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Leoni Online: The Articles — X-Pose

Téa Leoni – aka Mrs David Duchovny – faces the imminent end of the world in Deep Impact She’s been described as zany, warmly funny, a comic genius, and as a master of physical comedy. Téa Leoni has forged a career doing comedy in her own unique way, and doing it very well. Now the actress takes a stab at playing it straight in Deep Impact, this summer’s disaster movie about a comet that threatens world extinction. “I was attracted first to the project, with limited knowledge of the role,” says Leoni. “Clearly, what was enticing about this film is that unlike the other films of this genre that place inside of a weekend, this is looking at over a year and a half. So, the old formula 0 where Friday you see what’s coming, Saturday you fight it and Sunday you recover and everybody lives – was not present in any way, shape, or form. In fact, as it was presented to me, it’s a movie about a comet that’s going to impact the Earth in more ways than one. And it’s that second impact that we really want to focus on, looking at the human reaction to the news that we’ve definitely got a limited time [left].” The dramatic film represented a change of pace from The Naked Truth, her NBC sitcom which has recently cancelled. Truth is, the actress enjoys working in both comedy and drama. “I don’t prefer one to the other,” she maintains. “I’ve had brilliant experiences with both.” In Deep Impact, Leoni plays Jenny, an ambitious MSNBC news producer who has her eye on the anchor chair. It’s a hollow victory, though, when she gets her big chance after stumbling across the threat of an Extinction Level Event while investigating what appears to be a routine Washington sex scandal. Playing an anchorwoman required Leoni to acquire a broadcast journalist’s rhythm. “I thought that was either something they learned in journalism school or something that they fell into,” she says. “But I found that this certain rhythm and way of delivering the news does help keep it as the news and not your news. In this film, I have to deliver some very unhopeful news to my parents, and I was very aware at that moment that I’d learned something in watching all those news programs in getting ready for this part. There’s some help in that rhythm. Not quite enough given that particular circumstance, but something.” Shooting on location in Washington, DC proved to be more difficult than expected, due to the air traffic nosie coming from nearby National Airport. Leoni remembers one scene in particular, in which her character was having lunch with Vanessa Redgrave, as being particulary trying. “It was something about the direction of the wind and that location. We were under the planes where just as one got out [of range] another one was coming. And it went on all day,” recalls Leoni. “So a scene that really should not have taken more than several hours took about 12 hours. And it was very difficult because you can’t get a run at it. The planes come and I can’t even hear her, let alone know that we’re going to loop it. Then, at the end of the day, something happened, and it was all quiet on that Western front and we did the scene straight through three times in 20 minutes and got it. We didn’t have to loop it.” The production also filmed around Georgetown area, and for the first time in its history, Key Bridge – which connects Georgetown with neighboring Rosslyn – was closed down on a Sunday morning, to accommodate filming the sequence where Jenny is rear-ended by government agents. Leoni actually did her own stunt driving that sequence, a choice her bad back later regretted. “What a stupid decision that was,” she laughs. “We started off the day and it was explained to me what we were going to do. It seemed harmless enough, just a little bump. So we did some rehearsal, just to see if I was comfortable with this or if we needed to bring in a stuntwoman. It was just a little bump. Seventy-five little bumps later, I’m barely walking. I exaggerated on 75, but we easily did that 20 times. It’s not an exact science, so there were times when I’m not driving at the speed I should be or I’m just reacting and slamming on the breaks and causing more of a bump. But it was great for my performance.” Working with screen legends like Vanessa Redgrave and Maximilian Schell – who played her parents in the movie – initially threw Leoni for a loop. “I was very intimidated to learn that Vanessa would be playing my mother,” she admits, “and then there was a second whammy, that Maxmillian Schell would be playing my father. I wondered if they would be willing to play with me. They’re both extraordinary.” Her final scene with Schell, standing on a beachfront together after a reconciliation, was an emotional scene to play. “This character’s epiphany comes rather late in her life,” explains Leoni. “My concern in working with Maxmilian on this father/daughter relationship – and we’d certainly discussed this – was that we knew where we had to end up. So we worked backwards, all the way to the polar opposite, which would be that I hate my father. I thought that was a weak choice, though. I thought what might be more powerful was indifference. It did make me hate my character. There was something heinous about a woman who is indifferent to her father. Something so unrealized. Hate seems to be more active, more decisive. Indifference is just plain cold and stupid.” “That’s not a sweeping generalization, that’s just specific to this situation, this relationship. So that final scene with Maxmillian, it got out of hand at times. It got to where you’d shoot it and then you’re not clear on what you just did.” If Leoni found herself faced with the imminent end of the world, what would she choose to do? “I think I’d be pretty busy. More importantly, if we’re saying 24 hours off, it would be a