TV Star Leith Burke: 'Actors Aren't Paid For Acting'

Before he became an actor, Leith Burke was a people watcher; Now, millions of people watch him on Tyler Perry's "The Haves & Have Nots" (airing Tuesdays at 9/8 Central on OWN-TV)  as Detective Byron Marshall.

But Mr. Burke is anything but a newcomer to Hollywood or the entertainment industry. As one of the industry's most versatile actors, he has played everything from Banquo in a recent production of "MacBeth" to Dr. McQueen on "Grey's Anatomy" to a homeless man. In addition to live action roles, video gamers might recognize his voice from "Killzone: Shadow Fall," "Dead Rising 3," and "Wolfenstein: The New Order."

As a true sign of humility, Mr. Burke took time to answer a few questions from Zack's TV  about his career and what keeps him going when he gets rejected for roles.

Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
Leith in 7th Grade (Courtesy: Leith Burke)

I was born in Queens, New York to Jamaican immigrant parents. Leith is my father's name--which I carry with pride along with my Jamaican heritage (I hold dual citizenship here and there). 

I grew up mostly in Jersey--though I was well traveled. My mother, Marcia, worked for the airlines, so we were often in flight. I'd seen much of the world by high school, though I still have a lot left to see. There is little that I love more than travel; it shapes character and understanding and is essential if you ever really want to be a part of this world. For an actor, travel offers the opportunity to observe from an outside, anonymous perspective--which is crucial to our craft.

Dad was an accountant for United Artists back when they were the only major studio in Manhattan, and the only studio created by artists. They were at the peak of their game when I was a kid. Major projects of United Artists included "Bond," "Rocky," "The Who's Tommy." United Artists was considered the home of American independent films before there was such a thing. 

Broadway tickets were one of my dad's industry perks, so I saw a lot of musicals when I was young; they were my mother's passion. She had a great voice. She also pushed me into dance and piano lessons as a kid, neither stuck, but she shouldn't have been surprised when I chose this as a career. 

How did you get started in acting?  

I attended an all-male Catholic school named St. Joseph's in Metuchen, New Jersey.  At the time, I hated it. But I am thankful now. In fact, that's how I got into acting; the only way to see girls was to do theater.   So I did a play. That simple. 

During the tough times in your career, what keeps you going?

I've got mouths to feed!  But honestly, I can't do anything else with a smile. I've often needed to quit. Thankfully, I have never been homeless--thanks to dear friends and family-- but have damn sure been flat broke...for long stretches. 

I'm proud of those times and welcome the challenge. You learn what you're made of and also to "soldier" on, though I've never done anything as tough as what a real soldier must endure. I never really struggled at the beginning; my tough stretch has been the middle. But I plan to come on strong at the end. 

What I lean on most is faith, and I don't just mean God. I mean faith in myself and my place in the universe. [It is] the faith that I'm on my path and that the world I live in is the one I want to live in. 

It's cliche but the old adage stands: "If you can do something else and be happy, you should." Just keep walking. One foot in front of the other. 

And lastly, I've still got stories to tell. 

(Check out his voice acting below.) 

What do you say those who feel that actors are "overpaid" to play "make believe?" 

Actors aren't paid for acting. We would do the work for free. Playing "make believe" is an honor and a privilege! Any opportunity to practice my craft is a gift.

A good set can be a wonderful place full of friends, laughter and free food! A bad set can be like sleeping on a dirty bathroom floor that's a little damp. And we get paid for that. 

We get paid for all the bullshit we endure on our way to that great set. The auditions, the rejection, the student loans, the tabloids, the gym, the disrespect. And don't get me wrong: we chose this and it comes with the territory. But the salaries of those actors we know on a first name basis are not the same as those for a "working actor" such as myself. 

I have never been overpaid; Yes, sometimes when you see the weight of a single check that notion seems silly. But when you divide that check by the weeks and months you spent looking hard for a job, it ain't that much "Jack."


What is the greatest compliment you have received from a fan? 

I'm a big fan of the silent hug. There have been a few times in my life when a stranger approaches me after a play and they can't even speak. We just silently agree to hug it out. There are no words. 

That's the good shit. 

For more information about Leith Burke, visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Twitter

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