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Leoni Online: The Articles — Ian Spelling Interview

A Day in the Park: Tea Leoni on `Jurassic Park III’ Ian Spelling c. Ian Spelling

Tea Leoni dodged bullets with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in “Bad Boys” (1995). She tried – and failed – to duck a comet in “Deep Impact” (1999). And in “Jurassic Park III” she’s chased by dinosaurs.

Now, that’s an unlucky streak.

“You know,” Leoni says, cracking up, “I figured, `What’s left?’ If I just did this I would have run from all of the biggest, worst nightmares in the world. And then I could be done – then I could die happy as an actor.’

”`Jurassic Park III’ is sort of the end of my own personal trilogy.”

Set to roar into theaters nationwide on July 18, the latest installment of the “Jurassic Park” saga casts Leoni as Amanda Kirby, who races to dino-infested Isla Sorna after a parasailing accident that leaves her boyfriend dead and her son (Trevor Morgan) stranded. Accompanying Kirby on a dangerous search-and-rescue mission are her ex-husband (William H. Macy), paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Grant’s assistant (Alessandro Nivola) and a wily mercenary (Michael Jeter).

“We didn’t have a very conclusive script at the time we began filming,” Leoni says by telephone from an office on the Universal Studios lot in Hollywood, “but what I knew at the start would remain the same throughout whatever changes were made: Amanda is a mother who has lost her son, which is my own worst nightmare, and I’m sure it’s top of the list for most mothers. That drives everything Amanda does, every move she makes.”

Leoni spent months on the Universal back lot and in Hawaii running not only from such familiar “Jurassic Park” creatures as velociraptors and a tyrannosaurus rex, but also from such newcomers as a flying pteranodon and an eight-ton, 44-foot-long, fully mobile behemoth called a spinosaurus. Still, Leoni insists that creating a flesh-and-blood character amid all the special effects and within the confines of a summer popcorn movie wasn’t all that tough.

“I don’t think popcorn or summer,” she says. “Honestly. That sounds silly, I know. Getting involved in this I was concerned that I have a real solid jumping board, and I did. A mother who has lost her child and will do anything to get that child back was my `own private Idaho’ reality. That’s all I needed. Come hell or high water – or dinosaurs, mainly – I had what I was going to do as an actor.”

To hear Leoni tell it, all involved with “Jurassic Park III” took the project and their roles seriously.

“Sam and Bill and everybody came in realizing it was our duty to make the human story strong, relatable and humorous,” she says. “Everybody also understood that there had to be a great charm, and the way we were going to bring charm to this was through humor. So there’s a good deal of humor in `Jurassic Park III.”’

So much did Leoni enjoy herself that she’s even thinking about “Jurassic Park IV.”

“My suggestion was that maybe I could start an affair with Dr. Grant,” Leoni jokes. “If he gets caught up again in this mess, I’d be at his bedside and he’d have to take me along.”

A moment later, as if on cue, a man’s voice echoes in the background.

“Sam Neill, how are you?” Leoni asks.

Neill can be heard teasing her, and then leaves.

“Talk to me when you’re not on the phone,” he says on the way out.

“Well, darling,” Leoni says, “I promise it’s a work-related call.”

She laughs and then returns to the conversation at hand.

“Sam just walked in,” she says. “I haven’t seen him in months. I can’t wait to tell him that I hope we have an affair – on screen – in the next one.”

Leoni’s career has followed a strange and twisting path to Jurassic Park. She got her big break in 1987, when she landed one of the lead roles on a proposed television series, “Angels ’88,” a “Charlie’s Angels” revamp.

Though the show never reached the airwaves – in fact, not even the pilot was ever filmed – it launched Leoni’s career. She starred in the sitcoms “Flying Blind” (1992-1993) and “The Naked Truth” (1995-1998), then segued into films, appearing in “A League of Their Own” (1992), “Bad Boys,” “Flirting with Disaster” (1996), “Deep Impact” and “Family Man” (2000).

“I don’t really miss television,” Leoni says. “I miss the people I worked with for three years on `The Naked Truth,’ and I miss the fun we had on the floor before tape night, but I don’t miss the mediocrity that I think is the bane of television.

“It’s impossible,” she says flatly. “There are very few shows that can pull it off, and it’s the death of everyone involved to come up with new ideas and scripts and have them be at the top of their game and ready for production every week.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Leoni plans to stick with film. She’ll follow “Jurassic Park III” with “People I Know,” a drama which co-stars Al Pacino and Kim Basinger, and then Woody Allen’s latest, still-untitled project, with Debra Messing and Treat Williams.

“My character’s name in the Woody Allen film begins with the letter `E,”’ she says cagily, “and I swear to God that’s all I can say. I do not want to make that man mad.

“All I know is I’ve been on the greatest roll of my career,” she says cheerfully. “I went from `Family Man’ to `Jurassic Park III’ to `People I Know’ to Woody Allen’s movie. It’s been a tremendous year, and I’ve loved every minute of it.

“I’ve never been able to say that before,” she adds. “There’s always been ups and downs and gives and takes and projects that I wasn’t crazy about. Now I’m on a roll.”

That roll carries over into Leoni’s personal life. After four years, the actress remains happily married to former “X-Files” star David Duchovny, and she can’t get enough of their 2-year-old daughter, Madelaine.

“Before you have a child,” she says, “there’s a certain amount of self-consumption and worry about your own survival and your own worth. A child comes along, and your worth receives the greatest boost in a lifetime, and the worry – hell, you don’t have any time for it.”

All in all, then, perhaps it’s just as well that her first career break went nowhere. If the fates had been less kind, today she might be gearing up for the 13th season of “Angels ’88.”

“Oh my God!” Leoni shouts, appalled at the prospect. “What a nightmare. If I had done that, if I’d even shot the pilot, my life for the following five or six years would have been completely different.

“I think that I got the best of it!”