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Leoni Online: Interview Magazine 1996

Leoni Online Articles

Interview Magazine 1996

Bawdy double

By Liz Smith

Television’s The Naked Truth, which stars Tea Leoni and is written by her real-life lover Chris Thompson – also the show’s creator and producer – pokes outrageous fun at the behind-the-scenes workings of a supermarket scandal-mag. We asked Liz Smith, who knows a thing or two about “behind the scenes” to talk turkey with them

LIZ SMITH: A few people I know think that The Naked Truth Is wonderfully funny, but that it’s very vulgar. Do you have a vulgar streak?

CHRIS THOMSON: Yeah, I certainly do have a vulgar streak, but more to the point, I’m not comedically snobby. I enjoy all kinds of humor. My comedy toy box is full of all kinds of items and I’m unashamed to use any of them, and Tea is willing to collect on all those, too.

LS: Are you an overnight sensation, Tea?

TEA LEONI: Oh God no. I’ve been out here [in L.A.] six years. But this is by far the most heat I’ve had around me.

LS: Do you feel any different?

TL: Older. [laughs] I’ve aged more than six years out here.

LS: Are people treating you differently?

TL: As a blonde, sure. [both women laugh]

LS: IS Chris treating you differently?

TL: As a blonde, sure. [all laugh]

LS: How long have you two known each other?

CT: I guess it was almost a year and a half ago when we first sat down to talk about doing something together. We really sort of sparked to each other.

TL: Chris came out with the line “behind every beautiful woman is a man who is tired of fucking her.” [all laugh] That’s when I knew I’d found my guy.

LS: [laughing] And it is one of the greatest lines ever. Chris, I loved it that you said Tea is like a “dirty Disney character.” Would you care to explain that?

TL: Yeah, wouldya?

LS: Now that you’re both creatures of Disney . . .

CT: I just think Tea is extremely amusing physically, and I think she has that sort of graceful klutziness that terrific physical comediennes have. Yet Tea has a powerful sexual persona, too. It’s a unique combination, so she reminds me of a little cartoon character who you’d also want to bang.

LS: Which one of you said “I love you” first?

CT: Me.

LS: So did you say you loved her or did you say you were in love with her?

CT: What I actually said was, “I think I get you like nobody’s ever gotten you, and I think you get me like nobody’s ever gotten me, and I think I’m falling in love with you and you can just ponder that for a while.”

TL: I think that was when I passed out. [all laugh] I fell off the banquette in the kitchen. No, no, that was in a Mexican food place.

LS: Has this show given the supermarket tabloids any ideas?

CT: We talked to a guy from the National Enquirer who wanted to pitch stories [for the show]. He and his partner, a woman who also used to work on the Enquirer, said that there is a small amount of verisimilitude in what we’re doing. But what was most interesting to me about what they were saying about their jobs is how close they are to what Tea’s character, Nora, goes through. You don’t think of these people as having a great many ethical dilemmas, and yet they do. There are stories where they find themselves hip deep in the muck and go, “I don’t know that I can do this one.” They will lie to their editors about what they could and couldn’t get. I thought that was interesting because I, had this image of them as soulless.

LS: I think they are people exactly like the way Tea represents them – they have somehow fallen Into this work.

TL: What I thought was funny is that this gal was saying that one of the new rules is that you don’t “out” people. And I said, “So you don’t ‘out’ people?” And she said, “Well, not unless there’s a catch to it.”

LS: An angle.

TL: Yes. And I thought, What’s an angle on outing somebody? She said, “Oh, well, like if they’re gonna adopt a baby – that’s an angle.”

CT: That makes it more palatable, don’t you think? Now you can actually shame the child also. So it’s a very interesting ethical line that they have to cross.

LS: Do you imagine that the things that the network won’t let you do would make the show better?

CT: I’m not sure how much better it would make it, but it would make it a lot easier. It’s sometimes surprising, the areas that they have trouble with and the areas that seem to fly by.

LS: What about the episode on Elvis’s sperm? Did you argue for that?

CT: I don’t think we had a huge argument about Elvis’s sperm, although we may have had some arguments about some of the things that we wanted to do with it.

TL: There was a turkey baster in that episode that’s no longer in there. [In the original scene] Holland Taylor’s character, the editor, wants me to have Elvis’s baby, and I refuse. As I leave, the elevator doors close and she says, “I’ve got a turkey baster – she has to sleep sometime.”

LS: They wouldn’t let her say that?

CT: No.

LS: Well, that doesn’t seem any more gross than lots of other stuff [in the episode]. The show was funny. I loved It – I mean, it’s not the sort of thing you expect to see on television.

TL: Good gross.

LS: So what kind of a social life do you two have?

CT: [pauses] Almost nonexistent right now. I literally am in the office sixteen hours a day.

LS: Are you actually writing?

CT: Writing or fixing or editing or rewriting – or trying to pitch stories to other writers to get started on.

LS: How is it to work and play together – not that it sounds like there’s much time for play – but how is it to be together around the clock?

CT: I think it was frightening conceptually. But the reality is that we seem to be dealing with it. It doesn’t bother me at all to be working together and then to be relaxing together, or then to be at home and still be talking about work. I do wish we had more of a life outside of the show to share with one another.

LS: That time will come. You won’t be working like this always.

TL: But I do think that what was conceptually scary was the idea of do you designate dominance by hour of the day, or position, or place, or whatever? I would say that was just more of a scary thought than it’s ever been in reality. You know, we walk onto the stage and I’m the boss, and Chris just knows that. [all laugh]

LS: Someone said that you’re his muse and that he’s your voice. Is that true?

TL: Gee, I wonder who that somebody was. [CT laughs]

CT: I find it extremely luxurious to write for Tea in that there’s nothing I’m afraid to write. Sometimes you have actors who you have to protect in the writing, because they are limited, or you’re not sure about their abilities. When I write for Tea, I write with complete freedom and confidence that she’s going to be able to pull off whatever I’m conceptualizing.

LS: So you don’t mind trying to kill her on the things that are physically impossible?

CT: No, I like her bruised and beat up. [all laugh]

LS: You know, when you think about it, you’re part of a great tradition. But it’s kind of a scary tradition: David O. Selznick and Jennifer Jones, Lucille Ball and Dezl Arnaz . . . these [sorts of relationships] can’t usually survive the intensity.

TL: I think we’re just lucky that we’re weirder than all those folks. It’s the first time it’s come in handy.

Article courtesy of Interview Magazine.