It’s a long hop from a voice on Franklin to The Playboy Club

After spending her teen years doing cartoon voice work on shows like Franklin, Toronto native Leah Renee has landed a very grown-up role on the new NBC/Citytv drama The Playboy Club.

Toronto actress Leah Renee has credits on her resume on both sides of the border.

Toronto actress Leah Renee has credits on her resume on both sides of the border.

CHICAGO — After spending her teen years doing cartoon voice work on shows like Franklin, Toronto native Leah Renee has landed a very grown-up role on the new NBC/Citytv drama The Playboy Club.

The red-haired actress, who voiced Franklin’s friend Beaver on the popular animated series, says she got her latest gig just weeks after she moved to Los Angeles last winter.

“I was the luckiest girl on Earth because this was my first (U.S.) audition,” says the 25-year-old, who has also appeared (under the name Leah Cudmore) in such Canadian shows as Degrassi: The Next Generation, My Babysitter’s a Vampire and M.V.P.

It helped, she thinks, that Playboy Club executive producer Chad Hodge already had her on his radar. The two worked together years before on the short-lived Toronto-based CW series Runaway.

The Playboy Club production is housed in a gigantic converted steel factory in Chicago’s west end. Shooting an hour-long TV drama means long days, especially at the beginning.

On this visit to the set, work starts in the evening and goes through the night. Toronto-born director Holly Dale (Durham County, Flashpoint) is motioning for more smoke to be blown onto the set, giving it a hazy look.

Renee is out of her usual bunny ears, cuffs and tail and in more elegant cocktail attire for a scene in the upstairs Bunny Lounge.

The former art school student says it’s not so glamorous getting into the famed bunny suit.

“There’s a dresser who dresses us with lots of sucking everything in and lots of regretting the chips I ate the night before followed by lots of wiggling and then you’re in,” she says.

Renee and others in the cast are sensitive to suggestions that the mini-trend of shows set in the 1960s (Pan Am is the other new series set in the Mad Men era) is based on some male longing for a time when women knew their place.

“I understand people’s interest in the bunnies on every possible level,” says Laura Benanti, who plays top club bunny Carol-Lynne.

“But I do think it’s interesting in this day and age when sex is used to sell toothpaste that there’s all these questions about how we feel as actresses portraying these women. Would you ask Johnny Depp if he thinks he’s promoting bank robbery because he’s playing (John) Dillinger?”

Besides, say the actresses, the original club bunnies they’ve spoken with all loved their jobs, made great money and felt a real sense of empowerment.

“They have such positive stories about being a bunny,” says Jenna Dewan Tatum, who plays Janie.

These women were calling the shots and making their own choices, she says.

“Most people think they were centrefolds or that they were nude or compromised in any way, but really, they were wearing more clothing than a woman today in a bathing suit.”

Benanti thinks Playboy founder Hugh Hefner deserves some credit for integrating the clubs, both in terms of the talent performing there (music is a big part of the series) and the women hired as bunnies.

“They weren’t all your typical blue-eyed blonds,” says raven-haired Benanti.

Naturi Naughton, a New Jersey-native who played a Playboy Bunny on Mad Men six months before landing this job, is thrilled to be playing an ambitious black woman in the ’60s.

“She’s not going to let discrimination stop her from achieving her goals,” says Naughton, who learned that the first black centrefold arrived in 1965. That put Hefner ahead of the curve, she feels. Her own parents have stories of the discrimination they felt in the ’60s.

The cast had an opportunity to meet Hefner when the 85-year-old hosted a screening of the pilot at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills.

“He welcomed us in his robe and slippers,” says Dewan Tatum.

Hefner can be heard narrating the series.

Eddie Cibrian (Third Watch) plays Nick Dalton, the manager of the Chicago Playboy Club. He says Hefner told him the period depicted in the series “was one of the fondest times he ever had.”

The Playboy Club airs Monday nights at 10 p.m.

Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in Chicago, he was a guest of Citytv.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Most Read