Interview: Leverage's Christian Kane shows off his musical side in tonight's episode of the TNT hit

Filed under: Interviews

After recurring roles on Angel and Close to Home, Christian Kane now finds himself as one of the stars of the TNT hit Leverage, playing Eliot Spencer, the highly-skilled muscle of the con team lead by Timothy Hutton's Nathan Ford. But throughout his time in Los Angeles, Kane has also developed his musical side, performing at places like famed club The Viper Room.

Now, shortly after releasing a self-titled EP (available on iTunes), he's being given a chance to showcase his musical side on his TV show, as tonight's episode of Leverage (9pm ET/PT on TNT) will feature his character going undercover as a country singer. Kane will be performing a new, never-before-released song, "Thinking of You", which will also be up on iTunes to download right after the episode air.

I got the chance to sit on a conference call with Kane last week where he spoke about his background in both music and acting, his role on Leverage, and how the opportunity came about for him to perform a song on the show.

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?

Christian Kane: You know 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, my mom and dad grew up -- you know, they met in the rodeo, and they had country music blaring out my whole childhood. So when I (was) old enough to listen to my own music, I went straight to rock and roll. It's funny how moving to Los Angeles can move you right back to your roots, and I just went back to country.

How did the idea come up for you to do this? Did you get approached to write and perform this song? Or was it your idea?

CK: Well, I was -- it was a little bit of my idea, but you know, we [Kane and Leverage co-creator John Rogers] had talked about doing a music episode, taking down a record company for a certain reason. And (John) tried to fit it in second season, but it just didn't work. I'd had some really great success, as well as the show did, when I sang on Angel in the second season, and just, you know, we developed such a big fan base out of that whole episode for my band. And so (John) took note of that, and caught wind that, and it was his idea to do it, I think that it was me kind of egging him on. And then, of course, I got the fans involved, and I've got the best fans in the world. So I think he just got tired of listening to them.

So we did it, and it's a song I wrote a couple of years ago. I tried to put something that was going to be on the album, and is actually coming out in October. But the single's coming out –- the actual single's coming out September 1. And another great thing about that is 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 the 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. But to answer your original question, it was a little bit of collaboration between me and (John Rogers). Dean (Devlin, Leverage's showrunner) is a fan of the music, so Dean gave it the green light.

You'll have to go get my EP, the five song EP is out on iTunes as Christian Kane. I did a lot of self promotion with 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.

Did you write both the music and the lyrics?

CK: 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 – this one's about a girl, and I get a lot of my – a lot of my influences come from love, and more importantly, heartache.

And 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, we were both coming up with some stuff, and I – so yes, I collaborated on it – me and (Blair) collaborated together on music and lyrics.

How cool is it that Dean Devlin gives you this platform to show off your athleticism and your singing (chops)?

CK: You know listen it's a – it's a gift, it's the – not only – it's the role that I – that I've set down on the side of my bed and prayed for when I was 13, 15, 16, whatever. I mean it's the one that I wanted to come to Hollywood for. And I'm actually getting to play it you know I'm Steven McQueen, and I get to don guitars and all kinds of stuff. And the great thing about Leverage is, is we just – it never gets stale for us, because it's – we always get to – we play roles within roles, and so there's always a new character you get to build, you're not just hitting monotony or rigor mortis or anything like that, it's just – it's a – you know there's hats we wear on top of our other hats, and it's just a dream.

As an actor – as an actor, it's a dream, and as a – and as a –young man to work with Dean Devlin, the guy who blows s*** up, that's one of my – you know it's a – it's a – it's a childhood dream, it really is, it's been so much fun.

What is it like shooting in Portland?

CK: There's things I love about Portland. You know I could do without the rain all year long, but it's really – I love the people, I love the food and the wine; there's some really great wines out here. You know, California better be careful. And so you know we – it's a – it's a really good atmosphere, and it makes it for – it makes it for a – to – you can relax when you get off work, and you show up the next day refreshed, and that's one of the beautiful things about Portland. Not only the fact that we go all over the world on this show, but we film out of Portland, and so it allows for so many different backdrops, and so many different cities, and the town's just been – the city's been really good to us.

Are we going to now be seeing perhaps a softer side of your character? Is this going to be precursor to seeing a little more emotion from him?

CK: Well I think the – I think the fact is over the last couple of – over the last couple of seasons you know Eliot has developed more of a heart. I mean make no mistake about it, he's a stone cold killer, that's what he is. He always has been you know he doesn't – but the thing is, is that what's wrong with that is when someone develops a heart, and throughout the episodes, we've kind of seen him come a more – come around more to you know liking Hardison a little bit more. And you know stuff like that, and he's developing a heart, he's the tin man, he's a tin man, and he – and – but that can always hurt you if you build it too quick. And so I think that's what he's doing is I think he's building a heart way too fast, and so that's always going to come back to bite you, and I think that throughout the season, or you know maybe towards the end, you're going to see where it does come back to hurt him, and when that happens, I mean you know how mean Eliot is already, so I'm not sure if that's going to be a good thing or not.

Do you like being referred to as the B.A. Baracus of the show, or how do you feel about that?

I took a lot of stuff from Mr. T when I got this role you know it was a – this guy's – this is a Jason Borne character, it really is, that's who he was before. And in order for me to be part of the team, if I was Jason Borne, I'd just be sitting there and I'd just be taking everything in, I wouldn't talk a lot, and I was like how am I going to make this guy you know stand out and be – and be part of a team and be a – be a force to reckon with? And I just took – I just took one of my all time heroes, which is you know – you know Mr. T, and I said, you know B.A. Baracus was always pissed off about everything, so I'm just going to make Eliot mad at anything. I mean – and it's really what I've done. If you'll notice you know if Hardison drops a fork or if (Beth) spills a glass, it just makes him so mad, he can't even sit in his seat. And I really – I really stole that from B.A. Baracus, so I have no problem with people telling me that, that's a – that's a great compliment to have, because that's kind of what I was going for.

