Interview

Best In Show: Christian J. LeBlanc

What do you like most about Michael? “That he wasn’t written as a single-dimension character. [The writers] layered history so beautifully. When I started playing this kind of off-color character, I played him as a human being who does the right things for the wrong reasons and the wrong things for the right reasons. I loved that people noticed enough for Bill [Bell, then-head writer] to keep me because Michael was not supposed to be a long-term character. And I’ve never played that kind of violent person before or the one with a mental disorder who attacked Christine. I have sisters, so to be violent toward a woman was not the easiest thing for me. I’m the least like my character of anyone.”

What do you like least about your character? “He can be very cruel. It still kind of exists in Michael’s head that he considers himself the smartest person in a stupid town because intellectually, people do not listen to him. Sometimes he has trouble convincing people he’s representing to follow his advice and he’s like, ‘They are just sheep being led to the slaughter.’ He’s not beyond saying, ‘I told you so,’ the last time being the four women [Nikki, Victoria, Phyllis and Sharon] brought up for the murder of J.T. I had a scene where I said, ‘I’m not interested. I was trying to help you and you were doing everything to wreck this.’ ”
What do you consider to be your character’s strength? “His relationship with Lauren. He fell in love with her through the most basic instincts. He was terrified that his brother was going to jail, he didn’t have any money to pay the bail at that point, and this woman stepped in and saved Kevin. There was no bigger key to Michael than that complicated relationship with Kevin because there was so much guilt associated with it. And this woman helped free that shackle, but not completely.”

What do you consider his weaknesses? “He still has a pull toward crossing boundaries, which is why he enjoys working with Victor. Michael likes to color outside of the box and for an attorney that’s very strange, because the law is so black and white. He still believes he has the best intentions that sometimes backfire, like from helping Victor or Phyllis. Michael has a comfort level that might be a little too high with that kind of stuff and it’s just because he lived by his wits. He had to run away from [an abusive] home and was on his own. He never talked about his family initially. He repeatedly said he was alone and that’s how he wanted it, which is a habit you pick up when you feel it’s just you against the world. Then you feel validated in some of the bad behavior and there are no lines that can’t be crossed.”

What are your character’s triggers that bring him back to his dark side? “When things happen to Lauren, Fenmore or Kevin, it goes right to the heart of it. Gloria was an absent mother with an abusive husband and then I get to play all that for forever because people just don’t get better with these things. They have a coping mechanism and what’s great is that Michael’s coping mechanism is challenged many times and he has those relapses into sociopathy or anger, and as a lawyer, the law allows him to be ruthless. It’s the perfect profession for somebody with control issues. Love is such a scary, dangerous place for someone who’s about control, like when he fell in love with Christine. He’s had that history with a useless mother and an abusive [step]father, where love is all intertwined with brutality. With mental illness, like alcoholism, you’re constantly recovering. But when Michael is with you, he’s loyal and he’s passionate about it.”

What family member do you think he’s closest to? “Lauren is his lifeline to sanity and it would be very hard to break that. She’s directly connected to his sense of self. There’s also Kevin, who provides Michael with redemption. He feels good about saving Kevin. He’s very possessive of Kevin and the same thing with Fenmore, but in a slightly different way. During [Michael’s] cancer scare, Kevin was the one who came in and was able to talk to Michael and that’s only because he’s paid the price for Kevin. Michael abandoned his little brother to be beaten so he could save himself, and how can you ever get away from that?”

What other career do you think he would be good at? “I don’t think he could be anything but a lawyer. Even though he can be ruthless with the law, he found safety in it. The law tells you what’s wrong and the underdog gets saved. He loves that and that’s why he has taken on these hopeless cases. Sometimes it’s hard to see something else besides the law because he’s made it so important to him. I don’t know what else would have that kind of fulfillment for him.”

When was the happiest time in your character’s life? “Marrying Lauren. When she came down the aisle and they said their vows, that was his redemption.”

What do you consider your character’s signature storyline? “When he met Lauren and they both got Kevin out of jail. That was a big turning point for Michael and also for me. There were a lot of things in those scenes that I didn’t know I could do as an actor, such as plumbing emotion without artifice.”

What has had the biggest impact on Michael and his evolution? “I think abandoning his brother was a big event that made Michael go into the law. Also, marrying Lauren set him on the right path. She was incredibly good and an example of someone who can find peace, and they got to find it with each other. And when she told him that she was pregnant, because he had fears of what kind of father would he be when he had such a horrible example.”

How do you imagine Michael spending his downtime? “I think he loves reading law books. Exploring the intricacies of the law gives him peace and quiets his mind. He also likes the chess games he tries to play with Victor because he likes to strategize.”

Who does your character admire? “I think Victor, in a lot of ways, because of his dedication to his family and his willingness to do anything for them. Victor is such a seminal father figure to Michael because there’s a father who would never beat his own son and would do whatever it takes to protect his family.”

What three words would best describe your character? “Intelligent; he was never an athlete as we established in many scenes with Nick, so Michael has a powerful mind. He’s loyal to a fault, and for the third, poet. He loves words and Michael is a poet in his heart. In the courtroom is where he shines; he’s Shakespeare.”

What era of Michael’s would be fun to do all over again? “When his family was around him, including Lauren and Chloe. Gloria and Kevin were perfectly cast and any holiday where that family got together was brilliant. It was the best dramatic sitcom ever. In fact, just put Michael, Kevin and Gloria in one room and you’d have a series. I tell you, it’ll write itself.”

If your character could go back in time and change one decision, which one would it be? “That Michael would’ve not run away from home and stayed to find a way to get Kevin out.”

How would you sum up the way Michael has evolved to where he is today? “I think a lot of it is Lauren because she unconditionally loved Michael, who felt that burden for betraying Kevin when he thought he didn’t deserve it. There are two other women who have had big impacts on him: Christine because she forgave him and let him be a lawyer again, and Phyllis for being his best friend.”

Me vs. Him

Who has the better wardrobe? “Michael. I’m not a suit guy and he has a pretty nice wardrobe. It’s very clear that Lauren dresses him. He’ s a product of her fashionista.”

Would you live in Michael and Lauren’s high-rise condo? “Yeah, because that’s what I have now. I also have a house in New Orleans.”

Who has a better sense of humor? “I do. It’s second nature to me. I’m pretty quick with the comebacks because I learned that from my improv [training].”

Who is more well-traveled? “Me. Michael has lived in Detroit, and he has a connection to New Orleans, plus he’s been to parts of Europe … and, oh, Peru. That damn Peruvian clinic Victor sent him to. And he’s not a beach person. I have been to a variety of more places than Michael.”

What character or relationship would you like to see come back into Michael’s life? “He has quite a history of abusing secretaries; it’s the unwritten chapter of Michael before he was on the show. Any one of them can come back with any kind of claim of sexual abuse or unwanted pregnancy.”

What is your opinion on Michael as a father? “I think he did a really good job of raising Fenmore. I made a point of making him overly protective. I used to carry him around in scenes when he was a toddler. I forget the boy’s name, but he let me do it. And later, Michael even went to prison so Fenmore didn’t have to.”

Who is more opinionated? “I think we’re the same. I’m not afraid to have an opinion and we’ve seen that Michael is pretty much the same way.”

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