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Kentucky Monthly Magazine, December, 2001

Southern Star: Lexington's Leah Lail finds fame in Hollywood

Leah Lail gets to cruise around in fast cars with Pamela Anderson, hang out with Hef at the Playboy Mansion, and kiss Donny Osmond on live TV.

It's just another day at work for the Lexington native.

Lail co-stars opposite Anderson on V.I.P., a one-hour syndicated action series that airs Sundays on FOX. It's a campy show about a security agency to the stars, blending action and physical comedy with an array of flashy costumes against a glitzy L.A. backdrop. Lail plays Kay Simmons, a computer expert who keeps the elite bodyguard agency organized.

"It started out as your typical 'secretary' role," says Jonathan Lawton, creator and executive producer of V.I.P., "but Leah's such a strong presence that we couldn't keep her behind the desk. She always energizes any scene she is in.

"She took what was envisioned to be a minor role and made it into a major character. Kay is confident and efficient, and yet very feminine and warm."

She's a little wacky but also sweetly sexy. In other words, she's very much like Leah.

"Hollywood can be very hard on young actresses, and it's rare to find someone like Leah who has so much talent and yet hasn't put on airs or locked herself behind some kind of fake star persona," Lawton says. "Leah's very down to earth."

Since landing the role on the TV series, the petite 5-foot-4 blonde has gone from a virtual unknown to worldwide recognition. But when the cameras stop rolling, she's happy just being herself: a girl who grew up on a horse farm in Lexington, who's an avid reader of Southern fiction and loves to bake Southern desserts.

It's 11 a.m. on an unseasonably hot day in Beverly Hills. Just two blocks away from Rodeo Drive, a wave of black Mercedes, BMWs, limousines and the occasional red Ferrari shuttle past the sunny yellow canvas awning of an unpretentious small cafe simply called The Farm. It's a far cry from the farm Lail left behind more than 10 years ago when she set out to become an actor.

Lail breezes through the door wearing a hot pink cotton/lycra top, and a just-above-the knee hot pink, orange, and white retro print skirt that hugs her body. With a stylish straw hat and a pair of black movie-star sunglasses to finish the look, Lail looks every inch a hot Hollywood actress.

But after she sheds the sunglasses and hat and walks to a table near the back of the restaurant (without a hint of makeup and still looking beautiful) she resembles a college co-ed. From the moment the perky actress says hello and starts chatting as if she's known me all her life, I'm immediately reminded that she really is just the girl next door.

"This is about as country as it gets around here," she says. "I love this place! Look! There's even a picture of a farmhouse on the wall." Leah pauses as her eyes glaze over the picture, "It reminds me of home," she sighs.

Leah was born in Lexington, the second of Bobby and Happy Lail's two daughters. Her father is in construction, repairing roads and bridges, while her mother raises Thoroughbred horses. Leah's older sister, Dana Holland, is a homemaker and mother of two in Lexington.

Leah attended Tates Creek High School, where she was a cheerleader and a straight-A student. She was bitten by the acting bug when her father took her to see A Chorus Line on Broadway, but her pursuit of an acting career wouldn't come until later. Lail was intent on getting a college education first. So after her sophomore year of high school, she left for Pine Crest, a college-prep boarding school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It was there that she met the man who gave her that extra vote of confidence that she could indeed make a career of acting.

"Kelsey Grammer (star of Frazier and Cheers) is one of the reasons I became an actor," she recalls. "I found out he went to the same boarding school I went to when he came to my school one day and gave a discussion.

"And I remember thinking, 'Wow! He was just a kid from that school and he became an actor.' I thought, 'Wow! If he can do it, I can do it.' And I always had that in the back of my mind."

Still, it would be a few more years before Lail would take that leap.

She landed a college scholarship to study in Bonn, Germany and work for the Social Democratic Party. Then she transferred to the University of Southern California, where she graduated summa cum laude with degrees in German and theatre, with a minor in political science.

After graduation, Lail headed to New York to study acting with Bobby Lewis and at the Lee Strasberg Institute. As a struggling actor in New York City, Lail took several odd jobs to help her get through the tough times.

"I only lasted four days as a waitress in New York. I just wasn't cut out for it. I had to quit before I hurt someone," she says jokingly as she sips a cup of mandarin orange tea. "But seriously, I really owe a lot of my success to my parents because they gave me the initial financial support to let me follow my dreams and that's such a big gift to give a child. They helped me through that first year after college, which was rough, when I wasn't making enough money.

"My parents learned pretty early on that I was going to do my own thing. They didn't necessarily support my career choice. They didn't quite understand what it was at the time. But they never discouraged me from it."

Within two years, she began to win roles on stage and television and was able to support herself as an actor...

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