She’ll take a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, please.
Lately, Toronto actress Karen LeBlanc – a purple wine woman in actual life – resides out her winery fantasy, courtesy of “The Kings of Napa.” Shot in Canada and airing on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Community, it’s a breezy nighttime cleaning soap – with a twist. At its centre, the one Black-owned vineyard in California’s Napa Valley, full with excessive drama and commensurate stakes. Suppose a Black “Successsion,” not less than in terms of its dynastic parts. “Nothing is on cruise,” she tells me. “It’s a dash from begin to end.”
LeBlanc performs Vanessa King, the matriarch, a former information reporter who ditched her profession to boost her household and rule the vineyard. A fan of flowing kimono getups and loads of bling, topped with a fierce disposition, she is somebody who had LeBlanc channelling her “inside Michelle Obama and Cicely Tyson.”
The present is aspirational in a approach that has LeBlanc additionally reflecting on her personal trajectory on the small display screen. “After 30 years of taking part in Black characters from all walks of life,” she says, “that is the primary time I’ve performed a rich, refined, Ivy League girl. That’s the continuum. Audiences are conversant in Black wealth and excellence in music, sports activities and regulation, and we’ve seen exhibits lately that signify these worlds. However we haven’t seen many tales of Black entrepreneurship, and that’s what makes this present stand out. From ‘The Jeffersons’ to ‘The Cosby Present,’ ‘The Contemporary Prince of Bel-Air’ to ‘Empire,’ I really feel like ‘The Kings of Napa’ is the subsequent step ahead within the illustration of Black characters.”
What’s love bought to do with it?
Advanced household dynamics are one thing LeBlanc is aware of a factor or two about, particularly since she is the youngest of eight youngsters. “It actually explains how I got here to be a performer, vying for consideration to be seen and heard,” she says. “We by no means had so much. I bought a job with my mother once I was 13 at a comfort retailer and did landscaping for a summer season. So, I’m no stranger to onerous work and striving for extra.” Likewise, her character Vanessa “has labored onerous to get the place she is: a girl of color in the course of the ’80s when the glass ceiling was very excessive.”
LeBlanc recollects watching “Fame,” that includes Debbie Allen, as a child and pondering, I wish to try this. She began off as a singer and had one in every of her earliest gigs at Canada’s Wonderland. Then got here an R&B band and voice work for TV. “I used to be singing, waitressing and appearing,” she says, when she acquired an pressing name to fill in as Tina Turner within the “Legends in Live performance” tour. “I had 48 hours to get my Tina present collectively and by no means seemed again. Spent 10 years perfecting the present and toured the world. I used to be even within the North Pole.”
Turner, whom LeBlanc additionally performed on an episode of “The Playboy Membership” in 2011, stays a touchstone for the actress. LeBlanc’s favorite tune of hers? “Proud Mary.” “I realized that doing one thing you like can add years to your life,” she says, “that music is highly effective and may uplift. Music is a common language. In Malaysia and Japan, everybody knew ‘Proud Mary.’ Tina is just the perfect … one of many hardest-working ladies on- and off-stage.”
Moments to bottle
Whereas LeBlanc, who has carried out in Toronto productions of “Hire” and “Outrageous!”, makes her dwelling within the Distillery District – and may usually be discovered poking round St. Lawrence Market – she has not but made it to the precise Napa Valley. She was planning to go for analysis earlier than the pandemic intervened. Nevertheless, she did get immersed in vino whereas capturing the present in final summer season. The outside of the King property? A vineyard within the Niagara area known as Chateau des Charmes.
When our trade turns to the Oprah-nesss of all of it, LeBlanc’s emotion is palpable. “I grew up with Oprah on the TV display screen in my front room,” she says. “She was our adviser, guru and pal.”
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