WITH AN EYE ON . . . : The real Leila Kenzle--the guest who never left ‘Mad About You’
Leila Kenzle raises her eyes to the ceiling and proclaims, “Oh God! Here we go, Mom! Forgive me!”
The “Mad About You” cast member then looks directly at a lunch companion and declares, “Yes, it’s true, my mother was a total stage mother and pushed me all the way into acting.
“I’m the middle of three girls,” she explains. “And I was the biggest ham. So I was it. I was going to act.”
Kenzle acts as Jamie’s (Helen Hunt) best friend and business partner, Fran, on the hit NBC sitcom. “Fran’s neurotic,” Kenzle says. “So’s everyone on the show, but Fran relies on everyone else being OK, to any extent.”
Kenzle believes Fran, a Manhattanite, like every other major character on the show, “is a control freak like Jamie, but Jamie can realize it and Fran can’t. I think she could find herself with a new partner. Someone cute!”
Kenzle would love to see the now-divorced Fran in a relationship: “Of all the single characters in the show, she’s the one who could really thrive in a relationship. It makes the most sense.”
But what of Fran’s son who seems to have disappeared from the series, much in the manner of Tiger the dog on “The Brady Bunch”?
“I tell people, ‘I’m the worst parent you ever saw!’ ” she says with laugh. Kenzle, who just celebrated a year of marriage, continues: “People write letters asking where he is, and I don’t know what to tell them, since he’s hardly mentioned anymore.”
But since her first guest appearance in “Mad’s” first season (1992), Fran’s mentioned often. “I started out with the possibility of becoming a recurring character, then in the middle of the first season I became a regular. I had no idea it would go this far, but it’s really, really nice and was a big surprise.”
Kenzle acknowledges she suffers from a fear that she says “is typical actor: I still don’t think I have a job tomorrow, because I didn’t realize they’d do so much with Fran.”
In last week’s hourlong season finale, which was sort of a spin on “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Paul and Jamie Buchman find out what life would be like if they hadn’t met. In the alternate world, Fran is still Jamie’s sidekick.
Thirtysomething Kenzle, born Leanne Kuenzle, is a New Jersey native who’s lived in Los Angeles for six years. “What’s so funny is, I’m groovy here but I was so uncool there. I was a total bridge-and-tunnel girl. A total nerd.”
Kenzle’s mom took her daughter on auditions for local productions, encouraged her to act in school plays and even filled out her application to Mason Gross School of the Arts Conservatory at Rutgers University.
“Can you believe she did all that?” Kenzle says. “I really thought I was going to marry my high school boyfriend and become a housewife,” she recalls. But Kenzle attended Mason Gross--plucked from an audition as one of 30 from 500--and after graduating immediately became ... a hotel telephone operator.
“I was terrified!” she exclaims. “I was so afraid of that commitment to act.” She lived at home until she was 28. While working as an operator, she heard about “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding,” an interactive play for which she auditioned and won a role. Kenzle realized, as her mother often suggested, that acting was indeed her calling.
She and her husband, director Neil Monaco--whom she met in 1989 while touring with “Tony ‘n Tina’s”--begin production this summer on a film Monaco wrote and will direct. Kenzle, who’s helping to produce, also will star. The movie, “Bigger Fish,” is an insider’s view of the industry. “We’re doing it on our own, we asked all our friends for $100 bucks and now we’re ready to go,” she says with her trademark excitement. “People have been so great. A lot of the ‘Mad About You’ crew is helping out too,” she says.
Kenzle also has a sitcom in development she’ll produce. She’ll work on that while getting ready to shoot “Bigger Fish” in and around L.A., where she and Monaco are looking to buy a home.
As for what’s ahead for single-and-searching Fran, Kenzle says, “I don’t have a clue.” About herself, she’s happy that life is good. “Don’t you just love being married?” she asks, gazing upward.
“Mad About You” airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.
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