Jane Leeves

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Biography

With sharp comic timing and a mellifluous British accent, Jane Leeves held up her end of the "Niles and Daphne" super-couple pairing that helped power "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004) into one of the most critically respected and beloved sitcoms of all time. Although she received her start as scantily-clad eye candy on "The Benny Hill Show" (ITV, 1951-1991), Leeves showed her strength by moving to Los Angeles on a whim and enduring all the requisite …
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Job Title

Actor

Born

April 18, 1961

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With sharp comic timing and a mellifluous British accent, Jane Leeves held up her end of the "Niles and Daphne" super-couple pairing that helped power "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004) into one of the most critically respected and beloved sitcoms of all time. Although she received her start as scantily-clad eye candy on "The Benny Hill Show" (ITV, 1951-1991), Leeves showed her strength by moving to Los Angeles on a whim and enduring all the requisite struggles and starvation en route to stardom. Her memorable roles on "Murphy Brown" (CBS, 1988-1998) and as "Marla the virgin" on "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1989-1998) led to her sitcom-in-Seattle breakthrough as Daphne Moon. Although she chose to focus more on her family than her career post-"Frasier" Leeves worked steadily, eventually teaming up with Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Betty White for TV Land's original sitcom, "Hot in Cleveland" (2010- ). Her success was quiet and consistent, and Leeves found herself in an excellent position to decide how often she worked, and in what projects - the dream of almost any successful actor.

Born April 18, 1961 in Ilford, Essex, England and raised in East Grinstead, Sussex - about 30 miles from London - Amanda Jane Leeves was the daughter of a contracts engineer and a nurse. She knew she wanted to be an actress from the age of five when she first saw "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) and wanted to play Peter O'Toole's part. To achieve those ends, she studied ballet with an eye towards dancing professionally, but a foot injury ended her career at 18. Instead, she moved to London to make the acting rounds and landed a series of modeling and light dancing gigs, including a very brief stint as a "Hill's Angel" on "The Benny Hill Show" (ITV, 1951-1991) as well as a tiny role as a singing, dancing uncredited extra in "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" (1983).

On Feb. 11, 1984, Leeves took her life savings of $1,000 and made the bold decision to move to Los Angeles to stay with a friend and attempt to break into Hollywood. The day after she arrived, she joined an acting class that also included future stars Jim Carrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Winona Ryder and Molly Ringwald. To pay for her classes, she worked in a factory packing decorative fingernail gems until she was fired for chatting, as well as earned cash babysitting. Her first stateside movie role came in the form of a small part of a lesbian-in-lingerie in "To Live and Die in L.A." (1985), but success remained elusive. So poor that she sometimes survived only on the leftover food from dinner scenes in acting classes, Leeves roomed with fellow aspiring actress Faith Ford and appeared in music videos like David Lee Roth's 1985 bikini-laden "California Girls."

Leeves had her first major American acting role in the sitcom "Throb!" (syndicated, 1986-88), set at a small record label. Leeves played the promiscuous, transplanted Brit "Blue," who memorably - and slightly controversially for the time - took an HIV test that sparked a discussion of the changing rules of love and sex in the 1980s. Although the show made little impact on any front, Leeves racked up an impressive list of TV guest star credits, including memorable turns on everything from "Mr. Belvedere" (ABC, 1985-1990) and "Who's the Boss?" (ABC, 1984-1992) to "Blossom" (NBC, 1990-95). In an only-in-Hollywood touch of real-life serendipity, Leeves and her roommate Faith Ford found their careers hitting new levels with juicy roles on the hit sitcom, "Murphy Brown" (CBS, 1988-1998). Although Ford was a regular on the show, Leeves had a recurring role for four seasons as Audrey, the brassy girlfriend of Miles Silverberg who was Leeves' then real-life boyfriend, actor Grant Shaud.

Leeves achieved a sliver of sitcom immortality with one of the most memorable guest-starring roles in "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1989-1998) history, as "Marla the virgin," a lovely, chaste girlfriend of Jerry's who appeared in five episodes. In the most famous, her desire to lose her virginity to Jerry complicated "The Contest" he has entered into with his friends in which they each compete for who can go the longest without sex or masturbation. Meanwhile, through a series of "Seinfeld"-esque mishaps and misunderstandings, Marla the virgin is driven into the arms of John F. Kennedy, Jr. The episode was so notorious for tackling sexually-charged subject matter with euphemisms and clever wordplay, that it's successful adult high-wire act earned it writer and co-creator Larry David an Emmy. Her profile considerably raised, Leeves found herself perfectly positioned to audition for - and to win - the role that would make her famous, Daphne Moon.

