“What do you think about Grindr?” We haven’t even ordered our wax beans and parmesan-dusted potatoes at Locanda Verde, an Italian restaurant in TriBeCa, and already Leelee Sobieski wants to know if I’ve ever used my phone to hook up with a stranger within a five-block radius. I don’t know all that much about it, I tell her.
Leaning in as if to reveal a bit of lurid gossip, the 28-year-old actor says of the gay networking application, “When I first heard about it, it felt like an exciting secret because it wasn’t yet mainstream. With Manhunt [a dating service website for men], you could whittle guys down by your preferences—‘I like to eat broccoli and my turn-ons are leather, bottled water, and focaccia’—but their pictures were usually of cropped torsos, biceps, or left butt cheeks. With Grindr, there’s none of that secrecy. So then I thought, What if I were a closeted gay man from a small town, and I felt all alone?
I could go on Grindr and it’d be like, boom, boom, boom—gay men everywhere! This is when I started thinking about turning Grindr into a movie. Picture it: A group of sweet, young men bond over their unified secret, until a bloodthirsty serial killer logs on to the app and says, ‘I’m going to kill you all!’” Laughing, she shakes her head and reaches for her second iced latte.
If Sobieski seems voluble, it might be that she’s making up for lost time. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the two-time Golden Globe nominee, who’s spent the past few years starting a family with her husband, menswear designer Adam Kimmel, and their ringleted, 2-year-old daughter, Louisanna. “I’m so happy with the bubble we’ve created,” she says, her face flushed with joy, while sliding through photos on her iPhone: Louisanna in a cop car, Louisanna at the Natural History Museum, Louisanna dressed like a cowgirl. Although she’s excited to get back in the saddle, Sobieski’s return to acting isn’t fraught with the neuroses characteristic of a comeback.
“Unless you spend all of your time posing for photo shoots and shmoozing, you’re not going to be written about in US Weekly or on those men’s sites—the ones that are like, ‘I wanna, you know, do that chick’—which means you’re not going to get the part of the bombshell in a movie,” she says. “Not that I’ve ever played the bombshell. People probably thought my nose was too big, or that I was too tough.”
Strength and tenacity have served her well throughout her career, which has seen her bring to life women trying to overcome all manner of hurdles: Armageddon (Deep Impact), high school (Never Been Kissed), heresy (Joan of Arc, for which she earned an Emmy nomination), bone cancer (Here on Earth), psychotic two-way radio enthusiast (Joy Ride), the Holocaust (Uprising), and Al Pacino’s late-career scenery-chomping (88 Minutes). They’re also the same qualities that landed Sobieski her latest role as a hard-balling bluecoat on the Robert De Niro–produced cop procedural, The 2-2.
Created by James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line) and written by Richard Price (The Color of Money), the CBS series stars Adam Goldberg, Stark Sands, and Sobieski—as Jennifer “White House” Perry, an NYPD rookie previously employed by the Marines as a military police officer in Iraq. Sobieski, whose slight build seems better suited to a ballet company than to the fuzz, says she was drawn to her character because they’re so different. “White House seemed so far away from me,” she says. “In some ways I can handle my own—I’m definitely a tough mom—but take me to a horror film and I’m covering my eyes, screaming like a baby.”
To better understand the woman she’d be playing, Sobieski stopped female officers on the street to question them about working in a male-dominated sphere—How are they treated by their male peers? Do they bring their guns home with them? Would they change into more feminine attire at the precinct if they had a date right after work?—but she drew the line at riding shotgun in a cruiser. “I kind of cringe when I hear about actors who use taxpayer dollars to do ride-alongs,” says Sobieski, who’s always considered herself a New Yorker despite having spent much of her childhood between an ocean-view apartment complex in Miami, a farm in France, and a house in the Hollywood Hills. Still, the brief time she spent in conversation with true-blue officers was enlightening. “They were so lovely,” she says. “Although there are two very different sides to most of these women—when they’re in plainclothes and then when they’re in uniform—neither is more or less authentic than the other.”
The same could be said of Sobieski herself, who, like all new mothers, is still trying to strike the right balance between work and family, an equilibrium that gets muddled when “family time” means rocking an Adam Kimmel pantsuit at the CFDA Awards, or posing with her dad for Olivier Zahm’s Purple Diary, or chasing attractive men down the street to help her husband cast his next runway show. “I’ve definitely been making an effort, and it’s hard for me,” she says of her increased red carpet appearances. “Even when I was younger and somehow considered to be ‘on the scene,’ I never really did much of this.” Sobieski admits that she feels more like herself when she’s at home, wearing sweatpants and making omelets for her daughter—which reminds her, Louisanna is probably wondering where she’s gone.