Family, Film, and Faith with Viv Leacock | Super Channel

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Family, Film, and Faith with Viv Leacock

Family, Film, and Faith with Viv Leacock

Friday, May 7, 2021

Desiree D

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As the finale of When Calls the Heart approaches, it is easy to reflect upon all of the wonderful stories that the Canfield family have been part of this year. Joseph, Minnie, Angela, and Cooper have brought family, fortitude, and faith throughout their storylines this season. Although the characters have continued to experience life without a pandemic, the actors have made many adjustments, to ensure this program was possible. This show has also been a reminder that there are people you meet that have an instant and lasting impact, and for the townsfolk of Hope Valley, that person has been Joseph Canfield.

Joseph left a lasting impact from when he first offered to pray for Lee and also in giving advice to Jesse and Clara, with a warmth and kindness that are also characteristics of the man who portrays him. Viv Leacock was a welcomed addition to this series, as he is well known among the fans, and can also be found in a number of programs on Super Channel Heart & Home. With When Calls the Heart coming to a close for another season, Viv kindly sat down to share more about his character, family, and faith, in Hope Valley as well as in his own home.

SC: You are a familiar face on Super Channel with roles on Cedar Cove; Signed, Sealed, Delivered; Karen Kingsbury’s Maggie’s Christmas Miracle; The Game of Love; Edge of the Garden; and When Calls the Heart. What does it mean to you to be part of these family-friendly programs?

VL: I've always wanted a family. In the movie Hook, Robin Williams plays Peter Pan all grown up, but he’s forgotten that he’s Peter Pan. In order to get him to fly and access his powers again, he’s supposed to think about his happy place, which for him was thinking about his kids. I was 17 years old at the time and I was far away from having kids, but that resonated with me. Something that I have always known is that I wanted to be a husband and father, beyond anything. So having channels such as these, where I can safely walk away if they’re watching, especially nowadays, is very helpful and very reassuring. In my day, you could be assured that the content on television was going to be completely scrubbed clean of anything that little eyes aren’t supposed to see. It’s nice to know that these channels exist and that kind of harken back to when I was a kid and reminds me of what I know.

SC: And for you personally to be part of programs that are on these channels, what does that mean?

VL: You kind of think the world has moved on; it seems that everything is a free for all, and you figure that you deal with it and accept it. But to know that we're not the only ones that think the way we do, and then to be part of that, feels really special. You think you’re alone in a lot of ways, and you can kind of feel, I don’t want to say prude, but I do feel like people think “what’s wrong with you? Don’t worry about it, it’s not a big deal.” But now these things they’re all adding up and I think kids have enough stuff coming at them, so there should be a place where people can relax and be assured that everything is going to be fine. In general, we don’t really have that place and have to check everything now.

SC: How did the audition process evolve for your family?

VL: I got the part first and initially didn't see all the characters that were involved with Joseph’s family. When I first saw some of the details about him, I learned that he had a wife, and then later on I saw that Joseph has kids. I already had the part and suggested to agent, “what do you think about my daughter Vienna auditioning to play Angela?” She’s the right age, she’s my daughter and she’s expressed for the last couple of years that she wanted to get on film. My agent said, “I’ll suggest it to casting and see what they say” and casting came back and said it was a great idea. Vienna does voiceover work and has been doing that for the last three years, but she’s like “I really want to try to do more on film.” Vienna was away and I called and said, “hey, I got an audition for you for When Calls the Heart to play my daughter. That would be great. The character is blind” and she immediately said she didn’t want to do it. She knew she’d be coming on to an established show, there are fan expectations, and also that the character is blind. I reminded her that I would be there. I didn’t even think about the fact that me being there wasn’t very enticing. It would be her first day of work and then right beside your parents when you mess up. Nobody wants that and I didn’t think about that. Vienna said she didn’t want to do it, and a couple days later, Peter DeLuise, who directs many episodes of this show contacted us. He congratulated me as he didn’t know I got the part and then asked, “what’s this I hear about your daughter not wanting to audition?” I explained the reasons and he said, “OK, hang on a second and I’ll call you back” and he sent a video recording of himself letting Vienna know that he will not let her fail. I played it for her, and she said, “OK, I’ll do the audition.” Initially, Angela was supposed to be a really good singer, so part of the audition process for Angela was not only playing blind, but she also has to sing. My wife and I have heard Vienna sing a little here and there, but not really belt it. The first time we ever really heard her sing out loud was the day of the audition. I said to my wife, “did you know she could sing like that?” We didn’t. Vienna is very modest and very humble, and just never would toot her own horn, so we didn’t know she could do this. She did the audition, and it was soo good and she nailed it, and then we waited to hear if she got the part. I was so happy for her and so proud of her.

