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The Untold Truth Of Leverage

"Sometimes, bad guys make the best good guys."

In a nutshell, that's the premise of "Leverage," a well-regarded TV series that ran from 2008 to 2012 and got a 2021 revival with "Leverage: Redemption." Similar in theme to "Mission Impossible" or "The A-Team," "Leverage" follows a team of career criminals who help exploited people by using Robin Hood-style cons to take down the white-collar crooks who cheated them. From an arrogant loan shark to a Walmart-like conglomerate, no target is safe from the hacker, hitter, thief, grifter, and mastermind who seem capable of outsmarting anyone.

What's really fascinating about "Leverage," however, might be how the lines between reality and fiction kept getting blurred during the making of the original show. From constant meta-references to "Star Trek," to an actor who discovered she had the makings of a great thief, the backstage stories were often as fascinating as the episodes themselves.

If you'd like to take a peek behind the curtain, read on. Here is the untold truth of "Leverage."

Some of the cons the team uses are real-life cons

When you work with a group of professional criminals, it helps to develop a form of shorthand. That's why the "Leverage" team often refers to specific cons by catchy names like "Little Orphan Annie" or "The White Rabbit," so they can employ them at a moment's notice in any situation.

In some cases, the names given to the cons are invented by the show's writers. In others, the cons are real-life scams used by actual thieves and grifters. For instance, in the Season 2 episode, "The Bottle Job," the team updates a classic con known as "The Wire."

Made popular in the 1973 Robert Redford film "The Sting," the "Wire Scam" involves stealing a mark's money by promising advance knowledge of the outcome of a sports game, such as a horse race. Once the mark places a lot of money on the bet, the information proves to be bad and the con artists take the money.

While the traditional wire scam is considered slow and out-of-date, the "Leverage" team uses some high-tech tricks to fool a loan shark into putting his money onto a rigged basketball game bet and robbing him in a handful of minutes. In the words of the team's hacker Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge), "We just pulled off the wire in the time it takes to order a pizza!"

Many of the team's marks are based on real-life con artists

One of the most satisfying parts of watching "Leverage" is seeing arrogant white-collar criminals get screwed. Because it's so universally-detestable to watch the rich and powerful get away with so much in real life, within the "Leverage" universe, it's downright therapeutic to see their greed inevitably result in them getting a major comeuppance.

Realizing this, some of the show's villains are based on actual con artists the audience wants to see punished. One of the most infamous appeared in Season 2's "The Order 23 Job." In the episode, the team targets Eddie Maranjian (Melik Malkasian), an investment manager who dupes people into investing all of their money in a Ponzi scheme, much like real-life con man Bernie Madoff. While Eddie believes he can get away with his swindle and serve only light jail time, the Leverage team manage to implicate him on more serious charges, putting him away for good.

Producers Chris Downey, John Rodgers, and Dean Devlin admit they were influenced by the Bernie Madoff scandal when writing "The Order 23 Job," which doesn't just see the bad guy get duped into going to jail — it lets the team psychologically torture him by making him believe he's trapped in a hospital during a major outbreak so he'll panic and commit more crimes on camera. Unethical? Sure. But karmically, quite pleasing.

The team's thief is named after an iconic crime novel character

The members of the Leverage team all have colorful backstories, but few are as weird and tragic as that of Parker (Beth Riesgraf). Once a homeless pickpocket, she caught the eye of gentleman thief Archie Leach (Richard Chamberlain), who trained Parker to become the world's greatest cat burglar and safecracker. This left Parker with near-superhuman acrobatic and stealth abilities, but virtually no social skills.

While Parker never disclosed her last name, behind the scenes the story of her name is linked with another iconic career criminal. In 1966, American novelist Donald E. Westlake, writing under the pseudonym "Richard Stark," created Parker — a ruthless professional thief who starred in multiple crime novels. Many of the books were later adapted into movies, including the Lee Marvin classic "Point Blank" and more recently, 2013's "Parker" where Jason Statham portrays the titular thief. For "Leverage," however, Parker gained new life as the name of the team's resident thief — who is regarded as a legend within the criminal underworld.

Some of the characters star in multiple Dean Devlin TV series

Over the course of the original five-season "Leverage" TV series, the team's "Hitter" Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane) proves he's more than just a tough guy who can take a punch. Eliot is actually a multi-talented master chef, martial artist, soldier, and singer with a highly developed sense of morality. He's also highly adept at identifying mercenaries and criminals by observing behavioral cues, indicating he's a lot smarter than most people give him credit for.

