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Leoni Online: The Articles — Movieline 2000

Téa Leoni is sitting in a corner of the Allegria cafe and restaurant in Malibu sipping herbal tea. It’s a beautiful Thursday afternoon. Her hair is short and blonde, her blouse is the color of the sky outside, and she’s wearing thick gold bands around two of her fingers, a silver bracelet, a pink-faced wristwatch and two necklaces, one of jade beads and the other, a gift from her husband, David Duchovny, of precious stones. The former star of the TV sitcom “The Naked Truth” isn’t fond of doing interviews, but she’s got a film to promote, The Family Man, her first since the highly successful Deep Impact two years ago. She’s in a reflective mood when Duchovny walks in, unshaven and dressed in black pants and a white T-shirt. “Sit, sit,” Duchovny says as I stand to say hello. “I’m not staying.” “Where are you going?” his wife asks. “I’m going to get some acupuncture.” “Could you bring me home a couple of needles for my face?” “I’ll try. After that I’m going to go to yoga, then I’ll be home.” “Can you pick up food for tonight? It’s just us.” “All right, I’m going,” Duchovny says. When he’s gone she smiles at me, “That’s our exciting life.”

Lawrence Grobel: This is what you do on Saturday night?

Téa Leoni: You see it–we don’t get out much. We’re often alone and that’s perfect.

Q: Alone with your baby, that is, who is now how old?

A: Fifteen months and a week. I guess when the second one comes along you start rounding out at six-month increments.

Q: Is there a second one in the works?

A: Oh, sure. If I have my way, maybe a fourth and a fifth and a sixth. People said to me about parenthood–and you’ve heard it so many times–that it will change your life. And it does, but you have no concept of change of this magnitude.

Q: So it must have traumatic when your daughter was so ill last year.

A: You know, right after her spinal tap was clear and everyone breathed a sigh of relief, David went around the corner from the hospital and put a tattoo of her name on his ankle. He was so altered by this experience he had to go out and physically mark it.

Q: What exactly happened to her?

A: She had a respiratory virus and a double viral/bacterial pneumonia on top of that. Nobody told me, “We’ll see if she makes it through the night,” but as we were leaving the hospital, one of the doctors said, “Boy, that was quite a scare she gave us when we almost lost her.” I remember thinking, this is the first relationship I’ve ever known that will only end with my death. There’s no other way out of it. Though I have no intention of leaving other important relationships, there’s a sort of lightness of being in knowing that they could end and I could still take care of myself. But not even in her death would this relationship end. It would only end with mine. I had to sit with that one for a while.

Q: All of which you never thought about until you had her in your arms and said, “This is for real.”

A: Yeah. I was in labor for 30 hours and I thought it was great. My water broke at 3 a.m. when David was just walking in from work. He turned around and started walking back out the door, and I said, “No, no, relax, go to sleep, take a bath.” This crazy calm came over me. Talk about entering the zone. I got to pull her out and I burst into tears as she was splashing around on my stomach. That was the brightest moment in my life.

Q: Did you take pictures?

A: We said, “We’re not picture people.” Luckily our ignorance was overridden by the nurse in the room who said, “Just give me the fucking camera. You’re gonna want them later.”

Q: Let’s talk a bit about your career. David has said that if you ever find the writer and director, you’re capable of doing it all–unless you get too depressed about the business and quit first. Do you get depressed?

A: No. I get disappointed.

Q: Would you ever give it all up?

A: Yes. But I am trying this new angle, which is to have fun. I’m pretending that I can decide not to be scared. Then maybe I’ll stay a little longer.

Q: Nerves seem to be a problem for you. Didn’t you almost freeze before doing “The Tonight Show”?

A: I don’t know what it is with me and nerves. Jay Leno said something about physical comedy and balance–I don’t remember the question–and I got to “balance” and blurted out something about wax in my ears. I’d just had my ears cleaned. Oh, God, that was a disaster.

Q: Ever marvel at how cool your husband seems on those shows?

A: David channels his nerves somewhere down near his prostate. In almost a reverse psychology reaction to nervousness, he becomes the coolest cucumber. And his wit is not delayed by a moment.

Q: What help did David need from you when he was on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”?

