It's a bright spring afternoon in
Manhattan, and Leelee Sobieski is walking the streets
of the Upper West Side, deconstructing fire hydrants.
"They're quite interesting, actually," she says
excitedly. "My dad did a photo project on them."
On her arms are geometric designs she doodled with a ballpoint
pen, and in her bag, a dog-eared copy of One Hundred
Years of Solitude. She's spent the past hour strolling
through the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Natural
History--not far from where she lives with her father,
a French artist, her mother, a writer, and her brother;
who's 10 and likes chess and Nintendo 64. It's a day pretty
much like any other for the 17-year-old, except she's
being followed around by a writer. And every once in a
while someone will stare at her like she's some kind of
freak, which--aside from being unusually tall for her
age and rather striking in a vaguely Helen Hunt-ish way--she's
An elderly man in a wheelchair rolls up to Sobieski and
says hello. "You're very beautiful," he tells
her. "Are you really 17?" This kind of thing
has been happening more and more often lately. Since she
made her debut in the 1997 family flick Jungle 2 Jungle,
Sobieski's recognizability has steadily increased through
roles in the meteor movie Deep Impact, Merchant-Ivory's
A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, the Drew Barrymore
comedy Never Been Kissed, and the CBS miniseries
Joan of Arc. Now, in the late Stanley Kubrick's
pshyco-sexual thriller Eyes Wide Shut, she's appearing
opposite Tom Cruise as the nymphet daughter of a costume
shop owner (at press time, details were still shrouded
in Manhattan Project-like secrecy). The film will certainly
boost her profile even further, but at the moment she's
still getting used to all this fame stuff. She hasn't
yet lost her blush reflex.
A city bus with an ad for Joan of Arc goes by,
showing Sobieski in chain mail, her face a mask of kicking-ass-for-God-and-France
determination. The miniseries won solid reviews and even
better ratings, but Sobieski shrugs off it's success.
"Yeah, it did well," she says. "That's
good." It's like a bio test she aced. No biggie.
Like most teen actors in the first flush of stardom, Sobieski
would rather talk about fire hydrants. "When you
really look at them, you realize they all have different
personalities," she explains. "Like, some of
them are friendly and some are beaten up and disgusting.
Some seem all shiny, but you know they're not really
rich fire hydrants--they look silver, but at the core
they're steel." She points to a weather-beaten hydrant
on the next corner. "See that one? Nobody loves him.
He's waiting for someone."
Mental Ward B
I am sad and you laugh, that's not very nice.
You just follow the crowd, like a bunch of white mice.
She was a piece of shit, she was a piece of plastic.
Is it possible for me to kill her. Just squirt her with
I love to lay rat traps, and chop off their heads.
With the blood squirting everywhere, getting specks on
Pity the poor Sharon Stones and Kevin Costners of
the world. It's tough to be a grown-up movie star. You
feel old, irrelevant, out of touch. You're not "jiggy
wit it," or whatever the kids are saying.
In Hollywood today, it's all about getting teenagers to
fork over their baby-sitting earnings at the box office.
The studios are pumping out teen horror flicks and comedies
at a steady clip--and even if the horror movies are fairly
comical and the comedies mainly horrific, as long as a
few keep sticking it'll remain a profitable business to
be in. The line about Hollywood being high school with
money has never been truer.
For would-be teen idols, it's the biggest gold rush since
the Brat Pack stalked the earth. Casting directors are
frantically scouting for fresh faces in high-school cafeterias
and summer-stock productions of Bye Bye Birdie.
If they could, they'd contract genetic-engineering firms
to breed teen actors in test tubes.
Now here comes Leelee Sobieski--with her fire hydrants
and her blood-spattered Keds and a face out of a Renaissance
painting--and suddenly the buzz traffickers are scratching
their heads. Where do they put this one? None of the convenient
labels fit. She has bypassed the usual teen-genre movies
and WB series in favor of projects that many of her peers
might deem too serious or too arty. For her one high-school
comedy, Never Been Kissed, she declined to audition
for the role of one of the popular girls, taking instead
a small part as a noble nerd. "Leelee hasn't really
been pegged," says Sobieski's Deep Impact
costar Elijah Wood. "She's been able to transcend
the boxes these young actors have been put in, which is
really hard to do."
In part, it's the air of sophistication Sobieski projects.
"Leelee has a certain gravitas to her; like jodie
Foster has," says her mother, Elizabeth, who, along
with husband Jean, manages Leelee's career. "I don't
think she will be doing teen movies at 20."
"I did try to get a few of those teen high-school
movies, but they just didn't like me," Sobieski admits
with a shrug. "I guess I wasn't enough of a certain
The fact is, the usual teen fare doesn't suit her tastes
anyway; this is possibly the only teenage girl in America
who's only watched Dawson's Creek just once--and
didn't even make it through an episode. "All the
teenage films are, like, everybody's smoking marijuana,
and they go shoot a couple of people--woo-hoo!" Sobieski
says disgustedly. "Or, 'We cheated on all our tests
and became the biggest sluts, and now we're going to Harvard!"
I'm not saying these movies are evil. They're just stupid."
Spend a little time with Sobieski and you'll get a rapid-fire
earful about what does suit her taste: Otis Redding, Tom
Waits, John Waters movies, and this one Massive Attack
song with "kind of a porno beat." She'll tell
you about a 1930s erotic print she bought recently at
a shop in Prague: "It was this naked women with big
hands, like monster hands, weird black hair, and strange
lips. I found it very sexy." She'll tell you about
her growing collection of celebrities' locks of hair;
which includes samples from Kubrick, Peter O'Toole, and
Regis Philbin ("Kathie Lee didn't want me to touch
her hair; so she gave me a hairbrush with her hair on
it"). She'll spend five minutes recounting the plot
of an old Bette Davis-Errol Flynn movie, and seconds later
engage you in a debate about the merits of Big Mama Thornton's
and Evlis Presley's versions of "Hound Dog"--she
prefers Thorntons, silly girl.
