Whether it be the series “Leverage” or the new incarnation, “Leverage: Redemption,” this modern day take on Robin Hood has had one big advantage over all those Merry Men – strong women. The series features three female characters as part of the team who provide key planning, computer prowess and spunky criminal skills to help the helpless.
Gina Bellman reprises the role of master planner and theatrical whiz Sophie Devereaux that she played for five seasons when “Leverage” aired on TNT. Beth Riesgraf also signed on for the spinoff sequel returning to the role of the master criminal known only as Parker. New to the team is Aleyse Shannon who took on the role of hacker supreme Breanna Casey when “Leverage: Redemption” launched.
The three are joined by Noah Wyle and Christian Kane for a second season – that launches with three episodes Nov. 16 on the streaming service Amazon Freevee – of trying to stop corporate bad guys and dirty dealers from stepping on the little guy. This time around, their criminal skills are put to the test by everything from a husband-and-wife team running a multi-level marketing scam and a shipping magnate dumping boatloads of plastic waste to a music producer who abuses his position over vulnerable women.
Bellman has been playing Devereaux for so long now that she’s not quite sure where she ends and the character begins. For the record, as far as anyone knows, Bellman has not pulled off massive scams to take down the rich and ruthless.
All Devereaux knows is that just like when she read the role of Jane for the British comedy “Coupling,” she knew Devereaux was a character she wanted to play.
“Without blowing my own trumpet, Sophie and I do share some characteristics,” Bellman says. “Among my group of friends and family, people do see me being sophisticated and I have had this career where I have played romantic leads.
“But, I am also an absolute goofball. I love physical comedy. I love to be the butt of a joke. To find a character where I could embody all those qualities was just a gift.”
The gift came to the New Zealand-born British actress after she rolled up a long list of credits including “Emerald City,” “Bulletproof,” “Jekyll,” “Ripper Street” and “Henry IX.”
Riesgraf has been playing Parker for 14 years. She knew very early just what a wild and carefree spirit the character would have while doing her job. Riesgraf had to understand the character quickly because she only had seven lines of dialogue during the audition.
“Because the lines were sparse, it all became about her physicality and her instincts,” Riesgraf says. “I worked really hard on that in the early seasons and tried to flesh her out.
“Obviously, storylines that brought in her backstory really helped.”
Riesgraf is convinced that it is easier for her to portray Parker than it is to write for her. Parker has a very distinct approach to life and if the writers don’t harness that energy, then her performance won’t work. What she has seen is that those who don’t understand Parker just try to make her weird and quirky. Reiesgraf is so protective of the character she will point out when the writer goes wrong.
Although Riesgraf is best known for the two “Leverage” projects, her acting credits also include “Complications,” “68 Whiskey,” “Stranger Things,” “Criminal Minds” and “The Librarians.”
Shannon’s character of Breanna Casey brings a quirkiness and spunk to the team. She admits that approach to playing the character came out of being nervous about jumping into the already established group of actors.
“I was new so I had no choice but to bring all the energy and all the tools and the facilities I have just to match the group of geniuses who were already in there,” Shannon says. “Season one was a lot of spunk and season two is some more spunk.
“I think it is the nature of the beast that we all love our characters. There is great chemistry and it feeds off each other. By the end of the day, we are whooped because of how much energy we bring to it.”
Along with her work on “Leverage: Redemption,” Shannone will soon be seen starring in Netflix’s feature film ‘Beauty.” Her other credits include “Black Christmas,” “Charmed,” “Night Time” and “Inez & Doug & Kira.”
All three of the actresses agree that along with great characters, the success of “Leverage: Redemption” also comes from the scripts. Each is amazed how all of the various storylines come together to allow this group to pull off complicated scams.
Riesgraf laughs and points out there are only so many types of scams so it is a challenge for the writers to come up with something new.
After the opener, new episodes of the second season of “Leverage: Redemption” will be available weekly.