A: Let me go on the record and explain what happened. The phone rings and just at that moment I become aware that millions of people are hearing my voice without my body to defend me. I hear Regis talking. Then I hear David, which makes me very excited, because he’s in New York and I’m missing him. I know smartpants has gotten in the hot seat early, which means he’s coming home that night. Then Regis says, “The next voice you’ll hear,” and I almost pee my pants. This well of nerves comes up. So David begins the question: “What cathedral in Italy is known as the Duomo?” I didn’t hear the rest because I know the answer. I was so sure it was Milan that I wondered if I should just blurt it out and not even let him do A, B, C, D. But I waited: “A: Sienna, B: Florence, C: Rome, D: Naples.” And it was like hitting a wall. I’m thinking: Where’s Milan? Then I realize I don’t remember the question because I stopped listening. And the next thing I know it’s over, I’m cut off. I can hear them on the phone, people are laughing, David is probably white, but he guesses and he gets it. What a punk! But you just don’t realize how nervous you get. David told me he would never call me again. I won’t be one of his lifelines. Oh well.

Q: Let’s talk about your new film, The Family Man. Does it work for you?

A: There were times when I thought, “This is going to be a tough sell.” This rich young stud investment banker has Amber Valletta and he’s supposed to be better off with me, a woman with kids and a minivan in Jersey? But partly from having gone through nearly losing my child, and partly from waking up every morning with David, I now think it is a better choice. Maybe I’m getting conservative. Still, I don’t drive a minivan and I never will, I swear to God. That’s one thing I will say never about: never, ever. I want nothing to do with the American Dream, and the minivan is there to answer the call of the American Dream

Q: What do you drive?

A: A Dodge pickup truck.

Q: What was Brett Ratner’s contribution as director on The Family Man?

A: It’s the first time I’d ever worked with a director younger than I am. Hated that. When you first deal with him, you might think he has to be full of shit. He has such incredible enthusiasm, you think there can’t be sincerity behind this kind of speed. But, by golly, there is.

Q: Did you give him anything when the film ended?

A: He’d shared his very young ideas about what was attractive in women–which didn’t seem very far from the 36-24-36 concept–so as a parting gift I sent him a whole stack of pornography. Good pornography, books from 1800.

Q: How did you know about these books?

A: I learned about them because I was trying to figure out how I could make my point with him. I also sent him Porkey’s on DVD, because he’d once mentioned he used to masturbate to that in high school and I figured his copy was probably worn out.

Q: You went to Sarah Lawrence for two years and then passed up an opportunity to transfer to Harvard and ended up going to Hollywood. Any regrets?

A: None.

Q: You were leaning towards anthropology and psychology–how strong were your interests there?

A: I got an A on a paper and it was so easy I thought, “Okay, if I’m good at this then I guess that’s what I’m going to do.” It was my dad who interrupted me and said, “Before you make that decision, I want you to go to a cocktail party with a bunch of anthropologists, and then you tell me if that’s still what you want to do.”

Q: He was a lawyer, right?

A: Yeah. I’m from a lawyer family that’s half-Polish, half-Italian, so I know all the jokes.

Q: So you traveled for a while and come to L.A. in 1988 for a re-make of “Charlie’s Angels.” That project never happened but you got paid not to work. Pretty good gig?

A: An excellent gig. Still, today, my best gig ever (laughs). I think in the end I made around $80,000.

Q: When did you get your TV show “The Naked Truth”?

A: We started in with that in ’96, I think. I ate, drank and slept “The Naked Truth.”

Q: In your first film role, you appeared with some heavy-duty women in A League of Their Own. What did you get out of it?

A: It’s where I thought for the first time, I can do this.

Q: Then came Wyatt Earp. How attractive was Kevin Costner?

A: He’s a movie star. I enjoyed getting a chance to be with Larry Kasdan, though.

Q: Bad Boys with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence wasn’t exactly a great step forward in your career.

A: Bad Boys was a really hard experience. It was in Miami–not my type of weather or scenery–and physically I was like a rag doll being slammed around.

Q: Is it something you’re embarrassed to have done?

A: No, because Will and Martin did a great job. They elevated my chickdom in that movie. I still can’t believe how short my skirts were, but as I get older I’m appreciative that those legs got documented.

Q: How was it to be thrown through plate-glass windows?

A: I ended up in the hospital at one point. But the plate-glass window wasn’t so bad–it was the AK-47 under the jaw that got me. I wasn’t on proper mark when the stunt guy hit me with it. My legs went over my head and I landed flat on my back. Didn’t have much memory at that point. The director, Michael Bay, freaked out, saying, “Holy shit, holy shit! What if she can’t finish the movie?” And I started to cry because I’d never thought that the chill of Hollywood would be so close in my face.

Q: How important for you was the next film, Flirting With Disaster?

A: After Bad Boys I was ready to call it quits. Very ready. I’d gone to Cape Cod on the off-season, when it was like a ghost town, and I was there with my dog drinking beer at night. Not a good sign. Flirting With Disaster restored and renewed my hope and interest in this field.

