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Leoni Online: The Articles — Hello Magazine

She hasn’t kept score in three years — to the relief of her playing partners’ morale Text by Ray Rogers Photography by Art Streiber

She’s an effortless comedic talent and a universally hailed dramatic actress, but Téa Leoni isn’t just a powerful presence on the big screen – she also knows how to make an entrance on the golf course, where it turns out she’s also a natural, even in her current condition. Five months pregnant with her and husband David Duchovny’s second child, the leading lady of such diverse films as Jurassic Park III, The Family Man, and Flirting With Disaster laughs as she sets up the scene.

“I look like a waddling penguin coming up to the tee box, and for that reason I don’t look like I’ll be very deft. I can hear the groans and moans of the carts behind me when I get up on the first tee, ‘Oh God! We’re stuck behind this big whale of a woman!?’ And then, “Kaboom! I’ll smack-daddy that ball like 220 yards. Those are good moments.” Wowing the guys on the links is nothing new for Leoni. A strong hitter, she usually plays off the whites rather than the reds. “My 7-iron goes 125 yards, and my driver goes 190. I could play off any hole with my 7-iron and get there in the same number of strokes as my driver.” And when she has played in charity tournaments in the past, she has often found herself in foursomes with three guys who’ve forked up serious money to golf with a celeb. It’s times like these that she’s gone from being “sexy fodder” to a threat to their masculinity: “Once we started playing and we were using more of my drives, you get this thing: guys don’t like to be out-shot in golf.” It’s much less clear on, say the tennis court, where maybe she’s a more talented player in terms of placement or she’s faster on the court, “But the thing with golf, that’s just penis size right there. It’s just how far you hit the damn thing out of the box.”

Leoni first discovered her strength on the course when her cult TV show The Naked Truth was hitting some rocky time in 1998. “There were a lot of business meetings taking place on the course, and it seemed very much a missed opportunity to be left behind at the clubhouse while people were going out and having discussions about the fate of show without me,” she recalls. “It was then that I found I had a certain natural ability for golf.”

She also fell head over heels in love with the game. “I enjoy golf the way a surfer enjoys surfing. It’s just those perfect waves and those perfect holds and those perfect swings,” she coos. “If you ‘pure’ one, its one of the greatest feelings for an athlete. There’s so much more to it than sport, there’s finesse and there’s attitude. It’s a total mental game.” Mark Twain, who called the sport “a good walk spoiled,” had it all wrong as far as Leoni is concerned, “It’s a great feeling to go out and spend five or six hours in absolute quiet, where there’s nothing jerky or sudden, and no time concerns. It’s all about swinging it easy.” And the swinging did come very easy for the 35 year old Leoni – almost from the start. She admits to a few awkward swings before hitting her first good swing. Growing up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, she had her first taste of gold at age seven. Nothing momentous, she reports, “no broken windows or anything like that.” Her second time out came later in her early twenties, and it left her shaking like Wile E. Coyote. “I remember experiencing these cartoonish reverberations that shake your entire body and your teeth after you hit something with a rather conductive mallet, as a golf club can be. That was in the middle of my first marriage: Not very memorable – the swing or the marriage.”

Born Golfer

The first swing that worked came at age 29, in Hawaii. Leoni was on vacation, just chilling and windsurfing, “I remember it was a 7-iron and I pured it. I think I pured it about 170 yards, and I thought ‘Oh my goodness! This will be great fun.'”

Golfing became such an integral part of her life that she wouldn’t even consider going on a date with someone who did not golf. When her agent tried to fix her up with her now-husband David Duchovny, Leoni told him to have the X-Files star (and golf novice) call her when he broke 100, “He called me before that, I’ll just tell you. And I’m very glad he didn’t wait!” she laughs now.

The pair, who wed in 1997, reside in LA with their two and a half year old daughter Madelaine West. After almost five years of marriage, has David learned to love the sport? “More accurately, David has learned to loathe the sport,” she cracks. “He’s out there more times than I am, angrily beating away at it. I think it’s the most frustrating obstacle he’s ever come across… because David is an incredibly talented, coordinated, gifted athlete. And then there’s golf – over there. It’s just different.” A compatible due in most areas of life, Leoni and Duchovny aren’t exactly cut out as golf partners. “Truthfully, we’ve had moments when we’ve finished golfing, and I’ve said, ‘You. . .you. . .you go find a new partner. Because you get so sour, and that’s just not fun.'” She’s not immune to golf woes herself. “The swearing should be quiet. It will happen,” she says in a stage whisper, for effect. Though she’s never had a full on tantrum on the course, she does admit to turning foul to the immediate threesome around her, “That’s happened when my game leaves. Everybody – no matter how good you are – a day comes when your game just packs its own bag and walks out on you, and you have no idea what you’ve done wrong. It’s like being left by a lover. And then everybody around you gives advice like ‘Well you know, you’re lifting your head… you’re not really turning your hands right…’ At which point you want to take the remaining clubs that your game left behind and ram them down the throats of your playing partners.”

