Tea Leoni has enjoyed a career that has spanned over twenty years and seen her move from comedy to drama and back again.
Tower Heist is released on DVD this week and the movie sees Leoni return to the comedy genre as she teams up with director Brett Ratner and co-stars Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy and Alan Alda.
I caught up with the actress to talk about the movie, working with Brett, Ben & Alan again and what lies ahead.
- Tower Heist is about to be released on DVD here in the UK so for anyone who hasn't seen the movie can you tell me a little bit about it?
(Laughs) The main thing that people should enjoy about this film is it is in the vein of the great seventies caper/heist movies, for me that is what I find the most fun about it.
I like the spirit about it and it seems like it has less cynicism or less conceit than a lot of films of the same endeavour. But also it’s kind of nice to nail the big corporate guy, given what is going on right now it’s kind of nice to watch.
- You take on the role of Special Agent Claire Denham in the movie so what was it about the character and the script that drew you to the project?
Well nothing really. She was a very straight FBI agent as far as I could see but I wanted to be Ben (Stiller) and Alan (Alda) again and I wanted to work with Brett Ratner again. You normally get sent a script and you read it and discuss it with you posse of people you pay your percentages to and you decide.
But with this project it was just Brett ringing up saying ‘I want you to do this. This is going to be a whole lot of fun’. He told me about the cast that he was going to assemble, his dream team cast; and I knew that he would get. So I knew at that point that Ben was on and Alan had been asked and I said yes before I read it. Then I read it and I thought ‘Oh I have got an idea’.
So I rang Brett and said that I would do it, this very straight ball busting FBI agent, but in that one scene I want full rain to make her the best drunk in the entire world - and he said ’ok’. It’s very stupid as an actor to hang your entire performance on one scene, which very well could end up on the cutting room floor, but I didn’t care because I just wanted it for me as I have never played drunk in a movie.
I didn’t go old school and get hammered for the actual shooting of the scene. I suppose I was quite nostalgic for these old great seventies movies such as the Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 where it was possible to be a good drunk, there was still a sex appeal to it.
So I wanted to pretend that we were back in those innocent days where someone could have a very serious problem (laughs) and it could be seen as delightful. So that it what I went for.
- She is quite an interesting character because you are never quite sure what her role is in the heist is, she does feed Ben Stiller's character some information, so how much was that ambiguity a draw?
Oh a lot actually because I think that life is a constant set of tackling ambiguities, you can be sat on the phone doing an interview wondering if you had put the laundry in the dryer; I am not thinking about that right now by the way.
For this particular character I think that she had a lot going on and I like it when you are offered that. Brett and I were constantly playing a very subtle changes in our takes between how much she knew and how much she was going to tell and in one take she was in a mood to tell while in another she was lying very well.
And that is what keeps it alive, this is going to sound like an exaggeration, but it is what keeps it thrilling… for me, not necessarily for the audience (laughs).
- You have mentioned the drunken scene already and I was reading that you and Ben would spin around before the start of a scene to get that drunken effect.
Yeah, yeah. I don’t when the last time you spun was but when you are a child and you do it it’s funny and you get up and do it again but as an adult you change the physiology of your brain, you don’t have as much cushioned as you do as a child, because I felt brain damaged by the end of the night.
I have never been so nauseous in my entire life, except for maybe the second trimester with my first child. But spinning is hilarious it’s like a cartwheel, by the way if you haven’t done that in thirty five years go and whip off a cartwheel - it’s not that easy anymore. So the spinning was great as it was a great lunge into the scene and into the space of being inebriated because it is oddly just like that.
- As you said earlier you have worked with Ben Stiller and Alan Alda before so how did you find reuniting with them?
I would chalk down Flirting With Disaster as one of the greatest things that I have ever been involved with and I think it was a very special film. Alan and Ben and I and Patricia Arquette, Josh Brolin, Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Jenkins it was just this incredible cast and we all really bonded.
So the three of us were together again and we just had these big shit-eating grins on our faces. Here we were and we genuinely enjoy each other’s company. I have rarely worked with actors that I didn’t get a kick out of because actors are pleasing and often their insecurities make them fun.
I like actors and I like working with my fellow actors - but I have got to say that I have s special spot for Ben & Alan for sure.
- Brett Ratner is in the director's chair so how did you find him as a filmmaker as this is not the first time that you have worked with him?
You could see that he has improved as a filmmaker and I felt like the proud older sister because he was the first director that I worked with who was young than me. I remembered that sensation of ’hey you little brat you can’t tell me what to do’ and then I thought ’Oh gosh he is the director.’
The Family Man was his first big feature and he had was always mastering his craft - he has such an enthusiasm that he wants to eat it up, get better and learn. I found that that kind of enthusiasm and in a way, I hate to say this as it is what an older sister would say about her young brother, he lacks a certain amount of cool and that is what is endearing about him.
He doesn’t know how to play it cool and when he does you can just tell him ’you are so full of shit’. But that was the first thing that I recognised when I got back on set with him was ’that’s right this is that little enthusiastic guy, this is the guy who loves stuff and wants to work all night’ - I wanted to both applaud and punch him.
- You have so far enjoyed a career that has spanned over twenty years so how does the way that you choose projects differ from when you were first starting out?
When I first started out and up until more recently than I would like to admit I was doing things in order to do something else, you career is sort of handed to you in that way; well if you do this that would be a good thing because it could lead to that.
Everything is presented like a great stepping stone and it feels like agents and managers have a hard time with presenting the idea that you might have actually gotten there, maybe they thing after that you won’t need them anymore.
But I know that at some point, and it seems to have run perfectly parallel with my real life, I didn’t want to do it in order to get somewhere else I just wanted to do it. It didn’t matter to me if it was successful - hell at times I have done projects that I didn’t even care if people saw them, I have also done projects that I wished people would never see.
But I think now it maybe because I love the script, it might be because I want to be around this incredible group of actors, it might be the director, it might be some cathartic emotional experience that I want to have through the film.
- Finally what's next for you?
Well I am actually in Texas right now looking at shooting in Amarillo, where my grandfather was a great Texan, and I am going back to looking into shooting this project called Fun Lady. This has been a passion project for me. I hope that it is the next thing that I do.
Tower Heist is out on DVD and Blu-Ray from 19th March.