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
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."