color="red">AZ: What was it that first turned you on to being the attention whore, uh... I mean the diversified performer that you are today?
Cricket Leigh is a powerhouse within a mere 5'1", 108 pound frame. Don't hate her because she's smaller than the average sized woman. Envy her for her intense magnetism, frenzied range of emotional characters and her ability to get little kids to grown men to sit up and stare.
That hot brunette, actress Cricket Leigh
I first stumbled upon Cricket when it was suggested to me that I check out a filmed entitled THE BOYS & GIRLS GUIDE TO GETTING DOWN. And don't let the lack of proper punctuation fool you, it's a sharp and twisted take on the sex ed movies that we all were subjected to in junior high school. Cricket was the every-woman Bernice, if by an every-woman you were the tattooed, pot smoking on lunch break, chillin' with the lighter half of a Run DMC duo wanna-be whilst at a crazed house party. More or less, Bernice reminded me of me.
So I had to look up this green-eyed, smoky-voiced darling and figure out what kind of player she was in the Hollywood scheme of things. Turns out her resume is more than eclectic. One mention of her voicing the character of Mai on "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and my 7 year old daughter went into a shrieking frenzy. One look at just a portion of her one woman (and self-penned) show, "Constantly Distracted," and I just about shrieked myself. Especially when I got an email back from Cricket granting me the opportunity to interview her. When my sweetheart questioned the dual shriek-fests and I told him that I'd be interviewing Bernice from TB&GGTGD (something he'd watched with me and been in stitches over), even he shrieked with, "The hot brunette? Score!"
An actress, a writer, a professional make-up artist, a voice-over artist, a Groundling (if you don't know what that is, shame on you), an NYU grad with a BFA in Drama (with honours, no less), there's a whole lot of Cricket in a whole lot of places.
And now, there's even some Cricket on MatchFlick.
AwesomeZara: OK, I must first point out that you automatically rock according to my daughter because you were the voice of Mai on "Avatar: The Last Airbender." Do people ever comment on recognizing your voice from the show?
Cricket Leigh: Haha! Yes, I get tons of fan mail actually. From strange pre-pubescent kids in Germany, to tiny Korean "Mai" wanna-bes, to old dudes in trailers in Omaha who are fans of "Mai" and the show. Voice-Overs are a strange genre because everyone pictures you in their head, which is awesome, and now with internet, they can find your face too. Sometimes it matches what they thought & sometimes not. I've been doing "Mai" for 3 seasons & this year we were nominated for an Emmy, so it's a pretty cool gig. I love that I can play this teenaged Chinese Goth air bender!
AZ: The first thing that I caught you in was THE BOYS & GIRLS GUIDE TO GETTING DOWN, a great independent flick shot that featured just about every cliched club-going, partying stereotype. Which type of party girl were you back when you weren't too busy with your career to still get a chance to get down?
Cricket: I'm never too busy not to get down. Haha! I went to an Arts high school in Chicago, where we hardly learned a thing about anything but how to get down. We'd go to class, then meet up at night in the big city, do shots of tequila & dance to AC/DC at some dive bar where they didn't know we were underage. So I guess I was more like my character "Bernice" in Boys & Girls Guide; a good girl at heart who liked to have a good time. Don't get me wrong, I worked my butt off in school. I was a Theatre Major in high school with a Modern Dance minor. I'd be acting, dancing, singing, studying for like 9 hours a day, so letting loose at night was a must. And I lived with my single mom, so we were like two hilarious girls in the big city.
AZ: Much of your training has been for stage work and you've done some great live monologues (see link below for video). I was curious how different filming a movie and being on stage was for you and if you have a personal preference between the two.
Cricket: I definitely prefer Theatre. See, with Film, you the actor are like a prop. You're about as important really as a lighting instrument, or even the set. You are there as one element in making the director's overall vision happen. So you have no control over how you come off, what the piece ends up looking like, etc. It's a director's medium. With Stage, you are in total control of your performance & the entire audience's reaction from beginning to end. The director has his vision, he directs you & tweaks you for weeks. But when you get out there on opening night, it's all up to you. And you are telling his story. The story becomes what's important, not the lights, or the set. So, I love that feeling. I wrote & performed my one-woman show "Constantly Distracted" here in LA five sold-out times and to look out, and see 100 people cramming the seats, to see you, one person, entertain them, to hold their attention for 60 minutes... it's such a rush. I love doing movies, but my heart will always be with the stage.
