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Leoni Online: The Articles — TNT Roughcut

If you’re like some of us at rough cut, you’d expect Téa Leoni to be unlikable. You almost want it to be that way. After all, she’s a natural star of TV and film who can play sexy with class. She’s beautiful, funny and married to David Duchovny, a man who only recently has been knocked off his perch by upstart Leonardo DiCaprio as the sexiest guy the Internet loves to talk about. She can’t be intelligent, down-to-earth and charming, too, can she? Oh, but she can; at least during the few minutes that rough cut’s Graham Verdon spoke with her about her new movie, Deep Impact, in which she stars opposite the best in the business. Self-effacing, wise-cracking and struck by her own celebrity, she honestly seems to wonder what all of the fuss is about. She obviously can’t see it through our eyes.

Téa Leoni

Did you get to work with Robert Duvall?

This film was shot like three separate films. I shot over the summer, and the day I wrapped I ran over to my “The Naked Truth” sitcom. And then they shot Elijah Wood’s story, and then they shot Robert Duvall’s story. Morgan Freeman walks through all three story lines, so I did meet Morgan. I never even laid eyes on Robert Duvall, which is frustrating. I sure would like to meet Robert Duvall, and I can’t believe I got this close to working with him! But I hope this doesn’t count: “Well, you’ve already done a movie together.” No, we haven’t! I didn’t really get a chance to see the other stories while they were being shot. It was simply too difficult with schedules and every free moment of mine was up in Vancouver this year (to see new husband David Duchovny on the set of “The X-Files.”) I will tell you that I put great trust in Mimi Leder, and I don’t regret that I did. I very much had to trust that she would keep me in the same movie. And for that matter, I hated that I went first. I guess the upside is that I helped get the tone of the movie started.

It’s rare that an action-drama movie has such a strong female central character.

I was attracted to this story before I was attracted to this character. The idea that other movies in this genre tend to take place in a long weekend: You see the disaster discovered on Friday; you try and deal with it on Saturday; and recover on Sunday. That’s not at all what this film is about. [This is about] contemplating the end of the world coming in one year and what you would do in that time, versus one weekend and what you’d do with that time. They are very different. I mean, if I had a weekend, I probably wouldn’t be stone-cold sober for most of it. I would smoke, and I would probably jump off a building Sunday morning. With a year, it’s another thought. And with this character, she’s someone in the beginning that I don’t like. I wouldn’t want to hang out with her. She’s ambitious to an extent that I have never known. She is vacant at heart, and for that I feel sorry more than dislike for her. She needs a comet in her life, and I’m glad we could provide it for her. The idea that this character has any kind of epiphany that is not premeditated and not completely in character as we know her made this woman a bit more of a hero to me, and less of a Hollywood woman role. There is a bit of a hero in her, but it’s not designed that way. Heroes are often portrayed as being above emotion. They don’t need it. They’re not weakened by it. And that this woman is crippled by it; I was curious.

What did you do to prepare for the role as a journalist?

I watched a lot of the Spank Channel…. No, I did watch a lot of local news. I knew that this character, although she had not spent time in front of the camera, I knew that was a great ambition and that she would have been watching for years now and studying. I had to figure out what to do with my hands. I had to figure out that certain cadence and delivery that news anchors have. I’m glad I thought about it, because there’s a purpose behind that rhythm. I thought what I was imitating was just (news anchors) as they got bored, the way they sound all alike, but the truth is that rhythm helps to keep the news the news and not your news. In this movie I deliver some disturbing news at times, and I had trouble balancing how far I would crack. If it were me, I’d be like, “I know, this comet, we are so screwed!” I’d be a horrible anchor, I know that now. I’d be horrible. I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut. I’d be, “This sucks. This is bad news. This isn’t even optional. This news sucks.”

Did your affiliation with the NBC sitcom have anything to do with all of the NBC in the movie?

