Sexy Téa Leoni, Mrs. David Duchovny, stars in the latest dinosaur epic, Jurassic Park 3 (2001), as a woman and mother who will risk anything - even getting her clothes really dirty - to rescue her missing son from the hungry jaws of the lethal giants.
But today, on a sunny July afternoon on the lot at Universal City in L. A. , Tea is not only spotless but beautifully dressed in a pale blue shirt and white jeans. Her blonde hair is curly and short, and she wears a double strand of gorgeous pearls around her neck and a simple gold wedding band next to a big, chunky pink plastic ring.
Here, in a candid and revealing interview, she talks about her new film, marriage to David, their daughter Madeleine West, life at home, and the couple's highly unusual painting methods.
Did you hear that David was giving Polaroids of his butt to people on the set of Evolution (2001)? What's your reaction?
He did WHAT?!!
When he did his mooning scene he took Polaroids and handed them out.
Isn't he sweet? He's so thoughtful. Well, we did some ass- painting recently.
With your kids?
No, not with our kids. Who do you think we are? Good Lord!
What exactly is ass-painting? Can you tell us?
I was the paint-loader of David's ass, and I say that because I want a little credit, because if I hadn't done such interesting work, frankly I don't think he could have done such nice paintings.
What kind of paint did you use?
(Laughs) Just acrylic, because you want it coming off.
Did you do these ass paintings as well?
No, I loaded, he assed.
So what did he do?
Look, you don't actually paint with your ass, you. .. . (pauses) Well, yeah, you do paint with your ass (laughs). What you do is, you load up the person's buttocks - I don't mean load UP! Let me say just put it all in that general area and pat it on.
You use your different color schemes and imagine what'll happen when they take the canvas and sit on it. And after he sits on it, some of them are just the perfect 'sit,' some of them we kind of spanked a little bit, but no smearing as that didn't seem like a good idea. And we then got 'em up for auction for an animal rights thing, which was neat. Don't eat it, paint with it.
The animals should be thrilled.
Yes, I think they will be. I think we got $3500 for it.
Were you a big 'Jurassic Park' fan?
I still remember what theater and with whom I saw the first one. And I remember thinking, because I was acting at that point, 'I wish I could have been Laura Dern in that. ' I mean, to be a part of it, because I felt like it was a historical moment. It was the first time I had ever seen - and I think probably everyone else feels the same way - dinosaurs as we don't know them come alive in such a way. I was gobsmacked by the first one.
How does it feel to be an action babe?
I've been action babe before. I've been the chick of the flick before. It's no big thing, you know. I like it.
Did it help you get in shape?
Yeah, it helped me to get in shape. I was not in shape at the beginning of this movie, which was a really stupid move on my part. I could have hit the gym a little bit. It's like, 'Duh!' I should have known that was coming. 'Let's see, Tea, you're doing a huge movie with dinosaurs and, probably, you're not going to be friends with them. And you're probably going to be running, so, like, come on you lug. ' And I didn't and I suffered for it. I was sore and it sucked. And then I actually got in shape. That's the weirdest thing, this movie got me in shape. I'm back to not being in shape, but for a while there I was something.
Both you and David seem to be big on creatures this summer.
David's got a whole history with creatures. We didn't really compare notes because most of my creatures. .. 'My creatures?' I like to call them my babies. .. but the dinosaurs for the most part were puppets, which is a really stupid word when you're talking about something that weighs six tons and can crush you like a toothpick. Anyway, that's a whole other thing. In David's Evolution (2001), these were larger creatures, more extraterrestrial, who knew what they were going to end up looking like?
Animal poop features heavily in both films, and being new parents you're probably both experts in that area.
Old hat, babe. Old hat. I mean, that dino dung had nothing on the kind of thing that my daughter can put out. Although, those days are over. My kid - get this - she was potty trained at sixteen months. Really, it's amazing. And it's really cute. Only a mother could say that, but it's cute when she goes in and poops. It's adorable. And then she gets there and flushes the thing. Don't get me started. She's going to be mortified.
She's just 16 months?
No, now she's older. I'm saying she was potty trained at sixteen months. Now she's over two.
You could probably write a book about all that.
You know what the thing is? You just start littering the house with these potty things. Really, curiosity gets them. Kids are amazing. If you get them curious, they'll do anything. So, all these potties around. Of course, in the beginning, there were some odd ideas about what to do with the potty. There were hats made and dinner bowls and things for the dogs. But then she sort of honed in and got the idea, you know, sit and do your business.
Everyone in the cast is a parent. Were you worried about the film's intensity and violence?
No and I don't think that 'violence' is really accurate. I don't think it's violent. There was a concern or discussions about the level of intensity or tension, which, given that we did pull off a level of tension and intensity in the film, it's not appropriate for all kids, by any means. I'm not going to take my two-year-old to see the film, but I do think she'll see it before she's forty.
I think you have to use your own judgement. Take a look at your child and what they can handle. I still feel that there are more damaging things out there, like some of those picture books from the fifties. Check out how. .. politically incorrect? . .. God help us, that those things are. There are some of these books that, I think, can be more damaging to a child.
And there aren't guns in this, like people shooting each other. This is in the world of the fantastic. And I do think that dinosaurs are a riveting issue. We all love them. Remember as kids you knew all the names for them? But, again, there is some tension in the film. And there are some noises. The noises are what you have to be careful of.
How's having your daughter changed you?
