New Orleans attorney Greg DiLeo has been litigating personal injury cases in state and federal court for almost 30 years. So it's hard to imagine that he was ever shy, as he describes himself when he was an undergraduate student at Louisiana State University.
But it was in the course of overcoming his shyness through public speaking courses at LSU that DiLeo found another passion: acting.
"One of my speech teachers at LSU was doing his masters thesis in theater and asked if I wanted to act," he said. "I never did anything like that before. I was so insecure when I first started."
Some three decades later, DiLeo is an accomplished singer and actor who has appeared in 10 television and film productions and played roles in 19 theater plays. His work includes playing the legendary Atticus Finch in a University of New Orleans Downtown Theater production of "To Kill A Mockingbird," and his 2004 Big Easy Award nominated role as the gas station attendant Jim in "Pump Boys and Dinettes."
In a review of To Kill A Mockingbird for ,i>Gambit, New Orleans theater critic Dalt Wonk wrote that DiLeo did "a marvelous job."
"What people generally remember about DiLeo (in that vague sort of way that we remember things) is good looks and a great deal of charm," Wonk wrote. "Does DiLeo's day job as a lawyer aid him in this performance? Who can say? He's not a Cockney chauffeur, but he sure fooled me in Grand Hotel."
DiLeo said that his job as an attorney has helped him in his theater roles and directors often to defer to his expertise. The theater has also helped him make strides in the courtroom.
"The use of physical space, the way you hold your body, who you're looking at and when," he said. "It's all calculated. It's hard to turn off."
For his part, DiLeo admits that he has been accused of being "overly theatrical" and that he sometimes struggles seeing the line between being an actor and a lawyer.
Most recently, DiLeo represented a plaintiff suing Methodist Hospital in New Orleans over the death of a patient after the hospital lost power following Hurricane Katrina.
There were several combative moments between plaintiff and defense counsels during that trial with Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Paulette Irons expressing her frustration several times. The case could have set a precedent for hospital hurricane preparedness plans – plans that failed across the board in New Orleans as all but two hospitals lost power during Katrina – but the defense negotiated a settlement during the second week of the jury trial that began in May.
Post-Katrina New Orleans has opened up more cases than DiLeo could handle while also being an actor, so DiLeo has been taking fewer roles recently. He is still taking part in other types of productions, such as commercials for his law firm.
DiLeo said that the BP oil disaster in the Gulf has also led to "lots of business" for his personal injury firm. He said that he's spending more time in federal court and will be preparing commercials to reach out to potential clients affected by the oil spill.
The increased workload hasn't stopped DiLeo from expressing himself creatively. Shortly after his interview for this article, DiLeo headed out to a recording studio in Metairie – he's been playing the guitar since he was 11 -- to record a song he'd been working on for the past five years since the storm.
"Every musician came out with their own Katrina song after the storm," he said. "This one is more about holding on every summer when the storms come back."
It may have been a strange sight to see DiLeo walk out of his office in New Orleans Central Business District office in jeans and tucked-in button down shirt carrying a guitar case, but he said he never wanted to just be a lawyer.
"I think they all go together great," he said of all his crafts. "I never wanted to be pigeonholed as any one thing."
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