Legend has it that Frederick Leonard is a rich and joltingly handsome bachelor, who lives alone in a classic architectural apogee, set in a neighborhood full of trees.
The house, is said, to have many rooms and a spacious study designed to inform and seduce with its floor to ceiling bookshelves, neatly stacked and sufficient in a wide range of subjects, like the science of celestial bodies, how to turn a dime into a spring of wealth, the psychology of seduction and romance.
It is said that his study is sacred to him and only those he deems fit can go into the space where he spends most of his time learning and creating behind his thick and large glossy brown desk; another architectural masterpiece, which also act as an insurmountable barrier between him and female humans on a quest to become another good woman who can be lain and kneaded on that table.
The legend is long and winded, and has parts which overlap with what is true, like the part that says he is a joltingly handsome bachelor, but a legend is a legend. And Fred might just be one.
The first time I spoke with him, on the phone, he was on a film set and couldn’t afford the amount of time I needed to discuss this interview with him.
From his first word, “hello”, I could tell it was a wrong time, because his voice was laced with the irritability of fatigue. But he prompted me to go on. I just had to talk quickly. Very quickly.
“I’ve been paid to come here and do a job and can’t spend too much time talking on the phone.” He threw with the impatience of a person who has a lot to do within a little time. And I caught every word and settled for texting. Frederick blessed me for it.
The next time we spoke, he gave me a view of what it means to be a highly sought-after star. And I saw that the bling is barely ten percent of it. The life is that of hard work, of giving; of constantly being thronged on. It is a busy life of innovation, discovery and activism. The life of a star is a life of being seen as an available conduit of any, would be, sweeping force, and they have to be careful so they don’t get swept away from who they are.
So, Frederick’s voice was firm as he waded off my subtle pressure to get him to break his own protocol and programme. I needed him to move me to the top of his to-do list, but he couldn’t be rushed.
With a firm voice, he cut off my sentence that could have been a convincing point. “…don’t talk to me like that. I’m not your boyfriend…”
What ensued next was another soul-baring speech, in tones, that transported me into different rooms of his soul. What I found were things which are in every one of us. He was open and assertive. His resistance was impenetrable. He put up a fight that left me breathless.
He was essentially saying, no, you can’t make me do anything. You can’t plead your way into me. You can’t fight a thing out of me. And you certainly can’t finesse me into your way!
A colleague once described him as a man with a towering pride. And I oppose that description when it means “the quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself or one’s importance”, but agree when it means, “consciousness of one’s own dignity.”
Frederick knows who he is, what he wants, how he wants it and when he wants it. He has a structure in place for where he is going. That does not mean that he’s figured it all out, can’t be appealed to and won’t be disrupted. He’s aware that plans and structures aren’t static or absolute. That they are guidelines, subject to the executor. He is aware that his plan is subject to God’s plan, and he has to keep tweaking his to stay in tune with God’s. Lastly, he’s aware that he is not a perfect man, and others matter as much as he does. So, he is as conscious of others’ dignity as he is of his own.
He showed that to me in a phone call that followed the heated one. As before, he did most of the talking and expressed frustration when I tried to diffuse the awkwardness I was feeling from that amount of unadulterated attention I was getting from Frederick Leonard.
“Woman, let me talk!” He ordered. “Let me apologize in peace“, I heard him say and kept quiet long enough to hear that sometimes, pride is used to describe an insistence on excellence, or an entity’s demand for consideration.
This chat happened at a difficult time. It was difficult for virtually every human on earth. A plague was tearing across the world and people were falling dead in droves. There was an air of despair flowing in every direction. My twitter feed was full of grieving notes, causing my anxiety to hit a record high.
Mr. Leonard was on edge, also. He refused to admit it. But he was. When there is much grief around you, it seeps unannounced into you and you may not even know it is there. Therefore, news of the number of lost lives had gotten to him and overshadowed the loss which had hit his sect of the entertainment industry. Nevertheless, like always, his antidote to that agitation was still his art.
Remember the large brown desk, and picture him behind it, with clear glasses sitting on his nose. That image is fictitious, but it is a true representation of Mr. Leonard’s life during the lockdown. A man behind his desk, trying to solve a problem.
Frederick was creating and evaluating his life, after resting. “I think this is the time for people to reflect on their lives.” He told me. “The circumstance has taken us unawares and we have to learn from it. For me, I have been thinking a lot about how I can affect the lives of the people I have influence over; more positively, through storytelling, and the better ways to go about the business of entertainment. I’m also seeking out new ways I will keep the world entertained, no matter what is hailing it and restricting the freedom of people, because the world needs entertainment to stay sane, and the entertainer needs the profit to survive on.” He declared without noting that the pandemic only created the time and space for him to refine and work on those thoughts, because three years ago, he founded a production company for about the same goals.
“I founded Cineworx in order to optimally express my creativity.” He responded to my observation. “I decided to add my quota to the growth of an industry that has huge potentials by setting up a production company, hiring capable hands and, from time to time, creating masterpieces, that most importantly preaches love, and suspends the present realities of the audience.”
Why love? I asked.
“So we can learn to treat ourselves better.” That is what drives Mr. Leonard and all he is building. And it all started as just a dream. A very big dream. A scarily exciting one, burning in a young heart whose principal compass was destiny.
I pictured that young boy, as a svelte one with a face loved by teenage neighborhood girls. I could see him, running errands for his mother and getting into fist fights to protect the honour of his sister. I could also see him as a wild plant, becoming his dreams under the care of God.
