TV

Jesse Leigh Is the Witchy, Nonbinary Bestie We All Need in Our Lives

The actor is breaking barriers on Peacock's "Rutherford Falls."

Peacock’s new comedy Rutherford Falls — co-created by Ed Helms, Mike Schur (The Good Place, Parks and Recreation), and Sierra Teller Ornelas (Superstore) — tells the story of Rutherford Falls, a small town in upstate New York bordering a Native American reservation. The quiet community gets a shake-up when residents petition to remove a statue of the town’s founder, and the personal and political collide.

One of Rutherford Falls’ residents is Bobbie, played by Jesse Leigh, a nonbinary actor who previously appeared in Paramount Network’s reimagining of Heathers. Bobbie is the trusted assistant of Nathan Rutherford (Helms) and is known in the community for their unique fashion and cutting comebacks.

Leigh spoke with NewNowNext about being a nonbinary actor on television, witching out with Maggie Rogers, and getting through 2020 with a little help from Chromatica.
 

Hi Jesse! Rutherford Falls is such a cute show. What was the process of getting cast like?

It started in February 2020, which feels like forever ago. I received a pilot in my inbox and I just read it. And on my first week, I was just cracking up laughing. I mean, it’s created by the creators of The Office and the producers from The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Superstore, all these really funny NBC comedies. And I saw that it had one of the biggest Native American writers’ rooms ever. That was a project that I really wanted to be a part of. And I fell in love with the character Bobbie. They’re just very outspoken and very confident, and they’re very authentic to themselves. I was immediately drawn to that.

Was Bobbie originally written as a nonbinary character, or was that something you brought to the role?

Bobbie was originally, I think, gay and male-presenting. So I went to the audition and I thought, I’m going to just make the character my own. And I did — I remember I wore bellbottoms, really cute, all ’70s. I did a really cute winged liner and I was just myself; that’s what I just wear on an everyday basis. So I show up in a little bit of glam-core, and they loved the character so much that they eventually ended up making Bobbie nonbinary.

Did you have any input on Bobbie’s fashion?

Oh yeah. Our first wardrobe fitting, I requested all ’70s clothes. At first, they were a little scared of my wardrobe, but then we toned it down a little bit and incorporated some more workplace-appropriate clothing. And they’re still, of course, very cute. I’m not going to put on anything that doesn’t fit Bobbie. So yeah, I’m very lucky that I got to have somewhat of a say in what Bobbie’s fashion style is.

When did you first become obsessed with 1970s and ’70s fashion?

About maybe around five years ago. My family is from the east coast, and whenever we visit them in New York, we watched Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta. That just really inspired me to start dressing how I wanted. And I started searching out different pieces from the ’70s. There’s a bunch of really good thrift stores and vintage stores here in L.A. that have really fun clothes. I didn’t see a bunch of people wearing ’70s clothes anymore, and I thought, why not? It’s so fun. I love disco music. I love Chic and Nile Rogers. It just puts me in a good mood and makes me feel happy.

Colleen Hayes/Peacock

I totally agree. So, Bobbie has some brutal comebacks. Did you enjoy getting to release that side of you?

Yes, of course I did! I mean, that’s so unlike me in real life. So it was really fun to show up on set as I put on my evil mug and just attack people all day. I’m so close to my cast mates, and whenever we would do a take and I would give them the look — the total look, the evil glare in the eyes — after a take, I would go up to them and I’d be like, “Oh my God, that was so funny, right?” “Ha ha…that wasn’t too mean or over-the-top, right?” So it was really fun to release the little mean streak that Bobbie had.

It’s so cool to see more nonbinary representation onscreen these days. Have viewers reached out to you on social media telling you what it means to see you on screen?

Yeah. Lately, I’ve been getting a bunch of DMs from people who are very excited about the show. Instagram has been a really helpful tool for connecting me with other people in the nonbinary community. I don’t really know anyone or have any other nonbinary friends, so it’s really exciting to see that and see the love pour in. They’re commenting on my photos with some of the quotes that I’ve been saying and the trailer, and I’m just really excited to have other people in the nonbinary community see someone in a primetime comedy living their life confidently and authentically.

What was coming out as nonbinary like for you?

I never really felt the need to come out. I am privileged enough to live in Los Angeles, which is a very accepting town and I was born and raised here. All throughout high school and middle school and college, I just dressed how I want it to. And it wasn’t until a few years ago when I discovered the term nonbinary, and I feel like society as a whole, just started talking about it more. I just totally confirmed with myself that this is who I am, and I’m going to live as myself, as who I want to be and dress how I want to be and apply makeup if I want to.

It’s been really refreshing these past couple of years to see scripts that contain nonbinary and transgender characters who were happy with themselves. Their identity wasn’t at the forefront of who they were; it was just who they’ve always been. It was really exciting to see that. It was kind of parallel to how I felt in real life.

That’s awesome. So, I wanted to ask about Heathers because I loved it, and I’m sad that more people didn’t get to see it. What was it like being part of that show? Do you think it was just misunderstood or ahead of its time?

That was one of my first roles on television, so it was super exciting to be part of that. I always loved watching dark comedy growing up. So it was super fun to be part of a reboot. Yeah, I’m bummed more people didn’t get to see it. But it was super exciting, and everyone on that show was just super friendly. We were all around the same age and I’m still best friends with some of the cast mates today. It was just so fun to be a part of it.

I saw a picture of the moon on your Instagram recently. Do you have a witchy side?

I’ve been trying to get into crystals more and more. I have a little collection and a little area in the corner of my room that I set up my horoscope book and my sage and my rose court. And the last gift that I received was an Ariana Grande candle from my friend. So I light that up sometimes. And I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. I think that there’s definitely a greater power. And whether that’s through meditation or learning about your Zodiac sign or learning about crystals, I think it’s just always important to have something to hold on to and to keep us going through the rough times.

You’re a Maggie Rogers fan. What’s your favorite song of hers?

“Say It,” for sure. You know that one? “Say It” is one of the best songs. It definitely got me through my last quarter of college. Me and my friend took a road trip. We took a day trip to Santa Barbara and saw Maggie at the Santa Barbara bowl. It was outside, and we were under the stars and the moon. And of course, Maggie is the Supreme Witch. She was wearing like a long cape. We were just all dancing under the stars, and it was one of the best concerts that I went to before everything shut down.

There was so much good music released this past year. What was an album that got you through the pandemic?

I’m gonna have to go with Chromatica [by Lady Gaga]. Chromatica got me through, it’s still getting me through.

So, going back to Rutherford Falls, what was one of your favorite moments on set?

One of my favorite moments from filming this season was when I spent the day at this tiny little shack out way outside of Los Angeles — I think it’s Episode 3, where we go to Buck Heart Lodge. And that was just a trip and it was really fun watching Ed and Paul, the other actors, do their thing right in front of me. They’re two comedic geniuses, and it felt like something out of a masterclass of comedy. I was just learning so much and seeing them make really bold choices really helped me in the moment to have confidence, to make bold choices back. That really just carried me through the rest of the season and set a tone for how crazy the show was going to get.

Rutherford Falls premieres April 22 on Peacock.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
@chrisreindeer