Cricket on the set of THE BOYS AND GIRLS GUIDE TO GETTING DOWN
Cricket: Yes, it's true I am an attention whore but you know, the best compliments I get are when people tell me they had no idea I'm an actress. Or that I don't "seem like an actress". Thank god! I care most about the writers. They are the reason we're here doing what we love. Without the story, we'd just be public jesters! So, back to your question, my Mom was a dancer. She was incredible & when I was a baby, she performed in these "follies," sort of like the Radio City Rocketttes-type thing, back in my hometown of Battle Creek, MI. So I was always around "theatre-people" & dancers, face paint and lights. I was in a crib backstage at these Follies. And my mother encouraged every theatrical whim of mine since birth. She is my rock. Now my Father is a ham. He is the funniest person I have ever met. Really! His dry, witty humor absolutely encourages me to top him. Growing up, he doubted my ambitions, and it hurt that he didn't support me, but it made me work harder to prove him and others wrong. And now he's come around.
AZ: Was there something else that your dad would have preferred that you do? It seems it would have been difficult if he was vocal in expressing that he didn't support your choice to be an actress.
Cricket: My Dad just wanted me to do everything on my own. My Mom is an overdoer, & he's an underdoer. He told me once that giving too much spoils the kid, and that everything I will ever want will have to be gotten from hard work. Necessity is the mother of invention, yada yada...
AZ: One of the most interesting features on your resume that caught my eye (other than you being the NYU-educated broad that you are - thank you for adding more intelligence to counterbalance the empty-headed starlets of recent years, by the way) is that you list that you're willing to work unpaid. Why would an actress list that? Is it mainly to gain the experience?
Cricket: Well, any actor worth anything works for free if they love the project. Even Julia Roberts works for her version of "free" which is SAG minimum if she likes a project. As I said, I'm about the story, so if I want to tell it I don't give a damn whether I get $100, $5000 or a nice lunch of meatball marinara. I love words, I love transforming into other people, so when I get that chance I'm gonna do it & do it well. I agree also that the old "studying" of the craft is very rare here in Hollywood. But where I'm from in Chicago & in NY, it is alive & well. Jennifer Garner studied, did summer stock, paid her dues. So have I. Scarlett Johannsen hasn't. She hasn't had to, yes, but the integrity is missing. It's missing in her choices but also in her performances. I would love to see more people on TV & in movies go back to school to get trained. It gives you such pride. I can do Shakespeare, Ibsen, Strindberg, David Mamet, David Rabe, musicals, poetry slams, etc. And then when you have to just be yourself, you can do that too. Your "Job" is to illuminate the human heart, to show the audience who they are, to reflect back to them their good & bad qualities, in order to illuminate humanity. That classical foundation influences every performance of your life. And I'm so proud NYU gave that to me.
AZ: One of your sources of training was working with Joyce & Byrne Piven at The Piven Theatre Workshop in Chicago. Joyce & Byrne's son, Jeremy, has managed to finally get his due in Hollywood with an Emmy for the HBO show "Entourage." Is seeing retribution for your hard work in the form of a gold statuette something that you aspire to in your future?
Cricket: Absolutely. The Pivens are my heroes; they believe in the story & in the joy of telling it. Jeremy has always been amazing, and so has his sister Shira, who doesn't have a trophy. The whole family are gems. I would love to win an award, but more than that, I want the OPPORTUNITY to win one. To be at that level. Some people spend their lives not knowing if they're talented. I spend mine searching for those opportunities, for people to believe in me, cast me in things they maybe thought I couldn't do. And one day, to win an accolade for that would be kick ass. Paul Sapiano, the director of Boys & Girls Guide had to fight for me to play Bernice because I was not your typical "Goth" or "Punk" girl. I came in & he liked what I did, and asked me to come back for the Producers "much dirtier". So I did. Very dirty. Haha I put Vaseline in my hair & did Joan Jett make-up & I got to do the film! That was a credit to Paul for that.
AZ: I was going to ask about how it looked like you had tattoos in that flick and then I saw you bare in your publicity shots. I'm an inked girl, so I almost cried foul.
