NEW YORK — “It’s always a good way to get a job when a knight calls you for work,” jokes Téa Leoni.

The knight in question would be Sir Ben Kingsley, who personally asked Leoni to act opposite him in the upcoming “You Kill Me,” opening next Friday. The John Dahl-directed film has Kingsley as Frank, a hit man whose drinking habit interferes so seriously with his work that his employers send him to San Francisco to clean up. There, Frank meets the acerbic Lauren (Leoni) in Alcoholics Anonymous and the two form an unlikely romantic bond.

“You know, I’ve certainly been the ‘chick of the flick’ in the past and you start to see certain commonalities with scripts and women’s roles that somewhere around page 50 to 70, there’s usually a monologue where she explains why she is in love with somebody. Why she is screwed up. Why she is in transition,” says Leoni from her room at the Hotel Gansevoort. “What I really liked about this script, which is different and confident, was that this woman was completely unexplained.”

Indeed, almost no answers are provided as to the origins of Lauren’s attraction to Frank, or vice versa. And similar to her role as Adam Sandler’s controlling, tightly wound wife in “Spanglish,” Lauren is not an easy woman for audience members to befriend. It is a quality of which Leoni is all too keenly aware.

“I sometimes get called to play these women who I wouldn’t go and have a beer with if my life depended on it….I think I started that in ‘Flirting with Disaster,'” laughs Leoni, who is a friendly conversationalist despite her very to-the-point speech and no-BS manner. “I just knew that playing Lauren I would get frustrated because at times, I think, Wouldn’t it be nice to be liked? Sometimes I just think it’s because I’m a very happy mother of two and sometimes I don’t want to wake up and be somebody no one wants to lunch with.”

Leoni’s own playful side is subtly displayed on her wrist, sporting a combination of hair elastics for daughter West and a charity bracelet for UNICEF designed by Sarah Jessica Parker. She has been happily married to actor David Duchovny for 10 years and is seriously contemplating a move back to her native New York. The couple has started a production company, whose upcoming projects include “American Dreamers” about Dewitt and Lila Wallace of Reader’s Digest fame. And though Leoni has drama in her blood (her grandmother was an actress), she’s not the hard-core driven type, claiming she can’t even handle the competition of the sports she still loves to play.

This story first appeared in the June 14, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“I’m a no-score athlete,” says the lithe actress. “At one point I was really into sailboarding and competing in that and I just chickened out. I got so tense during races that I wasn’t enjoying them. So mostly now it’s tennis. David and I will bang the crap out of a ball for an hour and a half, but I’m not interested in playing a game.”

Leoni’s noncompetitive attitude carries over to her professional life. As a 41-year-old actress, she spends little time considering the possibility of a slower trickle of roles.

“I’ve been ready to get kicked out for years,” she says. “Acting for me is something that I need to do…I finally in the last several years have found, oh my goodness, I’m an artist. Maybe I’m not even a very good one, but this is what I have to do.”

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