If you’ve read any of last year’s newspapers … let’s put it this way: I wasn’t the teacher’s pet. I don’t think NBC wanted me on their network for one more moment than they had to. So, I don’t think it did help. The MSNBC (Leoni’s character plays a reporter from that online news organization) thing is like going after Coke or Pepsi for your film. Not to say they didn’t lend us more room, but it’s still in that same place. They certainly don’t have any input into the film. That’s not altogether true. They do have an input. There was a scene that they demanded. We manipulated it to work for us for the film, creatively. We are portraying their integrity, or lack thereof, and they probably had a concern about that.

Do you have a problem with that? Why an MSNBC instead of just making up a network?

I have learned in television and film that when you try and make up a celebrity or a rock star or a location, it’s never as powerful. Made-up celebrities on our sitcom, for instance. Occasionally, we couldn’t get the real guy, so we’d make up a guy; make up a pretty good celebrity name, so we thought. People don’t buy that. Audiences are a little too savvy for that. I think, given the topic of this movie and what we’re taking on, I think it would have been more distracting to take on a network name that is [supposed to be] that large and that well-known that no one has ever heard of. I think that could quiet the intention. This is something that we know, so it lends a realism that is needed. We are not out there putting our feet up on the desk with shiny new Nikes.

How was it working with Maximilian Schell? Did you learn anything from working with him?

Not that I could write down, or you could write down for me. It’s too hard. Being around Vanessa Redgrave and Morgan Freeman and Maximilian Schell, all three of them… It’s like a tennis game. If you play with a better partner, your game comes up, or it sure as hell seems to. Maybe it’s just because they can hit everything back. I think I’d like to emulate their confidence, but that’s never going to happen.

After the cancellation of your television show you must have become a little frustrated by Hollywood. Are you a lifelong actress, or do you ever see yourself giving it up to try something else?

That’s interesting. I don’t think I’ve decided yet about being an actor or not. It’s what I’m doing right now, and I’m passionate about it. Right now I won’t go back to television because the bed that is “The Naked Truth” is very warm, and it seems disloyal to even think about another show right now. But I’m very interested you asked that, because David and I have talked about it and he told me not to suggest to anyone that you’re thinking of not doing it any more, because it could be the boy who cried, “Wolf,” and it would also infer that you have not had as good an experience as — David, anyway, has felt — my work has been. He thoroughly enjoyed Flirting with Disaster, and got a kick out of some of the earlier “Naked Truth,” anyway. He says he always gets a kick out of it, but, you know, I’m married. I think I say it or think it only to keep myself just a little bit more safe. I would hate to be dependent on Hollywood. I would hate that. I think it’s a good thing. Would I walk out on it for David or a family, should that ever occur? You bet. Without a further thought in my head.

Could you have expected the attention your Hollywood marriage would get?

I couldn’t have expected the attention it got. I don’t live much in Hollywood. If we were out in Los Angeles I would tell you that I very rarely go east of Lincoln Boulevard. If you’ve ever been there, that only leaves me about 12 blocks to the west and then I’m in the water. I don’t lead much of a dazzling life, I’ll tell you. Oh, gosh, this is going to get so dull, so personal! But I think what I was surprised at was there seemed to be an expectation, especially given David’s popularity, that I would be more interesting than I am … not! I sometimes read articles that are intended to be flattering; they tell me, “We want to write about you in this magazine because we think you’re nifty!” And I read the magazine and often times I find that the point of view of the writer is so inflated and favorable that it gives me pause. I think it’s because I married David, perhaps, or because I’m in this industry. I don’t think I could ever have imagined the interest in my life or our lives. It’s bizarre sometimes. I can’t think of a specific example. David was sent a box of hair once. And I don’t mean a lock of hair. I mean a box of a head of hair. I don’t know what he was supposed to do with it. He gave it to me.

What’s up next?

Nothing! Nothing! Ha! Ha! I’m not committed to anything. I think in my enthusiasm to do both the show and film, I haven’t had a vacation in a while where I didn’t have to be somewhere Monday. I really am looking forward to a vacation, and after that I’ll see. There’s a couple of other things in life I’d like to do, and I really have lost my golf game and that is devastating to me. Maybe in six months I’ll join the LPGA.