Cimarron grad in fifth season of TNT's 'Leverage'


The laid-back lifestyle in Portland, Ore., has been celebrated the world over. And Beth Riesgraf, who calls the city home for six months a year, spends more time than most hanging around.

Off buildings, down elevator shafts and, most recently, from the side of a train.

"I went to get a manicure and pedicure the other day. My elbows, my knees, my hands, everything was cut and bruised," the actress says. "It's funny because the girl looked at me, like, 'Are you OK?' 'No, it's fine. I was on top of a subway train last night. It's totally cool.' "

Riesgraf - a 1996 graduate of Cimarron-Memorial High School who moved to the valley from her native Minnesota during her junior-high years - stars as the mono-monikered Parker, the safecracking, cat-burgling wild card on TNT's "Leverage," which kicks off its fifth season at 8 p.m. Sunday.

And the bumps and bruises the onetime model endures are all in a 12- to 15-hour day's work.

"I do as much of it as I can, actually," she says of the frequent stuntwork her character demands. "I've been training, and I know what to do in the offseason to keep my back healthy and my legs healthy."

A daily exercise regimen, with an emphasis on Moksha yoga and core power yoga with weights, keeps her strong enough to endure the hours spent in a stunt harness.

And while there are some maneuvers that require a double - either because she's just physically unable to complete them or because she's off shooting with another camera unit, given the drama's accelerated production schedule - she's proud of the stunts she's mastered.

"I've gotten the knack for it. I'm certainly not a gymnast. ... But I'm happy to say I can do most of it."

If you haven't seen "Leverage," this is as good a time as any to check it out, as the drama is essentially being rebooted after the events of last season's finale.

Insurance investigator-turned-criminal mastermind Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton) heads a team - a grifter, a hacker, a hitter and Riesgraf's thief - that pulls off elaborate cons to help victims of the rich and powerful.

But after their cover was blown, and with their Boston headquarters under surveillance by the state police, FBI and Interpol, the crew has relocated to Portland - where the series has been filmed since the beginning of season two - and set up shop in the back of a microbrewery.

Those who've been watching from the beginning, though, will have noticed a change in Parker over the years. She arrived socially awkward and scarred from a horrible childhood, but over time, those near-sociopathic edges have been smoothed over. At least somewhat.

"I think I'm getting better at this," Parker exclaimed last season, beaming with pride after successfully flirting with a mark. "I didn't even stab him!"

It's an evolution Riesgraf has collaborated on with the show's writers, who wanted Parker to continue to evolve.

"I've been fortunate enough to get to sink my teeth into a character that's had an arc and has changed and grown throughout the seasons, which, as actors know, is a golden opportunity," she says, taking a break from filming the season's penultimate, Christmas-themed episode.

In Sunday's premiere, which finds her relationship with hacker Hardison (Aldis Hodge) heating up, Parker smiles more than she has over the course of entire seasons.

"She's not the same person she was when we started the show. She's a thief with a heart of gold now," Riesgraf explains. "She started out as slightly psychotic and an adrenaline-junkie thief, sort of a lone wolf. But now she's transformed into someone who has a greater purpose."

Riesgraf is protective of Parker, even though the character has caused her to spend inordinate amounts of time in heating ducts or being smuggled into buildings in a garbage can, body bag or oversized package.

"We don't know if this is our last season. If it is, we'd like to think that she's come to a place of feeling good about her position in the group," Riesgraf reasons. "She's at a place where she's grown up a bit. ... Whereas before, she was just so used to being on her own and not being able to trust anyone.

"You'll see her being more at ease, maybe a little more normal, as some of those barriers have been broken down.

"But when she gets in a situation that she's not comfortable with, you definitely see her dance on that side of being slightly" - Riesgraf pauses, looking for just the right word before laughing and settling on something inoffensive - "off."

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.

 

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