BWW Interview: Andrew Leeds - From Groundlings' Comic Bro To Being A Big Bro For Zoey
Andrew Leeds, a Groundlings main company member, follows in the long line of his talented Groundlings cohorts in landing an episodic gig. Andrew plays David, the brother of the titular Zoey in NBC's new Sunday night hit Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist. Actor/singer/writer Andrew agreed to parcel out some time from his multi-tasking to answer a few of my inquiring enquiries.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Andrew! I have seen you on The Groundlings stage many a night. You're too funny!
Oh, thanks so much. I have a blast performing there.
You started acting as a child actor on Broadway. Did you learn your craft as you went along? How did you first get started?
I learn new things all the time. I got started because I was really shy as a kid, so my mom put me into a musical theater group at the Largo Recreation Center in Florida. I was three years old, and I loved it. So I kept going. Not sure it totally cured me of my shyness. I don't think I was necessarily that good at any of it (singing, dancing, etc.), but I loved it; so I kept doing it! And so, very gradually, I got better. I've been very lucky to work with so many amazing actors and directors and writers, and really there's a lot to be learned from all of the people on set or in the theater. As a kid, getting to work with James Lapine and William Finn really shaped me in many ways. And now getting to work with Peter Gallagher and Mary Steenburgen on Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist - every day is a great lesson.
Your first four shows were musicals -TEDDY & ALICE, LES MISERABLES, FALSETTOS and ROMULUS HUNT. When did you/or someone close to you realize that you could sing?
I loved to sing, but I'm not sure I was particularly good at it right away -- especially when you compare it to what kids on YouTube can do today. But there were two teachers I had at the Recreation Center, Gidget Cross and Jason Fortner. I guess they thought I was good, and I think that built up my confidence.
You became a main company member of The Groundlings in 2015. When and how did you first connect with The Groundlings?
In 2001, I went to see my first Groundlings show on a whim, and I was blown away. I was mesmerized by their acting ability, and by their ability to transform into other characters in such a real way with such a strong point of view. I thought to myself, "I want to do that." What an amazing thing to get to create these characters. I was so blown away by the performers at the time. I never thought in a million years, it would be possible for me to be a part of it. I ended up taking classes there, and then actually took a ten-year hiatus. It wasn't until a few Groundlings encouraged me to just take a leap and try it, that I was able to go back. And it has been an incredible fulfilling experience.
Would you credit your continued episodic work, and now Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, to your improvisational training and experience at The Groundlings?
I think the training at The Groundlings has helped me enormously. The teachers there are incredible. They care so much, and they really teach you how to look for a character's point of view. How does the character walk, talk, laugh, cry? Doing improv there has also helped me to be present, and to listen, and to not hold too tightly to anything. I have learned a tremendous amount from my fellow company members and from those who came before me. But I also think so much of what I do is because of what I learned growing up in the theater surrounded by so many incredible actors. I know I'm repeating myself a bit here, but getting to work with actors like Chip Zien, Michael Rupert, Steve Bogardus, Barbara Walsh, Maureen Moore, Heather MacRae, Mandy Patinkin and so many others leaves a sort of imprint on you.
Have you ever imagined yourself as 'gifted' as Zoey in reading people's thoughts?
No, I don't think I can read people's thoughts at all! It would be nice, but I'm constantly surprised by the things people do and say - which means I have no idea what they're thinking. That's probably part of why I like being an actor and a writer. I get to try to imagine what goes on inside other people's heads.
If you were to submit your Zoey's character David Clarke to an online dating app, what qualities would you list?
This is hard! He would probably say he's a lot of fun, and he'd want people to know he's thoughtful, but he wouldn't know how to say that without sounding too arrogant. He'd probably post a photo with a dog (even if it wasn't his).
What flaws of his would you finesse or leave out?
He'd probably leave out the fact that he's married.
And, expecting a baby boy!
I believe the last time I saw you at The Groundlings was in NEW YORK FASHION GROUNDLINGS where your sketch 'Alphabets' just had everybody howling in laughter. When you write a sketch, what percentage of improv do you allow to complement your scripted lines? I love that I can't tell the difference between what's written and what's on the spot.
Well, that's nice. Hopefully, everything sounds fresh. There are some sketches that lend themselves well to improvisation, and others where there isn't a moment or a word that changes (that is, once it's been refined). 'Alphabets' was a sketch that took weeks of refining, but once everything was working, then I stuck to it. There are definitely sketches though where every night, we try different lines. Sometimes it helps to keep the energy alive onstage, and it's always fun trying to catch the other people onstage with you off-guard a bit.
Has there been any improvising with any lines on Zoey's?
I wouldn't really call it improvising. Sometimes we do takes with different lines. Or Austin (Winsberg), the creator of the show, might say, 'Try saying something else there.' So that's a little bit of improv, but it's usually thought of before we do the take and not in the actual moment.
Do you provide your own costume and wigs for your Groundlings sketches? I've never seen a costume or wig credit in The Groundlings programs.
We do. For me it's the most fun part of the process - running around from Goodwill to Goodwill and every wig store in L.A. to try and find the exact right costume and look for the character. Sometimes you end up finding an amazing wig that inspires a character, and then you write something for that guy.
How nice is it then to have wardrobe, make-up, and props, etc. provided by Zoey's or any of the other projects you're working on?
It's really nice. And they're obviously better at it! But like I said previously, great characters are sometimes born out of the shopping process for me, so I would miss it if I had someone doing that for me at Groundlings.
What's the most number of takes you had to do for a musical number in Zoey's?
I think maybe ten? But full takes, probably only seven. We rehearse the numbers a good amount so when we film, it usually doesn't take too long. In fact, it's sometimes disappointing that we only get to do it a handful of times because it's really fun to do.
How many musical numbers average per episode?
Five to six.
How would you compare the positives of working on television to working in live theatre?
Live theater is the best. In the theater, whatever happens is what the audience gets. With television, it's interesting because the director and executive producers can shape your performance in the editing room. So, you might watch something you're on and be pretty surprised by what they chose for your character.
When can Groundlings devotees expect to see you on The Groundlings stage again?
I'm hoping to do the next main sketch show which starts up in April.
Thank you again, Andrew! I look forward to catching you in Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist and on The Groundlings mainstage.
Thank YOU! See you soon!
For Groundlings ticket availability and show schedules, log onto www.groundlings.com
Watch Andrew as Zoey's brother David in Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist on NBC Sunday evenings.