This year is poised to be a big one for actress Leslie Bibb. You may have seen her in such films as Iron Man, Confessions of a Shopaholic and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, but her starring role as Amanda Vaughn in the new ABC comedy GCB (opposite Kristen Chenoweth and Annie Potts) promises to be her best yet. Based on Kim Gatlin’s novel, Good Christian Bitches, the show--which premiered March 4--follows the story of a single mom and former high school “mean girl” (Bibb) who returns to the Dallas-area Christian community of her childhood after her marriage ends in a scandal that is too good to spoil by revealing it here. Created by Robert Harling, who wrote the screenplays for Steel Magnolias and The First Wives Club, GCB is a mix of sass and smarts, a funny, edgy, topical take on life in churchgoing Southern suburbia. We caught up by phone with the 37-year-old actress, who is featured in the fashion pages of More’s March issue, on sale now, just after she returned from the photo shoot in Jamaica. An edited version of the interview follows.
MORE: Did you always want to be an actress?
Leslie Bibb: Nooooo, it never clicked like that for me. I grew up interested in politics, so I always thought I’d become a lawyer, get married and have kids.
MORE: Many actors say they were bitten by the theater bug after appearing in a high school play. Not the case for you?
LB: I went to this all-girls Catholic school because [the public schools where she lived in Virginia] were quite dangerous at that time. This school was crazy for me, because I was a little Baptist Southern girl. It was apples and oranges, but I loved going. I loved wearing uniforms to school, because it became about who was smart and not about what you had on. I tried out for the school play my first year and [they gave me] the part of a guy. So I was like, “All right, I’ll do it.” And then the following year, one of the other girls’ mothers was running the auditions and she was like, “You’re just not very talented.” So I didn’t get a good part. I thought, "I’m a senior. You can forget it. I’m not going to be in this stupid play anyway."
MORE: At some point you won a modeling contest, right?
LB: Yes. I won a modeling contest on The Oprah Winfrey Show when I was 16, and it brought me to New York City. As goofy as it sounds, I had never been north of the Mason-Dixon Line. My senior year of high school I think I spent a week a month in New York doing jobs, and then I would go back to school. Being a model for the rest of my life was never the plan.
MORE: What was the plan?
LB: After high school I went to the University of Virginia. That’s really all I wanted to do—go to UVA and then go to law school and then go into politics. And then in my first semester at UVA I felt like, “Oh, I don’t fit in here.” I just felt like a circle in a square. My mom tried to help me. I remember we went through the course catalogue and she said, “You can take an acting class.” And I remember thinking, “Why am I going to take an acting class? What would I do with that?” But something clicked. I had been modeling, which is sort of like playing different parts, and so I asked my mom if I could take a year off from college and go back to New York. Within six months I got a TV commercial for Lee Jeans, which led to other commercials. That funded everything—I was able to live a beautiful life in New York City, and I could also afford to study acting. Acting felt right, so I went for it.
MORE: This is going to be a big year for you. Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?
LB: It’s a long list! Everything from a lot of personal growth things to learning to speak French. I’m so terrible with languages. I’ve taken Spanish, like, seven times, I’m not kidding, and I still don’t speak it. I just ordered my French tapes from Rosetta Stone. They better work!
MORE: What do you learn easily?
LB: That’s a really good question. I guess I’m pretty good at learning physical stuff. I learned to dance for Zookeeper [the 2011 film in which she co-starred with Kevin James] but that was because I was so headstrong about it. I was determined to make it happen.
MORE: Are there any life lessons you learned the hard way?
LB: I really am trying to figure out how to learn the lessons without all the drama. To see the lesson in front of me and get it. When I was younger I would see something and I’d be like, “Well, that’s not a red flag, it’s a pink flag.” The big red flag was right there and I would avoid the lesson, or refuse to see it for what it was. I want to learn to deal with problems and work through them so that I can tell the difference between an oatmeal lump and a breast lump, you know?
MORE: How would you describe yourself?
LB: Ambitious. I think sometimes people think of that as a bad word, like when you meet people who are a certain kind of ambitious where they’d literally sell their mother to get ahead in the world. I’m also hardworking, and hard on myself. You know, I don’t like to disappoint anyone. When someone says they’re disappointed in me, I mean, they might as well just stab me because I think that would be less painful. Being disappointed in myself can be motivating, but it can also be very derailing. Sometimes I forget to see the forest for the trees. I forget to say, "Well, okay that wasn’t the perfect 10 I was going for but it was a solid 8.5." Sometimes you just don’t hit it out of the park. I’m learning to be more comfortable with who I am and saying, “I’m enough, even if I’m only hitting a 7 today.”
MORE: We need to talk about your new show, GCB. I saw the first episode and it is so good.
LB: I have to tell you, getting to work with these really great women has been the best, and I think the material is so smart and original.
MORE: At MORE magazine we’re all about women having a second act, and the GCB character you play, Amanda, is a great example of someone forced to reinvent herself.
LB: I think this happens a lot with women in their 30s and 40s, where they have to redefine themselves. You know, you get divorced. Your husband dies. You signed up for something in your 20s and then all of a sudden the rug gets pulled out from under you. And you have to sit there and go, “Okay, it’s sink or swim.” I love the fact that you’re catching her with her rug pulled out and she has nowhere to go and she has to figure it out. She has to go back to a place she left when she was 18 and she literally gets slapped in the face with what she was like then. So her journey is to find the balance of who she was, who she is now and who she’s going to become.
MORE: I’ve been a fan of Kristin Chenoweth for a long time, and you ladies are great together.
LB: Kristin and I really care for each other. I adore her, and I trust her. I think the sun shines out of her ass.
MORE: It sounds as if you have found yourself a very good home. Let me ask you this, what have you figured out in life?
LB: I figured out that you can’t figure it out! I figured out that any time I think I know what’s going to happen, it never happens that way. And I figured out that when I try to control everything, it’s a bigger [mess]. I figured out that it’s a lot easier not to take stuff personally. I figured out that I love being a woman. And I love being emotional and goofy and that I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened because all of it has led me to where I stand today and I like what I see and I like who I am becoming, who I am.
MORE: What do you hope for?
LB: I hope to be a better listener in life and in my work because, you know, that’s the key to acting and that’s the key to life. I hope that I can just shine, and not dim my light in order to make other people feel comfortable. I hope that I can get better at responding and not reacting.
MORE: That’s a good one. I’m putting that on my list too, okay?
LB: Good. You can have it. And another one—I get very practical about stuff and I hope be a little less practical going forward. You know what I mean? When I sit there and I say, “I really want to go on this trip.” And then I don’t do it. And then all of a sudden life gets so busy and it never happens. I want to act on my impulses. I want to be more on the balls of my feet versus the heels.
MORE: Another good one! Balls of the feet! I love it!
LB: And this year I’m going to learn how to tap dance. I love tap dancing and I’ve always wanted to learn. And I want to go to Africa. OK, I think that’s the whole list. Tap dancing, learn to speak French and go to Africa.
MORE: Well then, here’s to checking things off the list!
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