Liliane Rudabet Gloria Elsveta Sobieski was born in NYC on June 10, 1983 to American writer Elizabeth Salomon, and French painter Jean Sobieski. Soon after being discovered by a casting director in her grammar school cafeteria, she got her start at the age of ten in the made for TV movie Reunion. After a well-received outing in the feature film Jungle 2 Jungle, Leelee was catapulted to superstardom as a teenager on the strength of memorable performances in such blockbusters as Deep Impact, Never Been Kissed, A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries and Eyes Wide Shut.
In 2000, she landed a Golden Globe nomination for her critically-acclaimed work in the title role as Joan of Arc. And she subsequently starred in Here on Earth, My First Mister, Joy Ride and Glass House before taking a break from showbiz to attend Brown University.
The brainy beauty bears a striking resemblance to Helen Hunt, which explains why the two were pitted against each other on the claymation TV series Celebrity Deathmatch. Leelee has recently returned to acting in grand style, landing lead roles opposite Jason Statham in In the Name of the King, Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man, and now Al Pacino in 88 Minutes.
Here, she talks about life, career and her latest film.
KW: Hey, Leelee, thanks for the interview.
LS: Sure, how’re you doing?
KW: I don’t know if you remember that I’m friends with Peter and Janet who helped me get my first time interview with you.
LS: Yes, I know.
KW: At the time, you were a very rebellious teenager, probably a junior in high school. And you kept repeatedly challenging me with, “Ask me anything! Ask me anything!” But your being so young, I wasn’t going to cross any lines.
LS: Oh, really? Maybe I’m conservative now. We’ll have to see.
KW: You know, my son is a freshman at Princeton, and he lives in the same dorm as your brother, Robert. I heard you were on campus last week to see him perform in a play.
KW: I also heard that you’re a big fan of Nina Simone. Is that true?
LS: I am. I even named my dog Nina Azie Simone Sobieski.
KW: What are some of your favorite songs of hers?
LS: Here Comes the Sun – Sugar in My Bowl – Mosquito’s Tweeter – Pretty much every single one of her songs I find so touching. I just heard a Nina Simone rendition of I Get Along without You Very Well, which is one of my favorite tunes by Chet Baker. I didn’t know how I’d feel about her version, even though I love Nina Simone unconditionally, since I liked Chet’s so much. But then I fell in love with Nina’s, as well. It’s beautiful.
KW: Sounds like you’re heavily into jazz.
LS: I do like jazz.
KW: Too bad you weren’t in town long enough too see the Princeton Jazz Band’s joint concert with Juilliard. Your friend, piano prodigy Julia Brav, was tremendous, and the group even played one of her original compositions.
LS: I would love to have heard that.
KW: How did you enjoy Brown University?
LS: I loved it. I had a wonderful time when I was there.
KW: I graduated from Brown in ’75, but I doubt that any of the professors I studied English with are still there.
LS: I thought you went to Princeton. Did you have any classes with Forrest Gander?
KW: No, he wasn’t there yet. Let me ask you about the movie. How’d you enjoy making 88 Minutes?
LS: I had a great time. I play an interesting character, so I was kind of focused on that.
KW: Did you model your character, Lauren, after anyone?
LS: No, I didn’t model her after anybody. I just went to strange places in my brain.
KW: And how was it working with Al Pacino?
LS: It was a great honor. I don’t know who wouldn’t want to work with Pacino.
KW: It’s a twisty mystery. What would you liken it to?
LS: I wouldn’t liken it to anything? I don’t know. What would you liken it to?
KW: I agree. It’s unique and tough to pigeonhole.
KW: What type of audience do you think the picture will find?
LS: It’s a suspense popcorn movie. I think you should like go with your friends, and have fun.
KW: Last year, when I saw you in In a Dark Place, it sort of took my breath away, because you definitely made the jump from girl to woman with all the nudity in that picture. And now I see that you’re playing a dominatrix in Walk All Over Me.
LS: I’m actually more of a girl in this than I was in in In a Dark Place. I’m just really innocent. I’m not good at being a dominatrix. It’s more goofy with kind of fun sexy bits in it, but they’re not serious or at all risque.
KW: From just reading a capsule, it sounded risque.
LS: There’s no nudity in it, really, except for a male tush, I think. The only reason it’s rated R is because of a few curse words. Otherwise, it could be PG-13.
KW: I see that the movie you made with Jason Statham, In the name of the King, just came out on video this week. How did you enjoy doing that one?
LS: Oh, I had a great time making that. Afterall, I was playing a princess with magic powers.
KW: Do you have any plans to make another film in France, since you’re fluent in the language, and enjoyed so much success over there with A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries.
LS: Yeah, I would love to. It just hasn’t happened at the exact moment, but I definitely want to do more work in France, for sure.
KW: What movies do you have on the horizon?
LS: Night Train is with Danny Glover and Steve Zahn. It’s going to be creepy with a Hitchcock kind of vibe. I think it’s going to be really cool, but I haven’t even done the ADR [Additional Dialogue Recording] for that one yet. And I got a call from my director [Julie Davis] last night on Finding Bliss which is a romantic comedy that I just finished. She told me that she saw the first rough cut of the film, and that it looked so great. So, I’m super excited about that.
KW: Sounds good. Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know: What was the last book you read?