Then Peter called back and asked if my sons would audition for the part of Cooper. The boys have never expressed an interest in being an actor. All three of my kids are very athletic, but especially my two sons, so I said I would see if they wanted to audition. I actually auditioned my two sons, Elias and his big brother Lennox. Lennox is 2.5 years older than Elias so as far as specs go for Cooper, he’s just so much older than Cooper is supposed to be. I put on tape my two sons, my nephew Silas, and a good friend’s son named Elliot. They all auditioned the same day and the same place. Everybody did a really good job, but at the end of the day they went with Elias. I’m like, plus the family resemblance, there’s no way you don’t know that’s my kid.

Family, Film, and Faith with Viv Leacock

SC: With music, you indicated that they switched it from singing to piano, so does Vienna play piano too?

VL: She can play by ear, but they did bring in a hand double for her. On the day, honestly, the way it even went down, she could have done it, but it was more efficient to have someone who could just play.

I should say this: Peter DeLuise is very detail oriented. We did our own research on anybody who is visually impaired, how you walk, how you move around a familiar and unfamiliar place, what you are supposed to do when you go to get guided by someone, etc. But Peter was very good about sending us YouTube clips of people doing interviews or different things, everything we could possibly need, to ensure that Vienna felt very prepared.

SC: It will likely surprise some Hearties to hear that this was Elias’ first time on set as an actor. How was that experience for him and for you?

VL: The first day Peter decided to throw a whole paragraph at him that he didn't know he had to say. This kid has never been on film before and it’s when Cooper was getting introduced to the class. If you saw that scene, he just said, “Hi, my name is Cooper. You can call me Coop” and he continues to talk but it cuts to us listening to him right outside of the class. They wanted the audio to reflect that he’s still talking, so Peter gave him a paragraph of words to say and did it while we were rehearsing, and Elias was like, “sure, no problem.” Peter said to Elias, “alright, go run that with your dad, just prepare that with your dad and we will film in like 10 minutes.” We go outside and Elias was like, “I can’t do this. I want to go home.” As a dad, it took me back to the Hook moment. What do I do here? We are dressed up, makeup is on, hair’s done, everything ready to go. I coach a lot of actors, so I was like “use your coach skills” and said to Elias, “you’re really good at memorizing lines and I bet you know these lines already. Can you tell me what Peter said in the room?” Even as upset as he was, he said it word for word. I said, “there you go, look at that. You’re so amazing that even though you’re upset right now, you still managed to lock that in. Good job, buddy. This is the job buddy and I guarantee this is what’s going to happen: you’re going to go in there and say it one time and you’re immediately going to feel better because your adrenaline is going to help you get through it.” He’s an athlete so I explained that it’s like when he runs his track races and asked him how he feels before he runs a race. He said “nervous” and then I said, “but after, you’re on top of the world.” Elias didn’t feel that it’s the same thing, so I said, “trust me, I’ve been doing this a long time. You’re going to feel really good after this and every day after this time will be easier because this is going to be the hardest it ever will be. It is your first time and you kind of got thrown a curveball.” We go back in, lights and cameras on him, one take and he knocks it out. Peter is amazing with the kids so he just cracks jokes to lighten the mood and walk them through it. And Erin was so good because in the scene she is standing beside him and just put her arm around his shoulder and held him to reassure him. It was great. His reaction after the end of that one was the biggest smile; he was so proud.

