After her breakthrough role as a naive freshman in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jennifer Jason Leigh made a career playing the deliciously damaged or deranged. Putting that vicious circle of psychopaths, addicts, and hookers on hold to star in husband Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding, the 45-year-old married white female opens up about Broadway, bikinis, and blow jobs — and shows us why she might not make such a bad roommate after all.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: Just how aware are you of your gay following?
Jennifer Jason Leigh: Somewhat aware — but you can always tell me more!
Which of your films do gay fans respond to the most?
Well, Dolores Claiborne  is always popular, because it’s just a big melodrama with great women characters who are all tortured. It almost comes back toStella Dallas.
So is it true that sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to?
Well, I had to say it enough. [Laughs] No, but I think it’s a pretty good line.
Have you ever played a lesbian?
Not outright. You know, Hedy [in 1992’s Single White Female] is kind of…. I don’t even know if she’s gay so much as she wants to merge with Bridget Fonda’s character.
Did you discuss Hedy’s sexuality with the director or gay screenwriter Don Roos?
There were feelings about that in the script, but we never had a full-out conversation about it. It was kind of more mysterious. But I like adding little things.
If Dolores won over gay men, SWF totally snagged your lesbians.
If you were to play gay, whom would you pick for your on-screen lover?
Mmm! Oh, that’s such a good question. Probably Samantha Morton, just because I think she’s a genius and I’d go see her in anything. I would love to work with her in any way.
Though you’ve worked with practically everyone else, were you ever starstruck by costar Nicole Kidman in Margot at the Wedding?
Well, she’s so good, it’s crazy. When we were doing scenes together, it was so easy to believe that we were sisters and had that kind of intimacy and history — if anything, you just forgot it was her. Then you’d see her later at a party or something and she’s like a phenomenon. But when she acts, she disappears into the character so completely. She’s very generous, she gives you a lot to work with, she’s always alive, and every take is different. She’s everything you want in a partner.
Have you and your buddy Alan Cumming considered another writing-directing project to follow 2001’s The Anniversary Party?
No, but I’m sure if we got in a room together for 10 minutes, we’d come up with something. I’m sure we will at some point in our lives.
What’s your favorite Cumming story?
There are so many good ones! He’s just hilarious. The other night after he and [his husband] Grant came to Margot at the New York Film Festival, he told me a really funny story about how he was the ambassador to Grand Marnier. [Laughs] Grand Marnier was the official host of the New York Film Festival a few years ago, and he basically got paid to go to some parties that he would’ve probably gone to anyway — you know, it’s not hard to get Alan to go to a party. And he had this whole spiel. So at Dogville, when Nicole was like, “Alan, what are you doing here?” He had to say, “Oh, I’m the official ambassador to Grand Marnier.
Bless Alan for being out and proud, but do you know any prominent actors still struggling in the closet?
Uh, yeah. But it’s hard to give anyone advice, especially with people who are so closeted they don’t even admit that they’re gay.
You’re an alumnus of the performing-arts summer camp Stagedoor Manor. Was it really as gay as depicted in Todd Graff’s Camp?
I didn’t see the film! But I think Todd was there my year. I remember a guy there named Gary who was gay and my friend. But I didn’t do a musical — I played Laura in The Glass Menagerie.
One of the most iconic scenes in Fast Times at Ridgemont High involved your friend Phoebe Cates emerging from a pool. Do you ever secretly wish it had been you removing that bright red bikini?
I was just e-mailing Phoebe! No, I liked my part in Fast Times. But I think it’s fantastic. I mean, c’mon, she was like this huge international sex symbol — nothing wrong with that. I had a little taste of that in some films — not to the same extent — but I enjoyed it. It’s a good thing.
With which other three-named actress do you get confused the most: Jamie Lee Curtis, Jennifer Love Hewitt, or Rachael Leigh Cook?
It would seem like that would happen, but I’ve never heard any of those. People do sometimes think I’m Janet Leigh’s other daughter — and I’m not.
On Broadway, you succeeded Tony winners Natasha Richardson in Cabaret and Mary-Louise Parker in Proof. Which stage role would you like to step into next?
See, there’s another three-named person: Mary-Louise Parker. That’s a good one. I don’t really know what’s playing right now because I’ve been in L.A. for six months straight, but I’d like to do something that hasn’t already been done.
I don’t think I’m a very good singer, but I enjoy it a lot, so I’m always up for the challenge. I would like to one day become a good singer. I don’t know if that could happen, though, because I feel like singing really is a gift. Like, Alan can really sing. And Phoebe, by the way, can really sing!
Those who didn’t see you in Cabaret probably think you sing like your character Sadie in Georgia.
Well, yeah, that’s tragic. Sadie’s voice is very raw and alive, which is her strength, but I like to think that with some work I could sing better than that.
Did you turn down Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny because of the infamous blow-job scene?
No, it just didn’t work out. I think I would’ve done it if I weren’t in a relationship at the time. I don’t think there’s any stigma there, really. I love that film In the Realm of the Senses. I don’t think it’s pornographic in any way, but the actors are actually having sex. Those kinds of limits are interesting to me if it’s really well done.
So you aren’t shying away from junkie-prostitute parts?
No, I’ll always do stuff that appeals to me, and a lot of times those are the ones that do because they’re more interesting.
Any interest in playing Pollyannas?
No. Life’s too full of them.
How might your life be different if you had gotten Linda Hamilton’s role in The Terminator?
I think I’d be a lot richer. [Laughs] But would I still be a gay icon?
The Advocate, November 2007; extended online version.