Her eyes, normally the color of wet autumn, flash a sudden, menacing green. "Absolutely not!" cries the young ballerina, stricken, it is clear, not for the first time by this question.
Leslie Browne has been asked if she landed the ingenue role in "The Turning Point" because of her family's friendship with Nora Kaye, the film's executive producer.
"I'd say," she continued in a rush, "that because of her friendship with my mother I got the opportunity (to try out). But this was a professional film. It cost millions! Do you honestly think - well, anyone who thinks that I don't even have time for. It's stupid, that's all. Do you think other people don't think that?"
She stops, subdued abruptly by her own outburst. She has said, she realizes a bit too much. For Leslie Browne, fresh from Geoye Balanchine's corps de ballet, managed (as we all know by now) to grab that part right from under polished Gelsey Kirkland's wounded foot and spirit.
It's still the same old story, Star ballerina gets sick (old/incapacitated/pregnant); fresh-faced novice jumps in to take her place . . . Well, you know the rest: It's called "The Turning Point." So does Leslie Browne, who is no one's fool.
"It's sort of a stereotypic situation," she says, neatly summing up the movie in her dressing room at Wolf Trap where she'll be performing through Tuesday. Grinning shyly, she recites the litany: "Girl comes to New York, and all that. The only thing that never happens is that she becomes a ballet star overnight. That never happens."
No, that never in fact does happen - not in ballet; although recognition (if not stardom) does allow Brownie to perform now at Wolf Trap in the Janacek dance spectacular along with the likes of Erik Bruhn and Edward Villella. In Hollywood, however, destiny can deal out swifter and more immediate gratituation and it is mildly ironic that Leslie Browne, who always wanted to be an actress anyway, lapped up her first taste of success from the celluloid cup.
She had the face for it - that more than anything: great dark pools for eyes set in a fawn-like face - less than beautiful, to be sure, but highly romantic in its gentle arrangement. Ingenue actersses may need that kind of face; prima ballerinas do not. The question for Leslie Browne, famous but not perfection at 20, is where does she go to attain it from here?
"See, that's the question," she acknowledges readily. "Now I've got to go up.But I can't be pushed and pushed to do things beyond my limit. See, I get a lot of advice from a lot of different people, and I think one has to know what to see through. I think right now what I have to do is let myself grow - so that it isn't BOOM! - and then I can't do anything else."
Her movie costar, the divine Mikhail Baryshnikov, when asked recently about Browne's performing ability, replied that she had "very nice potential," but implied by his attitude that she was merely a passable dancer.
"Well - " she grins once again " - think I was just passable at that time, was just very appreciative that Misha agreed to do the film with me. He doesn't give you a clear idea of how you're doing when you're with him."
This time she smiles, mostly to herself.
She's a clever young woman, Leslie Browne, and so the bravado that springs forth from a number of her utterances is entirely missing when she speaks of Baryshnikov the Formidable, and is replaced by a stunning humility.
He, after all, condescended to open the door for her, which is quite possibly why Leslie Browne says, "There are so many people around him all the time. I just didn't want to be one of them. You don't have to make yourself important around him. I just tried to keep out of the way."
Anna Aragno, a dancer who shares her Wolf Trap dressing room, enters for the second time, hoping to change. She stares coldly around the room, then says crisply, "You'll have to leave now. There's a lovely lobby outside."
Outside in the lovely lobby, Browne shrugs with embarrassment, "She sees me getting all the interviews . . ."
She settles on a lobby couch, her back never touching the plastic, her legs slung sideways, as if in preparation for imminent flight. This is a very insecure, very competitive business, and Leslie Browne ought to know.
Her parents, Kelly and Isabel Brown (the "e" was added by the oldest daughter to make her name "feminine") were both dancers at the American Ballet Theater. Her younger sister, Elizabeth, is in the ABT's corps de ballet - a position that might make her feel a bit uncomfortable now that Leslie is a soloist with the Company.
"It has been murder," Leslie Browne agrees, "Murder One for her. Just incredible. We changed her last name for her to Laing because she wanted her now total identity."
Browne cocks her head thoughtfully. "But I tell you she's like an angel sent from heaven. It's like she's the older sister and I'm the younger one. She's taken care of me, made sure I was all right and happy and everything. When I'm upset, she's the first one to come backstage.
"It's just incredible. Sometimes I think she was sent on this earth just to look after me."
She thinks on that rather gratifying perspective a moment, then says wonderingly, "Everyone says that one day it will all backfire on me . . ."
Her position must seem quite perilous to Leslie Browne at this time, suspended as it is by delicate tendrils of luck. After arriving in New York at 16, she spent a year and a half with Balanchine's New York City Ballet in perfect anonymity.
"I was just a little corps fille , and Balanchine was just a father-figure. Every time he'd pass, my eyes would open three feet wide," she recalls with some amusement.
Her first real conversation with Balanchine came when she decided to quit to go to the American Ballet Theater as a soloist - a plum that was the direct result of her movie experience.
"I felt like saying, 'Hullo, I'm Leslie Browne. I've been in your company a year and a half . . .'"
Anyone who has seen "The Turning Point" will notice a certain resemblance between the life of Leslie Browne and the life of the girl she played in the film.
Both were born to a pair of former ballet dancers. Both went to New York to hit the big time. Leslie Browne whose parents ran a ballet school in Phoenix (unlike the movie heroine, whose parents ran a ballet school in Oklahoma City) says, "I don't know the true story behind all that." But of course Nora Kaye, herself a former prima ballerina, knew Browne's parents, who are now divorced: The father is still running the ballet school, the mother is up in New York.
"My mother," she says warmly, "is so strong, so great with people. But she didn't have the drive or the talent to be a prima ballerina. And my father - well, he could have been a fine leading dancer with ABT, but he couldn't cope with the pressures. He didn't like the people or the whole system.
"And in this profession, you can't be like that. You have to wear blinders and concentrate on only one thing."
She covers the corners of her eyes with her hands for emphasis.
"See, I'm sure I have the ambition. But it's like a secret (from myself). I mean even I don't know it. Or why would I put up with all this?"
She shifts anxiously on the couch. "I do not want to be a ballet star," she says firmly. "I hate it when people know me on the street. I hate it when you go into a drug store and people put you first on line. You cannot imagine what it's like. I have never been after a quote-unquote career."
She finishes with a flourish - a perceptible arch of the neck, borne, one suspects, less out of conviction than fear - a fear of the future. It has all happened so quickly.
"I don't want to plan a future," says Leslie Browne, "because I don't want to be disappointed." And then she says, only a bit later, and with even greater earnestness, "Maybe I'm afraid to give this all up because that would mean I'm a failure."