7 mins read

Leoni Online: The Articles — Parade Magazine

Tea Leoni was swept away when she married David Duchovny. But she had yet to learn how they would handle the biggest crisis of their lives together.

‘Whatever Happens, Let’s Not Give Up’
by Tom Seligson

“When I was young, I thought if you get married, your life automatically turns out right,” said the actress Tea Leoni. “I thought my partner and I were going to be superheroes together and take on the world. That’s how I’d always seen my parents. So, when I got divorced, it hit me as a terrible failure. Why wasn’t I able to pull it off, if they could?”

Children whose parents get divorced often have a difficult time staying married themselves. Tea Leoni had the opposite problem – parents whose marriage seemed too good to be true. When her first marriage ended, she was reluctant to try again. Instead, she focused on work, appearing in such films as Bad Boys and Flirting with Disaster, and in two TV series: the short-lived Flying Blind and The Naked Truth, which ran three years.

Then, in 1997, she married David Duchovny, the star of The X-Files. They have a daughter, Madelaine West, now 2 years old. Marriage and family seem to have helped Leoni’s career. Last year, she starred in The Family Man. She recently completed People I Know, opposite Al Pacino, and soon will be seen running from dinosaurs in Jurassic Park III. Much of Leoni’s newfound confidence as an actress, she said recently, comes from what she has learned this time around as a wife and mother.

Leoni, 35, grew up in Manhattan. Her father is a lawyer, her mother a nutritionist, and she has an older brother. She sensed early on that her family was something special. “I’ve always been aware that my parents have an incredible marriage,” she said. “I can even remember being jealous as a child. They were always doing things together, playing tennis and going running. They thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. And they were always holding hands or kissing. I never saw either one show the other any disrespect. It was great to be around them. I only had one other friend whose parents seemed happily married. What I had was beyond charmed.” Though acting ran in the family – her grandmother had been a silent movie actress in the ’20s – becoming a performer was the farthest thing from her mind. “I wanted to be a lawyer, like my father, and make him proud,” she said.

Leoni attended Sarah Lawrence College but dropped out, hoping to find herself. She was traveling and taking odd jobs when, on a dare, she went to an audition for a sequel to the TV series Charlie’s Angels. “I found my imagination getting lit up. I felt like I was painting a picture, and without any paint. It made me feel powerful and clever.”

She beat out thousands of actresses for the role. Though the series was never made, Leoni became hooked on acting. She found work in minor films and on the soap opera Santa Barbara. Then she was cast in A League of Their Own. “When I got to be around Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell, I gained a kind of odd confidence,” she said. “It was no longer just that I wanted to do this. I now knew I *could* do it.”

It was a turning point in her private life as well. Leoni was 25 and had just married Neil Tardio, Jr., a commercial director. “We hoped to create this extraordinary bond together,” she said. “The problem is we were just too young, and we weren’t right for each other. We stayed married less than two years. It wasn’t a distasteful break- up. Still, I was really shaken up by the divorce. I decided I was never going to do it again until I came up with a good reason. I don’t think I ever came up with a good reason. I just met David.”

David, of course, is David Duchovny. He was given her number by their mutual agent. “He was so intelligent and charming over the phone, I said maybe we should have a date,” she recalled. “Frankly, I knew after that first date. It’s that thing – you just know when you know. He called again immediately, and he called all day, and he called the whole next week. We found overselves in a classic whirlwind romance. We’re still in it.”

Leoni and Duchovny were married in 1997, four months after they met. “Neither of us is deluded enough to think that every morning we’ll wake up in love,” she said. “We very well may, but if we don’t, neither of us would panic. I remember saying to David, ‘Whatever happens, let’s not give up. Let’s not quit.'”

Their biggest challenge occurred when their daughter was only 9 months old. What seemed like a cold became progressively worse. She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed both double pneumonia and a respiratory virus. “West developed an allergic reaction to the drug they gave her,” Leoni said. “For a couple of days, we didn’t know if she was going to make it.”

West ultimately made a complete recovery, but the impact of the near- tragedy lingers. “This was the worst experience in my life,” Leoni said. “But David and I learned a lot from it. We realized how well we worked together. We encouraged each other’s strengths and supported each other’s weaknesses. I stayed beside West’s hospital bed the entire time, so I was exhausted. What I needed from David was to take care of himself, be rested, then come back and help. He was an incredible rock for me.”

The ordeal has given Leoni a new perspective on everything. “As an actress, I feel invincible,” she explained. “What’s the worst thing someone can say about me? That I did a lousy job? That I looked terrible? How can that hurt me anymore, considering what I almost lost?”

And any doubts about her success as a wife and mother have been put to rest. “My mother said that in all the years of my life and my brother’s life, she’d never faced the possibility that one of us would not survive,” Leoni said.

“She told me, ‘You have arrived into a depth of marriage and motherhood that most women will never know.’ In a way, that was very encouraging. My mother has always been my role model. And she was telling me that I was doing it right.”