Exclusive: Beth Riesgraf on Season 5 of "Leverage"

Exclusive Interview with Beth Riesgraf of Leverage
Interview by Jamie Ruby
Written by Jamie Ruby

Beth RiesgrafTNT's hit drama Leverage recently returned for a fifth season. The series follows ex-criminals who now use their skills to help those who have been duped by the rich and powerful. The key players include the mastermind, Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton); the grifter, Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman); the hitter, Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane); the hacker, Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge); and the thief, Parker, played by Beth Riesgraf.

Beth Riesgraf recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about the new season and what fans can expect to see.

Beth RiesgrafAs a thief, Parker has a variety of skills, including things like rappelling off buildings, breaking into vaults, and other skills of stealth. The actress does most of her own stunts, which involve things such as hanging upside-down for long periods of time, and she remembers some of the difficulties she had when she first started filming Leverage. "I know when we first started I had like a weekend to prepare for the pilot. As an actor I learned a valuable lesson, that you just have to be ready all the time, you can't sort of think, "Oh I'll get ready when I book a role," because it's hard that way.

"But I did realize very quickly that I needed to be able to hang upside down for long periods of time, strengthen my back for all the harness work, and just stretch and take really good care of my body. The hours are super long; I'm also a mother. I have an eight year old son who deserves the best mom, the best me he can get, so I learned I needed to get sleep, eat well, and make sure I'm taking good care of my body, so I can do as much as I physically can do on the show, and then still have energy left over to be a good mom.

"So it's just one of those things, where I think on the pilot episode I pushed it. I think I was hanging upside down for a little too long, and I got home at the end of the night, and I washed all my makeup off, and it was like a seventeen hour day. It was crazy. I was so tired and looked in the mirror and I had broken blood vessels in my eyes and my face and I didn't know what it was.

"So I called John Rogers. I'm like, "Mr. Rogers" - I didn't know him very well yet - "I think I might be having a brain aneurism, I don't know, should I go to the hospital?" And he's like, "Oh kiddo, you know, you probably burst a few blood vessels and it 'll be fine. Have you ever thrown up too hard and burst something in your eye?" And I'm like, "No, I don't know what that is" (laughs). Little did I know he hung up the phone and was like, "Shit!" He played it totally cool and I'm like, "This guy used to be a rocket scientist; he'll know what to do!"

Beth Riesgraf"We laugh about it to this day, because he was like playing it cool as a cucumber...but sure enough I woke up and it was all better; it was fine.

"But I realized what my limits were very early on, so I try to do as much of it as possible, and actually I can do quite a bit of what they write. I think the writers also sort of know what I can do and so when they want to bring a stunt person in, we obviously do that to make it look extra cool."

Riesgraf, as Parker, as with all of the characters, also grifts, or takes on a variety of identities. The actress enjoys getting to play so many characters on the show; it helps to keep it interesting. "I think in the beginning when you're starting a series, you're trying to find the tone and the show itself is trying to work out and find what it is exactly, but even in the beginning I remember it being such a blast. And something like "The Juror [No. 6] Job," or "The Wedding Job," it was between all the different costumes and different looks that we got to do, and it's so much fun. I think it mixes it up. We shoot very long days and our schedules are kind of intense. So being able to dive into different characters within characters is such a delight and I love it.

"...I feel pretty happy; they do mix it up quite a bit. I prefer it when we get to "go there" go there but if we did that every episode, I think the crew would probably fall over from exhaustion.

"I love it when Nadine Haders, our costume designer, she is so creative and invests so much of her time and energy into these costumes and especially when we get to do a period look or like "The Studio Job" when I played the Icelandic pop singer. She builds the costumes from scratch; it's like we are constantly building this look from hair and makeup to wardrobe and I love it, and I think everybody kind of enjoys that break from format and when we get to play like that and just kind of go there it's pretty fun."

The actress has a few favorite identities throughout the series. "I've had a lot of really fun looks. I suppose for comedy, Jonathan Frakes tends to direct some of the more comedic episodes, like "The Wedding Job" was really fun actually, and that was first season. I enjoyed that. I enjoyed Alice White, the juror ("The Juror No. 6 Job") and "The Van Gogh Job" with Danny Glover. That was one of my favorites to go into a period look, because I've never done that as an actress, so that was a lot of fun. And this season we do a flashback for the 1970's and that was awesome; I loved it."

Beth RiesgrafBoth the drama and the comedy of the series appeal to Riesgraf, and she loves that they get to improvise. "I enjoy all of it, I think if it was drama all the time I would love it too, but it would be a different show I think. I certainly love being able to improv and go off the page, and we're really lucky because we're on a show where the writers encourage that and embrace that, so they always ask for one as is as written and from there they let us play. So I think in drama you can do that, but maybe not quite as much as you can on a show like ours where the tone is mixed."

Riesgraf remembers a scene she added to show in the first season. "In the episode with Kari Matchett, when I smelled her, that wasn't scripted...I think it's first season, and she comes on [as Nathan's ex-wife] and it was sort of like one of the first people in our headquarters, and I just thought she would be curious about this woman...because Parker has a heightened sense of smell, and I had incorporated that just because it felt like it made sense because her instincts are so spot on. She uses every single one of her senses to the fullest."

The actress mentioned a few things that her cast mates added while improvising as well. "There have been a lot of things, for all of us really...There's an episode when [Eliot and Hardison] are in a van and they improvise something that people are going to freak out over. It is so hilarious; I almost cried laughing when I saw it. So a lot of stuff.

"Gina is amazing at improv. There was "The Rashomon Job" when she had to play drunk and everyone was making fun of her British accent in the show, the way that she did all that was totally her; she's a comedic genius.

"And Tim, he'll do something really unexpected sometimes, like hand us a note in the middle of a scene that says something funny on it and we have to just kind of go off of it.

"And we all have a shorthand now with one another so we can tell when someone's going to kind of go. They blame me the most for breaking, for laughing, but I think almost in every episode you can find something that one of us kind of came up with on our own."

Beth RiesgrafOne of the big changes this season is that the relationship between Parker and Hardison continues to heat up, but according to Riesgraf, it won't alter the team dynamic. "I'm happy to say that their relationship has not affected the dynamic of the team. The team is still the team, and I think it was really important to us...For me it certainly was important that it not turn into something ordinary or cutesy or any of that stuff. We wanted it to enhance who these characters are and make them stronger, but not let it take away from the dynamics that they have as teammates. So it has added some laughs and some great beats between the two characters, but overall I think the team's embraced it, but we haven't made like a meal out of it. There are awesome moments that come up in an episode where you see that their ideas of what a fun date is, are clearly two different things entirely. So we get to play with stuff like that and it's been a lot of fun so far."

Some of Riesgraf's favorite scenes this season actually deal with the other big relationship on the show, that of Nate and Sophie. "There are two episodes that are really kind of unique this year, well there's more than that, but two specifically that really focus on Nate and Sophie, and then one that focuses on the other three [characters], and from what I've seen, I just love seeing Nate and Sophie's relationship sort of flourish. The dynamic that those two have created is really exciting and great, and then the three of us having kind of like a new bonding experience in one of the new episodes. It was really exciting and sort of meant a lot to all of us, I think, so I would say those two episodes are going to be really great."

You can catch Riesgraf as Parker every Sunday night on Leverage on TNT.

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