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ARTICLES Parade - In Step with Leelee Sobieski
 

It's always thrilling to be in on the unveiling of a young talent: a brilliant rookie ballplayer, a riveting first novelist.

On May 16 and 18, CBS presents a teenage actress named Leelee Sobieski in the title role of it's miniseries Joan of Arc. The star-packed cast also includes Jacqueline Bisset and Powers Boothe as her parents, plus Peter O'Toole, Shirely MacLaine and Peter Strauss. Last year, Mr. Sobieski starred in A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries and Deep Impact. She's now starring with Drew Barrymore in the teen hit Never Been Kissed, and this July she plays opposite Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut, the last film directed by the late Stanley Kubrick.

The extraordinary aspect of Leelee's casting as Joan is that it may be the first time a 16-year-old plays the french girl at 16, the age when she heard "voices" believed to be from God and attempted to unite France to throw out the english invaders in 1429. By 19, Joan was captured by enemies of King Charles VII, her patron, and burned as a heretic. Leelee was just back from filming Joan in the Czech Republic when we spoke, and I asked her how she'd won the role.

"I don't know the intimate details," she told me. "I was supposed to do a film, Girl Interrupted, but there's only one time in your life you get the chance to play Joan at the same age she was in real life."

 

Did Leelee know much about Joan, who was canonized a saint, before portraying her?

"Even though I'm half-French, not terribly much," she said. "So I read George Bernard Shaw's play and then Mark Twain and really enjoyed that. Then I read Joan in her own words." In the show's promos, Leelee truly looks the girl-warrior in her mail and armor. Was it hard wearing that stuff? "I'm probably exaggerating," she said, "but I was galloping along in about 50 pounds of armor with a staff solidly attached to the stirrup and the banner like a sail in the wind. It was scary, arrows coming at you, even if they were rubber, and 200 men who don't know your language [all Czechs] charging behind you." But where do you buy a suit of armor these days? "There's only one place," she said. "An old Italian costume company outside Rome. There were six men, and they were sort of smelly, and all around me, pushing me, trying to fit a young woman into cans, like putting a cover on sardines."