Cricket: It's funny, because I wore those tats & those black extensions for 5 weeks.
And I got A LOT of attention. (laughing) Different attention. More "street cred" if you will. I'd be at Best Buy buying a Barbra Streisand CD & people would stare. Or they'd hit on me saying "Hey, nice tats". It was hilarious...
Animated Cricket (Mai from Avatar: TLAB) Could Kick Your Ass Too
AZ: But I really like that you were out there with admitting that being nominated is a goal, even after talking about the craft of story being a driving force. So, imagining yourself sitting in the Kodak theater, camera cut in close to catch your reaction face, would do the "Faith Hill" and make an upset face if someone you didn't feel deserved the award won instead?
Cricket: No way! I would have to keep mum. But inside I'd be like "WHAT?!" (laughing)
AZ: I was very excited to catch the title of an "in production" title listed on imdb.com entitled "THE BOYS & GIRLS GUIDE TO BEING GAY." However, because I'm not shelling out dough to be a Pro member, I couldn't get any details on it. Is this something that you're going to be involved in as well?
Cricket: Yes! They are writing this & it is hilarious, take it from me. I was involved in its inception & I can tell you, it's hilarious, and has all the elements of the Guide to Getting Down that you know & love, but in the Gay world. You will not want to miss it.
AZ: I had to laugh (in a non-mocking way, I swear... at least not at your expense) that you were the voice of a "Sexy Diet Pepsi Can" for a national marketing campaign for the soda company. I laugh because my sweetheart used to be a merchandiser for the company and we have a long standing argument about how I prefer Coke. Which brings me to the unwieldy transition into the question of whether or not you've ever been asked to do anything in your line of work that you felt compromised your personal morals or ethics.
Cricket: OK, I am a lifelong COKE fan! Don't tell Pepsi. Haha... I thought this was so funny, because I was sick as a dog at this audition, all I had to do was say ONE LINE. I drove sick across town to say one line. "I love it when he does that", speaking about this Can that jumps out of the convenience store cooler onto the floor & does a dance. I said the line three different ways, went home & forgot all about it. Turns out they'd actually searched in 3 cities for this voice to say this line. And I got it! I was sooooooo happy. I was broke and had no health insurance & this spot got me on my feet. And it played during the Oscars! So even though I secretly ingested 6 cans of Coke Classic a day, I never uttered that during this time in respect to the Pepsi boys that were paying my salary. Haha!
In terms of compromising myself, this was minor, but I did the play Les Liaisons Dangerueuses where I played "Cecile" & had to be in a vulnerable position in bed in a nighty that Valmont hikes up & I had to simulate sex with him onstage. It was difficult, I was young & embarrassed, but I didn't feel it was in poor taste at all. If I did, I would absolutely say something. I'm a pretty aggressive person, so most people don't even bother asking me to do things they know I'll laugh off & say "hell no" to!
AZ: You being a Coke fan give you about 100 times more cred than I was already giving you, which was a ton to begin with. Out of curiosity, is there anything silly like that which leads you to instantly think someone is cooler than you first imagined?
Cricket: Totally! Like when someone watches America's Next Top Model of Flavor Of Love, I am instantly bonded with them. Or if they love meat & Potatoes as the staple of their diet, I adore them. Or if they've read some book I love or adore some photographer I dig. So, yeah, I do that a lot. The trick is giving a chance to the poor soul you DON'T think you like right off, who may surprise you later.
AZ: I still cannot get over just how many skills and talents you possess and then think of people like Paris Hilton who get to become famous for being rich. It seems so damn unfair. What's one of the most discouraging things that's happened to you over the course of your career?
Cricket: Wow... so many things. It's happening now, it's never-ending. To be able to keep that little flame in your heart going, the flame that you grew up stoking as a child - in high school, drama school, in life - is the most difficult thing in the world to do. Because no one is helping you do it. It's all up to you & you can quit anytime. In fact, quitting seems like the easiest way to go. But you don't... you just don't. You put one foot in front of the other & keep going. So, thanks for recognizing that. I'm sure as a writer & a mother you feel the same way sometimes. And speaking of special talents, you may not know that I was in fact a BMX Bike Champion. Won 8th in the Nationals when I was 11! Haha!
