Childhood & Early Life
Leighton was born on July 24, 1968, in Iowa City, Iowa, US. Not much is known about her family. She studied at the ‘West High School,’ Iowa City, where she was part of several groups. She was also a cheerleader. She was a member of the school choir group, ‘The Good Time Company.’ She was a pianist and a vocalist.
Leighton graduated high school in 1986. She then joined the performing group ‘The Young Americans.’ She was part of the group’s ‘Around the World’ inter-country tour held in 1987.
In 1988, she took on her mother’s maiden surname, “Leighton.” She joined the ‘California State University,’ Long Beach, California, and majored in business. Some references state that she quit her studies after one semester.
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Eager to join the entertainment industry, Leighton moved to Los Angeles. While searching for roles, she worked as a waitress at ‘Mezzaluna Restaurant,’ Brentwood, California, where TV correspondent Nelson Aspen was her colleague. In her initial career, she received modeling assignments and appeared in commercials for ‘Pizza Hut’ and ‘Dep Hair Gel.’
Leighton also worked in a casting office, where she learnt about a role of ‘Jane Mancini’s little sister, ‘Sydney Andrews,’ in the ‘Fox’ soap opera, ‘Melrose Place.’ She appeared in repeated auditions for the role and finally earned it. ‘Sydney Andrews’ was her first major role, which launched her career in January 1993.
Initially, the role was not a regular role, and Leighton was to appear in only two episodes of the first season. However, later, her character was developed further. The second season saw the role become regular. In 1997, at the end of the fifth season, Leighton decided to leave the show. Though it was a role of a villainess, the character, her performance, and her fiery intensity were well-appreciated by all. The popularity brought by the series led to her gracing the covers of popular magazines such as ‘People,’ ‘Entertainment Weekly,’ and ‘Rolling Stone.’
While working on the series, Leighton simultaneously appeared in other projects, too. She appeared as a model, ‘Carolyn Bryan,’ in the ‘CBS’ TV movie ‘The Other Woman’ (1995) and as ‘Laurette Wilder’ in the ‘Fox’ TV film ‘In the Name of Love: A Texas Tragedy’ (1995). In 1995, she appeared as a host for an episode of the show ‘Saturday Night Live’ with the members of the punk-rock band ‘Rancid’ as guests.
Her next substantial role was that of an aspiring actor, ‘Sophie Burns,’ in ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ (1997). The recurring role, which was specially written for her, continued for six episodes.
Leighton made her movie debut through a short indie film named ‘Angels, Baby!’ (1999), which was followed by a romantic comedy film titled ‘Seven Girlfriends’ (2000) and a thriller named ‘Clean and Narrow’ (2000). She appeared in another indie film, ‘Sky is Falling,’ the same year.
Leighton made guest appearances on TV shows such as ‘Cupid’ (1998), ‘Early Edition’ (2000), and ‘The Outer Limits’ (2000). She took a long break for her family and returned in 2003, with the ‘Fox’ serial drama ‘Skin.’ The series did not run for a long time. Similarly, the 2005 ‘ABC’ series ‘Eyes’ also did not last long. Subsequently, she guest-starred in various projects, such as ‘CSI: Miami’ (2006), ‘Boston Legal’ (2006), ‘Shark’ (2007), and ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ (2007).
In 2004, Leighton portrayed the role of ‘Joanne Sanders,’ a single mother being pursued by a stalker, in the TV film ‘A Deadly Encounter.’ Her other roles in TV films were those of ‘Nora Flannery’ in ‘Love Notes’ (2007), ‘Cate Madighan’ in ‘Daniel’s Daughter’ (2008), and ‘Kelly Fariday’ in ‘Mending Fences’ (2009).
In the 2008 western horror film ‘The Burrowers,’ she essayed the part of ‘Gertrude.’ Leighton’s first drama series, ‘Melrose Place,’ was revived in 2009. The series saw her reprising her role of ‘Sydney Andrews.’ However, the remake ran only for a season.
By the end of 2009, Leighton had been offered the role ‘Ashley Marin,’ mother of ‘Hannah Marin,’ in the ‘ABC’ family series ‘Pretty Little Liars’ (June 2010–June 2017). She appeared in all seven seasons of the series. Lately, she has been seen as ‘Andie’ in the TV film ‘Christmas on Honeysuckle Lane’ (2018).