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April 03, 2019

I Am Who I Am

Leland B. Martin has a grit for growth that has taken him right where he wants to be.

Ny MaGee
  • Boomerang

  • Leo Marshall
  • BET
  • BET
  • Leo Marshall

From the school of finance to the business of show, actor Leland B. Martin started late in the game because he was certain he was on the right track to fulfilling his dream as a financial advisor.

But once bitten by the acting bug, the New Jersey native uprooted to the West Coast to further tap into and cultivate his talent.

Martin currently stars in BET's new comedy series Boomerang, based on the 1992 romcom of the same name starring Eddie Murphy, Robin Givens and Halle Berry.

But don't call it a remake. The series is a continuation of the film, picking up 26 years later with the offspring of Murphy and Givens' characters; Simone (Tetona Jackson) and Bryson (Tequan Richmond) and their friends Ari (Martin) and Tia (Lala Milan).

Created and executive produced by Emmy winner Lena Waithe and Ben Cory Jones and from Executive Producer Halle Berry, Martin dishes with about what makes the series unique to the current television landscape.

What's going to surprise viewers most about Boomerang the series? What makes it unique from the 1992 film?

First of all, it's not a remake. It's completely different characters, so if anybody is thinking this is going to be another Marcus Graham (Murphy), no - it's a continuation of the story. So I think that will entice people. It's the kids of the original characters and like the promo said, there's not only one way to be black.

There are so many diverse characters and so many different hard-hitting storylines that are very relevant in our society, not just on a cultural level but also on an individual level. It comes down to relationships and love and friendship and even on a higher level. There is so much depth in this series.

I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised that it's not just a comedy. It's funny, but it's so much more to it than that.

So this new world of Boomerang speaks to the culture?

Yes definitely. There are so many facets within the culture (and) it definitely represents many voices within the culture.

Your character Ari is all about business. He's someone who prides himself on being a dynamic creative force in a world full of executives. In many ways, his world parallels that of an actor. How much of what motivates him this season resonates with you on a deeper level?

Ari is a free individual. Ari has come to terms with who he is and he knows exactly who he is and he's unapologetic about it, and that's what I love about Ari. I'm similar in that way in my own personal life. I am who I am and I am unapologetic about it and Ari is the same way.

He is very creative. The rest of the cast are in executive positions and Ari is more on the entrepreneur side of things. He's an up and coming director. He's learning the game. He doesn't have formal training so he's a hustler.

He's going about it and trying to make it however he can and he's unapologetic about who he is and very defiant with anybody trying to put him in any type of box. He doesn't believe in labels and that's what makes him so exciting because you just never know what you are going to get with Ari.

Does he have a standout moment this season that you can tease us with, or an episode you're excited about audiences experiencing?

There are so many moments. The character Ari himself is so different from what we have ever seen on TV. He is non-discriminatory when it comes to dating as far as his sexuality is concerned, and, unlike what we see, he is a very masculine man and comes across super unapologetic about who he is.

Just him being himself throughout the entire series, I think there are a ton of moments that really highlight how genuine of a character he is.

Talk about your experience showering in the Black Girl Magic of Lena Waithe and Halle Berry. In other words, what type of creative energy do they foster on set?

Just having Halle Berry a part of it is a dream come true. I was a kid growing up and a fan of the Boomerang movie. I revisited it when I went to college and that became one of my favorite movies. So to be working on this, being executive produced by Halle Berry, that's a dream come true.

And Lena, she is just amazing. She's a genius - just with the way that this thing is written and the way the thing has been executed and even how she handles herself, I have learned so much just from watching Lena from afar and being around her and having conversations with her.

Being able to really talk to her and have some heartfelt, heart to heart personal conversations with her, I realized that she is such a genuine person and she really looks out for people. She has a great heart and I love that she gave me this opportunity.

I credit Lena for discovering me to be honest with you. Everybody on the set from Lena to the cast, we are a family. It's a huge family dynamic. We are real friends and that's a beautiful thing because you don't really get that too often when you are working with people. Sometimes you're in and out but with this, we really have connections here.

And when you're not making these oh-so-necessary connections in Hollywood, you spend your spare time working with juveniles in California at the Penny Lane foundation.

I have worked with Penny Lane since about 2014. What we do is help kids that are just getting out of the juvenile hall system or on probation or from broken families and with behavioral issues. We take them out of that environment and give them something different, a new perspective on life.

