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More Magazine - Jane Fonda, Sharon Stone, Tea Leoni: Acting Their Age

There's a pitch that Tea Leoni has made to a few film executives about why it might be more interesting to cast her instead of someone younger. Because she is 42, she argues, has been married for 11 years (to actor David Duchovny), and is a mother of two (Madelaine West, 9, and Kyd Miller, 6), she would bring an air of gravitas and complexity to a part. "It's not just that a 28-year-old doesn't have a lot of experience. It's that I don't worry about a 28-year-old, certainly not one who looks like most of the young leading ladies," Leoni says. "She'll be fine. And because of that, I can't get taken into the story; it's like letting air out of a balloon. So a couple of times I've tried to convince the folks making the movie that it would be better with ... me."

So far, these say-no-to-youth meetings have come to naught. But despite the fact that Leoni thinks that women in Hollywood are like boxers ("It can be a very fast and furious and short career," she says), she's hardly on the ropes at this point. In September she brought her clear intelligence and dry comic timing to the movie Ghost Town, playing a widowed archaeologist opposite Ricky Gervais's apparition-seeing dentist. And the night before we spoke, she had been up until 4:30 on the set of Manure, in which she stars as a 1960s-era cosmetics saleswoman suddenly forced to take over her father's fertilizer business. Neither of these roles, Leoni says, is "the chick of the flick," a category she is glad she's no longer considered for. "That's where your skirts are up to here and you're blissfully 20 years younger than your costar -- and that would be his bliss and not necessarily my own. It simply becomes a different movie if you're 10 years older."

Leoni's acting career began when she was a 20-year-old Sarah Lawrence dropout doing background modeling ("I was the one behind the pretty girl, out of focus on the tennis court," she says). Her boss dared her to show up at a cattle call for a Charlie's Angels update called Angels '88. Leoni got a part, but perhaps best of all, the series was never made. Though Leoni fans can reel off her greatest hits -- Flirting with Disaster, Deep Impact, Fun with Dick and Jane -- they'd be hard-pressed to recall the last time she vogued for the paparazzi at a Hollywood event. "The red carpet makes me feel like a bullshit artist," Leoni says. "I don't hang with anybody who stalks press."

It must therefore have been especially hard for Leoni when it was revealed in August that her husband had entered rehab for sex addition, throwing them both into the tabloid maelstrom. She declined to comment, but the news makes the couple's decision earlier in the summer to relocate from Malibu to New York seem prescient from a support-system perspective. Leoni, who was raised in Manhattan, pushed for the move because she wants her children to get an East Coast education and to grow up near their grandparents. "I would hate to think that my kids missed an opportunity to know these great people. I was very tight with my grandmother," she says, referring to Helenka Pantaleoni, who in 1947 cofounded the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, of which Leoni is a very active board member.

When it comes to growing older, Leoni looks to her mother, a retired nutritionist. "My mom bites life in the ass," she says. "Aging gracefully to me isn't about accepting it or doing only a little bit of Botox. I think it's a spark -- a way of being."

-- Margy Rochlin

Originally published in MORE magazine, November 2008.

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