FUNNY lady

On screen and off, leslie mann keeps on steal­ing scenes—and ev­ery­one’s heart.

Los Angeles Confidential - - Style - by SCOTT HUVER pho­tog­ra­phy by FRED­ERIC AUER­BACH

When Leslie Mann ap­pears in a film—whether her role is large or small, whether the film’s crit­i­cal re­ac­tion is glow­ing, mid­dling, or in­dif­fer­ent—a cou­ple of things can be ex­pected: First, an au­di­ence mem­ber will nudge their com­pan­ion and say some­thing like, “Oh, I love her”; sec­ond, the re­views will of­ten note that “Leslie Mann is the best thing in this movie.”

Mann, 45, has to be per­suaded, over break­fast in Brent­wood, that these ob­ser­va­tions are true, even­tu­ally warm­ing to the no­tion when she’s com­pared to a stealth weapon that films can de­ploy at any mo­ment for im­me­di­ate au­di­ence-pleas­ing ef­fect.

“The stealth weapon!” she ex­claims with an amused chuckle. “Oh, I like that. That’s nice. I like to think of things in that way.” Still, her re­cent reading on pos­i­tiv­ity re­minds her that “peo­ple al­ways fo­cus on the neg­a­tive thing. It’s hard to pay at­ten­tion to the good things. So, I don’t know what you’re talk­ing about!”

There’s plenty of em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence. Af­ter ef­fec­tively launch­ing her ca­reer as an in­genue with a sly comedic streak in high-pro­file ’90s fare like The Ca­ble Guy and Big Daddy, Mann slowed her quick as­cent a pace af­ter mar­ry­ing writer/di­rec­tor Judd Apa­tow and start­ing their fam­ily to­gether. But she quickly reemerged in full-tilt scene-steal­ing mode when the cou­ple’s per­sonal part­ner­ship ex­tended to the big

screen in a string of his very, very funny films: The 40-YearOld Vir­gin, Knocked Up, Funny Peo­ple, and This Is Forty.

Evok­ing the late great Made­line Kahn with her rare combo of charm, al­lure, and comedic go-for-broke fear­less­ness, Mann flour­ished work­ing with other film­mak­ers, as well, across an eclec­tic ar­ray of fare: The Bling Ring, The Other Woman, How To Be Sin­gle, and, this year, The Co­me­dian, op­po­site no less than Robert De Niro. The film’s di­rec­tor, Tay­lor Hack­ford, ad­mits he was im­pressed with how Mann, a late ad­di­tion to a cast of act­ing heavy­weights in­clud­ing Har­vey Kei­tel, Patti LuPone, Danny De­Vito, and Edie Falco, dove in and more than held her own.

“De Niro is a bril­liant ac­tor, but he’s not known for de­vel­op­ing a huge amount of chem­istry with the ac­tresses he works with,” says Hack­ford. “Yet there’s a lot of won­der­ful work that they did to­gether. She’s come to a new area of her own ca­reer—she’s fab­u­lous in Judd’s movies, but this is much more of a dra­matic role than her nor­mal come­di­enne work. She’s nat­u­rally funny, but I was never look­ing for her to de­liver funny lines. [Her char­ac­ter’s] got a lot of prob­lems in her life, and Leslie is able to ex­press that in a way that is in­cred­i­bly hu­man.”

Mann’s is a Hol­ly­wood suc­cess story built less on power moves and machi­na­tions, she ad­mits, than sim­ply choos­ing a grad­ual path of ad­vance­ment and let­ting her tal­ent and the req­ui­site luck lead her. “When I was younger, I had a whole plan for my­self,” she says. “And it kind of worked out. Now, I don’t as much. I just want to work with great peo­ple, smart peo­ple, and tal­ented peo­ple, and peo­ple who I can cre­atively un­der­stand. That’s my goal.”

Reared in New­port Beach, Mann be­gan the way so many as­pir­ing per­form­ers do: a col­lege act­ing class, some com­mer­cial au­di­tions, some early pay­ing gigs, and a deep­en­ing pur­suit of for­mal train­ing as she ar­rived in LA. “It felt like a high be­ing in that en­vi­ron­ment, and it felt like ev­ery­thing made sense… The peo­ple I was around, their in­sides matched their out­sides, like you could say how you feel. And that’s what act­ing is—it’s all about ex­press­ing your feel­ings. It just felt like liv­ing, for me. It was like dis­cov­er­ing where I be­long, dis­cov­er­ing my­self.”

That in­cluded the re­al­iza­tion that she had a fa­cil­ity for min­ing big laughs out of a char­ac­ter and that she needed to play to that strength—an epiphany that came dur­ing a dra­matic au­di­tion. “It was at the Chateau Mar­mont,” she re­mem­bers. “I don’t know what it was for—but it was a se­ri­ous role. I re­mem­ber peo­ple laughed, and it re­ally threw

“[AF­TER 20 YEARS OF MAR­RIAGE], THERE’S STILL NO SHORT­AGE OF CON­VER­SA­TION. AND JUDD LAUGHS A LOT—SOME­TIMES I THINK HE’S JUST BE­ING COUR­TE­OUS. I DON’T GIVE HIM COUR­TESY LAUGHS, SO HE KNOWS HE’S SCORED WHEN I LAUGH.” —leslie mann

me, and it threw me so much that I couldn’t re­mem­ber my lines! I was like, ‘What?’”