Counselors help with the day-to-day activities of the kids and give them programs and therapy to get on the right track. A lot of these kids haven't had good influences in their lives, so having someone around to be able to guide them, to give them some wisdom and acknowledgement for the first time in their lives, you see a lot of turn around.

We have a lot of success stories where a kid comes from nothing and barley going to school and hardly educated to finishing high school and moving into transition living and getting jobs and preparing for college education. It's a beautiful thing that Penny Lane is doing all of this.

Are there any similarities between the worlds of finance and acting? Both seem to require a great deal of discipline and focus.

I think all it requires focus. First of all, the thing about it was, it requires so much discipline and focus and I just wasn't as interested in it as I thought I would be. In order to be successful at anything you have to love it or at least be really good at it or a mix of both and for me, I didn't have enough love for it to actually be as disciplined and focused as I needed to be with it, and in acting it's the opposite.

You need the discipline and focus in order to make that happen because both are journeys and it's something that you can't cheat. You got to go through it the whole way.

I have to train. I have to take care of myself. I have to know my business, just like a person in finance would. So it is very similar in the fact that there are disciplines that are definitely needed in order to be successful at it. However, at the same time, they are completely different.

Was there a definitive moment that triggered your transition into acting?

Absolutely, it really was a happenstance type of thing. I got a business degree in business management and then I started working at Merrill Lynch for a little while, 'cause, you know, that's the customary thing you're supposed to do. You have a degree in something and then you pursue a career in that field, and that's what I did.

I went into finance from being a business major and I hated it. The nine-to-five, the monotony of life at that particular company and at the particular time just wasn't what I really wanted at the time. I was kind of going through a little bit of a depression because I really didn't know who I was at that particular point and what I wanted to do with my life.

One day I went to lunch and right next door to the place that I went to lunch there was a storefront and there was a big sign in fluorescent lights that said casting and I knew it had something to do with modeling or acting, so I went in and talked to a lady in there and I started taking classes Tuesday and Thursday nights and I fell in love with it.

It made me feel alive for the first time in a long time in my life and I knew that's what I wanted to do. So I put a hundred percent of my focus into that at that point.

You've heard horror stories about celebrities losing everything because of the mismanagement of their finances. But considering your background in finance, no doubt you're quite savvy when it comes to your money moves.

I've been pretty well versed financially for a while now as far as understanding how money works. I think it is very important for anybody who is an actor or anybody in the entertainment business that has any level of success to make sure that they do their research.

Even when they have financial advisors, check behind these people and make sure that your business is in order because at the end of the day, it would be pretty sad to be famous and broke.

What have you found to be most challenging as you continue to navigate through the industry?

Remaining even-keeled. Regardless of the high and the lows, I see a lot of people make the mistakes in their minds, they get too high on the highs and too low on the lows. What you have to realize is that this is a marathon not a sprint and there are going to be dark days and there are going to be days when things are great and when things are great you can't smell yourself too much.

You gotta stay focused and remain humble and on those dark days, learn how to talk to yourself. Learn how to do whatever you need to maintain your sanity at those times and to be okay. Because at the end of the day, you're gonna get through that.

Everybody has those lows and a lot of times people get too hung up on that and they start to question themselves and question their own self-esteem and sometimes what you really need to do is find a way to remain even-keeled during the highs and the lows so you can maintain a consistency and a focus that will allow you to keep going for a long time to come.

What three words best describe your Hollywood journey so far?

First word I would say is "Journey." It's certainly been a journey. The second word I would use is "Rewarding" and the third word I would use is "Growth".

I have grown so much personally in this particular journey. I have had to fight so hard for so many things and I've learned a lot about myself. I have certainly grown a lot throughout this process.

I've been doing this for about eight years now. Looking back on my eight-year journey, coming from where I come from, I never thought about acting before. I was out of college and I started late with everything.

People are coming into this game, sometimes they come in as kids, sometimes they go to college for it and they train for two years at a conservatory - me, I have a business degree and didn't even think about this until later on and I had to work jobs while I was training and trying to get on.

So ultimately, I had the grit for growth, and I look back and I say "wow, I came a long way." So the biggest word of it all would be growth.

Boomerang airs Tuesdays on BET at 10/9c.

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