- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

Once a year Tyron Leitso makes a trek to a ramshackle trapper's cabin facing the tranquil Alouette Lake deep in British Columbia's Golden Years Provincial Park. The wilderness reserve is located an hour's drive east of Vancouver; the moss-covered lean-to lies 90 minutes by canoe from the main road.

"I just go to see if the old place is still standing it is and then relive lots of childhood memories," says Mr. Leitso, 26, poised to become a major television star in the six-hour, $80 million miniseries "Dinotopia," which started last night, and continues tonight and tomorrow at 8-10 (Channel 7 WJLA)

"I remember the endless hours of chopping up kindling and imagine what the old fireplace looked like when it got hot inside.

"Sometimes we used the tiny little shack like a sauna, running through the snow to jump in the freezing lake and running back to the cabin in a flash," he continues, a smile slowly creasing his handsome face.

He was only 8 years old when his free-spirited single mother, Patricia Leitso, a beautiful blue-eyed blonde of Finnish extraction, tired of humanity and decided to cut jerks and morons out of her life (also accompanied by her brilliant 12-year-old son, Tahj) to live off the land for three years.

They spent the first six months in "Plastic City" a 30-foot plastic tarp stretched over their tents then rebuilt the roof of the caved-in, dilapidated structure nearby.

With no roads, electricity, phones or running water, the family's contact with the outside world was limited to occasional visits by kindly and helpful park rangers, plus an excursion to the nearest town to cash welfare checks and buy provisions once every two months. Bears and deer roamed in the woods all around; a baby raccoon slept with Mr. Leitso until it urinated on his sleeping bag one night.

But gradually the novelty of the pristine wilderness grew thin, aggravated by a game warden worried that the neophyte woods people were in over their heads among large carnivores and far from medical attention. When he nearly drowned in the lake one fine afternoon the result of physical exhaustion from an all-day swimming competition with his brother with his mother saving his life at the last second, Mr. Leitso knew the experiment was over.

Sporadic attempts by mother Leitso to educate her sons failed, and Tyron developed several learning disabilities and a lack of social skills while in the bush. The fact that he attended 16 schools before his 18th birthday probably didn't help much either.

"I was very shy and unable to read aloud in class," he recalls. "And I would walk outside the schoolyard to get from one class to another, trying to avoid any confrontation with other kids. I didn't know what to do, what to say."

Pushed by several close friends, Mr. Leitso took several high school acting classes in an effort to build his confidence and learn how to interact with people.

"I was happy to work behind the scenes building sets," he says, "but my buddies kept prodding, thinking the way I looked could open doors. I love challenges, and the day I was able to do a speech in front of an acting class was very exciting. I knew then that I could learn what acting was about."

A slew of TV commercials came his way while a student at the Terry Fox Senior School, followed by episodic guest shots on "First Wave" and "Mysterious Ways," a featured part in the telefilm "Take Me Home: The John Denver Story" and a regular role on "Edgemont." Before going into production of "Dinotopia," the tall, muscular actor portrayed the charming Prince Alfred in the TV movie "Snow White."

The biggest break in his budding career so far is that of Karl, one of two spoiled sons with a rich father who crash lands their private plane near an uncharted island in the Caribbean. The lost continent, Dinotopia, is a wondrous place where humans and a huge variety of dinosaurs sometimes co-exist peacefully. When they don't, there is hell to pay. When the brilliant sun stones Dinotopia's life force inexplicably start failing, Karl and his brother, David (Wentworth Miller), step up to save the future.

The "Dinotopia" experience swallowed almost a year of Mr. Leitso's life including lengthy location shoots in Wales, England and Thailand, a month of re-shoots in London and months of looping in Hollywood but he deeply appreciates every nuance of the learning experience.

"Plus it has given me much freedom (financially) and allowed me to fulfill a dream I've had since I was 10 years old: to own my own little cottage on the ocean in B.C. I'm fixing it up myself."


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