Amidst all of the chaos and the crime in Ben Pickering’s debut feature, The Smoke, Jeff Leach stands alone. Leach plays Dean, the best friend to the film’s protagonist, Brad Walker ( East Enders’ Matt DiAngelo). And while The Smoke brands itself as a sort of Guy Ritchie imitation game, from the degenerate crime bosses to the fledgling innocent bystanders, it seemingly lacks the lighthearted, humourous tone that Ritchie spreads throughout his narratives. On the contrary, The Smoke lets Leach, its resident comedian, provide occasional yet consistently hilarious relief to a world characterised by killers and ladies of the night. He’s a bright spot in a film that could use a lot more of him.
For Leach, a stand up comedian and up-and-coming actor, The Smoke marks his feature film debut, but that was never a point of contention, only excitement, for the supremely confident comedian. While he did feel comfortable in the “family environment” created on set by first time director Ben Pickering, he admitted that there was a bit of a learning curve on set. Mostly, Leach was surprised at the amount of “sitting around” that takes place on a feature film. All of that waiting forced him to “learn how to instantly turn it on and off” between takes, something he wasn’t used to as a stand up comic who usually performs an entire show uninterrupted.
Yet Leach also found that his extensive experience as a stand up was immensely helpful in finding spontaneity within his character. He notes that while screen acting is undoubtedly “a completely different performance style” than stand up, the same basic elements of “working off the cuff and improvising” remain. He also commended Pickering for “giving us a lot of room to work and allowing me the freedom to bring something extra to the character.” The freedom Leach had on set comes across vividly on screen, as his character possesses a certain energy that much of the film’s other characters seemingly lack. For a relative newcomer he’s a welcome surprise. But for Leach, a lifelong performer and actor, he certainly doesn’t feel like a newcomer.
From an early age, Leach’s passion for performance was evident. His mother, a drama teacher, took him almost weekly to the theatre, and he quite simply “couldn’t get enough.” With great joy Leach recalls many a Christmas spent corralling hoards of relatives into the living room to watch him put on a play or a skit. But Leach admits his transition from passionate performer to professional has come a bit later than he would have liked. Leach attended University of Warwick, receiving a degree in English Literature and Theatre Studies, rather than attending drama school. For Leach, this decision was inspired more by his parents desire for him to “have something to fall back on” than his own aspiration to receive a traditional education.
Unfortunately for audiences, Dean’s role in The Smoke was cut shorter than expected. Despite his prominence in the film’s first act, Dean seemingly disappears as the narrative carries on. But Leach insists this wasn’t always the case. As he puts it, “the project changed quite a bit as time went on, there were some elements to my character that were unfortunately left on the cutting room floor.” Included in these cuts was a more dramatic sequence for Dean, something that would certainly have given the character more depth, and demonstrated to the audience that not only Dean, but also Mr. Leach, is capable of being more than simply the comic relief.
While Leach doesn’t currently have a follow up feature role in the pipeline, he’ll be keeping plenty busy. He’s currently in New York performing at two of his favourite comedy venues, The Comedy Cellar and Village Underground, and will then be travelling to Los Angeles to meet with agents and perform at the notorious Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard. Apart from The Smoke, you can next see Leach in director Jobie Nam’s short film, Gerry’s Garden.
But for now, you’ll have to enjoy Leach’s scene stealing performance as Dean in The Smoke. When asked how he would celebrate next week’s release, Leach said, “Probably just how Dean would.” See the film and you’ll come to realise just how brazen this statement is.
The Smoke is released on DVD & digital platforms on October 20th, 2014