I think that it's how did it not change me. I can't imagine how it didn't. You would have to be more specific because I really don't see where my life didn't alter and I think that it's impacted absolutely everything and I feel blessed everyday, and it's sort of funny when you do it, or for me, becoming a mom because I look back on so much of my life, and I just want to laugh.
I want to laugh at the self-consumption that is your teenage years or the twenties where it's like, 'Wow, rent. How am I going to pay rent. ' Oh, whatever because you're going to figure it out and I never really understood why my parents or my grandparents always had such a sense of humor about things, and you know, my grandmother would say, 'You know, things aren't what they used to be and they never were,' and she's absolutely right. You know, once you have a kid, your whole. .. I don't know, for me, it's all different.
Did it make you a better actress?
(Laughs) I think that it makes me a better everything. So, I would throw that in there, sure. I think that it makes me a much less fearful actress, and that's a bit part of it, to be willing to tickle shame and play with egg on your face and to not really care enough to not do it.
Did you take her to the set?
Oh, that's so funny because we would be in the makeup trailer and Michael Jeter would be there, getting his makeup on, and at one point, he had this huge gash on his head and West would look at it and go, 'Noodle', and I was like, 'I know, it's a little weird because of the thing in his head, but that's Mr. Noodle. '
She was into it, and we used to get her all bloodied up in the makeup trailer so that she wouldn't be afraid and she got into it. She would sit there and put goop all over her and do her knees, and I know, I recognize that if you write this, it can sound really sick. So, I just want you to know that it's not really that sick, it was good, it was healthy, and she got that it was the land of make believe.
She did not ever meet the dinosaurs because they're so life like. I mean, these guys, right there, you see them wet and panting and in action, their whole body, it's not just terrifying because something could go wrong electronically and they could snap your head off by mistake, it's that you can get caught up in the fantasy of it. They're seamless, literally seamless.
Is it true she nearly died when she was younger?
Yes, she was only 9 months and it began with a cold and got worse and worse. She was rushed to the hospital and the doctors diagnosed her with double pneumonia and a respiratory virus, and then she developed an allergic reaction to the drug they gave her. For a couple of days we didn't know if she was going to make it or not. It was the worst experience of my life, but David was an incredible rock for me.
Are you and David competitive, what with each having a film out now?
He jokes about it because people say, 'Oh my God, what's it going to be like if your movie is bigger than his or his movie is bigger than yours,' and truthfully, you know, this town will eat you up and spit you out. So, you better hope that the guy or the girl laying next to you in bed is there to tell you that, 'You did great anyway, baby,' and 'Don't worry about it. ' I mean, honestly, otherwise, you're in trouble.
Again, it's sort of a funny 'what's good for the goose is good for the gander,' and that's a very weird way to use that expression, but in a way, it does work.
Is he good around the house or a terrible husband?
Oh no, he's not a terrible husband, but boy, he's not a good chore doer, and I have to sort of allocate, and I sometimes, I tell him, 'Listen, I don't want to allocate. The trash is over flowing, think about it, think about it. I'm not going to tell you to do anything about it, but I just want you to look at it and think about it. '
Most people would assume you have help to deal with the trash.
Yeah, you could and there are times when we're both working where we do need someone to take out the trash because I've got the baby and the nanny with me, and we're both gone and the dogs will actually get into the trash if the lid isn't on, locked. We definitely have help around the house, but I'm careful about that because you can also lose touch with your life. And suddenly, you don't even know your own zip code and I don't think thats right.
Is it hard living with another actor?
(Laughs) Oh, no. I mean, yes and no. There is a great exchange. I mean, David is weird, there is no doubt. He is a great, great wonderful, loveable, kind, charming, weirdo and at times, I think that he's bizarre and it would be easier to be with someone that I could figure out more consistently and more easily and the exchange is someone who is constantly surprising me with his kindness and with his charm. I mean, he, like me, doesn't want to stay put. We don't want to stay put. I encourage him to grow and I don't ever want to be the thought police and neither does he, and so, in a way, maybe that's part of the artist syndrome because you like that freedom in your mind and you like your partner to go with you.
Those are beautifuul pearls you're wearing.
These are my grandmother's pearls. I've worn them since I found them in her filing cabinet after she died. It was the only thing that she really allocated. She was my idol and someone I was very close to. And we were going through her papers and getting everything in order and we found a little box. I found it, which is sort of a little trippy. I opened it and it said,
'Given to H. P. ' . .. my grandmother. .. 'From G. P. Wedding gift. ' And just in pencil it said, 'For Tea. '
And it was this bizarre act that I found it and it was so simple. She didn't give it to me with any expectation and I felt like she got it, like she was acknowledging the intimacy that I felt with her.
Isn't your real family name Pantaleoni?
Yes, and we are not in the mob. I swear to God! The family is totally clean. We are not connected at all. I recognize that my father is a New Yorker but no. All those rumors!
How do you feel about 'The Sopranos'?
Please. This is not the first time that we've been making fun of the whole mook idea. This is the Italian, 'Hey, hey, whatever. ' Who cares? It's a compliment. They're talking about us because we're actually really fascinating people.
Would you like to work with David?
No. I won't do that. I don't ever want to do that. David and I have a pristine relationship. I don't ever want to look into his eyes and tell a little white lie. However, the minute he sits down to write a script, there better be a part for me in it and I want him to direct me. That will work well.