SC: Did Vienna and Elias enjoy that experience to where they’re already hoping to return if there are future seasons?

VL: Yeah, they love it. This is what Vienna wants to do. It’s a weird thing to hear as a parent, even though that’s what I do, because it’s an unmeasurable, unknowable future. You can’t tell if there’s going to be something that takes care of them or something that does not, but she’s off to such a great start, and so is Elias. Our other son Lennox has joined the game and has been auditioning for things as well.

SC: You have a passion for comedy, strengths as an actor, and also skills as a singer. Are there any other talents that Hearties might not know about you?

VL: You'll see Joseph giving some advice to folks and anyone who knows me will tell you that I've got a lot of advice and things just make sense. If you go into any relationship issue you have, I can see both sides of the situation. It’s probably because I’m the middle kid. I think having an older brother and younger sister has helped me hone this ability to kind of understand two different sides of things. Yeah, so that would be the thing that people can confirm.

SC: In the interview a few weeks ago with Natasha Burnett, she was asked to describe her Canfield family members in real life. How would you describe her?

VL: The coolest. The nicest thing is when you meet somebody new and you click right away. Natasha and I met shortly before we started filming and it was automatic. Our family backgrounds are very similar, West Indian from the Caribbean, so we lined up on a lot of things in that respect, like food, culture, and music. She’s a powerhouse, a phenomenal talent. I’m always a huge fan of anybody who has real talent, and Natasha is a highly trained actor and an amazing singer. People haven’t even gotten to see how amazing this lady is. I’m hoping that we get to see Minnie sing some songs at the show at some point, because Natasha can sing. Natasha can sing so well that I’m like “I’m not singing around you. You’re too good.” She’s the real deal and the way we work is very similar. You know, she’s just super funny and has that dry UK sense of humour that just kills me. She’s always got something to say. She’s great with the kids, and my wife Divina and Natasha also hit it off. I was like “thank God. That’s good.” The first thing was that we hit it off as that’s not always the case. I’ve been so fortunate over the last long while now that I’ve clicked with anybody that I’ve had to really be in close proximity with, in terms of doing a show. It’s like Kellie Martin and myself, yeah that is my girl, we chat all the time, and she’s Auntie Kellie in my house. It’s the best. And Natasha, it’s very much the same thing. With Natasha and I there’s a lot of we don’t have to say anything to each other moments in the show, and this happens while we’re acting. We’re doing the scene and we’ll look over at each other and Joseph and Minnie are communicating something, just as Viv and Natasha are communicating something. It’s really cool. All I have to do is just watch her and she grounds us all and we are ready to go.

I've always loved when I found out that actors were good friends in real life. For me it’s always added an extra layer to the scenes. It’s much like Kavan and Pascale. They are really, really close in real life and their families hang out together. If you know that as a fan and watch them together, you understand that’s telepathy and they don’t need to say anything to each other. And Natasha, we’ve adopted her, she’s over at my house all the time.

Family, Film, and Faith with Viv Leacock

SC: When interviewing Natasha, she noted that you’re not only the first Black family in Hope Valley, but you’re also currently the only full family unit within the cast. Did you find this surprising too?

VL: Yeah. This hasn't happened yet where we've seen a family focused on. For me, knowing that Michael Landon Jr. was involved at some stage, family was the basis of the original show that his dad was in, so I assumed that we’d be seeing that before, but I’m very, very honoured to play the first family. Being a family, you make decisions in a different way. Every other character on the show doesn’t necessarily have to decide things based on having children and a spouse. My character has to decide on how to move through things based on a whole unit and I think that makes us pretty unique on the show. Family, Film, and Faith with Viv Leacock

