Tea Leoni: The Truth About Tea
She hasn't been on-screen since Deep Impact two years ago, but she's been plenty busy. Here Tea Leoni talks about how she almost lost her newborn baby, why she was so unhelpful as husband David Duchovny's lifeline on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and what inspired her to buy porn for the director of her new film, The Family Man.
Téa Leoni is sitting in a corner of the Allegria cafe and restaurant in Malibu sipping herbal tea. It's a beautiful Thursday afternoon. Her hair is short and blonde, her blouse is the color of the sky outside, and she's wearing thick gold bands around two of her fingers, a silver bracelet, a pink-faced wristwatch and two necklaces, one of jade beads and the other, a gift from her husband, David Duchovny, of precious stones. The former star of the TV sitcom "The Naked Truth" isn't fond of doing interviews, but she's got a film to promote, The Family Man, her first since the highly successful Deep Impact two years ago. She's in a reflective mood when Duchovny walks in, unshaven and dressed in black pants and a white T-shirt.
"Sit, sit," Duchovny says as I stand to say hello. "I'm not staying."
"Where are you going?" his wife asks.
"I'm going to get some acupuncture."
"Could you bring home a couple of needles for my face?"
"I'll try. After that I'm going to go to yoga, then I'll be home."
"Can you pick up food for tonight? It's just us."
"All right, I'm going," Duchovny says.
When he's gone she smiles at me. "That's our exciting life."
LAWRENCE GROBEL: This is what you do on Saturday night?
TEA LEONI: You see it--we don't get out much. We're often alone and that's perfect.
Q: Alone with your baby, that is, who is now how old?
A: Fifteen months and a week. I guess when the second one comes along you start rounding out at six-month increments.
Q: Is there a second one in the works?
A: Oh, sure. If I have my way, maybe a fourth and a fifth and a sixth. People said to me about parenthood--and you've heard it so many times--that it will change your life. And it does, but you have no concept of change of this magnitude.
Q: So it must have been traumatic when your daughter was so ill last year.
A: You know, right after her spinal tap was clear and everyone breathed a sigh of relief, David went around the corner from the hospital and put a tattoo of her name on his ankle. He was so altered by this experience he had to go out and physically mark it.
Q: What exactly happened to her?
A: She had a respiratory virus and a double viral/bacterial pneumonia on top of that. Nobody told me, "We'll see if she makes it through the night," but as we were leaving the hospital, one of the doctors said, "Boy, that was quite a scare she gave us when we almost lost her." I remember thinking, this is the first relationship I've ever known that will only end with my death. There's no other way out of it. Though I have no intention of leaving other important relationships, there's a sort of lightness of being in knowing that they could end and I could still take care of myself. But not even in her death would this relationship end. It would only end with mine. I had to sit with that one for a while.
Q: All of which you never thought about until you had her in your arms and said, "This is for real."
A: Yeah. I was in labor for 30 hours and I thought it was great. My water broke at 3 a.m. when David was just walking in from work. He turned around and started walking back out the door, and I said, "No, no, relax, go to sleep, take a bath." This crazy calm came over me. Talk about entering the zone. I got to pull her out and I burst into tears as she was splashing around on my stomach. That was the brightest moment in my life.
Q: Did you take pictures? A: We said, "We're not picture people." Luckily our ignorance was overridden by the nurse in the room who said, "Just give me the fucking camera. You're gonna want them later."
Q: Let's talk a bit about your career. David has said that if you ever find the writer and director, you're capable of doing it all--unless you get too depressed about the business and quit first. Do you get depressed?
A: No. I get disappointed.
Q: Would you ever give it all up?
A: Yes. But I'm trying this new angle, which is to have fun. I'm pretending that I can decide not to be scared. Then maybe I'll stay a little longer.
Q: Nerves seem to be a problem for you. Didn't you almost freeze before doing "The Tonight Show"?
A: I don't know what it is with me and nerves. Jay Leno said something about physical comedy and balance--I don't remember the question--and I got to "balance" and blurted out something about wax in my ears. I'd just had my ears cleaned. Oh, God, that was a disaster.
Q: Ever marvel at how cool your husband seems on those shows?
A: David channels his nerves somewhere down near his prostate. In almost a reverse psychology reaction to nervousness, he becomes the coolest cucumber. And his wit is not delayed by a moment.
Q: What help did David need from you when he was on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"? A: Let me go on the record and explain what happened. The phone rings and just at that moment I become aware that millions of people are hearing my voice without my body to defend me. I hear Regis talking. Then I hear David, which makes me very excited, because he's in New York and I'm missing him. I know smartpants has gotten in the hot seat early, which means he's coming home that night. Then Regis says, "The next voice you'll hear," and I almost pee my pants. This well of nerves comes up. So David begins the question: "What cathedral in Italy is known as the Duomo?" I didn't hear the rest because I knew the answer. I was so sure it was Milan that I wondered if I should just blurt it out and not even let him do A, B, C, D. But I waited: "A: Sienna, B: Florence, C: Rome, D: Naples." And it was like hitting a wall. I'm thinking: Where's Milan? Then I realize I don't remember the question because I stopped listening. And the next thing I know it's over, I'm cut off. I can hear them on the phone, people are laughing, David is probably white, but he guesses and he gets it. What a punk! But you just don't realize how nervous you get. David told me he would never call me again. I won't be one of his lifelines. Oh well.
Q: Let's talk about your new film, The Family Man. Does it work for you?
A: There were times when I thought, This is going to be a tough sell. This rich young stud investment banker has Amber Valletta and he's supposed to be better off with me, a woman with kids and a minivan in Jersey? But partly from having gone through nearly losing my child, and partly from waking up every morning with David, I now think it is a better choice. Maybe I'm getting conservative. Still, I don't drive a minivan and I never will, I swear to God. That's one thing I will say never about: never, ever. I want nothing to do with the American Dream, and the minivan is there to answer the call of the American Dream.
Q: What do you drive?
A: A Dodge pickup truck.
Q: What was Brett Ratner's contribution as director on The Family Man?
A: It's the first time I'd ever worked with a director younger than I am. Hated that. When you first deal with him, you might think he has to be full of shit. He has such incredible enthusiasm, you think there can't be sincerity behind this kind of speed. But, by golly, there is.
Q: Did you give him anything when the film ended?
A: He'd shared his very young ideas about what was attractive in women--which didn't really veer very far from the 36-24-36 concept--so as a parting gift I sent him a whole stack of pornography. Good pornography, books from 1800.
Q: How did you know about these books?
A: I learned about them because I was trying to figure out how I could make my point with him. I also sent him Porky's on DVD, because he'd once mentioned he used to masturbate to that in high school and I figured his copy was probably worn out.
Q: You went to Sarah Lawrence for two years and then passed up an opportunity to transfer to Harvard and ended up going to Hollywood. Any regrets?