Liliane, or Leelee, Sobieski was born on June 10, 1983 in New York City, to an American screenwriter mom and a French artist father. Fluent in her dad’s native language and with model looks, Leelee was also a talented actress from a young age. But after discovering something much more important to her, the former star no longer graces our screens.
Sobieski owes her distinctive features to what she describes as “melting pot roots,” of which she is justifiably proud. Her French father is of Polish and Swiss heritage, and her mom is of Ashkenazi Jewish and Dutch descent. What’s more, her mom’s father was a Jewish U.S. Navy Captain.
The former actress can attribute her unconventional name to her ancestry, too. In full, it is Liliane Rudabet Gloria Elsveta Sobieski. While Liliane was the name of her dad’s mom, Elsveta comes from the Polish version of Elizabeth. But Sobieski prefers to be known by the more kooky moniker of Leelee.
While eating lunch in her school cafeteria, Sobieski was spotted by a talent scout. She was encouraged to read for the part of Claudia in the 1994 gothic horror Interview With the Vampire. In the end, Kirsten Dunst got the part. But as we’ve heard, she was still to get the opportunity to work with one of the movie’s megastars, Tom Cruise.
Over the next couple of years, the teenager would act in two TV movies, Reunion in 1994, and taking the lead role in A Horse For Danny. But 1997 was to be the year that she finally hit the big screen, in Jungle 2 Jungle. This success was followed by a part as a teenage astronomer’s girlfriend in big-budget hit Deep Impact the following year.
The 15-year-old Sobieski’s acting career seemed to be taking off. Proving her proficiency in the craft, she appeared in Merchant Ivory movie A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, also in 1998. A critic opined in Variety magazine that, “the graceful Sobieski registers strongly as a potential star, combining physical charm with technical skill.”
A Young Artist Award nomination, as well as a nomination by the Chicago Film Critics Association, served to cement Sobieski’s kudos as an actress. Then, in 1999’s Never Been Kissed, Sobieski played the role of Aldys, friend to Drew Barrymore’s character, Josie.
This was to be one of the only high-school sweetheart movies in which Sobieski was to feature. It is notable that this role cast her as the brainy class nerd, as her quirky looks didn’t quite fit into the prom queen stereotype. She was later quoted on website IMDb as saying, “I did try to get a few of those teen high-school movies, but they just didn’t like me. I guess I wasn’t a certain type.” Nonetheless, the acting roles kept coming thick and fast.
Once more displaying her versatility, Sobieski put in a moving portrayal of the young Joan of Arc in the 1999 TV miniseries about the saint from 600 years ago. At 15, she was the youngest actress to play the part in a movie or miniseries, and in fact even younger than Joan when the events took place. She achieved Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her work.
The same year, Sobieski took on the role of an unscrupulous shopkeeper’s daughter in Eyes Wide Shut. Tom Cruise and his then-wife Nicole Kidman took the main roles in the erotic thriller. The young actress described Cruise as, “very kind and considerate with me.” The unrepentantly adult-themed movie was released in July 1999 – just a month after she turned 16.
More awards buzz followed in the next two years for movies Here on Earth and Uprising, for which she garnered Teen Choice Award and Golden Globe nominations respectively. In Uprising, Sobieski played Tosia Altman, a young Polish woman who engaged in smuggling arms to thwart the Nazis during World War II.
Indeed, the teen was not short of movie roles; she featured in 26 in total. In addition, she also started studying fine art and literature at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in 2001. The starlet was kept so busy with her acting work, however, that she was eventually forced to put the class on hold.
Some of her work played to the strengths of the multi-talented actress, such as the 2003 TV version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The miniseries, updated to 1960s Paris, suited French-speaking Sobieski perfectly. She played the part of the innocent Cécile, starring alongside Catherine Deneuve and Rupert Everett.
However, some of the movies in which Sobieski was to appear were critically panned. Her lead role in 2001’s Joy Ride as the late Paul Walker’s girlfriend received lukewarm praise, with one reviewer for website Dark Horizons saying she “does a better job than usual.”
Indeed, other movies didn’t even fare this well. For instance, despite starring with respected actress Diane Lane in Glass House, also in 2001, the movie was generally considered a flop. It recouped only $6 million in its opening weekend.
Her work in 88 Minutes and In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, both in 2008, scooped the dubious honor of Razzie Award nominations for Worst Supporting Actress. This was despite the fact that Hollywood heavyweight Al Pacino also appeared in the former.
During the 2000s, the actress seemed to be developing a preference for independent, art house films. In this genre, Sobieski’s light definitely seemed to shine at its brightest. It’s perhaps ironic that this seemed to be the case, given that the audience for such movies was inevitably smaller than her previous big-budget Hollywood roles.
In 2001 she starred in low-budget flick My First Mister and was praised by website Filmcritic.com. Pete Croatto wrote, “Sobieski…does another fine job. This time it’s with a shaky character – the troubled Goth chick… but Sobieski finds her character’s human touch and runs with it.”