time of no integrity. I would enjoy that. I would not do anything I would say that I would do. I would do what I felt like doing. Ha! What a rebel,” she laughs, sounding very much like the rebel she indicates she’d want to be given that situation. Leoni herself has no insight on why there’s a veritable flood of end-of-the-Earth disaster movies coming out of Hollywood right now. “I’ve heard that maybe it’s the millennium. I’ve heard that maybe it’s Nostradamas. I’vee heard maybe it’s numerology. I’ve heard maybe it’s the planets. It’s just all beyond me,” she admits. “I’m the type of person that will switch my birth date around in order to make it more convenient for a Saturday night party. So am I attached to the year 2000? No, other than I think it’ll be very interesting not to say 19-something. I want to say the year two-ought-ought-ought. I just think it’s kinda funny.” It could be said that Leoni has always had a flair for funny. Not to mention drama. The actress recalls a specific incident involving her grandmother, who was a Broadway actress in the 1920s. “I know where it started. I was probably about five, and I had been sent to my room. I’d done some young toddler’s idea of a good time and been caught and it was in front of my grandmother. My mother said, ‘Téa, you go right up those stairs and put yourself in your room and I don’t want to hear a peep out of you.’ I literally grabbed the dining room chair, and said, ‘I’m not going”! You can’t make me go!’ I as then taken upstairs by my heels, dragging the dining room chair up the stairs. My grandmother watched that and just shook her head.” That, she reveals, is how she got the nickname Sarah Bernhardt. “And it stuck,” she laughs. “I don’t know why.” Acting proved to be an outlet for Leoni, who was born in New York City and attended Sarah Lawrence College before taking time off to travel. “I wanted to be able to tell stories,” she says of her craft. “I tried my hand at drawing. I’m not bad. I was told at a very early voice that I had no voice, so singing was not an option. I don’t even get sculpting – one mistake and there goes the whole piece. That’s never made sense to me.” “I’ve tried writing, and as you may guess, I have a tough time getting to the point. So much so that short stories become just God-awful-toilet-paper stringings on and on of bits and pieces. That only left one option. I got dared into this. I got in here and I discovered that you can tell great stories acting. Just like you’d write a character, only now you get to be it. I liked that.” Leoni’s first break was landing a role in Angels’88, a Charlie’s Angels spinoff. She began studying acting seriously while waiting for that contract to pan out – which it never did. Meanwhile, the actress went on to appear in feature films such as A League of their Own, Switch, Wyatt Earp and Bad Boys. But it was on television that her career soared. In 1992, she had her own Fox sitcom called Flying Blind. Having proven her brilliant comedic timing in that short-lived series, by 1995 she was starring in the vehicle The Naked Truth. Although Leoni’s abilities again shone through, she was hampered by the material and continual tinkering with the series. The show was recently cancelled by NBC after three seasons on the air. “I’m in mourning. I’ve potentially been in mourning for a couple of years with the show, but honestly, I’m very sorry to see it go,” she says, clearly emotionally drained by the subject. “I was very attached to this cast. In particular I think about Holland Taylor and Mark Laverts who were with me for the three years. And we had a crew that for some reason kept coming back and had a loyalty [to the show], even though at times, I felt like saying,”Go on, we’re sinking here. Go get on one of those series that are going to fly.’ “There’s no blame,” she adds diplomatically. “I don’t feel that way. I don’t blame the network, I don’t blame the studio. There are so many things that have to come together to make a show work that I think anyone who’s on a successful series will admit some luck. Maybe we just didn’t have any.” She pauses. “That we went through so many different reincarnations is probably a likely fault that we made.” Leoni has no firm projects lined up for the future – aside from taking a relaxing vacation. Although she doesn’t rule out doing more television, she does hasten to say,”I think it feels unfaithful to consider or imagine doing another role on television while the bed is still warm with The Naked Truth. Some time will have to pass, I think.” In the meantime, Leoni is focusing her energies on movies. “I would like to do a movie where I get the guy,” she confides. “I’ve never done that in a movie, and I’ve found it to be quite fun.” The guy she’s obliquely referring to in real life, of course, is her husband, The X-Files’ David Duchovny. But don’t look for the couple to work together anytime soon. “We’ll never work together,”Leoni says firmly. “I don’t think that’s a smart move. I really don’t.” Foremost is that Leoni believes it would be hard for the public to buy her and Duchovny together on-screen without separating the fiction from the reality of their life altogether.

There’s also a more personal reason involved. “We’re both on television, and our personal lives are thus more public,” she explains with her usual candor. “It’s hard enough as it is keeping up that fourth wall. I want to come home to David and keep our relationship pristine. It has no connections to Hollywood. We don’t do Hollywood things. I think nine to five – or, I think the schedule is more six to three, and that would be going all the way around the first three – that would be healthy,” she laughs, adding, “I’ve screwed myself in marrying David Duchovny. He was at the top of my list of young actors that I wanted to work with.”

Courtesy of Xpose Magazine, transcribed by John.