May 2023

Screened | Leslie Bibb

Getting Into Character With About My Father's Leslie Bibb

Photos Joel Griffith | Words Tamara Rappa

This summer, the luminous Leslie Bibb stars in the heartwarming and hilarious About My Father, co-written by Sebastian Maniscalco, loosely based on his relationship with his father. Leslie plays Ellie, the all-American girlfriend of Sebastian (played by Maniscalco), whose family traditions collide with Sebastian's father's old school ways. His father is of course, perfectly played by Robert De Niro. On working with him, Bibb shared that 'talking about acting with Bob is like a masterclass', and recalls what a loving, wonderful parent he is himself. In television, Leslie most recently was seen starring in the Netflix original comedy series God's Favorite Idiot opposite Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone. In 2021, she starred in the Netflix superhero series Jupiter's Legacy opposite Josh Duhamel. Forever a fan-favorite and a veteran actor, Leslie's long list of films include The Lost Husband, To The Bone, Don Verdeen, No Good Deed, Zookeeper, Law Abiding Citizen, Talladega Nights, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and more. She also produced and starred in the comedy Miss Nobody opposite Adam Goldberg, who also appears in our Screened series; the film premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival and then went on to screen at the Boston Film Festival where Leslie was awarded Best Actress. Upcoming, Leslie is also set to star in AppleTV+’s original comedy series Mrs. American Pie alongside Kristin Wiig, Alison Janney, and Laura Dern. We talked to NYC-based Bibb to pull back the layers of About My Father's effervescent Ellie, learn more about her warped yet wonderful world, reflect on the film's theme of respecting one's roots, go behind the scenes, and more.

How was this role first introduced to you?  I had just gotten back from Australia, and that's a twenty-seven hour flight or something crazy. The next day I'm starting another job, which never happens. I was so lucky to have back to back jobs, I did this show on HBO called Love Life. I was majorly jet lagged, having like, a borderline anxiety attack. I read the script and what I liked about it, is that I usually get cast as an archetype like the gold digger, the airhead. I don't usually get cast as the Everygirl, you know? It was nice to play a character who sees the world and the glass as half full. I would like to have a little bit more of Ellie in me!  I had just been in Australia, playing Satan in God's Favorite Idiot with Melissa McCarthy. I remember reading [Ellie] and being excited. Kim Cattrall hadn't been cast yet, it was just Bob [De Niro] and Sebastian at that time. My mom had passed away a few years earlier, and I thought about how nice it would be to feel healing and catharsis in pretending to be someone who has this mom and dad, exploring something I really didn't have growing up.

About My Father is loosely based on Sebastian Maniscalco's life. Who is Ellie? When I first met Sebastian, it was a few years ago. I did this movie, Tag, and in it he married Jeremy Renner and myself in a scene. When we were doing the premiere, Renner threw a party at his house. I'm quite close with Jeremy. He's like a brother to me. Sebastian came to the party with his wife, Lana; I'd grabbed them and told them to come back to Renner's house for the after party. In the brief amount of time that I was with them, I remember being struck by this tether they had, this connection they had, this chemistry, this yin and yang. They're opposites. Lana is light and silly and fun and optimistic and bright color and big sunglasses. Austen Earl, who wrote the script with Sebastian, and Sebastian---both say that they married up, they married girls who were from different stations in life, and so they connected as friends. They were writing partners in this high-low difference between upbringings and what they married into, and were living. It sparked the idea to write the script. Ellie in a way, is an amalgam of Lana and of Austen's wife.

Ellie's family is a family of eccentrics. What are her quirks, if any?  She probably spends too much time apologizing for being born into that family. She's excited to go home and loves going home, but going home isn't about living in the biggest house. She truly loves family, and always sees the best in people.

How do you frame or think about who Ellie's parents are? I say that her parents like to steal her lessons. They're so loving, and in a way, they seem so much like [Robert De Niro's character], Salvo. They kind of over-parent, they under-parent. They steal a lesson; they control. They're always trying to micromanage the path. I'm always fascinated by people when they try to steal a lesson. I don't have kids, so I can't imagine. I feel like if I had children, I'd be so scared that they were going to get hurt. I would want to kill anyone who hurt them. Ellie's parents are well-meaning. You don't always learn the most from the highs; you kind of learn the most from the lows. Ellie's parents are given the world and they didn't really earn it. They make you laugh and you find them endearing, Kim Cattrall and David Rasche, who play my parents. Kim's brilliant, and her character Tigger is one who really wears the pants. David who plays my father Bill, to me, kind of steals the whole movie.