There’s a parallel as far as Joseph, Minnie, Cooper, and Angela moving into Hope Valley, is not too far off of Viv, Natasha, Elias, and Vienna going to work on the set of When Calls the Heart. I find that when you get life imitating art and art imitating life what it does is grounds everybody to the same idea. You’re actually watching it happen in real time, because as we go there and meet everybody, that’s real. I knew a lot of the actors from before, but that’s their set and it’s their home, and I’m stepping into their established playground. It’s been nice and everybody’s been so kind, welcoming, and supportive. The messages from fans have been so cool. I’m so happy that this is the show that my kids walked into and they get to be a part of. Like I said, it’s a well-oiled machine and it’s the same reservations that Vienna had about not wanting to mess anything up. Natasha and I spoke a lot about that there’s a responsibility when you come into such a well-received show and you know the fan base is mighty on this show. You can guest star on something for a few episodes and it’s like, “alright, see you guys later,” but with staying there’s a responsibility and a lot of pride attached, so it’s really cool.

SC: Speaking of the Hearties, were you familiar with them prior to the show?

VL: I was. I actually was part of an advertising campaign that we did for Hailey Dean a couple of years ago, and Kellie and I did a bunch of commercials for that. The team decided it would be funny if I put on the Mountie jacket, because I think When Calls the Heart was coming on after Hailey Dean. Fincher was going to have the Mountie jacket on, and it was really too small and so I was stuffed into it. The team were killing themselves laughing because it was Fincher going “up next… well, I’m guessing you already know what’s up next” and we made a joke out of it and it was really cool. And a lot of Hearties saw it and were saying, “oh that was so funny.”

SC: You were introduced at that point to the Hearties, and how has it been for you and your family now that you are very much in the Hearties’ world?

VL: There are messages of support and also messages saying that they’ve been waiting to see a family that looks like yours, with a little more diversity. Thank you. So there has been a lot of support in that respect. A lot of times people don’t get that when you don’t see yourself on something as much as you might support whatever it is, it makes you feel more about what you are watching and means a lot when it resonates.

You know, for a long time the narratives have always revolved around, a certain group, that's just what it's been. I mean, for the longest time, you know, it’s men, men, men, men, men, men, men. Men were the heroes and did everything. It’s only now that we’re starting to see women and you don’t need to have guys come and save the day all the time. It’s representing a more balanced perspective on what the world is actually like. I had to remind myself that Hope Valley and When Calls the Heart in particular, is not necessarily based on the universe or world as we know it. Peter DeLuise reminded me that World War I hasn’t happened and it’s like an alternate timeline or an alternate reality. So that’s the thing, which Natasha and I talked about a lot, asking ourselves if we were coming with all of this history or if it was an alternate timeline. It’s very much an alternate timeline and it’s a place that would be nice if it existed because the world would be a completely different place. It’s got its own special place and we can see why it resonates so much with people because it’s a nice alternate view of what was. We get to drop in and be these characters, which would have been nice to see a while ago and hope it will expand out into different cultures and backgrounds, but sometimes the real world doesn’t move as fast as on TV or film.

SC: When Joseph first appeared on screen, he said that he works for the railway and he was making a delivery to the Coulters. Do you think Joseph will continue in that line of work, or perhaps might he take a different direction?

VL: Yeah, Joseph kind of struck out on his own after moving to Hope Valley. He left the railway and now he’s looking for opportunities around town. It was a huge deal to purchase the land and start to fix up the cabin. You’ll have seen Joseph do some more fixing there and putting some personal touches on it, which was really cool to do. Joseph is definitely looking for different opportunities and he’s a man who is very, very good with his hands. For me, it is very cool to play someone like this because my dad is like that. He do anything and can build anything, so I was channeling a lot of my dad playing Joseph. He does say that he’s really good with his hands, but he has other ideas. The gas station represents a business investment that Joseph is trying to branch out, and you will see that there will be another job calling Joseph.

SC: Faith has not been as overt in Hope Valley since the last pastor left. How does it feel to be a character that is so boldly bringing prayer into these episodes?

