Fighter/stuntwoman/action star/producer/writer/single mom Mimi Lesseos has the stamina to pursue her Hollywood dreams AND raise twins all by herself.
momlogic's Vivian:"Magnificient" Mimi Lesseos isn't your typical ranch mom. Sure, she may run a menagerie that includes three horses, five big dogs, two cats, four fish and a set of 12-year-old twins, but she's also a fighter -- in the literal and figurative senses of the word.
The youngest of five born to a Greek dad and Latino mom in Hollywood, Mimi spent her teen years in the stands at Olympic Auditorium, taking in boxing and wrestling matches. Eventually she got into the ring herself, having her first professional fighting match at 16.
Today, she's one of the top fighters/grapplers in the world, having trained and wrestled the likes of Jim Carrey ("Man on the Moon") and Daniel Day-Lewis (she took an ax in the face in "Gangs of New York"). She also writes and produces her own films, such as Double Duty, starring Tom Sizemore (currently on Showtime).
Over coffee, Mimi kindly shared some deets about what it's like to be a gutsy single mom in Hollywood. At 6:30 AM, mind you.
momlogic: You are up EARLY.
Mimi Lesseos: I just came up from the stables! I've been a single mom since day one, and I am lucky to have the most helpful kids. Unfortunately I had one of those runaway guys and have been single since I was four and a half months pregnant. I was 34 at the time. You know [how], when a crisis happens, they either stay or run away? He ran. So I thought, Am I going to be a crybaby -- which I never have been -- or am I going to keep these kids? There was no choice for me.
ml: Were you a stuntwoman at the time?
ML: As a producer, actress, fighter and stuntwoman, you sort of have to make investments and live off your savings in between jobs. So I did that mostly when pregnant. I own property. But about four months after I delivered, I was on "Man on the Moon," training Jim Carrey. And a week after that, I got a job doubling Jane Kaczmarek on "Malcolm in the Middle." I did every season!
ml: How'd you get into films?
ML: I was a professional fighter for 22 years. Once it wore off me, I started doing movies: Let's exploit me and have me fight in a bikini! I did a whole bunch of movies with Lorenzo Lamas and Erik Estrada.
ml: Hey, it pays the bills!
ML: Right! I got naked. I did Playboy in December '89. From those kinds of movies, I just kind of decided I was way beyond it. I started doing stunts because my uncle, Gene LeBell, is a world-famous stuntman. It's such a competitive job, and really, it's a man's world. They really don't want to let you in unless you know someone and you're family. I proved myself over and over again.
ml: So as a woman, it was hard to break in?
ML: When I was fighting, I thought, If I'm going to be in a man's sport, I don't want to look like a man. I tried to keep as feminine as possible. All these guys were chewing tobacco and spitting it out. Outside the ring, I wanted to be as womanly as possible. Even my fighting boots were pink and shimmery -- the women hated me! But I was there to earn a living and have my name up on the title.
ml: When did you start writing your own movies?
ML: In 1990, I was doing all these exploitation movies, and there weren't really any projects out there for someone like myself who does her own stunts. So I wrote a movie of my life with a Hollywood twist: My brother dies and I avenge him! It was called "Pushed to the Limit."
ml: Was it hard to get it made?
ML: At the time, I had championship belts from around the world. I'd never made a movie before! But I knew I couldn't fight forever, so I'd put myself through special-effects-makeup school. I'd done that for a bunch of movies and ran the makeup department, so I got lots of connections for cameramen, etc. It was a two-week shoot and it went so smoothly. We ran out of money, so I took a six-week fighting gig in Japan and scored a great distribution deal there. And eventually, I rolled it into six other films.
ml: As a single mom, how do you balance raising your children with such a tremendous workload?
ML: I found out I was pregnant after the fifth movie. It was extremely difficult being a single, pregnant lady who earned her living by having the body and skills that I do. So it was really hard because I couldn't do any of it.
ml: Did you do stuntwork while pregnant?
ML: I did "The Mike Hammer Show" then. Nobody was hitting me; it was me hitting them. Stunts are all fake. You don't really get hurt; it just looks like that.
ml: Who was your fave celeb to work with?
ML: Karen Black. She's an absolute hoot. She is so quirky and funny. She'll get down at her age on her hands and knees and play alien. She's really very real. We did "Double Duty" together. And I got axed in the face by Daniel Day-Lewis in "Gangs Of New York!" He's the sweetest, nicest guy ever!
ml: If you have to get axed in the face, Daniel Day-Lewis is your guy!
ML: Yes! And working on "Million Dollar Baby" was a delight. I was supposed to play Billie "The Blue Bear," who killed Hilary Swank in the movie [but I didn't get the part]. The good news was that Clint Eastwood liked my look and wanted me in the movie. The bad news was that I'd be fighting Lucia Rijker, because she got the part [of Billie]! It was like [I was] happy, sad, happy, sad -- confused!
ml: Do your kids want to work as actors/writers as well?
ML: It's a lot of disappointment and a lot of heartache. My daughter really wants to be a singer and actress, so I've put her in several films. She's training in opera right now. I really don't want them to be in the entertainment business. As a producer or director, maybe. But being rejected so much is crushing. But I bring them to every red carpet I go to. They are my pals! We do everything together.
ml: Do you think that because you've raised them in the Hollywood world, they might be tougher in the face of rejection? As a mom, you still want to protect them, I'm sure.
ML: Well, having a mom in entertainment gives them the upper hand. But you still get rejected. This business wants to test you to see if you're strong enough to stay in it.
ml: What advice would you give another single mom who has yet to fulfill her dreams?
ML: Don't ever give up, and don't ever let anyone tell you you can't do what you set out to. It might take longer. I get up at five to make time for myself! Being a single mom made me more focused and more determined. I get more done faster now because I understand the value of my time.
Vivian Manning-Schaffel serves as Momlogic's East Coast Editor. She has written for Babble, Parenting, The Advocate, The New York Post, Business Week and a variety of other publications and lives and works in the heart of breeder Brooklyn with her husband and two kids. She authors two pop culture blogs: The Mad Mom and A Hag Supreme, and is on the web at vivianmanningschaffel.com.