Luisa Leschin Rules
Daughter of a president, this renaissance woman extraordinaire is an executive producer, writer, dancer and actress
Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor
Lusia Leschin was destined to do major theatrical things on an international level. Her mother was a concert pianist and her father was the former President of El Salvador.
Published on LatinoLA: December 5, 2009
She was born in Hollywood but grew up in Guatemala. She made her stage debut as a dancer at the age of five and traveled the country, ducking bullets while dancing Swan Lake. When she left Guatemala at age eight she had her own television variety show. Luisa was reared as a true citizen of the world. She lived in Spain, Monte Carlo, England and Italy, becoming fluent in French and Italian along the way.
Luisa graduated with honors from the H.S.of Performing Arts in N.Y.C., majoring in ballet. She was a scholarship student, a member of the Joffrey Ballet Co II, and at nineteen joined the Swiss Grand Theatre de Geneve Ballet Company.
During her dancing career Luisa studied acting at H.B. Studios with Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof. She was a member of the prestigious Gramercy Arts Repertorio Espa??ol for two and a half years and toured in such classics as Blood Wedding, Fanlights, La Malquerida, Rosita the Spinster, and Casa de Bernarda Alba.
Settling back home in Hollywood, Luisa has amassed some impressive film and television credits. She enjoyed seven seasons on the Emmy award winning P.B.S. series Square One TV, for which she was up for Emmy consideration. She has worked with Robert Duvall, Jeff Bridges, Carol Burnett, Ed Asner, Robert Blake, Robert Wagner, Andy Garcia, Julie Brown, Edward James Olmos, Jason Priestly, George Clooney, Cheech Marin, Liz Torres and more.
In addition to being a 1996 Television Disney Fellow, Luisa has worked in animation for such companies as Warner Brothers Animation, Scholastic Entertainment, and Sesame Street Workshop.
Multi-faceted, Luisa is co-founder of the highly successful comedy troupe "Latins Anonymous." Her signature play, "Latins Anonymous," and her second play "The La La Awards" have received thirty-five productions in regional theaters around the country. The plays, published by Arte Publico Press, are in their second printing. A CD, "Laff Traxx - Latins Anonymous Greatest Hits" is due to be released.
Her recent theater plays include "Haunted Hacienda", which is a fantasy about Day of the Dead, "The Legend of Chipita Rodriguez", which is now a screenplay, and "Forgotten Rituals," a radio play about the secret Jews of the Southwest.
She is most known for her production credits including including co-executive producer for The George Lopez Show, Everybody Hates Chris, and the popular Nickelodeon series "The Brothers Garcia," co-executive producer for the third season of the popular Nickelodeon series "The Brothers Garcia," creative consultant for George Lopez (ABC), episodes for Resurrection Blvd. (Showtime), Taina, Solo en America and Viva Vegas for Columbia/Tristar Telemundo. Features include Tropico (Universal)and Tango Flush, an award-winning short film.
LatinoLA Contributing Editor Al Carlos Hernandez had an opportunity to chat with Luisa about her momentous paradigm-breaking career.
AC: How did the fact that your father was the President of El Salvador color your life experience? Did your parents' international prominence give you a sense of entitlement? If so, was it good or bad for your career trajectory?
Luisa: I sometimes feel like a character in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. I really never knew my father, only hearing about his earlier life and exploits from my mother. She was an artist/performer herself, so I got the most interesting and dramatic stories about his vast cotton farm, his years as a coffee grower, supernatural stories about his early medical student days, his $100K gambling wins, etc.
I can honestly say I have no clue who the 'real man' was‘«™ but I do know he was colorful and bigger than life! So to answer your question, I didn't have a sense of entitlement (in fact quite the opposite), but I did enjoy knowing that I had some very colorful and bigger-than-life genetics.
Growing up, it felt like a lot to live up to. I knew my parents had an unfair advantage over me. It was far easier to be fabulous and eccentric living in Central America and traveling the world in the '40's and '50's than being a very responsible girl growing up in the '70's in NYC while struggling to become a professional ballet dancer and actress.
AC: What was the relationship with your mother once you decided to go into the arts rather than politics? Has she been your greatest supporter? Any "nay sayers" in the family?