AZ: You're like a Swiss Army Cricket. There's a little something of everything
in you. I can't believe I've gotten this far without asking about your name. Were you named Cricket or is it a stage name? I'd love to think that I'm not the only person who grew up being teased in school.
Then laugh wickedly that you'd be glad she did
Cricket: "Swiss Army Cricket". LOVE IT! I am an amalgam of stuff, that's for sure. Here's the story on my name: My Dad was playing football that October in Battle Creek, MI where I was born. My Mom was with my Great Grannie when she felt the water break. My Grannie couldn't drive a stick, so my Mom, writhing in pain, did it solo. As she did pretty much everything. (laughing) They get to the hospital, and my Dad was still out playing football somewhere. He'd wanted a boy, duh. But if a girl, told my mom he wanted her to be named "Christina" or "Chrystal". My Mom balked. So, that day, she drove alone, she delivered alone & just to piss him off, named me Cricket because my Grannie said I cried & sounded like a "little cricket." And there it was. Now, my Father's last name (and mine since birth) was "Castanier". It's French. But at 16, I dropped it & went by my first & middle name, Cricket Leigh. I was hounded in school. I changed it in 2nd grade to Sarah but the kids eventually found out. So I developed wit & humor beyond my years to cope. Ha!
AZ: I was very excited when you agreed to let me interview you. Have you had any star-struck moments yourself?
Cricket: Oh, yes. Living in LA is hilarious. I'm a Midwestern girl. Once when I was having lunch with friends, I spied Ben Affleck & started to go nuts; then I see his brother Casey, and Matt Damon & I just started squealing like a little schoolgirlish pig! My friends were so embarrassed. And seeing Michele Pfieffer in person is insane. The woman in the most luminescent, beautiful creature on earth. So, yeah, every time you go out, you see someone famous, and think about what they're having for dinner or whether they have Advil in their purse.
AZ: Alrighty then. Let all the readers know... what's something that you're never without in YOUR purse?
Cricket: Bobbi Brown Lipgloss #20, all of my Make-up brushes in Travel Size, & the world's greatest hand cream: "Dr. Hunter's Rosewater Hand Crème"!!!
AZ: Ultimately, where you would like to see your career go?
Cricket: My goal actually would be to be on Saturday Night Live. The new Cheri Oteri. I was up for a series regular on "MADtv" last season & was crushed not to get it. So something like that would be a dream. To get to write & perform. And of course, I want my own TV show. I love TV. I love the pace of it. And then to be able to do theatre in Chicago, & NY would be a dream. And finally, I love talk radio and would LOVE to have my own radio talk show.
AZ: What are some of the projects that you have in the upcoming year?
Cricket: Coming up I'm in the midst of writing my solo show about Janis Joplin, still Untitled. I'll do an hour show where I play Janis, sing her songs & just play her heart out. I can't wait! I'm going to continue to do Voice-Overs for Animation. I just did the voice of "Emma" the love interest of "Tater" in the new CARS II CD Rom Game. In March I'll be the Manhattan Monologue Slam in LA defending my Title as champ! Everyone living in LA should come out to support. The people are so talented. They can find out the info at www.mmslam.com. I'm working on the idea of my own Radio Show. I want to talk to Women about how moronic we can be, how NOT to change Men, to leave them alone & let them love us-type thing. I think us girls would love it. After that, who knows?! I'm auditioning & loving life and have little doubt that I'll end up exactly where I should be.
AZ: I have little doubt that you'll get where you're going quickly if you keep up the pace you're at right now. I also know that interviewing you was a complete delight.
Cricket: Thanks so much! I feel very strange but really flattered to be your subject. To be honest, I've been doin' it so long in absolute anonymity that it's rad to be noticed, it really is.
Just because you haven't seen Cricket on the cover of US Weekly doesn't mean that she doesn't deserve a little stalking. Make sure to check out the following links, queue up the insanely funny BOYS & GIRLS GUIDE TO GETTING DOWN (as well as keep an eye out for its subsequent editions) and look out for her one-woman show. Personally, I'm off to go write to Fox and tell them they were stupid for not selecting her as a "Madtv" cast member. They've been needing a deep dose of funny for a long time now. And you can never go wrong with a Swiss Army Cricket.
Contact and Keep Up to Date with Cricket Leigh at www.cricketleigh.com
Manhattan Monologue Slam - Cricket Leigh
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