LS: What was the last book I read? I read a script only yesterday, but I can’t even remember the title. I’m just awful with names. This is my problem. I think the title of the last book I read was Miss Lonelyhearts, but I’m not sure.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
LS: A question that nobody asks me – No, there are all different types of reporters, and they usually ask fairly good questions. There are some questions that get repeated a lot, but I’m asked really good things most of the time. I feel like I’m perceived as being much more serious than I am. I’m more of a goofball. I’m sillier, not sillier in a bad way, but sillier in a good way. I think that when I do interviews, I always try to be cautious about what I’m saying, because I’m so silly that my words can be spun around so easily and sound totally the wrong way when I really just mean something harmless. So, I think I’m cautious when I’m doing interviews, which makes me seem much more serious, but that’s just because I’m being careful.
KW: That triggers my memory. The last time I interviewed, you were writing poetry and I published one of your poems along with the interview. Are you still writing poetry?
LS: Not as much. I’ve just been focusing on my work lately, work and life. And I’ve started painting again, and that’s been really wonderful. I’d stopped for a little while.
KW: Oils or acrylic?
LS: In acrylic.
KW: What style?
LS: Totally abstract, kind of like Kandinsky, maybe.
KW: Interesting. Did you see the documentary, The Cool School, about the L.A. school of modern artists who emerged in the Fifties. It’s great. It just came out a couple of weeks ago.
LS: No I didn’t. I’ll go check that out.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
LS: Yes. That’s a great question. I think that happiness is a very strange thing. And we really feel that we have a right to this happiness. But I feel like it’s constantly fluctuating, and that you can make yourself happy. I think it’s an outlook. Having a positive attitude probably sounds like a corny thing to say, but a positive attitude really helps, and respecting your job really helps, and having the support of your family and friends really helps.
KW: Is working on a movie set a lot easier for you as an adult than it was for you as a child actress, especially if the real you was a little goofy, and not so serious?
LS: I’m still not very serious on the set. I mean, I can be very serious, but I can also be very silly on the set, because I work really well when people around me are relaxed. Sometimes, there has to be a certain amount of tension to carry a film, but it’s important to me that the crew that’s working around me feels happy. And for that to happen, I need them to feel appreciated. Sometimes, that just involves being like one of the kids and hanging out and laughing with the crew. It depends on the character I’m playing. Last time, I did this romantic comedy, and I need this upbeat energy, and I kind of kept that energy going all day long. Then I would get home and be serous and crash. But on set, I was super light and goofy.
KW: Are you living more in L.A. or in New York now?
LS: I’m back and forth.
KW: Are you willing to say where in L.A. you live?
LS: Sure, I live in the Hollywood Hills?
KW: I’m asking on behalf of “Realtor to the Stars,” Jimmy Bayan.
LS: Is he a good realtor?
KW: Absolutely! Do you need one? The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
LS: Yes, all the time. But “afraid” is such a big word. I feel like fear sometimes comes from caring. When you care about something so much, then you’re afraid to fail, to not do well, to not do your best. But all that just comes from caring. Do I get scared of things that go “Boo!” in the night, too? Yeah, I like scream so loud. When I go to a horror film, I’m the one that screams so loud that everybody jumps. I think they should pay me to sit in the theater, because I either make the movie seem five times scarier or five times funnier, one or the other, because my screams are so ridiculous. So, I get scared like that easily.
KW: It reminds me of when I saw The Producers starring Nathan Lane. The guy sitting behind me had such a booming, infectious laugh that he had me laughing all through. I ended up giving it four stars and putting it on my Top Ten List because it came out in December. Meanwhile, the rest of the critics were calling it a big flop.
LS: [Laughs] That’s so funny. That really affects you so, so much. I find that, unless they’re drunk, people generally don’t laugh out loud, because your laugh can sound pretty silly or strange if you really just let it go. Yet when you hear somebody else laugh, you automatically feel really warm and good, and so I’ve liberated my laugh. [Laughs] It’s really loud and annoying, but I do it all the time. Laughter and smiling – those things are important. One of my best girlfriends is a clown, and she goes all over the place, to Africa and Mexico, and just tries to bring people joy, and it’s really beautiful.
KW: Laughter is very healing.
LS: Yeah, it puts the center of your body in your heart. If you’re having a bad day, and you feel like your head is leaning far ahead of your body because your brain feels so heavy or so full, if you kind of readjust and move your center down a little tiny bit, and switch it to in your chest and move your shoulders back and put it in your heart, that changes your disposition.
KW: That sounds pretty spiritual. Are you into meditation or something?
LS: Not really. I’m a modern meditator. I meditate with really loud hip-hop on an elliptical machine.
KW: Well, I appreciate the time, Leelee. I know you’re very busy.
LS: Yeah, I’m in a crazy situation right now. I’m at the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. My premiere is in a few hours, so I’m kind of stressed, actually.
KW: I didn’t realize that. Sorry for holding you so long. I’ll let you go.
LS: No, no, no, that’s fine. You know, the keys to the hotel rooms here have Al Pacino and the 88 Minutes poster on them. So, when you put your key into the door, they have Al’s face on it.
KW: My niece, Adrienne Augustus, is a TV reporter for CBS in Las Vegas. She might be covering the premiere. Tell her I said hi.
LS: I will. Adrienne Augustus. How could I forget that name?
KW: Thanks again and good luck tonight!
LS: Thank you so much.