Leelee Sobieski is frighteningly intellectual. At a mere 19, she is articulate, breathtakingly beautiful and a movie star, yet oblivious to her stardom. Whether she’s kicking butt in The Glass House, taking a back seat to stardom in the riveting new thriller Joy Ride, or working in Slovakia on TV’s Uprising or Paris in Samantha Lang’s L’Idol, this student at Brown University is a unique presence. Paul Fischer met the beautiful teenager, who also coming up on Christine Lahti’s My First Mister, in an appropriately sleazy Hollywood motel.
Question: This is a scary movie about a stalker-type guy. Have you ever had a stalker experience?
Answer: Not really to my knowledge. Hopefully, actually. There have been some creepy people but I know that this sounds like a strange thing to say but my fans are really nice. When I talk to them, they’re really nice and respectful.
Question: Has there been any harmless stuff?
Answer: I’m at Brown University right now, and every now and then, some guy will shout out, “Wait! I’ve got to introduce you to my girlfriend.” I’m going, “I’ve got to go to class. I’m late for class. Get me on the way out. They’re like, “Fine. OK” But for the most part, people are really nice.
Question: Is it difficult being a celebrity while going to school?
Answer: It’s not so bad, actually. People normally don’t stop. I think because they know that they’re going to be stuck with me for a while, they don’t say “Can I take a picture with you.” They think they’ll have ample opportunity later. So they end up saying, “Hey, I really like your work. I just wanted to let you know.” And they’ll walk away. The people at university do care and at first they’re a little bit strange about it, but then they see me walking to the shower, and see my toenails, which I pick at too, and they’re ugly like everybody else’s. It’s a strange thing, but when you’re involved in the business, you say, “Actors are normal people too?” That kind of attitude? Once they realize that, it goes away (snaps finger) suddenly.
Question: What classes are you taking?
Answer: I’m taking this great class with this wonderful professor on the History of Japanese Literature in Society; Poetry Inside and Out in Relationship to Physical Environment; a Studio Arts Foundation course that experiments with different media and the History of Art and Architecture.
Question: What do you plan to do with this study?
Answer: I don’t know (laughs). I want to be a writer and a painter and a director. Knowledge is good for life. Life is what you play off for acting.
Question: Is this your first year there?
Answer: Yes. My first two weeks actually.
Question: Are you planning on driving home (from LA)?
Answer: I don’t have my driver’s license actually.
Question: What was the title of the poem you read [and wrote] on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show?
Answer: It’s called This Day And, All the Rest. I didn’t know how that was going to go over.
Question: You said you want to write. Is this what you want to do: publish a collection of poetry?
Answer: I’d really like that actually. But I only write two good poems a year. And the rest is absolute filth. It’s just corny and terrible. I’d have to go back. I have really fun poems from when I was younger, but there’s only about two each year and I lose them too. My computer just got a bug while I was in France and I lost everything. I’m talking about 300 great pictures from the Ghetto set in Slovakia (where I shot a TV movie called Uprising) of people in starving makeup. I got this obsession with satellite (dishes) and I just took pictures of satellites all over the place. Little satellite dishes on the sides of houses and little antennas. I guess that was my satellite phase.
Question: Where in Slovakia?
Answer: Bratislava. In the winter, I really didn’t like it at all because the people had been through so much, they were so oppressed. And it was so cold. Then the sun came out and they’re the nicest people I’d ever met. In the summer Bratislava is just this little tiny town and it was so nice. There were all these little outdoor cafes popping up everywhere. And really cheesy 80s nightclubs and it was just great. It was a beautiful place.
Question: How was that experience?
Answer: It was interesting. It’s a very important story (about the Jewish uprising against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto). It was the first time I worked on a film that was an ensemble. It’s strange to say, but it was really fun to work on. There was a big bonding experience. We went through a lot of exercises. We had this really intense two-week rehearsal process in the beginning where everyone really bonded. The set was incredible; they created this whole ghetto. We sat in this kind of bunker and they turned on the heat so it was like 130 degrees in there so we knew what that was like and then we stripped down to t-shirts and it was really cold outside, and we made it really cold (inside) when we would normally like to have the heating. So we went through those experiences. In those situations, we would talk honestly. Of course, it was nothing like how it really was but we also didn’t like eat for a week and so we kind of ended up bonding. All complexes kind of go away and that was a nice thing to do.
