Leigh Joel Scott fell in love with acting at just four years of age.
From singing operatic A-B-Cs to getting laughs in the primary school playground, he quickly got addicted to the attention and knew he wanted to entertain people all the time.
Now the Oak Flats native is living it up in Los Angeles and has gone from finding success on the screen to rubbing shoulders with big names in the voice booth and writing worldwide hit podcasts.
“I’m so lucky,” Leigh told Region. “I get to live my dream career. I voice cartoons, I write funny movies. The best part is hard to pick. There isn’t just one. The best part is working. I can’t get enough.”
Growing up in the Illawarra, Leigh grabbed every opportunity he could to improve and pursue his acting dream.
“There were dozens of acting classes I did in Australia,” Leigh said. “Starting at Roo Theatre, studying at Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts, going to Sydney conservatories for classes, and eventually I went to LA on intensive courses to work with casting directors.”
He worked on national commercials, playing various roles, but he still had his eyes on something bigger.
“I had a great time and would gladly do it all again,” Leigh said. “But it just wasn’t… enough. Not enough opportunity. Which is why I started writing my own stuff, plays, short films, musicals with local musical genius Evan Kerr.”
Nine years ago he finally made the move to LA.
“I’ve worked on massive TV shows with Conan O’Brien, I was Lisa Kudrow’s husband in an audio drama, Kevin Bacon told me I was ‘really f–ing funny, man’. I’ve had life-changing experiences and made connections and friends I couldn’t in Australia,” he said.
But many people in the industry still tried to pigeonhole him.
“Every LA casting director I met looked and me and said ‘Oh, you’re the nerd, the computer geek’, which was a shock to me. I thought I was the six-foot surfer model, but apparently we’ve all got our own opinions.”
Through voice acting, he was able to find more freedom.
“TV and film, you’re restricted by how you look. Sure, prosthetics and make-up can change everything, but your base is just… you,” Leigh said. “In a padded booth, nobody knows what you look like and, to be blunt, nobody cares.”
Leigh has found the opportunities in voice acting limitless and has been able to portray any and every character possible.
“I did expect to play a bunch of American little kids and erratic English villains,” Leigh said. “What I didn’t expect was to play an Australian jock soldier in Shatterline, an Australian psycho Wiggle in Koala Man and a curmudgeonly Koala-Butterfly in Zoey’s Mythical Menagerie. I guess I can’t escape being Australian.”
He’s now a creator, writer and star of the kids’ adventure podcast Zoey’s Mythical Menagerie, which cracked Australia’s top 100 Spotify podcasts in just a few weeks.
“Every episode is so exciting – we’ve got giant eight-headed dogs, musical fairies, horses made of jelly and a killer villain,” Leigh said. “We built it to be loved, and it’s being loved right now, so I feel so grateful every time somebody says they loved it and their kids loved it.”
He calls the podcast a “cartoon for your ears” and said it tried to capture the chaotic energy of the ’90s Nickelodeon cartoons that he grew up with, with jokes for the whole family.
“Stuff you’d watch as kids and would fly right over your head, but your parents would laugh.”
Whether it’s writing or performing, Leigh is open to inspiration from others but knows when it comes to comedy, he needs to trust his gut.
“Whenever I write something, I think that if I find a joke funny, mathematically, it’s guaranteed that one other person on earth will find it funny too,” Leigh said. “When you try and cater to others, you lose your voice, your authenticity, you lose what makes you unique and then you end up with a product you don’t even want to watch. I want to be able to watch what I write and still laugh.
“Which is easy because I’m both very funny and a narcissist.”
He attributes part of his success to the theatres and companies in the Illawarra that made it possible for him to showcase his own projects.
“It changed my life,” Leigh said. “I’m living in America because of the success of a musical I wrote and put on at the Phoenix Theatre.”
But he wants to see more local investment in future creators.
“What I think could really improve the Illawarra and help support local actors and creators is access,” he said. “Access to more classes with working professionals, access to renting film equipment for people to make their own projects, access to grants and funding. Funding is so important.”