It’s moments like those that have inspired golf fantasies in her professional career. Although she goes months on end without teeing off while she’s filming, golf is never far from her mind. Last year, while filming Jurassic Park III, Leoni hit upon her ultimate action-thriller fantasy. “When you see these action movies, they always pull something weird out of their bag. I thought, ‘You could do such damage with a 2-iron.’ It would be interesting for ten or 20 seconds before the person actually got eaten.”

Even though she can’t get on the course as often as she’d like, Leoni is in love with the game. At one point, she fantasized about joining the LPGA, leaving Hollywood for the green grass of the course. “There was a time when I was younger and enjoying my career less and golf more. And I thought maybe I’d be better suited to the LPGA.”

At the time, her TV show was coming apart at the seams, and self-doubt was abounding. It’s a feeling she taps into on her forthcoming film, People I Know, co-starring Al Pacino. “I play a very confused, angry, drug-induced actress. Performance-wise, it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had. That was one of the most intense experiences because it was such a dark character. I’ve never played in a piece this dark before. I thought I can go right into my own somewhat recent personal history and assimilate with this character and feel what she’s going through and go through some things again myself, because I can survive that for two weeks.” Back in the final, troubled days at the tail end of The Naked Truth, she felt misunderstood, angry and unsatisfied. “The character actually took drugs, I just dreamed of them,” she deadpans.

“What I’m really happy about is that I’ve found I’m on a bit of a roll in my career. It started around the time that I did The Family Man. I don’t know if it’s because it coincided with the birth of my daughter and all of the changes that happen in your head and your heart when that happens, but I love my work and I never did before.”

Golf and Family

She’s thrilled about her current projects, particularly her upcoming role in Woody Allen’s’ Hollywood Endings, which marks a return to Leoni’s neurotic comic roots that began with her star-making turn opposite Ben Stiller in Flirting with Disaster. “If I only did Woody Allen projects for the rest of my career I would definitely be flushing down the toilet any sort of craft I’ve worked for, but on the other hand, ironically, I would be totally satisfied,” she gushes. “Now I just think the LPGA is doing a well-oiled machine without me, and probably many more spectators have many less bumps on their foreheads without me there.” Besides, Leoni doesn’t play “regulation” golf anyway. She hasn’t filled out a score card in about three years – though she is thankful for the little pencils that come with the game. “Since I’m not going to be keeping score anyway, I do sometimes fill in my eyebrows with it. It makes me appear tougher, stronger. And then I usually steal it,” she cracks.

“It’s funny, because you do get in a cart with some people, and the thought of not filling out a score card?! That’s like going to Vegas and not betting – what’s the point? I don’t come from that ilk. My father, bless his heart, when I tell him I’m not going to keep score, I see this strange pallor come across his face. Then if we play, I can see his lips moving, at each hole – he’s tallying it up. He can’t resist it. I’m trying to teach him the LA sort of la-la land golf. ‘We just let it go Dad.'” Golfing with Dad is a new experience for Leoni, though the family did play tennis together while she was growing up. “The funny thing is, as a teenager on the other side of the net, basically I think my brother and I used to aim for my parents. It was really aggressive. You’d get up at the top of the net and try to smash it down you dad’s throat. And there was no talking – other than yelling out of scores. I think what a different afternoon it would be if we had played golf.”

Leoni is looking forward to hitting the links with her daughter, when she grows up. The way she figures it, it’s a safer bet for her being the mom. “I’m no dummy, I know what my intentions were and I know what my daughter’s will be. We’re gonna play golf, dammit!” she laughs. “I never grew up with the sense that golf was accessible even to kids. Today you’re seeing people younger and younger become more avidly involved. I don’t remember anyone young, especially not girls my age, encouraged to get to the golf course. It was sort of like, ‘After you get married and two and a half kids and your fourth Volvo, then maybe you’ll start golfing a bit.’ That certainly has changed, and I can’t wait to get my daughter playing. If I look in the future and think, ‘What am I really excited to do with West?’ Sitting in a cart with her, one on one for 4 or 5 hours, just shooting the breeze and talking and laughing and playing golf, that’s going to be dreamy.”