Ellie and Sebastian have such opposite upbringings. What is the glue that holds them together? They both have very strong work ethics. Sebastian was saying to his father at the premiere that he taught him how not to relax. And Ellie gets that from her mother. Her mother is this go-getter, a doer. She's self-made. In terms of Ellie herself, anytime someone wants to be an artist, it's.... you know, it's hard. It's hard to be an artist. The success rate isn't the highest. You have to have a tough skin, and you have to risk being vulnerable. And that's scary, you know? Hard work and determination is what they share. And I also think they have this great love. With these two characters, it's a true love story. They're opposites yet they really complete each other. They are two people who have found a safe place. I always imagine them as safe harbors. When they're at the house and Salvo is going crazy, and Ellie's parents are going nuts, and Doug is playing the sound bowls, and Lucky's, you know, probably taking Oxycontin---she and Sebastian find each other. They're ports in a storm. They understand one another. They balance one another, and they're each other's best support

Do you have a favorite scene? I love the scene between Sebastian and his father on the tarmac. Sebastian's really great. You think you're doing a comedy, then Bob shows up, and he's doing something high level that's not to be dismissed. You see it in that scene. We're on this earth for such a finite amount of time. What I hope people take from this story is family and and acceptance. The idea of family is universal. All of the parents tried to carve out better lives for their children. It's a love letter to a father from his son. Every guy I know who sees the movie, weeps at the scene that Bob and Sebastian have on the tarmac. It hits them. My partner Sam [Rockwell] brought his dad to the premiere, and they were both crying. I'm also really proud of the scene where Sebastian's character asks me to marry him. It's hard to be surprised, and I feel like that day when we were filming it, it all felt very real. I know that sounds so corny! It's a really nice scene, and there were fireworks, it was a great day of shooting. I like how it starts with a joke, and then she gets the surprise of her life. I'm proud of that scene. And then I also like the scene when I call my parents out.

Did you have discussions around the Italian-American experience with Sebastian Maniscalco and Robert De Niro? Did they share any insights or stories?
I think it's really important, even though it's an Italian-American story, for us to say that it's an immigrant story. At the end of the day, America is nothing but immigrants unless you're Native American. I think what's even more important, is the idea of family and how, especially coming out of COVID and almost two years of isolation, important it is to be vulnerable, and to have a family whether that be your chosen family, or your given family. There's some part of this movie that centers around the idea that it's important to not go it alone, and to be a part of something bigger. If I'm being super honest, I wish I'd been more patient with my mother before she died.

hair: ben skervin |makeup: rebecca restrepo

"I'm into Rachel Weisz's Dead Ringers. Rachel is brilliant, and this remake is brilliant.  I love how they they took the story from the '80s, twisted it, and made it modern and relevant to today. Sam and I watched it in two days."

"I'm very into HigherDOSE, the infrared sauna. I'm really into infrared saunas right now. I think if you can do it, it's so good for your brain and for your body."

"I'm really into plants. I've always loved trees and plants and I love working in a garden. I love fresh-cut flowers. There's something meditative and right about it. It centers me. I'm spending so much money on thyme, because I like to cook. In New York, I shop at Plantshed."

"I started taking water aerobics at the 14th Street Y.  The minute I get in the water, I'm grinning ear-to-ear. The water and floating and being buoyant for an hour... wipes away any stress."

"I've been studying French. I'm terrible at it, but I'm taking class at Idlewild, in person.  I'm in a curious learning phase, and trying to do it without having to do it perfectly. Sometimes Leslie Bibb can get caught up in the perfectionist in me."

"I'm really into Alison Roman recipes right now. I was having dinner with one of my dearest friends in Los Angeles. He made this turmeric chicken with white wine vinegar and crushed olives. It's so simple yet so gourmet. I like to throw dinner parties, to sit at a table, to cook for people.  Sam and I throw a good party. When we throw our Christmas party, it always ends with like dancing. We go nuts."

Watch Leslie Bibb in Sebastian Maniscalco's About My Father , which kicks off summer movie season, in theaters now.