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Leoni Online: The Articles — The Trouble with Tťa

Accent on “e” in her three-letter first name Ė as in Tťa Leoni.

Thatís not the only thing “unusual” about her (as my research has shown). Tťa is also considered a “rebel” in Hollywood, very unconventional like her favorite actress Katharine Hepburn. A magazine writer said that Tťa would never win the Miss Manners trophy because of her “colorful” language.

And thatís the “trouble” with Tťa, 35, married to X-Files star David Duchovny, 40, by whom she has a two-year-old daughter, Madelaine West. Her being “casual” and, thatís it, “colorful” are what endear her to many people, including the dozens of entertainment journalists from all over the world who had an enjoyable round-table interview with her (and her co-stars, including Sam Neill) during last weekís press junket for Universal Picturesí Jurassic Park III right inside the Universal Studios in L.A.

In the movie (coming after Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park), directed by Jon Johnston and again produced by the Steven Spielberg, Tťa plays the mother of a kid (played by Trevor Morgan who was with Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense) who gets lost on Isla Sorna during a parasailing accident, prompting Tťa and her estranged husband (William H. Macy) to explore the forbidden island (with Sam Neill again as Dr. Alan Grant, the paleontologist as reluctant guide), only to come face-to-face with íem dinosaurs led this time by a new superstar named Spinosaurus (who engages T-rex in a fierce tooth-for-tooth fight).

Of course, you, too, love Tťa in her past films, such as The Family Man (with Nicolas Cage), People I KNow (with Al Pacino and Kim Basinger), Deep Impact (with Vanessa Redgrave and Morgan Freeman), the comedy Flirting with Disaster (with, among others, Ben Stiller of Thereís Something About Mary fame) and many others.

Born Elizabeth Tťa Pantieoni on Feb. 25, 1966, in New York City, Tťa has an impressive pedigree, including an intellectual upbringing (along with her brother Tom) by a corporate lawyer father and a nutritionist mother on Manhattanís tony Upper East Side, having her early education at the exlcusive all-girls Brearley School.

Her “upper crust” pre-Hollywood life was all over Tťaís personality when she walked into the huge tent inside Stage 6 of the Universal Studios, greeting everybody with a big smile and a “Hi!” Her warmth and friendliness set the right tone for the free-wheeling interview.

How was it working with dinosaurs compared to human actors?

“Oddly, they are similar. I think probably 10 years ago, I would say that I much prefer working with humans for a whole slew of reasons. These puppets, as they are called, are so life-like now that you get responses from them. A great part of acting is reacting. They give you quite a bit to react to, so it isnít the same but just as thrilling at times.”

I understand that this is your most physical role so far. You got bruises and cuts from all the running and chasing. How much fun did you have working on this movie?

“You know, we set out not to make the third one but to make the best one. And I think that we all understood that we would be literally throwing ourselves into the spittoon. And you got to make like a kid again, and rough-and-tumble in the dirt. So I actually thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Thatís the fun part. What about the scariest part?

“For me, I think it was the waterwork. It was a rather extensive scene (in a lake).”

When you were inside the cage, submerged in the water?

“Yes, thatís right. I didnít like that very much.”

Do you have hydrophobia or something?

“You know, Iím very comfortable in the water. I spend lots of time in the water. Iím a diver, a scuba diver. But I think whatís tricky when youíre working like this underwater, on the one hand you have eight men with scuba gear ready to come and save you at any moment. But on the other hand, youíre acting terrified and itís very difficult to sort of feel secure and calm enough to be working in the water when youíre doing like this (trying to struggle out of the cage), screaming for your life. So I donít want to ever do that again.”

Must be really hardÖ you trying to concentrate on your acting and worried about your safetyÖ your life!

“Exactly! Although it made it very easy because once you begin to panic over what you are physically and literally doing in the water, it did actually match very well the terror that we were playing.”

(At this point, director Johnston was passing by, making a loud sound of foul-air emission, obviously a joke on the Jurassic set.)

“Thatís my director!” (Deadpan) “You just heard how very serious he is. Very serious!”

Very, very serious! Obviously!

“Yes, yes. Itís actually a running gag which we throw around each other.”

I know, I know!

