Family & Companions
With her first major role, actress Laura Leighton became a familiar face to millions as a cast member on one of the most watched primetime soaps of the 1990s. Leighton achieved early TV fame in her role as bad girl Sydney Andrews on "Melrose Place" (Fox, 1992-99), which in addition to providing her with a hit show, introduced Leighton to co-star and future husband, Doug Savant. After departing from her trendy Melrose address, she remained close with series producer Aaron Spelling, who invited her to guest star in several episodes on his other long-running hit "Beverly Hills, 90210" (Fox, 1990-2000). Occasional feature films like the romantic comedy "Seven Girlfriends" (1999) and such made-for-TV efforts as the thriller "A Deadly Encounter" (Lifetime, 2004) and the generational drama "Daniel's Daughter" (Hallmark, 2008) comprised much of Leighton's professional output over the next decade. A brief return to her former West Hollywood environs on the failed update of "Melrose Place" (The CW, 2009-2010) preceded a lengthier run as the mother of a popular but troubled daughter on the teen drama "Pretty Little Liars" (ABC Family, 2010- ). With her combination of beauty and intensity, Leighton remained a fan favorite in the world of television melodrama decades years after making her auspicious debut.
Born Laura Miller on July 24, 1968, in Iowa City, IA, she assumed her grandfather's last name in 1988. Leighton was a girl who kept herself busy in junior high by joining the choir, taking dance lessons and playing various sports. After graduating from West High School in Iowa City, she joined a singing and dancing troupe called "The Young Americans" - an ensemble that traveled across the United States performing in various local shows. Like all aspiring actresses, Leighton eventually made her way to Los Angeles, and also like so many before her, became a waitress. In between serving food, Leighton landed odd commercials to support herself - most notably Pizza Hut and Dep hair gel spots. While working at a Los Angeles casting office, Leighton heard about the role of Sydney Andrews, the troubled little sister of Jane Mancini on a hip new primetime soap opera in the process of being cast. Encouraged by a friend who thought she would be perfect for the role, Leighton auditioned several times, seemingly to no avail. It was not until series creator Aaron Spelling saw Leighton's audition and begged showrunner Darren Starr to give her the role that the young actress' life changed almost overnight when she was signed to the hit series "Melrose Place" (Fox, 1992-99).
Due in no small part to her sly charm and unique red-haired beauty, the role of Sydney - initially intended to be a two-episode appearance - blossomed into a regular role and became one of the most begrudgingly beloved villainesses on TV. From the time of her debut until she left the series at the end of the 1996-97 season, Sydney evolved from a younger sister with a nasty case of sibling rivalry into a major nocturnal diva. Leighton gave her character - a sometimes prostitute/drug addict-turned-madam who blackmailed and married her sister's ex-husband - a fiery intensity and surprising likability. Despite her misdeeds, Sydney invariably evoked audience sympathy when the show's treacherous tide turned against her. In 1995, Leighton was nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV for her work on "Melrose Place." Off the set, she was reportedly becoming romantically involved with hunky co-star Grant Show. It was rumored that he popped the question after they did a bedroom scene together. But like life imitating art, Leighton turned Show down because she was smitten with her other co-star, Doug Savant, who played the resident gay neighbor. Leighton and Savant were married in 1999 and later welcomed two children into their young family.
After "Melrose," Leighton brightened up many a TV series by doing guest spots on "Cupid" (ABC, 2002), "Early Edition" (CBS, 1996-2000) and "The Outer Limits" (Showtime, 1995-2002). In 1998 she returned to work for Aaron Spelling on "Beverly Hills, 90210" (Fox, 1990-2000) for a six-episode role created specifically for her. Leighton was paid a six-figure amount per episode - a price usually reserved for stars like the cast of "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004). Leighton also found time to appear in several feature projects, starring in "The Clean and Narrow" (1999), the critically-acclaimed "Seven Girlfriends" (1999) and "The Sky Is Falling" (2000), alongside fellow TV veteran Dedee Pfeiffer. Faced with a bit of a post-"Melrose" career slump, Leighton decided to take time off after the birth of her son Jack, and devote herself to her family and to charity work. AIDS charities were closest to her heart. She attended the Elizabeth Glazer pediatric AIDS functions, participated in the ALPA holiday cards project, and was the spokesperson for migraine research with pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.
Leighton returned as the lead in the mystery "We'll Meet Again" (Pax, 2002), booked a recurring role on the short-lived Jerry Bruckheimer critically praised "Romeo and Juliet" update "Skin" (Fox, 2003), and had a starring role in the road rage thriller "A Deadly Encounter" (Lifetime, 2004). Guest turns in episodes of such popular shows as "CSI: Miami" (CBS, 2002-2012), "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08) and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) kept Leighton busy prior to her starring role as a successful young woman tasked with fulfilling the request of her recently deceased and long-estranged father in the romantic drama "Daniel's Daughter" (Hallmark, 2008). Along with former "Melrose" co-stars Heather Locklear and Thomas Calabro, she returned to the role of Sydney Andrews on the failed attempt to reinvent "Melrose Place" (The CW, 2009-2010). Despite being updated with a new cast of attractive young lead characters, the poorly received primetime soap quickly sank in the ratings and was canceled within a season. During this time she also starred opposite Angie Dickinson in "Mending Fences" (Hallmark, 2009), another drama about repairing parent-child relations, prior to joining the cast of the salacious teen melodrama "Pretty Little Liars" (ABC Family, 2010- ). Cast as Ashley Marin, the protective mother of Hanna (Ashley Benson), the diva of a popular clique of girls whose veneer of perfection hides a dark mystery, it appeared as though Leighton had once again found her footing on familiar television territory.
By Bryce Coleman
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Performed with the traveling singing troupe, The Young Americans
Made TV debut in the recurring role of Sydney Andrews on the FOX drama, "Melrose Place"; became a regular cast member in the second season
Played a woman from the wrong side of the tracks who falls for a rich boy in the Lifetime movie, "In the Name of Love: A Texas Tragedy"
Cast as wannabe actress Sophie Burns in six episodes of the FOX series, "Beverly Hills 90210"
Had a small role in the film, "The Sky is Falling"
Returned to series TV as a recurring character in the short-lived FOX series, "Skin"
Starred a single mother who is the victim of a stalker in the Lifetime movie, "Deadly Encounter"
Cast in the short-lived ABC series, "Eyes"
Played a woman accused of murdering her ex-girlfriend in two episodes of ABC's "Boston Legal"
Starred in the horror feature, "The Burrowers"
Reprised her role as Sydney for the new "Melrose Place" on the CW network