Question: Do you have a favourite type of film to do?
Answer: I really want to do a black comedy. “My First Mister” kind of has elements of that. I don’t have a favourite genre when I go to see films as well. Really stupid comedies, I love them, I have a great time. I like really dramatic films, scary films, serious films, small films, big films. If the film is good, the film is good no matter what genre, what style, what time period. A good film, a good book, a good song. It doesn’t matter. If it’s Mozart or Missy Elliott. If it’s good, it’s good.
Question: How was it working with John Dahl on Joy Ride?
Answer: He’s great. I really wanted to work with him. When I first read the script it was like two years ago actually and the script was really good, really scary, and really funny. I really enjoyed his work and I thought he could do a great job with this.
Question: You had a back seat role in this vs. up front role in The Glass House?
Answer: Back seat, literally.
Question: Was it ok to let the boys have all the fun in this movie?
Answer: It wasn’t fun to let them have the fun. I had the fun too. It was nice. I really like mixing things up. I haven’t talked about this yet but we all have blond hair and blue eyes. That is so weird. I just all of a sudden realized that. Is that interesting? You’re never going to see a film like that again. We all have blond hair and blue eyes. It’s like Hitler’s movie. (laughs) It’s really, really strange.
Question: I can’t imagine it, but did you pull any pranks on someone as a kid?
Answer: When I was really little, I lived in the 7th story of a building in New York and I would take shampoo and glue and washing liquid and I would mix them up and I would squeeze it on people who would pass by. I did this like once or twice. Once I hit this guy and he went and told our friend at the elevator, Chris, and Chris came up and told my mom. I had a friend over, of course. I couldn’t do it on my own. So someone else was doing it to. He said, would your daughter ever do this and she said, “No, my daughter would never do that. My daughter’s a really nice kid.” Chris said “OK. It must be some other kid living in the building.” My mom came in and asked us and we said, “No. No. We didn’t do it.” I never lied and I was so worried we’d get in trouble. She looked in the bathroom and the windowsill was covered with shampoo. And went downstairs and apologized (to her victim) and I never did it again.
Question: Ever on the receiving end of a prank?
Answer: We played practical jokes on the set of Joy Ride because it would get like 3 a.m. in the middle of a cornfield. And you’re in cold and you’ve been (running) all day long so you need something to let tension go to and so we would take big corn husks and throw them at each other and try and kill each other with the corn. I’m going to get you.” And whip it across the field.
Question: How old are you?
Answer: You have to know something: actors never grow up. Especially actors. I’ve never seen anything like this. It doesn’t matter how old they are. They’re always like little boys.
Question: How about Albert Brooks?
Answer: No. Albert Brooks is grown up. He’s a director too so he enters a different field.
Question: How was it working with him on My First Mister?
Answer: He’s wonderful. It’s so easy to act like I fell in love with him. He’s so smart and so funny. He’s a descendent of Albert Einstein. It shows. He’s wonderful.
Question: This movie you did over the summer-L’Idol, its a foreign language film.
Answer: L’Idol. The Idol. In French.
Question: Why would you risk doing something that a whole lot of people might not see?
Answer: It’s an intimate film, which already isn’t a big blockbuster film. So I think that the people who would see an intimate small film would watch a film with subtitles anyway. Like A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries or My First Mister or L’Idol would all probably be a similar audience.
Question: Do you speak French?
Answer: Yeah. It’s all in French. Well, my dad. .. It’s all in French. And I’m not totally fluent in French; it’s ok. I make mistakes all the time.
Question: You speak like seven languages?
Answer: No. I don’t (somewhat embarrassed)
Question: What do you play in L’Idol?