Luisa: With my being an only child, my mother and I were very, very close. We were more like 'pals.' In fact, from a very early age‘«™ eleven?... I really became the parent, the 'responsible' one in the relationship. She believed in letting the universe take care of you‘«™ and in fact, for her, it worked very well! It's one of the legacies she has left me. I don't think it ever occurred to my mother that I would be anything other than an artist. In fact, she had always wanted to be a ballet dancer and so that's what I became ‘«Ű to fulfill her dream as much as mine.
AC: What was the moment when you realized that you wanted to be a performer?
Luisa: I think I was five or six. I was on a little bus and truck tour in Chichicastenango and I performed a solo of "The Bluebird." (No, I'm not making this up.) I got bravos from the audience and that's all it took. I was drunk on the magic elixir of audience adoration.
To back track on how I found myself on a stage in Chichi at that age -- I had polio when I was three years old and was left with a limp. My mother started me in ballet classes to help strengthen my legs. As luck would have it, this studio was a very serious one, having been started by a world famous ballet dancer for his mistress. The training was impeccable, equal to what you'd get in New York City.
AC: As a child star what was your ultimate dream for your career? Did it help or hurt you to have had a non- traditional, high profile childhood?
Luisa: I never wanted to be a "star." I loved hearing how talented I was and I loved performing. I also could have imagined myself studying to be a lawyer, but nothing in my upbringing pointed me toward academia.
My non-traditional childhood both hurt and helped. I've obviously had some very unique experiences that have given me a different way of seeing things. I grew up with revolutions in the streets and a nanny whom I taught to write her name while I was learning to write mine. But the lack of having a 'normal' American childhood means I sometimes don't have the same references that a lot of my peers do. For instance, I didn't have a television until I was nine. Then I spent my tween years in Europe, so I have no clue about what kids my age were interested in at that time.
AC: What was your first professional TV acting job? Describe your first film experience.
Luisa: My first professional acting job was on the pilot of "Hill Street Blues." I played a gang girl who was arrested with her gang boyfriend, played by Andy Garcia on his first job! We were trashing the interrogation room, chairs were flying and I still have a scar on my hand to remind me of that first job.
My first film experience was "Eight Million Ways to Die" directed by Hal Ashby. I had a very dramatic scene with Jeff Bridges. I had such a crush on him that I could hardly look at him.
AC: As you progressed, what type of acting roles where offered to you? What kind of roles did you want to do? Which genre?
Luisa: Unfortunately, when I was acting in the '80's, the only roles I was offered as a Latina were the classic stereotypes: the maid, the hooker, gang girl, drug mule and pregnant girl. And as I got older, I became gang girl and pregnant girl's mother. After years of that, I got a little offended. I realized that I was never going to change this from the set. Awareness was going to have to come from higher up, from the writing. That's why I started writing. My agenda was always to create more opportunity for Latino actors on television and film.
AC: Because you are so multifaceted, which media platform do you favor the most? Acting, writing, or producing?
Luisa: At this point in my life I am very happy writing and producing. I have been lucky enough to have worked on one-hundred-twenty episodes of the George Lopez Show, twenty-two episodes of Everybody Hates Chris plus many more produced episodes of shows. It's very satisfying to know that all my life experiences come into play working on a story, a character, or a particular joke.
AC: Has there been any limitations placed on you because of your ethnicity? Is there a glass ceiling for Latinas in Hollywood? If so, how does one break though?
Luisa: I don't think so. Because I made my agenda public ‘«Ű that I was interested in writing for Latino projects ‘«Ű I was a logical candidate for those jobs as they came up. But I am also a mother and a wife. "Everybody Hates Chris" is an African-American show and I was hired as a co- executive producer because of my experience working on a family show. I think once you prove you can write, your ethnicity has very little to do with getting a job. It's all about who you know and who your fans are in the industry.
AC: How does one make the transition from writer to producer to executive producer? What special skills do you need to have and what is the payoff?
Luisa: Unlike other areas of the entertainment business, a television career has a very clear hierarchy. The way it has worked in the past: a 'baby' writer gets hired to the first rung of the ladder as a staff writer. The next season you automatically get bumped to the next level of story editor, then senior story editor, producer, co-producer, co-executive producer, and finally executive producer and show runner.
