Teen actress balances film and college

The car arrived at 5 a.m. on the dot, and Leelee Sobieski left her dorm at Brown University, got in the car, and headed for Logan Airport in Boston. It was her third consecutive weekend making this run - Boston to Los Angeles. Her friends call it the Leelee Marathon.

The amount of commuting isn't surprising, given that the 19-year-old college freshman has three movies on screens at the moment - "Glass House," "Joy Ride," and, opening today, "My First Mister."

"Hello," she smiled to the flight attendant, whom she'd seen so often. Then she headed to her seat, settled in, and fell asleep. In a few minutes, the flight attendant was shaking the actress, "I'm sorry, but we have a man who wants to sit by a window, with an open seat next to him. You'll have to move." Sobieski obediently began to pick up her belongings, and then confusedly, asked, "Why?"

The reply, "He's a paying customer." As she became more awake, the teenager said, "So am I."

"No, no, you're an airline employee; you've been on this flight for the past three weeks," the stewardess said.

It wasn't until another employee came to Sobieski's rescue that it was established that she wasn't a flight attendant, but a paying customer - and that one of her movies was playing in coach.

"It's hard to recognize me," she says laughing, as she mentioned the incident later. "I've been cast in such a variety of roles."

Her latest, "My First Mister," is perhaps her most unusual. "I play a goth-punker, who wears black makeup, has piercings all over," Sobieski explains. "She wants to make her exterior tough and invincible, because inside she doesn't feel she's worthy to be loved."

It was a hard sell to get the role. The director, Emmy-winning actress Christine Lahti, admired Sobieski's work in the title role of "Joan of Arc," the Emmy-nominated TV series, but admits, "I just couldn't see her looking like a freak."

She had Sobieski and Albert Brooks read together. "He plays this uptight manager of a men's store where I apply for a job," Sobieski explains. "He has few friends, spends every evening with a book, and is as lonely in his own way as my character. We began the scene, and then when the lines ended, I continued. Albert was challenged, and he kept ad-libbing dialogue."

Ms. Lahti knew the two had great chemistry. She invited them to her house for another rehearsal. This time, Sobieski dressed for the part. "I arrived with raven black hair pulled into a knot on the top of my head. I was all in black, except for white makeup on my face and hands. I did such a good job, my brows, lashes, and lips were almost invisible."

Arriving at the director's house, Lahti's seven-year-old twins answered the door, took one look at the ghostly guest, and ran screaming for their mama.

She could look and act the role. "It was really great having an actress as the director," Sobieski enthuses. "We went to Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, where purple hair and tattoos are common, and talked with other similarly dressed girls."

Sobieski hopes that she can concentrate on college classes like the History of Japanese Literature in Society and the History of Art and Architecture, too. "I'm not a sorority girl. I live in a dorm with a roommate," she says. "At first, students were quizzical. They didn't know how to approach me. Would I want to hang out with them or be a diva locked in her room? Once they saw me walking to the bathroom picking at my toe nails - they realized 'she's ugly and normal like anyone else.' "

Where she does differ from other students is a "lavish" purchase: a full-length cashmere bathrobe. The other day, when her roommate was under the weather, she wrapped her in it. ("It feels so wonderful, I've been sleeping in it," she admits.)

Away at college, Leelee calls home often. "Every day they tell me they love me and that they are there for me," she says. When it comes to a career mentor, she points to her parents. Her father, an artist, is French, so she is fluent in the language. (Later this year, she has yet another film, "The Idol," coming out. "It's more of an art house film," she explains, "since it's all in French.") Sobieski loves spending time with her father, painting abstract art on the same canvas. Her mother is a writer.

"Dad often coaches me in a role, and my mom is great as a manager. She'll read the scripts and pick out the best for me to consider," Sobieski explains.

She is also grateful that her 12- year-old brother, Robbie, is so understanding of the demands on her career. Most of all, she thanks her parents.

"When mom learned [that] I'd been on this marathon of promotion trips to L.A., she told me I was grumpy because I didn't have enough sleep," she says. "Like most teenagers, I sometimes think I'm invincible, but Mom is there to tell me I'm not."

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