One might expect a certain professional trajectory from an actress who landed her first role—that of Linda Warner on the soap “All My Children”—by beating out Julia Roberts for the part. But in the almost three decades since she first appeared on the small screen, Melissa Leo has gone the route of the consummate character actor.
Working with directors known (Henry Jaglom, Alejandro González Iñárritu) and unknown (Ryan Piers Williams, Nicole Quinn), Leo’s predilection for playing muse to up-and-coming writer-directors may have something to do with her desire to completely transform herself from one role to the next—to never be pigeonholed or do something “expected.”
There is perhaps no better testament to that fact than the list of projects she has tackled since earning a 2009 Oscar nomination for her bravura performance in Courtney Hunt’s indie gem, Frozen River. In that time, Leo has appeared in a handful of shorts and TV movies as well as 17 more features, including David O. Russell’s The Fighter, for which she recently garnered her first Golden Globe nod. But Leo hasn’t turned her back on the small screen; she is a series regular on HBO’s critically-acclaimed “Treme.”
In 2011, she’ll appear in HBO’s rendering of “Mildred Pierce” with Kate Winslet, as well as Matt Russell’s Seven Days in Utopia with Robert Duvall and Kevin Smith’s religious horror film, Red State, which will premiere at Sundance.
Before she had the chance to slip into any role but herself, we challenged Leo to the MM 10.
1. WHAT IS THE FIRST MOVIE YOU REMEMBER SEEING IN A THEATER?
Barbarella. I was eight-ish.
2. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE?
Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
3. WHICH MOVIEMAKER—LIVING OR DEAD—MOST INSPIRES YOU AND WHY?
Because I work with so many of them, the new/young ones, hoping and dreaming.
4. WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT ON THE SET?
Mutual respect in this collaborative art. That and the worker boys in plaids and funny T-shirts.
5. WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
[Doing] press for 21 Grams, Naomi Watts told me not to lose myself.
6. WHO’S THE ONE DIRECTOR YOU WOULD MOST LIKE TO WORK WITH AND WHY?
Lars von Trier, because I love his movies.
7. WHO’S THE ONE ACTOR YOU WOULD MOST LIKE TO WORK WITH AND WHY?
I love actors too much to single one out. I want to work with all of them!
8. AS AN ACTOR, WHAT ARE THE THREE THINGS YOU LOOK FOR IN A SCRIPT?
Clarity, story and role.
9. IF YOU WERE ASKED TO DESCRIBE YOUR JOB IN 10 WORDS OR LESS, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
I get to work hard to go to work and play!
10. IF YOUR COULD RECAST ANY MOVIE AND PUT YOURSELF IN ANY ROLE, WHICH WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
One of the great queens played by Hepburn, Davis, Blanchett, Dench, Mirren, etc. MM