That IQ received another major boost when Christian Kane was cast in another popular TV show produced by Dean Devlin, "The Librarians." In this show, Kane plays Jacob Stone, a former oil rig worker with a genius-level intellect in art history. Recruited into a secret society charged with finding and protecting magical artifacts, Stone finds himself working with fellow geniuses and treasure hunters while the society's "main" Librarian Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle) goes on his own missions.

The link between "Leverage" and "The Librarians" became even stronger when Wyle was cast as corporate lawyer Harry Wilson in the 2021 revival series "Leverage: Redemption." After Wilson experiences regret for his role in helping many corporations exploit hundreds of people, he teams up with the Leverage team to take down his former clients and earn redemption for himself. As the "new guy" on the team, Wyle's character is now subordinate to Kane's Eliot Spencer, which offers a fun twist on their previous relationship.

The show is a treasure trove of Star Trek references

The team's resident hacker Alec Hardison is a major pop culture geek, so it's no surprise that he makes regular "Stark Trek" references, citing the "Kobayashi Maru" Starfleet test and quoting Spock's final lines from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982) before he blows up his beloved van Lucille.

Many Star Trek actors guest starred on "Leverage," including Jeri Ryan (ex-Borg Seven of Nine from "Star Trek: Voyager"), who fills in for grifter Sophie Devereaux. The Season 1 episode "The Juror #6 Job" also featured Brent Spiner (Data from "Star Trek: The Next Generation") as one of the corrupt marks the team has to take down.

Things get taken to an insanely meta level, however, when we're introduced to Hardison's hacker nemesis "Chaos." Played by "Star Trek: The Next Generation" alum Wil Wheaton (who portrayed the Enterprise's kid genius Wesley Crusher), Chaos is a major "Star Trek" geek who suggests Sophie dress up like the Enterprise's Counselor Deanna Troi. Later, the tie-in "Leverage" novel "The Con Job" would include a scene where Chaos brags to Hardison that he's been invited to a party with several "Star Trek: The Next Generation" cast members ... including Wil Wheaton.

Behind the scenes, many "Leverage" episodes were directed by Jonathan Frakes, who played Commander William Riker in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." It just goes to show that Star Trek alumni are always eager to explore brave new worlds — including in the "Leverage" universe.

The show's main brawler does his own stunts

The "Hitter" on "Leverage," Eliot Spencer, is ridiculously tough. In fact, the pilot episode reveals Eliot once took out an entire room of armed men while sipping on a cup of coffee. Surely a character like this needs a whole team of stunt men to bring him to life, right?

Well, not so much. Actually, Christian Kane decided to do all of his own fist fighting stunts when he was playing Eliot Spencer. An athletically-gifted actor with a background in wrestling and martial arts, Kane had a hand in the fight choreography of "Leverage." Considering Eliot gets into fights in practically every episode, that's no mean feat.

Of course, even the most capable stunt man can get injured, and Kane got hurt multiple times while filming "Leverage," sustaining cracked ribs and requiring 17 stitches to his forehead. According to IMDb, Kane also got hurt off set while throwing a football with castmate Timothy Hutton, requiring the writers to include some lines indicating his character had been beaten up in a lesbian bar in the Season 1 episode "The Stork Job."

One team member plays multiple roles in the "Die Hard" movie franchise

Some of the actors in "Leverage" have had very long careers. Take Aldis Hodge, for instance. 

Years before landing the role of hacker Alec Hardison, a young Hodge played Samuel L. Jackson's eleven-year-old nephew Raymond in "Die Hard with a Vengeance" (1995). It was a small role as a neighborhood crook who sold stolen property for some thugs, until his uncle whacked him over the head with a rolled-up newspaper and convinced him to change his ways.

Several years later, an adult Hodge returned to the world of "Die Hard" to play military operations officer Foxy in 2013's "A Good Day to Die Hard." A CIA agent, Foxy worked with John McClane's son Jack (Jai Courtney). Although there's no official connection between Raymond and Foxy (and Hodge made sure not to tell anyone in casting about his previous involvement with the "Die Hard" franchise), Hodge likes to think that Raymond grew up to be Foxy. Considering Raymond's early, larcenous ways, it makes sense he would take on another identity — not unlike the chameleon-like Hardison, who uses multiple aliases on "Leverage."

A professional pickpocket helped design the show

Some of the cons and scams the "Leverage" team pulls off may seem unbelievable, but truth is often stranger than fiction. During the show's development, the producers hired Apollo Robbins, one of the world's leading experts on pickpockets, confidence crimes, and deception, to act as a technical advisor.