“I thought about that for a while, like, ‘What just hap­pened? What was that?’” she says. “I then slowly started head­ing into au­di­tion­ing for com­edy stuff. I wasn’t do­ing well in the dra­matic parts. It felt like I was do­ing bet­ter in com­edy. That’s where I was hav­ing the most fun.”

“But I do think in my head, when I’m do­ing a lot of these come­dies, that I’m be­ing very dra­matic—it’s just com­ing out in a way that peo­ple find amus­ing,” she laughs. Her char­ac­ters’ predica­ments may be hi­lar­i­ous, even hu­mil­i­at­ing, but Mann’s play­ing ev­ery gen­uine feel­ing she can find in the set­ups.

It’s an emo­tional time at the Mann/Apa­tow house­hold. The cou­ple’s two daugh­ters, Maude, 19, and Iris, 14—both of whom have acted op­po­site their mother in films directed by their fa­ther—are en­ter­ing phases of their own lives that are def­i­nitely leav­ing their mother acutely aware of in­creas­ing empty-nest angst. “It’s crazy!” she ex­claims. “They don’t need you any­more. My whole life is my kids… then I do work stuff some­times.”

While her el­dest is ex­plor­ing her own path at an out-of-state univer­sity and her youngest is dis­cov­er­ing her in­de­pen­dence for the first time, “It feels like a void, and I could cry just think­ing about it,” she ad­mits. “It’s so hard! Yes, I do need to head into the ‘I have more time on my hands’ [mode] and be happy about that, but right now I’m mourn­ing my kids not be­ing around all the time.”

“When I was sin­gle and on my own as an ac­tress, the tran­si­tion from that into be­ing a mother was just as hard as this tran­si­tion that I’m go­ing through right now. I didn’t put those two to­gether un­til right this minute,” Mann muses. “It was re­ally hard to go from be­ing a sin­gle per­son, do­ing ev­ery­thing for my­self, to do­ing ev­ery­thing for this lit­tle baby. I re­ally strug­gled. It took me a solid, like, three years to set­tle into that. So now I won­der if it’s go­ing to take three years to set­tle out? Or maybe it never goes. Hope­fully my kids will just move back home and we can all live to­gether again! That’s my dream.”

“Maybe not for them,” she adds. “That’s, like, a bad dream to have for my kids, huh?”

With Mann and Apa­tow cel­e­brat­ing their 20th an­niver­sary in June, I sug­gest that per­haps the ma­jor­ity of Hol­ly­wood mar­riages aren’t re­ally the frag­ile, fleet­ing, fickle things the pub­lic imag­ines. “Name two!” she coun­ters. We set­tle on the pairings of Tom Hanks and Rita Wil­son and Kevin Ba­con and Kyra Sedg­wick, with Mann and her hus­band round­ing out the list. And no, two decades did not pass, as they say, in the blink of an eye.

“Feels like for­ever! It feels like 20 years,” she laughs, re­mem­ber­ing how the min­is­ter and a banjo player were the sole at­ten­dees of their 1997 wed­ding in Hawaii and how they promised them­selves they’d throw a gen­uine party with friends and fam­ily to mark their five-year an­niver­sary. “We didn’t—too busy,” she re­veals. “Then we said, ‘At 10 years we’ll do it’—then we didn’t. Fif­teen—we didn’t. Now it’s 20, and we’re like, ‘There’s so much go­ing on! Iris is grad­u­at­ing from mid­dle school. Ev­ery­body has all their stuff go­ing on...’ I think we’re go­ing to have to skip the party. So it’s go­ing to be 25.”

“We have so much in com­mon and we have a lot to talk about,” she says of the dura­bil­ity of their bond. “We spend a lot of time to­gether, and there’s still no short­age of con­ver­sa­tion.” And yes, the two com­edy su­per-pros still get a kick out of mak­ing each other laugh. “He laughs a lot—some­times I think he’s just giv­ing me cour­tesy laughs. I don’t give him cour­tesy laughs, so he knows he’s scored when I laugh.”

As Mann pre­pares her­self for new chap­ters in her per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives, it’s clear that her stud­ies in pos­i­tiv­ity and her knack for zero­ing in on the funny are cer­tain to serve her well. As she glances at the latte that just ar­rived, she no­tices some­thing a bit askew about the foam de­sign float­ing in the cup.

“Is that, like, a weird mis­shapen heart?” she asks be­fore land­ing on what the cof­fee art ac­tu­ally re­sem­bles. “They just gave me a butt! What does that mean? Shit!”

Then, both pos­i­tiv­ity and punch­line: “I choose to see the heart.”

“DE NIRO IS A BRIL­LIANT AC­TOR, BUT HE’S NOT KNOWN FOR DE­VEL­OP­ING A HUGE AMOUNT OF CHEM­ISTRY WITH THE AC­TRESSES HE WORKS WITH. YET THERE’S SO MUCH WON­DER­FUL WORK THAT LESLIE AND HE DID TO­GETHER. SHE’S COME TO A NEW AREA OF HER CA­REER.” —tay­lor hack­ford

Frieza sweater, Boss ($545). 414 N. Rodeo Dr., Bev­erly Hills, 310-859-2888; hugo

boss.com. 14k rose-gold di­a­mond ring, Effy Jew­elry

($4,600). Bro­ken English, 225 26th St., Santa Mon­ica, 310-458-2724; bro­ken

en­glish­jew­elry.com. Signet ring, Mann’s own

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