VL: I feel like the people involved bringing this show to TV maybe didn’t think about how much the impact that diversity would have. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, but I think they’re seeing the results of this by having the Canfields on the show. I think bringing any type of prayer or religious following, that aspect to the show, I think they’re going to be very surprised at the impact that it has, because it’s a group that doesn’t really get catered to really as much as they should. It’s something that a lot of people don’t even like to talk about. It’s kind of interesting, as everybody has their faith, but not everyone will talk about it. There’s a lot of people who I think are going to respond very favourably to where we’re steering the ship, so to speak.

Mike Rohl, Peter DeLuise, John Tinker, and I spoke about the character a lot before we started filming and there was a lot of discussion about Joseph’s faith, and how he expresses it, how he communicates with his family about it, and how he communicates when he prays. There’s a particular way that Joseph prays, and I based a lot of that off of my uncle. My whole family is very religious, but I have one uncle in particular who anytime there’s a gathering, you know he’s going to bless the food. So, I based a lot of Joseph and his faith off of my uncle, and my family has told me numerous times that I should be a pastor or priest.

I have told this story a couple of times in different interviews: for whatever reason, my father decided that he was going to read the Bible to me when I was in the womb, so before I even hit the planet my dad was reading the Bible to me. When I was 2, 3, 4 years old, I used to walk around with a little Bible. I couldn’t read but I walked around with it and if they ever took it away from me, I’d cry. That’s the only thing I’d cry over, and I remember that to this day. There’s a Bible that Joseph has on the show that I picked specifically because it reminded me of the one that I had when I was a kid. It’s all connected.

SC: You’ve been involved in a lot of Hallmark series, is there one that you haven’t been a part of that you would like to be on?

VL: I’m a big fan of all the mystery shows, I like all of them. I just really want to do more Hailey Deans, that’s what I want to do. More Hailey Deans, please and thank you. I can’t even think of another as I just have Hailey Dean in my head and that’s all because I absolutely love doing our show. I think that our Hailey Dean show was so different in that the relationship between Hailey and Fincher, that is the central love story of the show, but they’re best friends and it’s not this thing that turns into this love interest. They’re good, good friends like family that will have each other’s backs. It’s a different thing that the fans got to experience. There’s a relationship, it’s a loving relationship, they care about each other so much and are going to watch out for each other like any other relationship on the other mystery shows, but this one is a little extra special.

SC: If we could look ahead to Season 9, what types of stories would you hope to be told about the Canfields?

VL: I think as far as the kids, more branching out into the community, especially Angela and how she navigates the world and with relationships. She doesn't have relationships outside of her own family, she has us, so I think it would be really nice to see her meet people and have different people she can talk to and spend time with. And Minnie, I definitely want to see what happens with Minnie. Like I said, Natasha's needs to sing on the show. Fans need to realize, oh my gosh, I don’t think anybody else can sing like her on the show, I guarantee that. There’s a couple of cool storylines that we have in mind if there’s a next season. As for Cooper, he’s just going to be around the world and be cute everywhere he goes.

SC: In terms of Covid can you share a negative and a positive impact that the pandemic has had on you as an actor?

VL: For sure, as an actor I can definitely tell you that you have to have faith. I’ll do auditions and literally forget them, sometimes to the point where I’ll book a part and my agent is like, “you got that part” and I’m like “what’s that? I forget.” And there’s been a lot of people who will ask me, especially over the past year, “oh my gosh, how are you doing this? Your wife, your kids, your family, your career… how do you do it?” and I was like “for an actor, this is Tuesday. I don’t know when I’m going to work, I don’t know how long I’m going to be there. I can’t go here. I have to do this.”