“Thatís two points for Joe there because Iím lost. Oh, yes, where are we?”

Well, how did David react to your going home with all those bruises and cuts?

“He was very sweet about it, willing to suggest certain relief. He has had plenty of similar experiences in his own career Ė you know, cuts and bruises and what not Ė and other times he would protectively ask me why on earth I was doing it and why I didnít ask a stunt Ďdoubleí to do it for me. But you know, we were all in there to make this the best that we could. I mean, we were in there to make the best one.”

Yes, why take all the risks?

“Why am I doing it? I would say because Iím turning into a child (breaking into childish laughter).”

A child having a lot of fun. Do you think David will like the movie?

“Oh, yeah, he will. Absolutely! David will love it! David is also like a child. Heís fond of paleontology. Heís an avid dinosaur fan and quite knowledgeable about these creatures.”

How do you feel about the change of pace, from drama (Family Man) to adventure (Jurassic Park)?

“I welcome the change. Itís something I havenít done absolutely before Ė you know, non-stop action, almost one hour and 30 minutes. But I didnít seek it out. I think I was seduced into this. This is a role that I really wanted to play. Iíve yet to do anything this intense and Iím not sure I ever will. I donít care if itís the third in a franchise. As a mother, the idea that I would ever unwillingly be separated from my child is absolutely my new No. 1 nightmare.”

You must really love the role to have allowed yourself to be Ė yes, unwillingly Ė separated from your child.

“When they told me that Sam Neill would be returning and who else were coming in, all incredible actors Ė with Joe Johnston as director Ė I thought, ĎOh, my God, the studio is up to something!í ĎCause they could have dumped anybody in there, take out some of the dinosaurs out of the closet and sell just as many tickets and toys and caps. They were up to something. I think we all recognized that, as Iíve said, we were out to make the best one and not just the third one.”

Being adventurous by nature, you must have enjoyed doing the movie.

“I did, I did! Iíve got a little macho streak, a tomboy streak, but if I hadnít been such a moron I would have gone to the gym and gotten in shape and suffered less every morning. ButÖ live and learn.”

David himself was doing a movie (Evolution) that had something to do with dinosaurs. Did you compare notes?

“No, not much. Oh, yes, but we did compare wounds and I think I beat him on that score. I won! And having actually seen my backside, I donít think David will disagree with me. But that we were both doing this surreal movie setsÖ Well, I must say that Davidís film was much different.”

How is it being Mrs. David Duchovny?

“Oh, itís quite wonderful, thank you! Itís great. I have no complaint. Occasionally, I would prefer that he trim his toenails somewhere else, take out the trash maybe a couple of times more often. Beyond that, I donít have any complaint. None at all.”

Isnít there any professional jealousy between you, such as what often happens among movie couples?

“I donít know if that really happens among most showbiz couples. I think that (professional jealousy rearing its ugly head) happens after something else has already happened. First of all, Iím a woman and heís a man, so weíre not up for the same role. We sleep in the same bed; whatís good for the gander is good for the goose. If we have movies that do well or not, we share it. Itís funny because Iíve heard that quite a bit and I think that at the moment that the couple is blaming Hollywood or the pressures of Hollywood for the collapse of their marriage… I have a very good guess that something else has happened before that.”

What do you and David have in common?

“We have a lot in common but we have different styles in executing what we have in common. I think we both have a healthy sense of humor and we are willing to pull it out at sometime that people might think an appropriate moment. Weíre not really into going out very much; weíd rather stay home. I mean, we get a kick out of each other, a grand kick out of each other, so weíre never bored Saturday nights.” (Pauses and smiles) “Oh, I donít mean to go into personal details but…”

Oh, no, you donít have to!

(Clears throat) “…I probably think weíve to… you know… But David recently confessed to me that he hates that Ďf_____gí sport, if thatís a polite way of saying that Ė you know, f-blank-blank-blank-ing,” (Deadpanning again) “My mother actually told me to keep it under wraps, but there it is… I just spilled the beans!”

What about sports? Outdoor sports, I mean. What sort do you go for?

“David doesnít love golf like I love golf. We are both easy people and Iím sure and happy to report that we are both rational which is ironic maybe in our profession and to our creative itches, but we are really very rational people. I think that first and foremost that seems to be very much responsible for some of the easy relationship.”