Q: Were you surprised at the success of Deep Impact?

A: No, a huge comet has serious star power. I suspected that would work.

Q: Before David, you had a few serious relationships that didn’t work out. How hard is it to find the right partner?

A: The hardest part about it is that nine times out of 10 I was looking for the wrong thing, barking at the wrong tree, chasing the wrong tomcat.

Q: How old were you when you first got married?

A: 24.

Q: How long did that last?

A: Not quite two years.

Q: When did you know it wasn’t meant to be?

A: I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by revisiting that.

Q: How did you deal with being called a “home wrecker” when you got involved with “The Naked Truth”‘s creator, Chris Thompson, who left his marriage for you?

A: Maybe the ugliest thing I could do is to go back and say, “That’s not really what was going on,” and correct it. It’s better that I take my licks and accept whatever darning I’ll get for whatever it’s perceived that I did. I don’t have any regrets.

Q: Thompson once described you as a “dirty Disney character.” Was that a compliment?

A: I think it is.

Q: David says that when you first met, at an audition for “The Tonight Show,” you turned it up a notch when the producer arrived, but that you hate him telling that story because it makes you look like some showbiz All About Eve. Is it a true story?

A: I don’t think I turned it up a notch. I don’t remember even meeting him at the restaurant beforehand. I was nervous. It was completely barbaric to have to be interesting enough to get on the show. Then they added another person at the meeting. What were they doing, getting a deal on a lunch? The show couldn’t afford to sit us at two different tables? I was also married at that time, so I was not looking at him.

Q: When you first started dating, did you have many romantic interludes?

A: David and I had one of our more memorable weekends on Vancouver Island. We took a plane, then rented a car and drove 40 minutes. It was early on in our relationship so we were in that mad-for-each-other stage, where the clothes didn’t stay on for more than a part of a meal. We went on beautiful hikes, too.

Q: Has David turned out to be the sex addict he was hyped to be?

A: I had not read that until after we were married. By then I had such an intimate carnal knowledge of David that I thought it was bizarre that someone would ask me if I’d heard this. What am I to do with that information? Refute it? Embrace it? I’m the one with David. I got him. We’re sleeping together. ‘Nuf said.

Q: You kept your marriage a secret form everyone but your shrink, your lawyer and your gynecologist. Besides David and your family, are these the three most important people in your life?

A: No, but there were specific reasons why each needed to know. My gynecologist because honeymoon cystitis was suspected even before the marriage.

Q: What is honeymoon cystitis?

A: When you’ve been going at it a bit too much you can get a cyst on your cervix. I told my psychiatrist because I knew she couldn’t tell anybody else. The lawyer needed to know because I wanted David to sign a prenuptial (laughs).

Q: How would you describe David?

A: Brilliant, coy, better with long hair, live, hysterical. I would put him at the top of my list as my best friend.

Q: He says you’re the one who handles the money and knows what to do with it. True?

A: Yeah. He’s totally uninterested in it.

Q: Had you seen “The X-Files” before you went out with David?

A: Not to my recollection. I do remember thinking once, when they were nominated for a Golden Globe, What’s this show? Chasing aliens? Oh, please.

Q: Have you seen most of the episodes by now?

A: Pretty much. And I love them, and I love to watch David work.

Q: Did you like the X-Files movie?

A: David makes a great super-hero and I like him even better on the big screen. I wanted him to save me.

Q: Has he?

A: No. I mean, the romantic answer would be to say yes, but neither of us needed saving, so it’s even nicer.

Q: Are you impressed with David’s skills at writing and directing?

A: Yes. I get such a kick out of his writing. My faith in award shows cascaded after David wasn’t nominated for the two shows he wrote. I’m the wife, I know, but how could David’s first episode, the baseball one, not be nominated for writing? It was appalling.

Q: Who’s smarter, you or David?

A: David. But psychologically I’m smarter, so I can play with his head. I just love getting inside that brain of his. It’s a fun place to knock around.

Q: What’s your take on his relationship with Gillian Anderson?

A: It’s complicated. It rivals some sibling relationships I’ve seen. And some married couples I’ve seen.

Q: Did David rent a sound studio with musicians for your birthday?

A: I’d been having a bad thought for a long time–the thought that I had no voice. Some music teacher told me in the third grade that I had no voice, because my voice was too low. I didn’t sing any more–and truthfully, it would have been my dream. I told David about that.

Q: David also gave you a painting, didn’t he?

A: Yes. He got a friend of ours to do it. There’s a quote from a poem he wrote me at the base of the painting. He’s very good at gifts, this boy.

Q: What did you get him for his 40th birthday?

