectivity on that set. Nobody was a diva, everybody was very supporting and loving. They [especially] worked with us and asked us questions and took into consideration our opinions on things. It was very much a collaborative effort, and very much a family feel to the set.
I know Halley Berry is also an executive producer on the show. Was she ever around? Have you met her?
I mean, it’s definitely a dream to work with Halle Berry. But during the filming itself, she wasn’t on-set, no. But just having her a part of this project is a dream come true because I grew up as a huge fan of Halle Berry, and having her put her name on this project and being a part of it in that way is a huge honor.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd. So what do you nerd out about?[laughs] Well little-known fact about me is [that] I nerd out about anime. I am a huge Dragon Ball Z fan, like huge fan. I need to go see that [Dragon Ball Super:] Broly movie ASAP. Dragon Ball Super. I would religiously [watch] every Saturday, would wait for the new episodes to come out until it ended. People would make fun of me for it, but I love it.
Boomerang premieres February 12 at 10/9c on BET. Make sure you follow Leland on Instagram.