Leelee Sobieski commands up to $1 million a movie—but she has been known to perform for less. Much less. “One time we were standing on the street corner in Manhattan,” says a friend, actor Anthony Roth Costanzo, “and she said, ‘If you sing, I’ll do some flamenco dancing, and we’ll see if anyone gives us any money.’ One woman finally came up to Leelee and handed her a dime and said, ‘I just didn’t want you to feel bad.'”
It’s just as well Sobieski has that acting thing to fall back on. With a starring role as a Jewish resistance fighter in NBC’s World War II mini-series Uprising (which airs on Nov. 4 and 5) and three movies out this fall—the drama My First Mister and thrillers Joy Ride and The Glass House—the free-spirited 19-year-old has plenty to feel good about. What sets her apart from the current pack of young starlets? She has the smarts to discuss abstract art in French—”I can be intimidating sometimes,” she admits—yet she’s still silly enough to busk on street corners. “Part of Leelee is very sophisticated,” says Joy Ride director John Dahl, “and the other part of her is a goofy teenager.”
Sobieski the sophisticate is a seven-year veteran of Hollywood who already has an Emmy nomination (for the 1999 miniseries Joan of Arc) and a seduction scene with Tom Cruise (in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut) under her belt. The goofy teen is now enjoying the freedom of college life as a freshman at Brown University, where she’s taking classes in poetry and Japanese literature and jousting with her roommate over music. (Sobieski favors Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong; her roommate is into Ben Harper.) Though she doesn’t have a serious boyfriend—”I don’t think people date anymore. I think people hang out,” she says—Sobieski has had no trouble fitting in with her classmates, despite her fame. “They don’t come up to me and say, ‘What’s Tom Cruise like?'” she says, “but if I start talking to someone, 20 minutes into the conversation, they throw that in.”
One downside of a grown—up career is missing out on teen milestones like the senior prom—Sobieski skipped hers to shoot Joy Ride—and scoring a driver’s license. Sobieski, who as a career gal and Manhattan native never learned, had her first driving lesson with an assistant director on the Joy Ride set. “They practiced in a huge parking lot, but still she managed to run into something and scratch his car—a brand-new Lexus SUV,” says Dahl.
In Paris over the summer to film the upcoming French movie L’Idole, Sobieski indulged her silly side with friends. “We went to good restaurants and drew all over the tablecloths,” she says. Still, speaking with Sobieski, who paints abstracts as a hobby, “you can forget that you’re talking to someone much younger than yourself,” says her My First Mister costar Albert Brooks.
Credit her upbringing among New York City’s bohemian set. Leelee (full name Liliane Roudabeh Gloria Elzvieta Sobieski) “was always unbelievably outgoing, never intimidated by anyone or anything,” says her mother, Elizabeth, a screen-writer whose French-born husband, Jean, is a portrait and abstract painter. Along with brother Roby, 12, Sobieski spent her childhood days wandering art museums and summers visiting France. At 11, she was discovered in the cafeteria at the Day School in Manhattan by a casting agent looking for a preteen bloodsucker for Interview with the Vampire. Kirsten Dunst got that part, but Sobieski landed a role in the 1994 TV movie Reunion. Other television gigs led to film roles, including one as a young bride in 1998’s Deep Impact.
Recently, work has taken Sobieski from Joy Ride‘s Nevada highways to Uprising‘s Slovakia set. Sobieski, who has roots both Polish (her father is descended from the 17th-century King Jan Sobieski) and Jewish (her mother’s father), was deeply affected by Uprising‘s story of the Warsaw Ghetto’s revolt against the Nazi army. “It’s something that, hopefully, touches everyone,” she says.
Not so universally embraced is Sobieski’s eccentric habit of saving snippets of her coworkers’ hair as movie souvenirs. “It’s just more personal than an autograph,” explains the actress, whose collection includes locks from Tim Allen and Stanley Kubrick, all stored in Ziploc bags. “I don’t spend my day thinking about hair or anything. I don’t even like my own hair.” While Tom Cruise claimed his hair was too short to shear, the only problem nowadays, she says, is “I think people get a little bit insulted if I forget to ask them. Like they think, ‘Gosh, does she think I’m not famous enough?’ I want everybody’s hair—pile it on!” The way her career is soaring, future samples shouldn’t be a problem.
Rachel Felder in New York City and Susan Christian Goulding in Los Angeles