Funny, irreverent and unpredictable, she’s the perfect foil for William Macy in the new Jurassic Park flick, not to mention hubbie David Duchovny. Paul Fischer tried to make sense out of the dizzy mother of one, who talks dinosaurs and other profundities:
Téa Leoni is the kind of woman who breathes life into a room. Casually attired in green T-shirt and jeans, she briskly insists on opening a window before quickly preparing to chat. “You want anything while I’m over there”, she asks laughingly. As quick in step as in mind, Leoni recalls how this whole acting gig began. Now, this is in response to a question about fulfilling a kind of acting fantasy utilising her imagination, working with dinosaurs in Jurassic Park III. Don’t worry, she gets there. “Imagination, that’s my ‘method'”, she says. “If you wanna know more, I have a book coming out later – I’m sooooooo joking”.
It is hard to know when Ms Leoni is kidding around. Though she does manage to divulge how her imagination got her into the new TV version of Charlie’s Angels, when the actress was just starting out. “When I got into this work, as an actress, I had no idea what I was doing. I was thrown into a casting room with really important people like Aaron Spelling. They handed me some pages to do with my father who was shot when I was 12 and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing”. The last thing Leoni had done, she recalls, “was one of the pirates in H.M.S Pinafore in the 5th grade – in an all-girls’ school”.
So young Téa figured, at this Charlie’s Angels audition, “my best shot at this, was to use my imagination. So I got in there and kept thinking: So if this had happened to my dad, THIS WOULD SUCK and be upsetting, decided I had nothing to lose, got all worked up, played this incredible mind-game with myself and that worked out”. Apart from her reading the stage directions out loud, she concedes. “It had the word ‘beat’ everywhere which means ‘pause’ but I thought it was just some LA lingo”. Yet, despite such beginnings, Téa Leoni landed the role. The all-new Charlie’s Angels didn’t happen, but the ex-model went from Elizabeth Téa Pantaleoni to plain Téa Leoni and fell into acting.
Her comedic side was discovered through two TV shows, Flying Blind and The Naked Truth, while on the big screen, Leoni appeared early on in A League of their Own, Wyatt Earp and Bad Boys, and more recently, Flirting with Disaster, Deep Impact and last year’s The Family Man. Four years ago she married David Duchovny, whom she describes as “a great, great wonderful, lovable, kind, charming weirdo. And at times I think he’s bizarre. And it would be easier to be with someone I could figure out more consistently and more easily,” While Leoni has a somewhat outlandish sense of humour, her other half’s “is a lot drier than mine. VERY dry in fact”.
Like her husband, Leoni is appearing in a big F/x movie, the anticipated Jurassic Park III. In this third instalment of the Dinosaur yarn, Leoni plays a distraught mother who, with her estranged husband (William H. Macy) cons dino expert Dr Grant (Sam Neill)in helping her rescue her son, who had disappeared on one of the two islands inhabited by dinosaurs. The trouble is, it was not the island Grant knew. Commenting about her experiences on this film, the actress admits that her sense of fun went a long way throughout the long, and initially unscripted, shoot. Leoni says that using her self-described childish quality came in handy on the set of Jurassic Park III. “We had four scripts at one point, so nobody knew what we were shooting, but I KNEW that I was a mother who had been unwillingly separated from her child”. That, she adds, being a recent mother, “is my new number 1 nightmare and so I wanted to mess with my own head about it. I wanted to act the hell out of this thing”. Leoni says that the entire cast, going into this third instalment of the franchise, “were doing so not to just make the third one, but the BEST one”.
Jurassic Park III is in stark contrast to her role in the recently completed Al Pacino film People I Know, “I play this totally messed-up actress. She’s very sad really but she has a wonderful dramatic, rather touching relationship with Al’s character. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m surprised I carried it off so soon after having a baby”.
But nothing, dinosaurs included, can compare to Leoni as mother. “Motherhood means everything you’re not ready for. You suddenly dispense with your personal ego. All the trivial things that meant so much to you in your past disappear. The happiness and survival of this wonderful new person is what is most important in your life. It was such an incredible experience that I know I want at least five more children, but that may just be the new mother in me talking. I don’t think you should plan to have children because sometimes it doesn’t work you. I think you should just hope and pray to be blessed with each new one.”.