It's hard not to think of 49-year-old Jane Leeves as Daphne Moon, the Frasier character she played for nearly a decade. So when Hot in Cleveland producers approached Leeves about being on the show, they originally saw her as the sweet and gullible Melanie. She had other ideas: "I wanted to do a complete turnaround, do something that would challenge me a little," she says. Leeves is the quietest of the four women on the show. Born in England, she dreamed of becoming a ballerina. But after an injury, she took up acting and moved to Los Angeles, where she broke into the business playing the loud girlfriend of Miles Silverberg on Murphy Brown. With Frasier, she earned an Emmy nomination and became the highest-paid British actress in Hollywood.
Her favorite thing: Walking the beach with her two children, ages 7 and 10, and looking for shells in the tide pools. "Winter in Malibu is fantastic," she says. "There's nobody there." When she does run into people, it's likely to be Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey or Sting, which isn't so bad either.
On comedy: "The first thing you have to go for is the truth. The truth is always funnier. I learned that working with people like David Hyde Pierce and Kelsey Grammer. You have to come at it from a place of reality: Now how would I really react if somebody said that to me? And then find the funny in that."
Her most infamous role: Playing Marla the Virgin on four episodes of Seinfeld. "Oh, it was super fun," she says. "They really didn't have any idea where they were going with it. It just started with I was a virgin and Jerry was dating me. I asked what happens, and they said I end up being deflowered by John F. Kennedy Jr. I said, 'Really, what happens?' "
Her time to herself: Overlooking the ocean in the upstairs of her Malibu house, Leeves has a room with a treadmill, ballet bar, Pilates reformer and a TV. "I watch all the shows my husband won't let me watch. I just go up there for an hour and do my own thing."
Her guilty pleasures? Survivor and Oprah.
Other exercise: She'll call up her next-door neighbor and friend Peri Gilpin (Roz Doyle from Frasier), and they go hiking or run the stairs at nearby Pepperdine University.
Dinner tradition: Nearly every night, Leeves and Gilpin cook together, and the two families meet for dinner on one of their back patios.
The downside of LA: "It's so youth-obsessed. You've got women doing drastic things, crazy things to stay young. There is a superficialness to this town. I try to keep my children away from that kind of thing. My life is completely separate from what I do. I have a daughter. It's important to me that she grows up happy and secure. That can be tough here."
Why White helps: "That's what's so great about this show: You work with somebody like Betty White, who's absolutely stunning at 88 years old, and she's being celebrated as a beautiful, vibrant, fabulous woman."