Answer: I play an actress. That was very, very strange. It really was actually. I felt like a schizophrenic. I play a young Australian girl living in Paris and she is the understudy in a play. I’m having an affair with the lead actor of the play. The person I’m the understudy for is married to the lead actor. I don’t like her. Her name is Sylvie Martin and my character is obsessed with this. And she’s living in this apartment. There’s this old Chinese man who’s like 74 who’s her next door neighbour and they kind of become best friends. It’s about all the different characters that live in the building, whether it’s the train conductor downstairs or the little girl with her dog. It’s very intimate and all kind of situational and mental and it’s kind of dramatic and funny too. And my character just has no base. You never know when she’s acting and when she’s being real. Because of that you’re left kind of guessing as you watch her. Is that really something she’s feeling? Is she playing a game with him? Or is she playing a game with herself? You never really know and it’s really interesting. It’s directed by Samantha Lang, who’s this young Australian director who did “The Well.”
Question: The story was so attractive to you that you decided to do it?
Answer: There is a whole European market. I think it used to be so much American market. Now I think it’s like 60 percent in Europe and 40 percent in the States. That’s half of my culture too. The U.S. is the United States. And it is this big block that everything is kind of directed towards in more ways than one now. But Europe is just as important.
Question: How was it playing an Australian character?
Answer: I just had this one paragraph in English where I go, “Madcap, Don’t worry about it, mum.” (She’s asked to repeat it by me, an Australian journalist and she politely declines.)
Question: What are some of the important things you’ve taken from directors you’ve worked with?
Answer: This is that question What have you taken from people and I never know. Hair. I never really know what I’ve taken. You learn through the pores of your skin, through experience, through watching. That just becomes a part of what makes up who you are and how you act in the world but you don’t necessarily know that just because you almost got run over by a taxi that you’re always going to have a fear of taxis. You’re not really conscience of it. What you end up taking consciously from people on the set of a film is the way they respect other people or how they treat other people. The way they ask other people’s opinions. Someone like a Kubrick is so confident and they say he controls everything. Yeah. I would control everything too. If you’re going to have a film and it’s your baby you’re not going to let your baby be in somebody else’s hands all of a sudden because it’s the end of the road and it’s going to be the poster. I think my poster should look the way I think my film should be represented down to the last detail. I don’t think that’s being a control freak. I think that’s being honest. But on the set he was so open and would ask everyone their opinion and their suggestions and if he felt that someone had a good idea, boom, he would use it. In Eyes Wide Shut, my character’s walking away and she goes, Mmm? Like, later, maybe upstairs? Hey? That wasn’t in the script. He said, Leelee, what do you think? And I said, “what if when I walk away, I go, like this (doing the turning pose)” and he said, “Let’s try it.” And he liked it so he used it. He asked me something else and I’m sure I had some terrible idea, and he said, No, that doesn’t make any sense at all. What are you talking about? That being so strong and confident in yourself and being able to consider other people’s opinions yet knowing that the (product) will still be your own.
Question: How about working with Christine Lahti, an actress turned director?
Answer: I think the actors do a good job in My First Mister. Carol Kane and John Goodman. And Albert. It’s nice to work with someone also who is aware. All great directors most of the time are aware of the acting craft or they aren’t but they cast good actors. There’s one or the other or a combination of the two. She gave me so much freedom, which was great. And I just ended up creating this character and jumping in. At first I thought I went too far. Before we started shooting, when we were having read-throughs at her house, I showed up with white eyebrows, white eyelashes, white lips and my hair pulled up and wearing a strange outfit. I was like albino. I had no definition whatsoever. I think I scared her kids. That was that. That was a little too scary, I guess.
Question: Have you ever been mistaken for anyone besides Helen Hunt?
Answer: Sadly, I get mistaken for myself now, which isn’t as much fun. But when I’m in Providence people don’t actually know that I’m there. So I’ll get the girl at the smoothie place who’ll say, You know who you look like? You look like that girl Leelee Sobieski from that movie right now. I’m like, Oh wow. Thank you. That’s very nice of you. That can be kind of fun.
Question: In Joy Ride you’re working with two very young actors.
Answer: They were really good weren’t they? I think Steve and Paul are really great. I think Paul is really real and honest and seems really natural. And he’s actually a smart, nice guy and same with Steve. He’s really funny and gets really scared. I think they’re great young actors.
Question: Have you ever known anybody like Steve’s character?
Answer: On the sets of movies there are so many Steve type people all over the place. In fact, the prop guy on Joy Ride was just like Steve. He was always playing practical jokes. There comes a point when you have a shotgun pointed at you where you’re like “OK, no more practical jokes.” This is serious time. He was so professional and showed me that there was nothing in the gun, etc. He says, I’m just going to leave you taped up and he pretends to walk away.
