Meet the young English girl who went to LA and did become a really big star
Cheryl Cole’s bid to break into the big time in the US may have flopped but Jane Leeves, who played the housekeeper in Frasier, has seen her television career go from strength to strength, as she tells Lisa Williams
Jane Leeves is showing off a picture of a portrait of the Queen, made entirely from pearl buttons, that hangs in her home. “It's called Pearly Queen. Isn't it amazing? It's huge!” she says.
The actress, known for playing British housekeeper Daphne in Seattle-based sitcom Frasier, is talking about how visitors always remark on the Britishness of her home in Los Angeles.
But there's something about the way she's describing it that makes her come across as more American than English. Like when she reveals that the picture is hanging in the bar. “Yes, I have a bar,” she says with a self-deprecating roll of the eyes.
Furthermore, her voice no longer has the Sussex tones of her upbringing, nor the Mancunian chirrup she affected for Frasier — a brand of Britishness formulated especially for Americans to understand.
It's now a transatlantic hybrid developed unconsciously in the two-and-a-half decades she's spent living away from Britain.
“I think you just do it naturally because every time you go to a restaurant you have to say ‘tom-ay-to' and ‘bay-sel' because otherwise they just go, ‘What?',” she admits.
Similarly, these days Leeves looks far too glossy for our shores. Though she's perching primly on a chair in the Covent Garden Hotel and drinking tea from a cup and saucer in a way that would make the Queen proud, her perfectly manicured nails, lavishly blow-dried waves, skinny jeans and white jacket look far more suited to Rodeo Drive.
But then Los Angeles has been kind to Leeves, so no wonder she's adjusted her ways. As a young actress she appeared in British classics including Monty Python and The Benny Hill Show.
But, eager for more, she crossed the pond with $500 in her pocket, determined to hit the big time, which she did with roles in long-running series Throb, Murphy Brown and, of course, Frasier.
“I don't know if I was being smart,” she ponders. “I was young, stupid and wanted to be an actress, and just thought LA was where I had to go. I had this blind faith in myself but I did it right, I think.”
Her success can be judged by the fact that she appeared in Emmy Award-winning episodes for eight years in a row, counting Murphy Brown, Seinfeld and Frasier among them. “I wanted to put a little thing in the paper saying, ‘I am a lucky charm!”'
She's now very settled in the States, with an American husband (TV executive Marshall Coben), two American kids and a coterie of American friends including Peri Gilpin, the actress who played radio producer Roz in Frasier.
Gilpin lives next door to Leeves, they go hiking together in Malibu, are godmothers to each other's daughters and Gilpin is, in fact, accompanying Leeves on this trip to the UK. “She's hanging out with my parents as we speak,” she notes.
The actress is also still in touch with David Hyde Pierce, who played Daphne's long-time admirer and eventual husband Niles, and was invited to the recent wedding of Kelsey Grammer, who played neurotic radio psychologist Dr Frasier Crane.
These are friendships cemented by the phenomenal success of a long-standing show, which ran for 11 series over 11 years and won 37 Emmy Awards.
Leeves says, however, that she didn't take for granted the success of Frasier, which was a spin-off from Cheers, owing to the number of ill-fated spin-offs which had come before.
“But when we sat down to read the script for the first time with all the cast I went, ‘Wow, there's something going on here, there's chemistry!”'
Leeves had a similar feeling in the first read-through for her current comedy Hot In Cleveland.
She plays one of a trio of ageing LA women — an actress, a make-up artist and a writer — who find themselves in Cleveland, Ohio, after their Paris-bound plane makes an emergency stop there.
Renting a house from a wise-cracking Polish nonagenarian (played by Golden Girls veteran Betty White), the three women flourish in the down-to-earth nature of the local people, who are not as obsessed with youth, success and beauty as the LA glitterati, and decide to stay there.
Leeves, who has just turned 50, says the role was a “real gift” for her, not only because good roles for women her age are thin on the ground but also because the show itself makes a powerful statement about women in showbiz.
“They used to think we were done at a certain age but women don't have a shelf-life, we can transform ourselves.
The camaraderie on set sounds similar to that on Frasier, with Leeves saying that she and the cast are “crazy about each other”.
She adds: “It's all for one and one for all. We have |each other's backs, I'll be on set and Valerie (who plays writer Melanie) will watch a monitor and she'll say, ‘Don't let them shoot like that, they're shooting up your nose!'
“They're wonderful women, and to know you have people around you who will be honest and say, ‘Don't wear that, it doesn't look good,' is a wonderful thing.”
Leeves has previously spoken out against women who have surgery in an attempt to preserve themselves, although she does admit to working out in her private gym and watching what she eats to stay in shape.
Hot In Cleveland continues on Sundays 8.30pm on Sky Living