How do you keep a balance between being an actress and being a mother and a wife?

“I donít know; I really donít. I wake up in the morning. If I had a method for it that I am sure works… I do it everyday and stick to it and it doesnít work out that way. In fact, being a mother, you canít; and being a wife, you canít. You sort of have to be committed to being malleable. My daughter comes with me when I work; that makes things easy. David and I try to keep our time apart from each other to a very small minimum and everything else it is literally you swing your feet out of the bed every morning and get up and… do it!”

How many more children do you plan or want to have?

“Oh, I donít care. Six or whatever. Or one is enough. Spoken like a mother of one. I donít know. I thought I would have wanted one of each Ė you know, one boy and one girl. I even thought I wanted a son first, probably because I have an older brother. Come to think of it, I have absolutely no preference Ė just as long as my child, or children, are healthy.”

Being a strong woman, how are you similar to Amanda, your character in Jurassic Park?

“I donít think Amanda is such a strong woman. I never intended to make her strong from the beginning. I think in her hometown sheís not. I donít think that sheís not very responsible for the break-up of her marriage. But sheís a mother, unwillingly separated from her child. Youíve never met bravery and strength like you have when youíve met a mother whoís faced with that dilemma. I know that first hand. We went through a time when our daughterís life was in danger; we almost lost her to an illness. You would have thought I was the bravest woman in the world if you saw me during that time. But Iím not, either.”

Are you over-protective as a mother? Do you spoil your daughter, she being an only child?

“I donít think thereís a mother who can answer truthfully Ďnoí to those questions. We mothers all are Ė you know, over-protective toward our child(ren). But I donít know about spoiling. But I sure kiss her a lot. There must be a culture or an idea where maybe I kiss her too much. But I donít care. I want to kiss her too much, anyway.”

Have you ever thought of not having another baby because it might cost you a movie?

“No. I donít care if they kick me out like they almost did when I had my daughter. But itís okay. If Iím not good enough then I shouldnít come back anyway.”

Do you feel more at home in comedy than in drama?

“No, itís not a question of being at home. You canít help but love making the laughter. I mean, thatís such a high.”

Are you, as they say, a comedienne in real life?

“No. I donít know. I mean, Iím not clownish. Physically, I might be but I donít behave that way. Mostly, I swear to you that it comes right down to whatís the role, who am I working with, whoís the captain and how well I can express the role, given what it is. Just like in Jurassic Park. I play an incredible role with an incredible cast, with an incredible director and an incredible story. I tell you, this movie is insane! Itís completely different from the first two.”

Going back to your daughter… Are you bringing her up the way you were brought up by your parents?

“Yes, I think in many ways. I think parenting progresses and changes, so I have my present life to influence and present circumstances to alter it. But I think my parents gave me a lot of confidence to try new things. I donít know how I can say that they were responsible for that or how they did it exactly but Iíve always felt ready to go for another adventure and I hope that I can give that to my daughter. I want her to feel that freedom.”

You once guested on X-Files. Arenít you and David doing any project together soon?

“I hope we could, soon. But not in a romantic movie. I donít ever want to look into Davidís eyes and tell him a white lie with somebody elseís words especially. I canít wait for him to write something and to direct me again. You know, Iím in this great position, Iím in bed with him. When he writes a role, he may prefer a better or different talent and frankly I will get the job. Iím in a unique position that way.”

Is it true that Katharine Hepburn is your role model, that youíre also a non-conformist like her?

“Yes, sheís my favorite actress, absolutely! I think because thereís nobody like her. I mean, she pulled off an extraordinary feat. Nobody could really imitate her. She is unique. She was brilliant in The Philadelphia Story, my favorite Hepburn movie, wasnít she?”

How would you describe Tťa Leoni in three words using the letters in your first name?

“Let me see.” (Thinks long and hard). “T… Iím not necessarily thrilling… somewhat titillating, not a tease. Neither am I thunderous, nor tenuous. Oh, yes, Tasty!… E as in Earnest. Thatís it, Iím earnest… And A… Let me see… Altruistic? Amiable? Oh, yes, I think Iím Aerodynamic. Thatís it, Aerodynamic!!!”