Known as "The Gentleman Thief," Robbins is an expert at sleight of hand and once picked the pockets of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter's Secret Service. Since then, he's acted as a security consultant for police departments, banks, casinos, jewelry stores, and entertainment companies.

In perhaps one of the most meta moments in "Leverage," Robbins appears as a professional thief in the Season 2 episode "The Two Live Crew Job" ... who goes by the name "Apollo." This Apollo functions as a counterpart to Leverage's own thief Parker — who was trained by Apollo Robbins in the real world. Is your head spinning yet?

One Leverage actor learned she had natural thieving skills

Actors often need to pick up unusual skills to play certain roles. Simu Liu trained with martial artists and became familiar with elaborate fight choreography to convincingly portray the MCU's kung fu master Shang-Chi. Dave Franco practiced for hours with master magician David Kwong to throw playing cards with enough force to slice a banana in half for 2013's "Now You See Me."

Sometimes, however, that training can lead actors to discover they have a real talent for something — including stealing. After being coached by professional pickpocket Apollo Robbins, Beth Riesgraf, who plays the thief Parker, was told that she has a "natural talent" for pickpocketing and theft. Learning you could have a career as a professional thief might not be the best thing to discover about yourself — but at least now you have something to fall back on if the acting thing doesn't work out.

One of the show's stars used his own country western song in a con

Some actors have multiple careers in the entertainment industry, and sometimes they end up feeding off one another. In addition to acting in TV shows like "Leverage" and "The Librarians," Christian Kane also happens to be a country western singer/songwriter with his own Southern rock band Kane which self-released two albums. One of his songs, "Thinking of You," actually made it onto the Season 3 "Leverage" episode "The Studio Job," when Kane's character Eliot needs to sing an original country western song so he can ... fool a mark into believing he's a real country western singer/songwriter.

As if this wasn't meta enough, Kane — like Eliot — is also a passionate chef with dreams of having his own cooking show. He even studied art history at the University of Oklahoma not unlike his other character Jacob Stone in "The Librarians." Clearly, the man embodies the phrase "art imitates life."

One cast member hid her pregnancy in the most creative ways

Actors sometimes get pregnant while performing on a show, requiring the producers and writers to employ some creative strategies. Occasionally, the pregnancy is written into the show, while other times the camera crew need to shoot the actor from strategic angles. For "Leverage" star Gina Bellman, however, the show used some very unorthodox methods to hide her pregnancy.

Beginning in the Season 2 episode "The Two Live Crew Job," Bellman's character Sophie is targeted for assassination and has to hold a bomb against her belly for much of the show. Later, she fakes her death and appears in a coffin before she decides to take some time off from the team to find herself — which allowed Bellman to go on maternity leave.

Sophie would continue to make sporadic appearances via video chats in Season 2, which made it easy for the camera crew to hide her pregnancy. By the time Sophie made her in-person reappearance in the season finale "The Maltese Falcon Job," she was still "very pregnant," so the costume designers had her appear in a  long, thick fur coat. Although some of her appearance was shot from the stomach up, several of her full-body shots were digitally altered to hide her pregnant belly. Since nobody really noticed Bellman's baby bump, the ones most fooled in Season 2 ... were the audience.

One cast member was killed off for real world reasons

The "Leverage" team is full of talented criminals ... but the man truly responsible for their extraordinary feats is mastermind Nathan Ford (Academy Award winner Timothy Hutton) who begins the series as an "honest man." Although his father Jimmy Ford (Tom Skerritt) was an infamous fixer for several mob families, Nate attempted to distance himself from crime by becoming an insurance investigator, where his understanding of the criminal mind came in handy. Over time, he came to see the criminals he worked with as honorable people and identified himself as "a thief."

Behind-the-scenes, however, Hutton ran into some legal problems in 2019, when Canadian ex-model and former child actor Sera Johnston filed a criminal complaint claiming Hutton had raped her in 1983. Although Hutton was officially cleared of the charges by Canadian authorities, his legal issues prevented him from appearing in the 2021 "Leverage" revival "Leverage: Redemption."

As a result, Nate Ford dies offscreen a year before the new show begins, with his cause of death attributed to struggles with alcoholism and self-abuse taking a fatal toll on his body. Notably, while Ford never physically appears in the show, his legacy is still acknowledged, with many characters viewing him as both a hero and a legendary figure. The" Leverage" team has often been compared to a modern-day group of Robin Hoods, so it's only appropriate that one of them gains true mythological status.