Christian J. LeBlanc
“You’re my favorite,” said the woman standing in front of the table at Casamento’s, where I was having lunch with Christian J. (the “J” is for Jules) LeBlanc. Name not so familiar? How about Michael Baldwin? LeBlanc plays Baldwin on The Young and the Restless, the long-running soap opera on CBS. In real life, LeBlanc – just as whip smart as his actorly alter ego – is one of the nicest people you can meet, or share oysters with.
The woman at Casamento’s wasn’t the only woman to come up and shyly ask, “Are you … ?”, for which LeBlanc was genuinely pleased to meet each and every one of them. (“I can’t get enough of that action,” he says.) Even the oyster shucker – a man – wanted an autograph (Whether it was for him or a female friend, you’ll have to ask the oyster shucker. But I suspect it was for him.)
And my true confession? I am a fan of his, too. I started watching Y&R in the late-1970s, and when he joined in ’91, the show had its fair share of bad girls – Jill Foster Abbott – and legendary bad boy, Victor Newman, but LeBlanc, as Baldwin, entered stage right with such a flurry of scheming and vaguely sociopathic tendencies that it was hard to ignore him. How much of a bad boy was the character? Well, the producers sent him to jail (TV jail, that is) in ’93 for stalking and the attempted murder of Christine Blair Romalatti. But the producers plotted his return, and in ’97, after hitting the stage and being a substitute teacher at an inner-city Los Angeles elementary school in Los Angeles, LeBlanc returned to the show. Now, whether or not his character is truly reformed remains to be seen – and come to think it, would you want him to be?
He didn’t start out that way – being bad. What Jesuit High School boy, one who even had Father Partridge bring him to his first tryout (West Side Story), could be all bad? He was in the chorus (as “Toro”). Performing seemed to be a sideline – while he was at Tulane University, he was a member of the Tulanians – but he was deeply interested in medicine. After majoring as a pre-med at Tulane he worked part-time in his “dream job” as a lab technician at Ochsner Hospital. (He had been working in hospitals since high school.)
It was a fateful day at the university’s pool when a photographer saw him and suggested he sign with an agency. “Your career comes along and picks you, if you’re open, and it makes you the person you should become,” LeBlanc says. “I can’t be thankful enough.”
Soon, the lab coat was gone and he was cast on Edit Point, a PBS show. When that ended he went to New York – and the parts started coming, including his start in the soaps as Kirk McColl on As the World Turns (1983-’85). He spent a year (’88) on the show In the Heat of the Night. It is his portrayal of Michael Baldwin that has garnered the most attention – he has won two Daytime Emmys (2005) and (’07) for Best Lead Actor. Yet, that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing other interests.
LeBlanc is an artist: He recently sold a piece from the Jean Bragg Gallery and has finished a children’s book featuring his illustrations. He designed the Krewe of Orpheus poster for 1999 (he was a guest monarch in ’98). LeBlanc is a very fervent genealogist, tracing his family back to France in 1650, and does it for fun for his fellow Y&R cast mates.
LeBlanc’s Michael Baldwin is the character you love to hate – or is it hate to love? I think one of the woman who came to our the table said it best, “He started off an asshole. Even though he’s evolving, I know he’ll still be an asshole.” I don’t think a soap opera villain could get a better fan recommendation.
Born: Fort Bragg, N.C. (His father was stationed there.)
Resides: Los Angeles and Uptown New Orleans (He lives in a neighborhood where his family has strong connections.)
Family: Father, retired Major Andre Victor LeBlanc, decorated veteran and winner of the Bronze Star; six brothers and two sisters. (He’s the second eldest); “and all of the LeBlancs, Yanceys, Montzes, Watkins and Otises.”
Education: Jesuit High School; Tulane University (where he majored in ancient history and pre-med)
Favorite book: The Once and Future King by T.H. White Favorite movie: Bringing Up Baby. “The secondary characters in the movie are brilliant.” Favorite TV show: 30 Rock
Favorite food: “Anything with smaller teeth than mine is food.”
Favorite restaurant: “In New Orleans, going to people’s houses and having ma mere’s cooking. My mother was an amazing cook.”
Favorite vacation: Jerusalem
Place he most would like to visit: Istanbul, Turkey
So tell me, why do people love the villains? The key to being a good bad guy is you don’t think of him in your head as a bad guy. You got to find something to keep the people watching. If you make him a human being, and not a cartoon, there’s always something honest – 100 percent honesty – and you reach something any person can relate to. There was something pure about his love for Christine.
But I do keep playing the edge. He’s a smart person who does stupid things.
How is it working on the soaps? You really get to know everyone – and I work with brilliant actors. We have to act so fast – the budget is tight, and everything is faster and shorter. Studio time is the most expensive thing.
After Edit Point ended, you headed to New York. I was clueless. I thought I would go for a while. I look back now and think if I had known any better, knew the statistics, I wouldn’t have gone.
You got the part as Kirk McColl on As the World Turns. He was the rebel without a clue. Kind of a playboy, rich kid. I worked with an amazing group of actors at that time: Robert Horton, who was originally on Wagon Train, Eileen Fulton (“Lisa Miller”) played my stepmother, and I worked with Meg Ryan, Julianne Moore and Marisa Tomei – those were my girlfriends or girlfriends’ sisters [on the show].
After that you got a job on In the Heat of the Night as “Deputy Junior Abernathy.” I was on the pilot episode, and was on it for one year. We filmed in Hammond. It was a tough set. After that first year, Carroll O’Connor told me that he was going to replace me with his son, he wanted him near. That next year the show started filming in Covington, Ga., where they stayed for nine years. So I look back and see that one door closed, another one opened.
How so? I got the job as Michael Baldwin.
You are also an artist. Tell me about it. I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid. My illustrations are done in a Wind in the Willows style for my nephews. I work in colored pencils.
My first commission came after I had been let go from Y&R the first time. I did a play with Julie Harris – who I worship – called Ladies in Retirement. The producers asked me to draw characters in the play as mice dressed in period clothing, and also incorporated clues to this murder-mystery.
My first show was in Washington, D.C. in 2001. My co-worker, Jess Walton, helped arrange it.
My “Plan B” is to pack up and move to France, bringing my art and working as an actor. Y&R is big in northern France and Paris.
[Ed. Note: While we were at Casamento’s, he gave them a drawing he did of a still life at the restaurant.]
And a book? Ah, my magnum opus! It’s titled, Tales of the Louisiana Moon. It’s complete – approximately 300 pages without illustrations. It’s taken me eight years to do it.
How did you get involved with genealogy? My great aunts lived in Lakeview – and they would walk me down the hallway in the house to show me my family. And, I’ve always been interested in history.
I’ve traced my family back to one couple in 1650 in France. My mother’s grandmother’s maiden name was Salaûn, which goes back to the Crusades.
There are no actors in my family, then I found a descendent who was an actor in Nantes, France in the mid-1800s.
True Confession: Being in the library is the most fun I can have.