With roles in films like The Little Richard Story and The Five Heartbeats, he’s great at playing musical icons, one of which was David Ruffin in The Temptations mini-series. Interestingly, Robinson was initially to star as the group’s founder, Otis Williams.
Leon Robinson initially cast as Otis Williams in ‘The Temptations’
Robinson was fresh off of the success of his lead role in The Five Heartbeats, a musical film about a fictional R&B group of the 1960s. While filming the project, Robinson met Williams, the founder of The Temptations. Williams was so impressed with Robinson’s performance that he offered him a role in a biopic about The Temptations.
Robinson told Vlad TV in a recent interview, “Because I was in The Five Heartbeats, I met Otis Williams,” he explains. “He told me he had a book and that he was making a movie deal and that when the movie happens, he wants me to play him.”
A few years later, Robinson sat with casting and the executives responsible for The Temptations mini-series to discuss him playing Williams. But, Robinson had other plans.
“I met with them with the blessing of Otis to play him in the movie…they knew that Otis wanted me to play the role and so they were willing to start negotiations but before they did, they wanted to talk to me first and see what I thought I should play,” Robinson says. “And, I told them I’d be best served this movie if I played the role of David Ruffin,”
Robinson says casting and executives on the film were ecstatic at his suggestion to play Ruffin. Thankfully, Williams was understanding and the rest is history.
Leon Robinson shines as David Ruffin in ‘The Temptations’
Ruffin joined The Temptations as the group’s lead singer in 1964. He led the group in some of their biggest hits, including “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” Unfortunately, Ruffin’s drug use and issues with his group members caused his exit in 1968.
Robinson shined as Ruffin in the film, coming out as the fan-favorite. A 1998 Variety review of the film praises Robinson for his strong portrayal of Ruffin, noting “He breathes life into what could have been a one-dimensional Ruffin.”
Some of Robinson’s work in the film was not part of the script, including the iconic line Ruffin says to Williams: “Ain’t nobody coming to see you Otis.” Robinson says he delivered the line with such conviction that it pissed off his co-star who portrayed Williams.
Robinson tells Vlad:
“While we were rehearsing, I always stay in character, and so we were just doing the scene and that just came out,” he says. “The director came over and whispered to me that the actor that I said it to doesn’t like it when I say that. And I said to him, ‘He’s not supposed to like it. Did you see his face when I said it? Isn’t that what you want?’”
Obviously, the line made it into the final edit and is the most known in the film.