You may recognize her as Young Red on Orange Is the New Black or from her online comedy sketch channel Broken English. But now Xenia Leblanc is back with a brand new project that she created, wrote, directed, and starred in.
Gritty & Pretty is a comedy mini-series that tells the story of two ex-best friends who find each other again after literally crashing into one another at the parking lot of the building they both work in. Kira (Xenia Leblanc) owns a boxing gym that’s on the verge of bankruptcy. While Lauren (Kelly Russo) is stuck at a job she hates. But fate reunites the two women15 years later, just in time for them to help each other get back on their feet.
We had the pleasure of talking to Xenia about Gritty & Pretty and her journey in Hollywood in general. So, a big thank you to Xenia for taking the time to chat with us, and let’s get into the interview!
Tvshowpilot: You’ve had quite the unique cinematic journey. You grew up in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. Then went on to study film in the UK. And now you’re living in LA. What made you decide to become an actress and a filmmaker? And how has your career path been so far?
Xenia Leblanc: It’s true, a journey it was and still is! As a kid, I used to perform in school plays as well as film fun little videos with friends that I would later edit into little stories. My father is the one who introduced me to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez classics, John Landis’s comedies, and James Cameron epics among other movies. We had a large collection of films at my childhood home and watched a film almost every night.
I was initially supposed to go to L.A. after high school graduation, but my mother didn’t really like the idea of me moving across the ocean at such a young age, so I chose to go to London first. The university wasn’t exactly what I expected – they didn’t really have any hands-on classes, but they taught a lot of film theory, which I’ve come to appreciate later. One summer, I got a job on a Russian-American feature film as the director’s personal assistant. Later I worked as a script supervisor for the first Russian 3D comedy. That allowed me to pay for New York Film Academy classes and get a visa to finally move to L.A.
After making a few short films at NYFA, I discovered Playhouse West, a Meisner based acting school in North Hollywood. That place really changed my life in so many ways and that’s where I dove into serious acting training as well as discovered improv comedy. That led me to my first big-screen role on Orange Is The New Black.
Tvshowpilot: I got to see the first two episodes of Gritty & Pretty and I’m hooked! How did you and your co-creator Kelly Russo come up with the concept for the series?
Xenia Leblanc: That makes me so happy to hear! Kelly and I were hiking one day and when we came back down to the parking lot, completely covered in sweat, she turned to me to take a photo and said: “hashtag grittyandpretty.” And I laughed, cause I’ve never heard that before and all of a sudden I went “oh my god, that’s an idea for a series right there.”
And so I went home that day and jotted down few ideas of what the story could be about and then shortly after wrote a script for the first season.
Tvshowpilot: Gritty & Pretty is very much about female friendships and empowerment. Why do you think it is so important to tell these types of stories, especially now?
Xenia Leblanc: I think the world is finally tuning into all kinds of unique voices, especially female ones. And even though a lot of work still needs to be done, at least these voices can no longer be ignored.
Today especially, we have so many more opportunities to talk about things that inspire, things that hurt or make us feel uncomfortable, and things that will perhaps be misunderstood. But that’s the only way to facilitate change. If you don’t tell your story, who will?
Tvshowpilot: I love that Gritty & Pretty is not only sincere and inspiring but also very funny! How would you describe your brand of comedy? And why did you decide to write Gritty & Pretty as a comedy?
Xenia Leblanc: In my opinion comedy is so powerful when it comes to exposing the truth, when used properly of course. What that “properly” is, I am still learning and figuring out and don’t think will ever stop.
I personally love dark humor and I certainly think it has to do with my Russian upbringing. I was taught to always find a sense of irony in any kind of situation and to not take myself too seriously. That’s what I want to portray in my work – that no matter what happens or where you end up in life if you can still make fun of yourself, you have the power and flexibility to overcome almost anything.
Tvshowpilot: Gritty & Pretty will be premiering its pilot at this year’s Dances with Films festival. Congrats! How do you feel about finally sharing Gritty & Pretty with the public?
Xenia Leblanc: Thank you! I am very excited to show our pilot, especially after all the hard work me and my team have poured into it.
