Leelee Sobieski was once one of the most popular young actresses in Hollywood. In the late ’90s, she starred in a string of hits like Never Been Kissed with Drew Barrymore and the sci-fi action blockbuster Deep Impact. The young New York actress was touted as the next “It” girl in Hollywood, not only because of her string of box office hits, but also her award-winning performances.
Instantly likeable thanks to looking like a “baby” Helen Hunt, Sobieski dominated in the latter years of the ’90s, but her reign as one of tinsel town’s most in-demand actresses only lasted a handful of years before she almost completely disappeared. By her mid-20s, Sobieski slowly stepped away from Hollywood, changed her name, and began to speak out against the industry she’d grown up in.
Sobieski, now 36, was discovered in a food court at a New York private school, which led to her auditioning for the 1994 movie Interview with the Vampire, which ultimately went to Kirsten Dunst. It wasn’t until three years later where she’d pick up her first ever role in a studio film, starring in the Disney comedy, Jungle 2 Jungle, which starred A-lister Tim Allen in the lead role. Her first couple of years under the full intensity of spotlight were 1998 and 1999, which also proved to be as high as her fame would go. Her breakout performance was in the sci-fi disaster movie Deep Impact, which was a colossal financial success, grossing more than $US349 million at the global box office against a $US75 million production budget.
That same year, in 1998, Sobieski appeared in the film A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries. While the movie, which also starred Kris Kristofferson, didn’t do so well at the box office, Sobieski’s glowing performance garnered praise. She also nabbed a Young Artist Award nomination, as well as a nomination by the Chicago Film Critics Association. The following year she appeared in Eyes Wide Shut alongside Tom Cruise and Never Been Kissed with Drew Barrymore, which has managed to achieve cult status over the years.
It was the Joan of Arc miniseries, based on the 15th century Catholic saint of the same name, that bolstered her as an on-screen force. While she was already becoming a household name, this role introduced Sobieski as an obscenely talented actress, scoring her award nominations for both the Golden Globes and the Emmys.
Sobieski took on some pretty terrible roles after, including the 2000 movie Here on Earth, co-starring American Pie actor Chris Klein, which was savaged by critics.
In 2001 came the thriller The Glass House. Once again it was torn a part by critics.Her next release Joy Ride, which also starred the late Paul Walker, actually received decent reviews but still it failed. This is when Sobieski’s career really started to hit a halt. She worked on movies that were so small we’ve never even heard of. L’idole (2002), Lying (2006) and In a Dark Place (2006), as well as the truly odd The Wicker Man (2006).
With her films not receiving a lot of love, Sobieski turned to TV, where she saw great success with Joan of Arc.
In 2012 Us Weekly caught up with the actress and asked what she had been up to, in which Sobieski said she was busy being a mum to Louisanna (born in 2009). Her second child Martin was born in 2014, whom she had with her husband, fashion designer Adam Kimmel.
“I don’t do movie stuff anymore. I am totally an outsider. Just a mum and an outsider,” she said.
And while she has said she quit the industry to focus on motherhood, Sobieski has also described the industry as “gross” and commented on how she “couldn’t stomach it”.
“Ninety per cent of acting roles involve so much sexual stuff with other people, and I don’t want to do that,” she told Vogue in 2012.
Further more, Sobieski told AnOther in 2018 she felt pressure from a young age to perform, given she started paying her parents’ rent when she was only 15. “Things got complicated for me … So when I could, I stopped,” she said.
“It’s kind of a gross industry — well, they all are, when you examine them — but in acting you’re selling your appearance so much. I would cry every time I had to kiss somebody, I couldn’t stomach it. I would think ‘I like this person, so I don’t think they should pay me to kiss them,’ or ‘I don’t like this person, so I don’t want to kiss them’. Why is my kiss for sale?’ It made me feel really cheap. I don’t know why it’s legal for a child to act. It’s a crazy double standard, and that’s super weird for me. Now that the MeToo movement has come forward, people understand more that it’s pretty gross and uncomfortable.”
Since 2016, she’s worked as a professional artist, painting both on large canvases and in a virtual reality headset at her New York studio.