More indie movies, French language L’Idole and Lying, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2002 and Cannes Film Festival in 2006 respectively. In 2007, she was back in Toronto where movie Walk All Over Me – in which she played a dominatrix – premiered at the film festival.
But the actress seemed to be suffering from a growing unease about movie work. For starters, Sobieski talked about the stress of taking on a lead role. She is quoted on IMDb as saying, “I think when you’re doing a lead role, there is so much more pressure.”
She went on, “If you fail, not only do you fail, but everybody else fails too. As opposed to when it’s a supporting role and it’s only you that sucked.” Also, the beautiful actress disliked the amount of romantic content that many roles required.
Talking to AnOther magazine in 2018 she said: “It’s kind of a gross industry… 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… ‘Why is my kiss for sale?’ It made me feel really cheap.” Talking to Us Weekly magazine in 2016 she said: “Also, 90 percent of acting roles involve so much sexual stuff with other people, and I don’t want to do that.”
Some of her last roles bear this out. In 2010 romantic comedy Finding Bliss, the actress played the part of a buttoned-up but broke filmmaker who has to accept a job editing porn to make ends meet. The same year, the increasingly disillusioned actress appeared as a wife who is raped in brutal action thriller Acts of Violence.
By 2009 her parts in any film and TV roles had become smaller and more infrequent, and by 2012 they had stopped completely. Indeed, in the same 2016 interview with Us Weekly, she simply stated, “I don’t do movie stuff any more.”
It’s no coincidence that this is roughly the same period that she started a family of her own. At the beginning of 2009 she began a relationship with Adam Kimmel, a clothes designer. Only a few months later, in May, they announced their engagement.
Sobieski had been married before: in 2008 she wed actor Matthew W Davis. The marriage was short-lived however, and they divorced in 2009. They had no children together. But that was to change when she met Kimmel.
In December 2009 at the age of 26, Sobieski gave birth to their daughter, Louisanna Ray. The couple married the next year, and welcomed son Martin in August 2014. Marriage and being a mom seems to have had a profound effect on the former actress, and she has spoken about her new happiness.
“Having a positive attitude probably sounds like a corny thing to say, but a positive attitude really helps and respecting your job really helps and having the support of your family and friends really helps,” she told website Newsblaze in late 2008.
The confidence that her family has given her has given rise to a new career, too. Sobieski was always an artist at heart, but her studies were interrupted by acting opportunities. Now the star has returned to her first love.
Following in her father’s footsteps, she is now a respected painter and sculptor. Working under her married name, Leelee Kimmel, she specializes in abstract art. Many of her works feature bright images on black or white backgrounds.
The family of four live in a Tribeca loft in New York City, and Kimmel and her husband are avid art collectors. Harking back to her days as an actress, she spoke of the inner conflict she felt not being able to follow her true passion. She told Interview magazine in 2017, “I always said, ‘I don’t want to act. I paint.’”
Expanding further, she recounted to Interview magazine how her parents had told her, “You can’t say that, because it sounds like you’re not grateful. You are grateful, so you have to hold it in.” Kimmel speaks of how she’d cover her Eyes Wide Shut trailer with plastic sheeting, so she could spend time making art with her brushes.
And in the 2018 interview for AnOther magazine, Kimmel said: “I always acted to be able to afford paints. It might sound really weird, but that’s what happened – the cards were just dealt to me that way. But acting was never my passion, unless I was working with someone really interesting and smart.”
The self expression that comes with painting has obviously been a liberation for Kimmel. Indeed, she said as much in the article in Interview magazine. She commented, “It all comes out on the painting, like it’s a vomit of what’s going on inside of me and in the world.”
In another interview in 2018, this time with website TheArtGorgeous, she said, “In my paintings there’s a lot about energy and vibrations and the whole world being connected. If you’re on a crew and 150 people are pushing for you to fall in love with somebody else, everybody is rooting for it. That’s the energy of a lot of people, but it’s fake.”
She creates her work by laying a large canvas on the floor and working on it. “It’s like a game of Twister,” as she told GARAGE magazine in June 2019. One piece even has tracks where a mouse ran through the paint. Kimmel also works in 3D virtual reality, which she calls “a portal to another world.”
In 2017 the former actress exhibited her work for the first time in a group show at the Marlborough Contemporary Gallery in New York. The next year, her creative ambitions were realized when she opened a solo exhibition at the Journal Gallery in Brooklyn. In 2019, she displayed her solo work in Paris.
This was followed by a show titled “Wormhole” at the Simon Lee Gallery in London. The now-established artist’s work is discussed in serious art journals. Even though it’s taken a roundabout route to get there, Kimmel is now evidently living the life she always wanted.
Talking about her acting career with AnOther magazine, she said, “A lot of the time when you work, it’s a money project basically. I started paying the rent on our house when I was 15, so I had a lot of pressure and things got complicated for me… So when I could, I stopped.”
If that sounds like she regrets her career path, she perhaps prefers to think about it philosophically. She told Interview, “The fight in life is always worthwhile, no matter what the end result is.” Having previously had to sacrifice her true passions for a career she never wanted, you can’t help rooting for her now.