It’s a bit strange to take part in a virtual festival this year, but it definitely offers some sort of new opportunity. At least people are at home and have an option to tune in from all around the globe and watch the screening without physically being in L.A.
Tvshowpilot: You’re the creator, writer, producer, director, and editor for Gritty & Pretty and you star in it as well! How was the experience of wearing so many hats at once and being on and off-screen for this project?
Xenia Leblanc: I don’t necessarily think that it is a good thing, to be honest. It was truly exhausting and humbling and definitely a learning experience.
As a director you have to step out and see the big picture and as an actor you have to be in the moment or it all falls flat. So at times I really felt being stretched to the limits, but luckily I had a fantastic cast and crew.
My director of photography Nicholas Acosta made sure the vision was consistent and without whom I honestly don’t think I could pull this off. He helped me to see things from different perspectives and you absolutely need that, because filmmaking is a collaborative art. You truly need other people to make it work.
Tvshowpilot: Why should people check out Gritty & Pretty when it comes out?
Xenia Leblanc: Haha, well hopefully to be inspired and entertained by this awkward and very familiar friendship between Kira and Lauren and also to leave feeling good about their own imperfections. For me, telling this story was somewhat therapeutic.
Tvshowpilot: Your first big onscreen project was playing Young Red in Netflix’s hit series Orange Is the New Black. What was it like being on set for such a big production?
Xenia Leblanc: It was incredibly nerve-racking, but also really fun! It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had acting.
When I booked the role and arrived for my fitting, I honestly couldn’t believe that I was working on one of my favorite shows. Nick Sandow (Joe Caputo) stepped into the trailer when I was having my hair done and as soon as he saw me he went: “Oh, I see, you’re Young Red!” I immediately turned, no pun intended, red. At times like this, I had to take a moment and just process where I am. It was like a dream.
Tvshowpilot: Orange Is the New Black is one of those shows with a very active and passionate fanbase. How has your experience been with the OITNB fandom?
Xenia Leblanc: I received a lot of lovely messages from some people after Season 5 came out and even some artwork. They were very excited to see a younger version of their favorite character. Again, that was really humbling because I know how much a great character can mean to a person, especially in this case, where the show exposes so many important topics and touches the viewers in a very unique way.
Tvshowpilot: You’ve also done a lot of sketches and shorts for various YouTube channels. Why is it important to you to keep flexing your creative muscles and making digital content?
Xenia Leblanc: This industry is so unreliable that I just have to keep myself feeling motivated, without relying on other people to find me work. Sometimes work doesn’t come for quite a long time for a variety of reasons. If I am not constantly creating something, I quickly lose my power and don’t have the energy to continue pursuing my passion.
Personal smaller projects allow me to recharge by creating small achievements here and there and those are absolutely vital for any artist. You have to find a way to have fun and recharge on your own, otherwise, this can be a very daunting experience.
Tvshowpilot: Since here at tvshowpilot.com we’re all about TV shows, what is your current TV obsession or a TV show you think anybody should be watching right now?
Xenia Leblanc: I watch a lot of different shows to either get inspired or learn something new. There are so many amazing shows out there it’s hard to name just a few.
I recently watched The Crown, which is always fantastic, as well as Hollywood on Netflix, which was entertaining and a very interesting portrayal of an alternate history of the industry with a touch of dark humor. I am also a huge fan of Ozark. That show and its cast are truly phenomenal.
Tvshowpilot: And to end things off, what’s next for you in terms of new or ongoing projects? Anything you can share with us?
Xenia Leblanc: This has been a tough year, obviously, but we’ve been creating a lot of short films at home with my boyfriend Nicholas Acosta, who is a fantastic filmmaker. Those projects keep us going through these weird uncertain times. One film, Covert Message, even won two stay-at-home film contests!
I’m also currently involved in developing a thriller feature film, but since it is not quite clear when all of this will be over, it’s really hard to say when we will be able to start filming them, so we will just continue to write, film and edit as many projects as possible and see where that leads us.
There you have it, friends, an interview with the awesome and talented Xenia Leblanc where we chatted about everything from her new series Gritty & Pretty to her time on Orange Is the New Black, creativity and so much more!
And don’t forget to press a follow to the Gritty & Pretty Instagram page so you know when you will be able to check out this new, super funny series for yourself!