Leverage is a great show when it comes to balancing the dramatic, the action stuff, 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?

CK: No, the action stuff I've gotten, and you know I was on Angel for 5 years, and I've done a lot of films, so all the physical stuff is not really that hard for me. It takes a toll 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 – it's been a lot of fun, and the – and the writers started writing Eliot a little bit more funny, so you know that's all – that's just the best thing in the world, and that's the best the point is that we're not – we're not taking this show – we're taking it – we don't want to insult anybody by being so serious, it's ridiculous you know we know that these people that were – that are sitting on the couch watching the show, that are – that 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, I mean you know this – they're – we're going to be talking – 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.

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 you know it's – 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 you have, 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. And so I think that's why this show is so successful, I mean – and it's just – you know it's – this is a show for my dad you know it's a – it's for the – it's for the guys that can't – they 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.

I saw you've got some great guest stars this season; I know you were excited about a couple of them on Twitter. Wonder if you could tell us about that.

CK: Oh, it's just been an amazing year. I mean we've got these – we've got these A list people coming in from Hollywood that have – that have – you know that have watched the show, and enjoyed the show, wanted to come on. I don't know how we've been so fortunate.

We've had – we've got John Schneider coming in with his – you know he's in the episode with me Sunday night, and I get to fight John Schneider, I get to fight Bo Duke, my – you know my childhood idol, I get to fight him. You know we had – I mean we've had Richard Chamberlain come in, we've had – we've had – Bill Engvall came in, actually, Bill Engvall came in and did a – and did an episode a race car show you know NASCAR stuff, and so that was – that was amazing, and he was a fan of the show.

We've had unbelievable guest stars this year, and there's some that I can't talk about, to be honest with you. But they'll – but they'll be popping up, I mean you know it's just – for this season, the – more people came out of the woodwork, and it's just been so great, man, we've been very – we get one every week you know and there's not a lot of shows that get to do that, and so we've been so fortunate.

I think you know the show in itself has something to do with that, but I think you know Dean Devlin also, people love working with Dean Devlin, so that's been great.

Mark McLeod: I was just wondering, if you had to describe your character in one word, what would it be, and why?

CK: Wow. I would say – I would have to say vengeance, I think he's paying – I think he's paying – I think he's paying a lot of people back that have wronged him in his life, I really honestly do. I think – and I think it's – I think it's mostly the people that sent him to kill people, I think that this is his – this is his thing, and in a – in a sense of vengeance, I'm saying not vengeance as in you know like going in to kill people I think is the vengeance of doing well, and doing the good fight because he did so much bad for so long.

Who is the real Christian Kane? Are you married, do you have kids? Who are you? We only know you as you know the guy on Angel and the guy in Into the West, and now in Leverage. Who are you?

CK: You know, I've got to be honest with you, I always bring myself. 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 -– all those people are really a little bit of me. I mean, Eliot Spencer's probably one of the closest roles I've ever played. I hate to say that, because I'm not -– I don't want to be the mean guy, but you know I grew up –- you know, I'm just a country boy, man, I'm just a country boy living his dream. I really am. I mean, I wake up every day, and I thank God for what he's given me I'm very gracious, I'm very thankful. And I know they can all go away like that quick, so I'm just, I'm just a gracious kid, man, walking through life, having a good time, getting paid for something that I would do for free.

Did you go to school in Oklahoma?

CK: 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 just -– I went out west, and thank God I was blessed.

You have a ton of fans on your MySpace page, and you obviously interact a lot with them. So can you tell us a bit more about your songwriting process, and what do you think that probably sets you apart from all the other singers are right now?

CK: Well, here's the thing with me: I get paid to be a liar, that's what it is, I'm an actor. You know what I mean? And that's just what it is. And you know there's a lot of truth to what we do, but basically I'm playing a character, I'm not Eliot Spencer, even though I bring a lot of me to the character, and I know this guy better than anyone, and he's got –- there's a lot of Christian Kane in Eliot Spencer. But you know, it's not real. And I think with songwriting and songs, you have to be absolutely truthful, especially in country music and so I I don't –- you're not going to hear me writing about being married or writing about being on the back of a tractor, or anything like that. You know, it's not me. So I write about what I know, and I think that it's very important to be truthful in country music. And I don't think that there's really anything that sets me apart, but what I do bring to the table is that, spending 12 years of my life in Los Angeles, we played country music, I had to be in Los Angeles, and so we played country music, and we played the (Viper) Room, that's where we played, we played (Sunset), we were the only country band at the time in L.A., and there was –- that was our venue, the (Viper) Room.

Now it's a Saturday night, and we're in between grunge and metal and hair bands, but we were playing country music. And so in a sense to not lose the crowd, we incorporated a little bit of rock, we came back to The Almond Brothers, we came back to Skynyrd. And you know, everyone was having a good time, and we made sure everybody was having a good time. And in that sense, I believe I found my sound, and I like to incorporate a little bit more rock and roll than most country people do, and I come to find out that there is a fan base out there for that. And so we just like to rock out, we like to have a good time, and you know I love the ballads, I love doing all that stuff, but I grew up in the (Viper) Room where if you sang a ballad, you lost the crowd. So what we would do is we'd take ballads and speed them up and add a Stratocaster to it, and that just kind of became our sound.

Tags: Christian Kane, Leverage, TNT, Eliot Spencer, Timothy Hutton, country music

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Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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