UNTIL RECENTLY THERE WERE AS MANY women action directors as there are female fullbacks in the Dallas Cowboys' backfield. But when it came time for Steven Spielberg, cofounder of DreamWorks SKG, to pick a helmer for the studio's first flick, the $50 million nuke thriller The Peacemaker (opening Sept. 26), he turned to Mimi Leder. "I'm a drama director," says Leder, 45, whose directing on NBC's ER caught Spielberg's eye. "I hope when people see my movie they'll think it's smart—smart is what's important—and not a guy movie."
Just because she's already moving on to her second action epic, Deep Impact, a $100 million Paramount May release about a menacing meteor, doesn't mean Leder has gone macho. "I don't do anything guylike," says Leder, who lives with her husband, actor Gary Werntz (who appears in The Peacemaker), and their 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley. "I wear sneakers, not hiking boots. I like to dance and go to the movies. I like to shop, thank you." In fact, Leder plans to shoot a film about her family, in part to honor her father, independent filmmaker Paul Leder, who died of cancer last year. Her brother Reuben, 47, is writing the film, and her sister Geraldine, 35, will cast it. "My father told me I could succeed at anything," says Leder. "And he told me not to be afraid of it."