The pandemic shut things down for a very long time and there are some projects last year that I landed as an actor in different parts of the world, that went away, because people were worried about the back and forth even though it was early on. So that had a negative impact on my resume. But I will say, as for a positive, the film crews and actors are very used to uncertainty and that is how we’re wired to deal with things. I knew that the film crews in particular, would be able to adjust, as they’d be able to pivot and find a way to make it happen. It’s surprisingly low instances of Covid related cases due to being on set. It’s very, very, very low. It’s like safer on set than walking around. I was tested three times a week for months and it was reassuring as an actor, as I would know that I was okay. You are walking around and have this knowledge that “okay, I’m good” and it helped you navigate the outside world a lot better, because you knew that you tested negative.

As far as the negatives, you couldn’t really move around as much as you wanted to, but at the same time you understood. Like, you’re going to have to go with that guy and it makes sense because that person is standing there and I’m here and you don’t want the back and forth. It definitely did cause some stress for some, as some of the actors spoke saying that “I don’t want to be the one. I don’t want to be patient zero that shuts down this production.” There was another aspect of it, that actors are very tactile, greeting each other with hugs, and it was like “oh we can’t do any of that” which was hard, as you saw people that you know and hadn’t seen for a long time, so it was nope, you stay over there. That’s an adjustment for an actor, which may sound like a funny thing to people not on set. I can’t get within 6 feet of you, so it’s difficult for everybody who is used to connecting with others, especially when you are leaving set and have to say goodbye. Elias and I did some work on the show Lost in Space and we were there for the last episodes and there would normally be hugs on those last days, but we couldn’t. I’ve been on the show for three seasons and there would be a massive send off and everybody would be hugging, shaking hands or something like that, and now it was very strange to have that taken off the tables. It’s not anticlimactic, but it was just not the same. The other thing is that there’s usually get togethers and wrap parties. It’s nice to be around people, be able to chat, and be in close proximity.

This was different for the kids too. Martin Cummins and I used to be neighbours so our kids went to the same school. He was telling me that WCTH is such a kid friendly set. Normally the kids come to set and are running around and playing with the other kids from the show and can go wherever they want. This is because we film on an enclosed set, a private acreage. So that’s such a cool thing to know and I hope we can get back to that at some point, so they’ll be able to hang out, have fun and stuff like that.

SC: What has it been like to step back 100 years with driving an old vehicle and wear period clothing?

VL: My kids look great in anything but for me, wow those pants. First of all, the waist of those pants is like up here (indicates to his chest). Everything that I have on makes me look like I'm square. I just look like there’s no shape to me at all and I'm sitting there going, “oh man I'm gonna have to change that.” Some of the clothes are cool, like the cowboy hat that I have is very cool, and I like it a lot. On hot days all of the clothes, oh my gosh, they’re so hot and that is hard, but I’m not going to complain too much because the women are walking around in dresses, corsets, and all types of stuff.

The cars though, that was a lot of fun. I’m a big car fanatic so that was great to cross off the list of things that I wanted to do car-wise. I got to drive a Model T so that was very cool. It’s a lot to think about because it’s a completely different experience. It’s counter intuitive as you use your hand to accelerate, and the middle pedal is a clutch, so it’s a lot while you’re doing all that on top of acting. It was so much fun, and I hope I get to drive it again.

SC: Are there any upcoming projects that we can keep an eye out for you or the kids?

VL: Lost in Space comes out on Netflix sometime this year. Elias and I are both on that show. Vienna is still doing her cartoon Molly of Denali, so you can hear her on that show. I will say I’ve got a few more projects coming out, but I think that’s it in the short term.

SC: The kindness, warmth, and love of family that exudes from Joseph Canfield is exemplified by Viv Leacock. Just as Joseph is a person who leaves a lasting impact, many people have indicated that they feel the same way about Viv. His sincerity, compassion for others, and sense of humour are characteristics that Viv brings to his roles and to those he meets, whether on screen, mentoring actors, or inspiring the next generation of performers. While waiting to find out if WCTH will return for Season 9 and if the Canfields’ stories will continue to be told, ensure you’re following Viv on social media, as you won’t want to miss what he shares about his family, film, and faith in the future.

Social Media:
Twitter: @vivleacock
Instagram: vivleacock
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0494892