She'll gush about how cool
her parents are ("The few times I've ever been to
a disco, I've been with them") and how much she appreciates
their advice and overprotectiveness.
Born and raised in New York City, Liliane Roudabeh Elvieta
Gloria Sobieski was inoculated early on with her parents'
artistic sensibilities. Introduced to Shakespeare in the
Park at age 3, she was toted to art galleries every weekend
and the south of France every summer. At age 11, Sobieski
was spotted in her school cafeteria by a casting agent
for Interview With the Vampire, who suggested she
try acting. The concept had never even crossed her mind--she
planned to become a writer or a painter--but she found
she had a knack for it. Before long, Sobieski, whose father
once appeared in spaghetti Westerns, found herself going
up for cereal commercials and Hallmark TV movies. Cut
to three years later, and Sobieski is spending two months
in England with the biggest movie star on the planet and
one of the most legendary directors of all time. The audition
process for Eyes Wide Shut had been grueling, but
in the end, Kubrick chose the relatively unknown 14-year-old
over, in her mother's words, "every famous girl now
between the ages of 17 and 21 in the business."
"Some people might think this is all just dropped
out of the sky for, but I've worked hard for it,"
Sobieski insists. "Maybe I'd be happier if it was
coming when I was 30, but it's coming now, so I'm bathing
in it." She pauses. "I just don't want to take
it for the real world."
Sobieski is walking along 83rd street towards her apartment
when she runs into a boy she knows from school. She offers
a chipper greeting. "Howzitgoin?" he mumbles,
his mouth full of some sticky orange substance. That conversational
line exhausted, the two stand there awkwardly. A long
moment passes. "Um, you wanna Cheez-it?" the
kid finally asks, thrusting a bag at Sobieski. She politely
declines and continues on her way.
Sobieski, who proudly attests to being the only true virgin
who's ever played Joan of Arc, is in the market for a
boyfriend. Generally, though, she finds guys her age immature.
"I'm always yelling at them. They get those bottles
of Silly String and shoot it all over the place. I'm like,
'What's Wrong with you?'"
Last year, Sobieski attended a party on the Hamptons for
A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries. All sorts of
big-name authors were there: Norman Mailer, Salman Rushdie,
Arthur Miller. Minimal Silly String is evidence. "I
sat next to Peter Matthiessen," she recalls breathlessly.
"He was talking to me about how he's trying to save
this species of cranes for, like, an hour. And I'm thinking,
If only I could find a guy who wasn't in his 70s to talk
to me about white cranes, I'd be madly in love."
(Alas, Sobieski's parents won't let her date anyone over
At times, Sobieski--who's tutored when she can't attend
school--has difficulty shifting between her Hollywood
life and her other life. She doesn't want to seem like
a show-off: "I can't tell my friend, 'Hey the other
day I met the guy you've had a crush on for the past six
years!' That's mean, you know? But all these really weird,
crazy things are happening to you, and sometimes you just
want to burst."
Weird and crazy is pretty much par for the course when
you're barely old enough to get into R-rated movies and
Hollywood comes calling. "It's strange," Sobieski
says. "All these grown-ups are working for you. They
want you to get into their game. They want to make their
money off the money that you're making. And you're thinking,
I should be working in an ice-cream place."
Sobieski usually gives the young-Hollywood party circut
a pretty wide berth, but a while back she attended a bash
some agents were throwing for a 16-year-old actor she
knows. "They kept going, 'Hey you want some wine?
You want a beer?'" she recalls. "This one agent
said to my friend, 'Anytime you want some pat, I'll hook
you up.' I was shocked. I mean, I couldn't believe it."
You hear the stories about young actors being preyed on
by Hollywood sharks, or cracking under the pressure and
landing in various kinds of headline-grabbing trouble.
To be sure, not all of the class of 1999 will make it.
But Sobieski doesn't seem particularly concerned. She'll
see where the acting goes--next up is the romantic drama
Here on Earth--but she has other interests. She's
determined to go to college, even if it takes her six
years to graduate. The example of Oscar-toting Ivy League
alums like Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster looms larger
than any join-the-dark-side-and-we'll-rule-the-galaxy-together
come-on Hollywood could offer.
"A lot of young people have to touch the stove at
some point," says Drew Barrymore, who should know--having
basically lived on the stove for awhile. "But I really
don't worry about Leelee. She just has such a clear head
on her shoulders. She'll be one of the people who keeps
Perfect for the Part
She was a bitch, and starved herself like they
She was a star, and did what only starlets do.
She was an intellectual, and thought her way through.
She was an artist and was sometimes called a coocoo.
I am the girl, all these things combined, but I still
won't act the way you want me to.
She resisted as long as she could. but last week,
Sobieski finally broke down and bought that most basic
and stereotypical of young-actor accessories. "I
was so mad at myself," she says. "But now I
have one, and you know what? It's so cute. You have to
get a really silly one or else it's not fun." She
reaches into her bag and pulls out a cell phone cheesily
decorated with a bald eagle and an American flag.
"See? I have a Hell's Angels cell phone!"
She switches the phone on. "Look," she says
brightly, "I have my little personalized message
here when I turn it on." It read B REAL B NICE B
She shrugs. "Whatever."