Melissa Leo, Oscar winner for her role in 2011’s The Fighter, is used to being cast in gritty parts.
“The gritty roles are not something I choose,” the actress told The Los Angeles Times. “It’s more to do with what gets offered me. For me, acting is not really about glamour. It’s about portraying humans, characters, and so my first investment is in that character.”
Although Leo has received acclaim for her roles in projects like Frozen River and HBO’s Treme, she is the first to admit that she still hasn’t “played a single lead since I won an Oscar, nor have I been offered one.” She attributes this to “the world [being] a great big place, and not everybody knows who Melissa Leo is. And people who put a lot of money into film are not yet interested in risking their money on me.”
Despite her lack of mainstream fame, Leo was drawn to her new film, the indie Francine, for the chance to portray an ex-convict. “[It was] the notion to carry the film, to be the subject of the film, the lead,” Leo said. “And the notion of working without a lot of dialogue, of being somebody who’s existing within their own reality, was fascinating to me as an actor.”
Leo has been an actor for decades, but credits Bill Murray as having a huge influence on her career. “When Mr. Murray directed A Razor’s Edge a long, long time ago, I was working as a waitress in a café across the street from the stage door of Radio City Music Hall. And I left what became my very good friend manning the shop while I ran up to do the audition, hopefully quickly.”
“We probably waited a couple of hours, and finally Bill and his buddies came in from the golf course and were ready to hold the auditions. He said, ‘Who was here first?’ And I raised my hand, went in, and Mr. Murray said, ‘You’re much too young for this part.’ I guess he could see my face drop, and he said, ‘Well, just read anyway.’ As I read, if memory serves, in fact with him, the energy shifted in the room. He heard a truth in my reading, and he said, ‘You’ve got something there,’ nodding his head and smiling. ‘If you want do to this, you should just go do it.’ I left and mulled that over and got back to the shift. My friend was livid. The boss said, ‘You can’t just disappear like that. If you do that again, there’s the door.’ I said, ‘I see the door. Bye-bye.’ And I walked out, and I have never since that day done anything for employment except be an actor.”