A: A 1957 220S convertible Mercedes, a designer watch and a surprise party. I wanted to get him a 1971 Cabriolet, but they’re so expensive and the people who have them don’t like to let them go. David is a good driver but I don’t think it’s wise to put him in a $130,000 car. He’s a true New Yorker–he only started driving when he was 27.

Q: You went to a number of privileged schools. Will you put your children in private or public schools?

A: Given the state of California public schools, I’d put them in private schools. We can afford it. I’m not going to play with my child’s mind or education to make some sort of political statement. I think David and I will probably move back to New York to get access to certain schools. I can’t imagine sticking my daughter in a car on the Pacific Coast Highway, the most dangerous highway in America, twice a day for umpteen years to get to a school. We grew up in New York, and there’s something terribly important about seasonal changes, about your not being the biggest thing–your activities and choices are going to be made for you by this earth.

Q: When did you get the nickname Sarah Bernhardt?

A: That’s from my grandmother. Once, when I was being sent to my room, I grabbed a piece of furniture. She was an actress. I think she knew Sarah.

Q: How well-known was your grandmother?

A: She did fairly well for that time, 1927. I’m trying to get a copy of a film that she did where she had top billing, over Clara Bow. But she left at age 28 disgusted with the business.

Q: And got involved with the founding of UNICEF?

A: Yes.

Q: When did she die?

A: She died in 1987, when I was 20. Oh, that was bad. I really wanted her to see what I was going to do. For her I wish I’d known. But I didn’t.

Q: Don’t you wear a certain pearl choker that was hers?

A: Yeah. They’re the only thing that she left marked behind for anybody, so I’m very attached to them. I’m not wearing them now because for Mother’s Day I was given this string of sapphires from David.

Q: How did you end up being named after a Tahitian friend of your father’s? Did you ever meet him?

A: My name was supposed to be Anna Lee West–my mother’s from Texas. Dad said it sounded too much like a shitkicker, so he named me Téa.

Q: You describe your mom as the most eccentric person you know. Why?

A: The closest that she’s ever come to being like anybody else is when she has silly moments where she has to say it out loud, like “Doesn’t this look neat?” And she can never stick with any of those things, because she’s so utterly and totally her own gal.

Q: What does she think of your career?

A: I think she wishes that I enjoyed it more. She hears a lot of complaints from me.

Q: Does your father feel the same way?

A: No, my father’s more blindly impressed and proud.

Q: What about your brother, Tom?

A: My brother just shakes his head and gets a kick out of it. We drag him along to our premieres and stuff because he’s Buddhist and we think it’s funny.

Q: What does he do?

A: He’s an antique dealer and lives in Ojai.

Q: How did you and your brother get along?

A: We didn’t really fight, but we sort of bitch-slapped each other. At one point, when I was about 11, I did slug him. That was the end of our physical fighting, because he had on braces and his mouth burst open with blood. I was such a tomboy–trying to be another son for my dad.

Q: Are you satisfied with your looks?

A: Yes. More so after the baby.

Q: What’s your best feature?

A: It used to be my neck.

Q: You’ve talked about your very aggressive nipples. I’ve never seen that in print before.

A: Let me tell you, they’ve been humbled by their new job.

Q: Do you think you have an odd body?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you still cut your own hair?

A: Not so much anymore. I’ve made too many irreversible mistakes.

Q: Do you smoke cigars?

A: No. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna slip up with a cigar and then want a pack of cigarettes.

Q: David has tales of smoking opium in Thailand and trying mushrooms. Do you have any good drug stories?

A: Yeah. None so interesting. I once ate a batch of moldy mushrooms and thought that all the trees in the world were growling at me, which then segued into one of the more beautiful afternoons I ever spent alone. That was up in Vermont.

Q: What’s your favorite ice cream?

A: Buttercrunch.

Q: Are you still in therapy?

A: Sure, I still check in. David and I like to go together, make sure we’re up to speed and on the same page. I’ll always dabble. In this world, where things go so fast, it’s a good idea.

Q: What’s more important: a new couch or a personal trainer?

A: Oh, God, a couch.

Q: You’re not into fashion, are you?

A: No.

Q: Do you really like to sleep in your sneakers?

A: Not anymore.

Q: But when you did, was it with a man in the same bed?

A: Yes.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I’m doing Jurassic Park III. I could enjoy it and not be so scared that I’d need to complain to keep it at a distance, I was talking to David about my hesitation, always asking if it’s the right thing to do. But what am I talking about? I’ve got this baby. I’m not just sitting there anymore. I don’t care. What are they going to do, tell me they don’t want me in their club? I don’t want to be in the club! I’m ready to have some fun.