At the time, the sitcom "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004) seemed like a risky proposition, spinning off Kelsey Grammer's popular psychiatrist character from the long-running sitcom "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-1993). Unfortunately, spin-off precedents were not promising. Leeves was cast as the slightly psychic, warmhearted physical therapist Daphne, whose down-to-earth Englishness contrasted nicely with the overly educated fussiness of Frasier and his brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce). The highly-rated and critically-beloved show swept every major award, including collecting more primetime Emmys than any other show up until that time. Leeves received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, and shared in a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble. The romantic tension between Daphne and Niles helped the show win a place in people's hearts, and through all of its stages, was one of the major watercooler discussions throughout the show's run. On the set, Leeves acquired a reputation for taking care of the cast and crew, oftentimes bringing in food she prepared herself for them.

Ironically, Leeves' accent came under fire when the show aired in the UK and many of her compatriots thought she was an American actress trying to sound English. Although Leeves' true accent was a softer, more posh "typical" British accent, she adopted a modulated variation of the Mancunian accent to fit her working-class character and to remain intelligible to American ears. Viewers and critics in the UK, however, reacted unsympathetically to Leeves in the press, and the English-born actress remained more famous stateside than in her home country. She had a more serious crisis arrive during her second year on the show, however, when doctors located a tumor on her thyroid, but after quickly removing it, found that it was benign. The more bizarre side of fame in the early days of the Internet Age saw a string of supposed nude pictures of Leeves appear online, which the actress laughingly dismissed - the impressive inability of forgers to convincingly doctor her head onto nude bodies made for many late-night talk show punchlines.

With "Frasier" as a powerhouse base from which to work, Leeves began making more and more movies, including starring in the remake of the holiday classic "Miracle on 34th Street" (1994) as a competing department store's evil emissary, and the maternal ladybug in the animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach" (1996). In part to help raise her own profile in her native homeland, Leeves and best friend/"Frasier" co-star Peri Gilpin formed their own production company, Bristol Cities (a bawdy Cockney in-joke referring to breasts). She made headlines as the best-paid British actress in the world, and found her own Hollywood romantic ending when she fell in love with Paramount executive Marshall Coben. The two married in a small ceremony back in England in 1996.

Leeves had a supporting role in Wes Craven's Oscar-nominated inspirational drama "Music of the Heart" (1999) as the German-born wife of a famous violinist who arranges a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall at which Meryl Streep's Harlem high school music program plays. However, Leeves' focus turned increasingly toward her home life and the birth of her daughter in 2001 - explained on "Frasier" as Daphne's unexpected weight gain - which helped cement her decision to slow down her career momentum. Still, the actress found time to play Sally Bowles in Broadway's "Cabaret" in 2002 and to make occasional small TV and movie appearances, frequently in voiceover. She had a well-reviewed supporting role as a grief counselor whose good friend, dying from AIDS, arranges his own suicide in the black comedy/drama, "The Event" (2003).

Leeves next television project after the finale of "Frasier" was noteworthy for an unfortunate reason: The WB's "Misconceptions" never actually aired, although a handful of episodes were shot. She lent her voice to the CGI-tinged sequel "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties" (2006) and to animated TV shows like "The Penguins of Madagascar" (Nickelodeon, 2008- ) and "Phineas and Ferb" (The Disney Channel, 2007- ), but focused on taking care of her family and making the occasional guest-starring role on TV, including "The Starter Wife" (USA, 2008) and, in a nice twist, playing a psychiatrist herself on "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004- ). Happily settled into a family-based life with the occasional foray into acting, Leeves accepted one of the lead roles in the sitcom "Hot in Cleveland" (TV Land, 2010- ) alongside an impressive pedigree of TV alums including Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Betty White. On the network's original sitcom, Leeves played "eyebrow waxer to the stars" Joy; as quick with her tart tongue as she is with her tweezers.