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Leoni Online: The Articles — E! Online Q & A — 1997

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A “divorce” from Michael Eisner, worshipping at the porcelain altar–the naked truth about TV’s funniest new blonde

by Ivor Davis

1a-4940452 It was Angels 88, an aborted sequel to Aaron Spelling’s Charlie’s Angels, that brought the New York native to Hollywood. The series never got off the respirator, but Téa Leoni did. After a few sneeze-and-you’ll-miss-her movie shots (A League of Their Own, Switch, Wyatt Earp), she was handed her first sitcom.

It was no wonder she was billed as the New Lucy–as star of Fox’s 1992-93 Flying Blind, she was the crazy redhead dating a straightlaced nebbish. And though the show tanked, it led to a couple of juicy parts in two films, Bad Boys and Flirting with Disaster. Well, the hair color is a bit blonder now, but she’s still the prime-time screwball in The Naked Truth, the giddy chronicles of Nora Wilde, Dear Abby of The Comet, a tabloid weekly with delusions of going upmarket.

2a-5262548 A shaky starter last season on ABC, the show was literally abducted this winter by NBC, anointed with a new supporting cast that includes Cheers’ George Wendt and a recurring guest spot by Mary Tyler Moore (Leoni’s costar in Disaster)–and a time slot to die for–sandwiched on Thursdays between Seinfeld and before ER. (After April 21, however, it’s on hiatus, but it will be back in the fall.) And we won’t even mention her current real-life beau: X-Files heartthrob David Duchovny. (That’s okay, neither would she. Other than admitting they were a couple, she was mum on the subject.)

So, what’s the secret of Téa’s appeal? Comet “gossip columnist” Holland Taylor describes her as a bit of a rag doll. “She doesn’t treat a place in a conventional way,” says Taylor. “If she wants to go from one end of the room to the other, and there’s a table, she tends to go over it, rather than around it.”

2b-5895345 You’re always referred to as a physical comedienne. Do you like that description?

I don’t get it. I mean, I really don’t. It’s an odd thing, and I don’t know where that came from. My mother has an opinion about it. When I was a kid, like seven, I had trouble bouncing a ball. [Laughs.] It was like an eye-hand coordination thing. And out of that blossomed what’s now being called physical comedy. I feel pretty darned good about it. Do you share any personality traits with Nora? She’s a bit of a jackass, and so am I. She tends to do things the hard way. I recognize I’m a lot like Nora.

Did your mother say you were a klutz, and you’d never make anything out of yourself?

Certainly not. I think she’s aware of my shortsightedness…but it’s not exactly that, because I don’t need glasses. She’s grown up with me. I enjoy this character I’ve created. She’s a bit of a klutz. It comes naturally, that jackass goofiness.

How would you describe the Téa personality?

Right now, I’m a little tense. I’m not nervous when I’m at home. I have a collection of vibrators that helps! I have a dog, I like golf a lot, and I don’t like laundry.

3a-6046159 But nervousness seems to follow you around. Last year, when you were not sure where Naked Truth was going, you said you were physically beat up and churning inside.

Yeah, I work hard. The show becomes your life. The idea that sitcoms are 9 to 5–I’ve yet to see that happen. But I love working. After I’ve thrown up once, everything comes out just fine after that.

Tell us about your switch to NBC. Last year you said that Disney/ABC head Michael Eisner was a big fan of yours. What happened?

I guess that doesn’t matter much anymore. But, my God, one night at a party, he came up to me wearing one of those squiggly Mousketeer bowties. He said, “I love the show.” I guess we were home and dry.

Have you heard from him since you left?

No. It’s sort of like divorcing.

3b-9746784 What about that dream post-Seinfeld time slot, where the feeling is if your show falls below say, 90 percent, you’re in trouble?

Okay, I’m gonna puke now. [Laughs.] I was going to say, I’m not beaming about it. I’d rather have Saturday at noon. Yeah, I’d feel a lot more comfortable there.

You often talk about throwing up–do you find yourself doing that a lot?

Boy, that’s a good subject, isn’t it. No, not anymore. I’m relaxed and under this sort of delusion that the audience has returned this year.

Angels 88 was your first big gig. It never got on the air…

Yeah, and it won’t die, either. I’m being a little rude, because in fact, had it not been for getting extremely lucky and being cast in that, I don’t think I ever would have found myself this far west of the Mississippi. It brought me to Hollywood–and I’m sorry it didn’t get made, because it was a very funny script.

4a-5594557 Then came Flying Blind. How did you feel when that got canceled?

I figured it was because of me. At the end of the day, you think, “If I’d been more appealing or funnier…anything.” I learned it’s a bit of a crapshoot. I didn’t handle that whole thing well

And then there were some movies. After Bad Boys, why didn’t you pursue a movie career?

I enjoy doing films, but I really do get a kick out of sitcoms. It’s like Christmas every Sunday when you get a new script, and you have to know this character inside and out–because I don’t. And God knows I’ve no idea what’s being thrown at me every week. I don’t think I’ll pursue movies anymore.

Are you happy with your new job on the Comet–and more important, your new “editor,” George Wendt?

I wanna make sure that George stays happy. He’s a tremendous asset to the show, an absolute sweetheart. And if you’ve ever talked to him, he tells the nastiest jokes. Maybe it’s from 11 years hanging around a bar.

4b-1329276 How do you feel about the real tabloids? Oh, boy. I haven’t been in the tabloids before, so I get a kick out of them. But my mind’s not made up yet. Stay tuned.

Tell me why you went globe-trotting before getting into show business.

The world is a pretty big place. I did odd things. I went to Tokyo because I didn’t know anything about Japan and thought how ignorant that was. Then I went to St. Croix because I always thought living on an island would be a good idea. And if it wasn’t, I wanted to know about it, so I wouldn’t be fantasizing about it for the rest of my life.

And did it work?

I got over it–and then I lived in Italy for a while, because, you know, I’m Italian somewhat and thought I ought to know about it.”

How are you coping now with being a hot property?

I think it’s odd that the show has been promoted with the name Téa Leoni. That’s somewhat unnerving. I’m not used to it. I certainly understand their investment and enthusiasm, but I might not be the most relaxed son of a bitch doing it, you know?