Meet Geraldine Leer — a Montclair resident with an impressive acting career. Known in Montclair as Jeri, she was born in New York City, raised in Texas, and went back and forth between New York and California before moving to Essex County in 1998. You may know her from movies and TV shows like Manifest, Law & Order, and Inventing Anna — and we had the chance to talk with Geraldine about her career. Read on to learn more about this actress and why she chose Montclair as a place to raise a family.
^ Inventing Anna (Photo credit: Inventing Anna/Netflix)
The Montclair Girl: How long have you been an actress? What was your first role?
Geraldine Leer: I’ve been an actress professionally for 40 years, with a 13-year hiatus while raising two kids in Montclair. My first film role was Lorna in Mystic Pizza.
MG: When did you know you wanted to go into acting?
GL: I’m not sure it was a decision — I just kept getting parts in school plays and then jobs after I signed with an agent while in college. After I almost flunked out of Finance, I realized that it might be more fun, anyway, to play a CEO than be a CEO.
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MG: What are some projects you’ve worked on?
GL: The most notable is probably Karen Stone on Manifest/Netflix. Recently I’ve also worked on Law & Order, Inventing Anna, FBI: Most Wanted, The Other Two, and a few Christmas movies for Hallmark and Lifetime.
^ Manifest (Photo credit: Manifest/Netflix)
MG: What has been your favorite role so far?
GL: Probably Karen Stone on Manifest, as she fits me like a glove. My daughter Madeline commented, “Where’s the acting?”
MG: Who are some actors/actresses you admire? Who were some of your role models growing up?
GL: The ones who seem like quality people when nobody’s watching. Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep.
MG: How long have you lived in Montclair?
GL: Since 1998. After a short stint in Mill Valley, California, we moved from NYC with two toddlers. My children’s dad convinced me that Montclair was as close to Mill Valley, California, as we could get on the east coast, and he was right. We loved it the minute we got here.
(Photo credit: Thomas Brunot)
MG: Did you grow up in New Jersey?
GL: No, I was born in NYC, and raised in Texas. I had been in NYC or Los Angeles since 1985 and was hesitant to move with my kids to NJ, but Montclair quickly changed my mind.
MG: Have you ever filmed locally in NJ?
GL: Ha! I had NEVER gotten a job in New Jersey until the pandemic. I booked a Trelegy commercial and couldn’t believe it when they said it was being shot in Montclair. I ended up with a 2-minute commute to Watchung Plaza. I drove back and forth along Watchung Avenue in front of the Montclair High School field hockey field for the “riding down the road” shots. I’d spent many hours in those field hockey stands as a mom, so I made the camera crew shout “Go, Montclair!” as we rode by.
MG: Do you travel a lot for work?
GL: Not a lot, but I always enjoy it when I do. I’d really like to work in L.A., where both my kids, Jack and Madeline Biebel (MHS ’13 and ’15), now live and work. My son Jack has a deli there with two other childhood Montclair pals, Noah Holton-Raphael and Max Bahramipour. They were so frustrated that they couldn’t find a good deli sandwich like they grew up on at Belgiovines and The Watchung Deli in L.A., so they opened Ggiata. Madeline films TikToks for them. I love going there and seeing all of them in action. It’s like a little bit of Montclair in L.A.
^ Law & Order (Photo credit: Law & Order/NBC)
MG: Where are some of your favorite places you’ve shot?
GL: Barcelona, Rome, Toronto. My favorite location of late was during the pandemic, shooting One Royal Holiday for the Hallmark Channel in Woodstock, Connecticut. They call that the “quiet corner” of CT, and it was just what the doctor ordered, after quarantining at home for a year in Montclair. It was just country roads, dairy cows, and the historical inn where we quarantined and then shot the film. I’ll always be grateful for that month away during such a scary time.
MG: What drew you to Montclair?
GL: New York Magazine’s cover story on Montclair called “The Upper West Side of Suburbia”. I’ll never forget passing Northeast School on the way into town and thinking “I want my kids to go to Beaver Cleaver’s school”.
MG: What’s your favorite part about living there?
GL: The small town feel with the big city perks, and the great friends I made while raising my kids. I love all the artistic energy here: Vanguard Theater Company, the Montclair Film Festival, and the Montclair Jazz Festival. There are so many opportunities for kids that want to pursue the arts right here in town. Some of the shows I’ve seen at Montclair High School are amazing.
MG: What are some of your favorite local spots to visit?
Food: I’m kind of “old school” and not fancy. I like Bluestone Coffee Company, Egan’s, Dai Kichi. But I also love Mercado, and the “House Special Salad” at Green Chop’s in Watchung Plaza is addictive. When friends come to visit, a glass of wine and the view at Alto bar is lovely, then a walk down Bloomfield Avenue for dinner at Le Salbuen. Yum!
Clothes: I love shopping at Barbara Eclectic. It’s like a tiny Nordstrom women’s department right here on Valley Road.
Hair Salon: I think Carol Murray at Salon 212 is simply the best. I’ve had models in NYC stop me in the subway to ask who does my hair.
Outdoors: I love the NJ Audubon Society’s hawk-watch platform, walking around Brookdale Park or in Mills Reservation. Sometimes after it has snowed, I’ll drive up Bellevue Avenue, and I’m struck at how beautiful our little town is at the foot of the Watchung Mountain ridge.
Entertainment: I love going to The Montclair Film Festival every year. Live music at Ruthie’s on Fridays is pretty darn great.
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MG: What’s next for you? What are you hoping to accomplish in the next 5 years?
GL: I’ve started moving into Miranda Priestly (Devil Wears Prada) type roles, which are so much fun. I’d love a series regular role — one of those CEOs that would eat their young. How fun to be utterly evil all week and then sing in the choir at PCUM (The Presbyterian Church of Upper Montclair) on Sundays.
I’d love to book a TV comedy role off of the fun I’m having on TikTok. My daughter Madeline is a social media strategist in L.A., and when she was home sick with Covid over Christmas, she got me to do a few TikToks. One got 10.5 million views, so we’ve kept going. It’s a big role reversal, and she says “Just do it, mom” a lot. I guess turnabout is fair play.
I used to have a vegetable garden in my backyard. When I went back to acting, I just didn’t have time. I’d love to have that garden back up and running, with all my food waste composted into that garden. I think it’s so cool that Queens is going to have the largest composting program in the U.S. this Fall. Why not Montclair next?
(Photo credit: Thomas Brunot)
MG: Is there anything else you think our readers would like to know?
GL: That tired, harried mom you saw waiting outside Union Cong pre-school has recovered nicely, thanks.