Talk to me about dreams, I sought to know more and his answer came crisp and clear.
“All my dreams have scared me. Right now, I’m looking at them and they’re so big, bigger than me and that scares me. But they give me reasons to get out of bed and get things done, everyday. One thing I’ve been doing is to keep asking God for open doors and blessings. You know how it is, “you have not ‘cos you ask not.” So, I don’t forget to ask. And I will never stop working hard. Those are the only methods I know. I’m glad to have achieved my past goals, but I don’t forget to set new ones, too, because God’s grace is abundant and available for me to tap into, take from and reach new heights.” He said confidently, with an evidence of excitement springing from a strong hope, which rolled with a barrier-breaking force. But can that force terminate distractions? Can it quench the urge to stop for a little fun? Or the temptation to deviate with the plan to rejoin further along the route? I didn’t think so. Therefore, Frederick offered that he has mastered the art of focus.
“My late father taught me how to mind my business.” He stated dryly. “When you do that, you won’t get distracted by a lot of things.” He continued. “Also, I don’t go through a day without explaining how I spent my 24hrs. So, I do not party. I don’t visit people a lot, because I am dominantly introverted…”
“Did your parents teach you other economically beneficial lessons?” I asked, unwilling to miss the class, and Frederick rerouted quickly.
“I learnt hard work from my mom. Also, resilience and grit.” He started strong but soon began to grieve, and his tone reduced to a foggy cry. “Gosh, I miss my mom. All the love I have to show and give, came from my mum. She was my best friend; the one I ran to when I am confused. I just wish she was here.”
I wish mine was here, too, I thought.
“Mothers are irreplaceable.” He breathed.
Sure, they are. I thought.
“I don’t think I will ever stop grieving over my mom.”
I think the love of a good woman will make you forget your mom; living or dead. I countered silently and said instead, “Let’s talk about romantic love. What do you think of it?”
“I think it is not enough to make a relationship work. I think it is just a part of what’s needed. Compatibility, for me, is the most important part. Someone who sees life from your perspective will definitely give you more peace. Secondly, I think love takes time: you have to build trust and friendship, first. You have to get to know the person, find those very irritating things about them as things you can live with; things which are not toxic enough to kill you, before love begins to grow.” He paused to consider before adding, “I’m on that journey, too. When I find someone who convinces me that we agree on more things, than we disagree, I’ll do it. I believe in the union of one man and his wife. I’m not polygamous in nature, so I’m taking my time. It is better late than wrong, right?”
“Right!” I agreed and probed further, “So how, in your opinion, are women contributing to the high rate of failure in relationships between two compatible persons?”
“I think when two people come together, both of them should be humble enough to admit that they are not doing each other a favour, and put in the work to make it work.” He shot without delay, echoing the sentiment of men who have voiced the opinion that men want to be showered with love, too.
That sank in, slowly, causing the spotlight to fall on the fact that the powerful are also subject to the power of others and the man I was talking to may have been taken on a wild chase by a little girl
“What do you think of gender roles?” I meandered away from trouble.
“A man knows his roles and responsibilities. A woman knows hers, too.” He asserted. “I think we are constantly having this discussion because humans like to be manipulative. Everyone is looking for who to put in their pockets and all of that mind game has to stop. If we must move forward as a people, I think that playing a game of chess will not move us anywhere. Our roles are clearly cut out for us and we have to sit up, take responsibility and make our partners happy.” He said in a voice that grew serious, progressively.
His point stood ostentatiously in the room, ready to defend itself, but I already knew what Mr. Frederick meant. A man who wants to preach love, as a career, won’t have any problem bathing his own kids, doing laundry or cooking for the family, will he?
And partners, he’d said. Compatible partners who are guided by love will go above and beyond to see each other live their highest potentials, irrespective of the disparity in their natural privileges, won’t they?
It was the propensity of the argument becoming a manipulative tool that Frederick was calling out, because nobody wants a negligent partner…at work. And life is work. His mission for Cineworx continued to defend his statement, in my head, while I stared at his words.
“You played Jesus, recently.” I diverted. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
His face lit up and he gave a deep laugh. “My portrayal of Jesus is and will be my most challenging role as an actor. I don’t think any other role can surpass playing the Son of God. The job was more difficult because everyone knows the story and we had to be careful, considering its value to humanity. What we did was tell the story from an African perspective. And it was a humbling experience. I went into prayers, everyday on set, because I didn’t think I was gifted enough to do it and Jesus held my hand. We were able to pull the audience in: those who attended the premier were impressed. I am praying that when the movie begin to show in Cinemas, hearts will be ministered to and people will make Him their Lord and acknowledge His relevance in our everyday lives.”
“Who are you, right now?” I shot with laughter.
He returned the laugh and launched into the depth of the question.
“I’m a man in his early forties who is living his truth. I’m not apologetic about who I am, at this point.” He said animatedly. “I have come to accept the good, bad and ugly facts of who I am. Everyone has the good, bad and ugly facts of who they are and have gotten to that point where they accept themselves. A lot others will get there someday. Fortunately, I have. I still make mistakes, because I’m still learning. But I see myself as a very principled person with high moral values, who has very little patience for mediocrity and zero tolerance for people who lack respect. I take life and my job very seriously, because I believe that life is very short, much shorter than we think. Above all, I’m a strong Christian.” He emphasized with a pause and a stare. “People call me a lot of things, but I’m just a man who likes to make everyday count.” He drew the curtain.