What do you say to a 'Naked' lady?

By Dan Snierson
November 03, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Holed up in her spartan dressing room with a chicken Caesar salad and a loaf of garlic bread, Tea Leoni senses fear in her lunch companion. ”I’m fine,” she assures, her mouth full. ”Don’t worry.” You see, Leoni has just confirmed that stage fright before taping The Naked Truth each week still causes her stomach to, uh, rise to the occasion. ”My agent said, ‘Please stop talking about your vomiting,’ ” she says, laughing. ”But I can’t help it. I mean, it comes up.” So to speak.

Leoni certainly is no prim Miss Manners. She belches during her meal. Smokes cigars at poker games (”It’s become rather chic for women to smoke cigars,” she notes, ”and on that basis I won’t do it in public”). And while she devours novels (most recently E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News and Ann Beattie’s Another You), she also reads the tabloids — and not just as research for Naked’s trash-journal setting. ”I’ll be really straight,” she confesses. ”I read ’em before I was even close to the show.” She continues, ”I tend to ride a lone horse to the beat of my own drum. I’m certainly not milky. Always been weird.”

The New York-born Leoni, now in her late 20s, ditched a modeling career after Aaron Spelling cast her in his failed Charlie’s Angels spin-off pilot, Angels ’88. Her next series, 1992’s Flying Blind, lasted one season, but Leoni’s sexed-up good-time girl Alicia earned her enough critical raves to help fuel a modest movie career (A League of Their Own, Wyatt Earp, Bad Boys). She’ll return to the big screen next year, costarring with Ben Stiller in the comedy Flirting With Disaster, as a pushy neurotic who ”wears her skirts so tight that if you wanted to get a hand up her skirt, you couldn’t.”

Sounds as if Leoni is on a mission to rejigger the ’90s woman. ”Somewhere along the sexual revolution and the coming of feminism, we let our sexuality slip,” she explains. ”We’re women. Celebrate the difference.” Ironically, Leoni’s estro-spark has made her a target of the tabloid press ever since Naked Truth executive producer Chris Thompson, 43, left his wife for her soon after production began. ”If I tried to put it into words, it might seem like there was practicality involved,” she says of their relationship. ”Trust me, there wasn’t.”

And trust us, there’s no way she’d dilute Naked‘s coarse and kooky cynicism in exchange for bigger ratings. ”I don’t want pastels,” she says. ”I don’t want to curb it. Home Improvement has done a delicious job of pleasing everybody. Everybody’s happy, nobody’s offended. I’ve never been told, ‘Tea, you never offend anybody.”’ And that’s the Truth.