As long as you are doing your job well, it doesn't matter if you jump to another show. You contractually will get those bumps. Generally speaking, if you are in the writer's room, you will be doing the same job as co-EP that you were doing as the producer. Obviously, a higher title may come with more production responsibilities but not necessarily. This is the old-school way things progressed during the golden times of television. In these lean times things are a little different. A staff is now cut down to five or six writers - pared down from the eleven to sixteen writers who used to be in a comedy room. The writer may make his deal and stay at that title and pay for the duration of the show.
AC: Does being an executive producer give you significant control over the quality of the project? Do you have to fix poor writing or subpar acting if necessary?
Luisa: Yes. If you created the show and/or are the "show runner" then you have a lot of that power. You will still have to answer to the network and studio executives if you are on network television. As an executive producer you have a lot more autonomy on cable.
AC: Do you have to know how to do everything in order to tell people how you want things to run?
Luisa:I would say no, you don't have to know everything. But you should hire people who are experts in the areas you are not. As a creator/EP of a show, you must have a very strong and clear vision for the show. That way you are the leader that everyone can follow.
AC: You are regarded as one of the most important people bringing Latino programming into the mainstream. Why are there so few Latino themed mainstream TV shows?
Luisa: It has been like searching for the Holy Grail in trying to get a Latino-themed show on the air. There are so many factors, many of which apply to trying to get any show on the air. Casting: It is not easy to find a talent that can carry a show week after week. There are many talented actors but not that many 'stars.' Subject matter: with a Latino show we run into the problem of inclusiveness. Do you make it Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican? And you know someone's going to feel left out. Then there's the all important question: does the show have broad appeal? And last but not least is the fact that there are very few network approved "show runners" who are in a position to run a show. Most of them are not Latino. They are not intimately familiar with the Latino culture. For them, the thought of venturing into a Latino-themed show is fraught with peril and huge possibilities for missteps.
The reason George Lopez was so successful was that it had the strong voice of George Lopez. Bruce Helford, the experienced show runner, knew he could rely on George and his Latina writer for authenticity.
AC: What made Lopez the first Latino-themed TV show going to syndication? How did you help enable that process?
Luisa: I think everything came together on the George Lopez show. We had a great talent in George, an authenticity that came directly from his life and terrific writing. I contributed by being in the writer's room, helping create one-hundred-twenty episodes along with the other fine writers on staff.
AC: What do you consider your greatest work so far and why?
Luisa: I have to say my son, Dario. As a friend of my mother's used to say in Guatemala, "He is my 'obra de arte' " - my work of art.
Professionally, I think it's my participation in the George Lopez show. Its popularity has grown in syndication as it is being rediscovered by a new generation. It was a seminal Latino show and I'm very proud to have been a part of it from beginning to end.
AC: What are you working on now?
Luisa: I just finished writing for a new series to be aired next spring on TBS called, "Are We There Yet?" It's based on Ice Cube's successful movie franchise and he is producing the series along with Revolution Films. I am delighted to be working again with my old boss, Ali Leroi from EHC.
Also I am currently working on a Broadway-bound musical set in the world of a quincea??era. It's called "QGirl" and I am working with Kenny Ortega. This is a whole new world of writing that I am experiencing and it's tremendously exciting.
AC: What are your ultimate artistic and professional goals?
Luisa: I would love to create a show and get it successfully on the air. It's always been a dream to finally be able to give my actor friends a job! And I would like to turn my attention to the theater. I think I have a few good plays in me. My ultimate goal is to leave a body of work that will live on after me.
AC: What would you like your legacy to be?
Luisa: I want people to look at my career and perhaps take some inspiration. You don't have to be the best or the brightest. You just have to have some amount of talent, a lot of tenacity and a willingness to work just a tiny bit harder than everyone else around you. I have beaten many odds, among them: racism, sexism and ageism. I've re-invented myself into four different successful careers as a dancer, actress, V.O. artist, and writer. Through the ups and downs of the industry I am still here, still kicking, and still trying to work and get heard. To quote Bob Evans, "The kid stays in the picture."
Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor:
Edited By Susan Aceves
Email the author