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Exclusive Interview with Award-Winning LBGTQ+ Filmmaker And Actress Rachel Leyco

photo credit: Tony Moux

Email: neill@outloudculture.com

Socials: @neillfrazer

LBGTQ+ filmmaker and actress Rachel Leyco and her production company Empowerhouse, is set to debut her queer AAPI web series, CRAZY, at Outfest LA’s 40th anniversary.

CRAZY is a dramedy web series about two queer Asian American frenemies navigating their early twenties while battling mental illnesses that teach them they’re more alike than they realize. This six episode web series mines comedy from some of the darker parts of our own personal mental health journeys as filmmakers. It helps tell an empowering story around seeking help and self-care. They aim to change what is too often a tragic narrative for LGBTQ+ characters of color. The show is an authentic story of young queer women of color coming to terms with their mental health and setting boundaries around their needs. It’s triumphant, powerful and it’s quite a crazy rollercoaster ride of a series.

Up next, Rachel has partnered with award-winning filmmaker Rain Valdez for the highly-anticipated film “Re-live” A Tale of an American Island Cheerleader.” The project will be executive produced by Rosario Dawson and was placed on GLAAD’s The Black List for Best Unproduced LGBTQ Screenplaysof 2022. The film follows a transgender woman who returns to her estranged home island of Guam for her High School reunion’s “Do Over Week,” to live out her childhood dream of becoming a cheerleader. 

Notably, Rachel has won a student Emmy at the 2013 College Television Awards as Writer/Director/Producer in the pilot web series, “The Sub Club.” She currently holds many writing/directing/producing credits, ranging from short films and web series to TV pilots and features.

As an actress, Rachel started off in theatre, starring in Beauty and the Beast and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, then began her TV/Film career upon moving to LA, starring in commercials (ReebokHead & Shoulders), web series (Batman Beyond: The Series), short films (RiseHighbrow) and indie features (Teacher of the Year). 

Photo credit: Tony Moux

Rachel’s TV Network credits include a Guest Star role on NBC’s Chicago Fire and most recently Recurring in BET’s Games People Play as Susie Q, and a Co-star in the upcoming season three of Netflix’s Atypical. Her short films (Maple’s Tree and Bicultural) have been official selections in many film festivals nationally and internationally.

As an activist, Rachel strongly advocates for many social justice issues, such as LGBTQ+ equality and mental health. Having been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II, she made it her mission to break stigma, create a dialogue, and bring awareness to communities all over the world through art and activism.

Rachel believes strongly in the power of words. She wants nothing more but to elevate and inspire lives through the magic of storytelling.

Hi Rachel, how are you? Welcome to OLC! So for all our followers how did you get into acting and filmmaking?

Hi! I’m feeling grateful and super zen right now (just did a lovely meditation). Thanks for having me. I started acting in theatre since I was about thirteen years old. I was in love with the craft and performed in theatre all throughout middle school and high school. When my family moved from Texas to Los Angeles, I pursued acting on screen professionally and quickly realized that Hollywood wanted to keep me in stereotypical boxes as a queer Asian American woman. So I found another love for screenwriting and filmmaking! I went to film school and started to create short films as a writer, director, producer, and actress, which led me to become the badass multi-hyphenate creative that I am now!

So why and how did you start your own production company Empowerhouse, and how did you come up with the name?

I started Empowerhouse because I wanted to create and nurture voices that have long been underrepresented in the entertainment industry. My mission has always been to create opportunities for queer BIPOC artists to have their voices heard, stories seen, and lives known — that’s what Empowerhouse is all about. The name actually used to be Empower House Media but a good friend at the time suggested combining Empower and House, which I loved! But the genesis of the name came to me when I was passing by this gym in LA with a big sign that read “Powerhouse” and I’ve always resonated with the term “Empower” because it’s like my life mission so the lightbulb in my head went off and Empowerhouse was born!

So what sets Empowerhouse apart from your competition?

I think what sets us apart is that we’re not afraid to take risks and push the envelope in the type of stories we create. We don’t play it safe. We will break the stigma, speak on what’s considered taboo, and spark conversations that may be uncomfortable but in a way that’s safe, genuine, and empowering. 

So let’s talk about your new web series called ‘CRAZY’, what’s it about and how did you come up with the concept for it?

CRAZY follows queer Asian-American frenemies who navigate romantic entanglements while battling mental illnesses that teach them they’re more alike than they realize.
I created the show with my friend and collaborator, Sheena Midori Brevig, in 2018 when we shared stories about the intersectionality of being queer, Asian American, and navigating our own mental health journeys. I had been wanting to do a web series so the concept for Crazy naturally just came out of those conversations and we hadn’t seen that type of representation on-screen yet so we knew we had to do it. 

Can you tell us a bit about your character and who you play?

I play Jaz Ocampo, who is a queer reckless-sorta-homeless-twenty-something Filipina American. She struggles in coping with her bipolar disorder II while dating in the modern world and attempting to maintain her connections (family, friendships, and self). She is a HOOT to play! She’s sort of the unlikable likable heroine in the show.

Photo credit: Tony Moux

Your a huge advocate for mental health, why has it become a huge focus for you and what does it mean to you?

Mental health advocacy has become a deep passion of mine because of my personal upbringing and unique experiences where mental health was such a stigma in my Filipino American immigrant family. When I started my healing process through therapy, medication, and various mindful practices, I began to speak out more about my personal experiences and found that so many people (both online and offline) resonated with my stories. I realized that there’s so many people struggling out there combined with a lack of knowledge and resources in ways we can begin to heal ourselves so that’s why I speak up about it; it’s become a part of my purpose.

Your involved in every aspect of the film/tv industry, from writing, to acting, to directing etc . What part of it do you enjoy the most and why?

I truly love it all! I just love storytelling in all of its forms. There are seasons where acting is the main focus because it’s picked up for me but other times, I’ll be in a writing flow and so on. I love that I’m able to flow in and out (and sometimes altogether at once) of my various creative outlets. 

What advice can you give to people hoping to break out in the entertainment industry?

Prioritize your mental health and self-care. This industry will break you down and spit you out time and time again. There will be disappointments, heartbreak, and sleepless nights. But if you have a strong sense of self, patient heart, resilient mind, and a solid support system then you will be able to get through those lows and eventually, success will find you. 

Do you have any future projects lined up and if so, anything you can tell us about?

I have a few! I’m currently in development on “Re-Live: A Tale of an American Island Cheerleader,” which is a fun queer romantic comedy. I co-wrote the script and starring alongside my soul sister and Emmy nominated actress, Rain Valdez. Produced by Jhett Tolentino and executive produced by Rosario Dawson. We have a stellar stacked cast that we’ll be announcing soon! I’m also writing a queer indie coming-of-age feature film that’ll be my feature film directorial debut.

What’s next for you in 2022?

I can’t believe that summer is almost over and we’re more than halfway through the year! We are wrapping up casting for Re-Live and hope to start pre-production by end of this year. I’ll be focused on finishing my new screenplay and hopefully shoot a new short film that’s been on my heart for a while. So staying creative! I’ll be turning 30 in September (hey fellow Libras) which I’m actually really excited about! Thirty, flirty, and thriving!!!

Instagram | @rachel.leyco 

What do you think?

Written by Neill Frazer

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