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‘Leverage: Redemption’ Star Beth Riesgraf on Challenges Directing During COVID (and an Election)

Riesgraf also breaks down how awesome it was working with LeVar Burton in ”The Bucket Job“

After a break of several months, the second half of “Leverage: Redemption” Season One launched on IMDb TV last week, led by a delightful Christmas episode — “The Bucket Job” — that finds the Leverage team diverging from their usual “con-the-bad-guys” MO in order to give a kindly librarian a make-a-wish gift of a fictional spy adventure.

Of course, per usual things don’t quite work out as planned — it turns out the librarian, played by LeVar Burton, actually is a retired spy who’s been hiding from his enemies for decades. Que a lot of espionage fun (and Christmas spirit, of course).

“The Bucket Job” also happens to also be the first of two episodes this season directed by co-star Beth Riesgraf. Ahead of the launch of the second half of Season 1, TheWrap spoke at length with Riesgraf, who also stars as the Leverage team’s genius thief, Parker, about directing the episode under some pretty extraordinary conditions… You know, like COVID-19, and the 2020 presidential election.

And yes, she also confirms that LeVar Burton is as awesome as you think he is.

Now as fans know, the original “Leverage,” which ran on TNT from 2008-2012, focused on a team of criminals-turned-heroes — a hacker, a grifter, a ‘hitter’ (tough guy) and a thief, led by the ‘mastermind’ who plans everything — who pull off heists that punish powerful evildoers who otherwise escaped justice. “Leverage: Redemption,” which picks up almost a decade later, flips the script somewhat. Most of the original team — including Riesgraf’s Parker — plus some new friends, are forced to confront the fact that much has changed. And a lot of criminal behavior has been practically legalized, changing the team’s mission considerably.

So of course we had to ask what Riesgraf thinks about that.

The “Leverage: Redemption” characters, she said, “understand that the stakes are higher because they’ve been in it, they’ve been watching the world change, they they’re seeing that things are getting worse. Now the criminals are using the law to their benefit and so the approach has to be stronger, fresher in some ways.”

Riesgraf also notes that she’s personally seen an increase in “people reaching out saying ‘I wish I had the leverage team right now,'” and credits the show’s “heart” for that, explaining that “the end of the day, it’s it’s about helping people, and I think right now especially people need to be connected, they need to be brought together.”

Of course, production on the show’s first season happened during the worst of COVID-19, but Riesgraf credits executive producer Dean Devlin for making it all work. “What he was able to achieve in the middle of chaos, and you know, with his team and Electric Entertainment was just unbelievable,” she said.

Speaking of that chaos, while directing “The Bucket Job,” Riesgraf experienced a two-for-one deal — not only was she directing during one of the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was also just days before election day 2020, and that caused unexpected logistical problems during filming.

In one scene — the one where Parker impersonates a hacker while talking to Spencer (Christian Kane) and Blanche (Burton) — filming took place in the town of Kenner, Louisiana, which Riesgraf says she specifically chose “because I could get a bunch of locations, we wouldn’t have to move our base camp — everything would be kind of tight and contained in this one area.”

But filming was set for late October, 2020, and when they arrived on scene they discovered “two locations had just gone away because they turned into them into voting booths.”

But, she insists, that kind of challenge is exciting. “That’s why I love it. But when you step out of it, you know, in the last
day when you wrap, it all hits you.”

Fortunately, Riesgraf explained, the episode’s Christmas theme was a gift. “I love Christmas so much,” she told TheWrap, a trait she shares with her character, Parker. As a result, she considered “The Bucket Job” “a perfect playground for me to start off with” as a director.

But as for LeVar Burton? Riesgraf had nothing but praise for the “Roots” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” legend. And as she explained, the origin of the character he played, combined with his approach to working with Riesgraf and the rest of the show’s personnel, made things particularly poignant.

Burton’s character, Robert Blanche, was named after actor Robert Blanche, who had a recurring role during the original “Leverage.” Blanche died in Jan. 2020 at age 57; “he was a part of our ‘Leverage’ family, we all loved him so much,” Riesgraf explained.

“So we named the character after him,” she continued, “and when Dean actually came up with the idea to go out to LeVar, all of us instantly got it, we’re like, oh, my gosh, this is perfect.”

Burton, Riesgraf continued, is “really, really sharp, he’s really in great shape. He directs himself. He’s a total Pro… We had great chemistry, we hit it off. And there was a mutual respect of directors and actors. And I was so happy to have that.”

“When we got to set, he was just, he was ready to play. And, you know, people that have been doing it for as long as he has, sometimes they can be…, a bit jaded,” Riesgraf said. “You don’t want to waste their time. But then I get with him, he was so eager to play, and to bring this character to life with honesty and authenticity.”

“The man has so much compassion and love as a human being,” she continued. “We were so honored and humbled, but truly just thrilled to have a special guest.”

“Leverage: Redemption” streams on IMDb TV right now.