Question: Is it difficult doing publicity for movies in the wake of the terrorist attacks?
Answer: What is difficult right now is I think what am I doing here promoting a movie? What are we all doing here, working? Why am I bothering going to the university and learn? Why aren’t we all just living? Well, this is life. At the same time, should we postpone this? What is the right amount of grieving time? It’s difficult because you ask yourself, Should I postpone everything for two days? And show up two days later. Should I postpone everything for a week? Or should that event be postponed for a month? What is the time? I don’t? think you can say this has to be postponed for a certain amount of time because for one person, they live on the west coast and they don’t care. Another person lives on the west coast and they care big time. Certain people it affects them in different ways. On the other hand if you stop your life that’s what (the terrorists) want you to do. The biggest way to win is to work hard and do good work and keep on living your life. Of course, it will hit you and you’ll be sad or you’ll find joy in something and then you’ll be sad the next minute. I think that things should continue because for me, I find it cruel to postpone things because I get really furious. In one week, everything’s going to be ok? Now you can celebrate this falseness that is the wonder and splendour of Hollywood? It’s a difficult situation. I also think that film is a media where people escape and I think right now people need a lot of escaping. To go into a theatre and jump into a film and go away someplace else is a good thing even if you’re being chased by a big trucker.
Question: Any advice for acting students?
Answer: (whispers jokingly) Stay away. You have to live your life. If you’re a teenager you can try and do the university thing as well because it’s not always going to work out and you’re not always going to have luck with you. You can be the most talented actor, director, writer, painter, potter, accountant, and then you can suddenly not have love with you and you don’t have success. If you’re a teen that wants to get into Hollywood, you better have something to back you up. Or have something else that you’re interested in? I have the luck that’s with me now so I’m going away to college for six months and if there’s some wonderful film for the second semester, I’ll do it. But I’m also going to live my life and do both. Acting is drawing on life. If you’re going to play a reporter, do some reporting. If you’re going to play someone who makes plastic cups, drink out of plastic cups and learn how to make them.
Question: Anything coming up?
Answer: The industry’s a little shut down right now.
Question: Whose hair did you collect most recently?
Answer: Actually, the last film where I got people’s hair was “Joy Ride”. I keep forgetting and I think people might get insulted (if I don’t ask for their hair.) because it’s in interviews and stuff. My problem is with John, because he had to shave his head. I cannot get hair. So I’ll just get these clippings. Once, I was randomly on a talk show with Kevin Kline and he said, How’s my hair doing. He said, No I’m not talking about (his hairstyle that day).
Question: Tell us about your rings?
Answer: I’ve got hair in this ring. It comes from 1791 and taken in June and it actually looks just like my hair. It’s this girl called Juliana Cromwell. She was born in 1770 and the lock was taken on her 21st birthday. This is Athena, Goddess of Knowledge. It’s a Greek coin. She’s difficult to see; you’ve got to turn her around a little bit and these are human teeth
Question: Whose are they?
Answer: I don’t know. They were taken in the 20s. And they’re some weird orthodontic. They’re clean healthy teeth.
Question: Why wear that ring?
Answer: All of a sudden I feel like it’s a good luck charm or something. I don’t know why. I feel like they’re protecting me. If someone comes and annoys me and I punch them in the face and then they go to the DNA office, they can’t trace me back. (jokes)
Question: You said, You don’t have a driver’s license?
Answer: I don’t.
Question: You don’t drive?
Answer: I drive in movies. Like in “The Glass House”, I back up onto the side of a mountain. I drove in the rain and stuff but I don’t? have a license. I drive in this one too but I don’t have a license.
Question: How old are you?
Answer: I’m a New Yorker. At Brown, you’re not allowed to have cars. To live in the dorms and have a car is a pain. I kind of know how to drive but I’m really scared. Los Angeles is a really scary place to drive and so is New York. I have really great friends who I call and say, Hey, come pick me up and the taxi cabs are great here. I have some of the best conversations with cab drivers. Like Russian drivers, who say, I’m so pissed off with America. The literature here sucks.