When Leon Lopez enrolled last autumn for a master’s degree in Film at the University of East London (UEL), his plan was to take a year out from his successful acting and film-making career to hone his craft. But then the beloved soap opera EastEnders came calling.
Now Leon is making waves in Albert Square playing the character of builder Linford, foster son and brother of Claudette and Vincent Hubbard.
He made his debut in the TV series earlier week, and his appearance has already generated an excited buzz on social media.
“I spoke to my agent and said, ‘This year I’m focusing on the film course. I want to make sure that I’m focused on my studies,’ Leon mused.
“But they offered me the part – and I can’t really turn something like that down. I probably wouldn’t have auditioned for it, though, because I wanted to focus on the filmmaking.”
Leon, who comes from Liverpool but uses a London accent in his EastEnders role, has continued to excel academically despite juggling coursework with filming commitments.
“The programme at UEL has been invaluable so far,” he said. “Even if I were to just put in these few months and it never went any further, I’ve learned a lot of take away with me.”
Leon is initially contracted to appear in eight EastEnders episodes, although that could easily be extended.
He said the script writers were “kind of seeing how it goes” with Linford, and he denied a report in a tabloid newspaper that his character turns out to be an “evil drug dealer”.
“They’ve not told me anything,” he said. “They could do anything in there.”
Leon is not new to acting in a soap opera. He is best known for playing Jerome Johnston in Channel 4’s Brookside and has also made TV appearances in Merseybeat, Holby City, The Court Room, The Bill and Hollyoaks in the City. He also has numerous theatre and radio credits to his name.
He has also a keen interest in film-making and has already made a feature film, Soft Lad, about the romantic relationship between a dancer and his brother-in-law. Leon wrote, produced, directed and edited the film with a budget of around £17,000.
Leon said he chose UEL over other universities because of the Film programme’s mix of practical and theoretical knowledge. Leon learned how to use a camera years ago but said there were gaps in his understanding of the history of and theory behind filmmaking.
It was Leon’s creative background that allowed him to enrol in the postgraduate programme despite not having an undergraduate degree. UEL, in its mission to widen participation in higher education, will consider real-world experience in lieu of academic qualifications.
Soft Lad premiered at last summer’s East End Film Festival, which turned out to be a fortuitous event in more ways than one.
UEL is one of the sponsors of the EEFF and it was after spotting the University’s advert on the back of the festival programme that Leon decided to enrol.
“It’s a great course, with great facilities,” he said. “The tutors are really good”.
For one of his modules, Leon directed a short documentary about a gay open mic night in London. Called Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs, it will appear next month at the British Film Institute’s Flare – a major LBGT film festival.
Much of Leon’s work focuses on gay issues and themes. A gay man, he said he enjoys being creatively involved with projects to which he personally relates.
Those themes emerged in writings Leon did as a teenager – an activity he stopped because his outpourings made him anxious. When he first put pen to paper again years later, Soft Lad was the result.
“I thought, ‘I’m not afraid,’” Leon said. “I was openly out as being gay and I wanted to write a story that related to me now and I was not afraid to do that.”