Oscar-winner Melissa Leo goes to Big Easy
The most famous image of Melissa Leo is at the Academy Awards, letting the F-bomb drop while accepting her Oscar in a gown that defined old Hollywood.
A far more typical image of the actress is of her on a recent blustery day. She’s in well-worn jeans, a gray sweatshirt, plain boots, no makeup and hair pulled back. Leo strides into a hotel on New York’s Bowery, and it would take a sharp-eyed fan to recognize her, which suits Leo just fine.
Leo, who travels without an entourage, picks up borscht from a Ukrainian restaurant and offers to share. Just stopping by Vaselka proves what a downtown woman she is. Leo grew up in this neighborhood before it was chic.
Settling into a club chair, Leo happily discusses playing a mule her first time onstage, what happened at the Oscars, and the return of HBO’s “Treme” Sunday, April 24, in which she plays Toni.
“I have to say, don’t think she’s a civil rights attorney,” which is how Toni is often characterized, Leo, 50, says. “She is a bleeding heart not just for leftleaning politics but for music, the sacred music of that city.”
That city is post-Katrina New Orleans, and Leo refers to it, without malice, as “a beautifully backward town.”
She had shown up for work with her Oscar in her luggage, but airport security found it troublesome. Leo won her Oscar for her portrayal of Alice Ward in “The Fighter.”
“It’s very powerful,” she says of the statuette. “It’s not just an icon that we use as a term. It’s an actual, not a virtual, icon. Security in New Orleans didn’t know who he was or how I got him.” So she parked the statuette with her accountant (“my money husband,” she says) while her house in upstate New York undergoes renovation.
It’s been five weeks since the
IOscars, and Leo has had time to reflect.
“I had a fair amount of practice to make a nice thank you,” she says. “I had noticed what a great big stage it was and I remembered being on the opposite side, watching Kate (Winslet) get hers. She was so dignified and thanked all the right people and it seemed so f... easy!”
As for the rest of that glamoursoaked evening, Leo adores the dress created for her, which isn’t as heavy as the 70-pound dress she wore to the SAG Awards. And Kirk Douglas is still a sexy man, she says. They’re meeting for tea in Los Angeles. Some of her recent characters — Lucy in “Mildred Pierce” and Toni in “Treme” — are the sort of women other women want for a best friend.
There’s an iron core of loyalty and a can-do spirit about them. The common thread between them is that “both of these characters are inwardly happy,” she says. “They are living the lives they had envisioned for themselves.”
Leo also emanates that. As a child, attending nearby P.S. 122, which has since become an arts space, she knew she wanted to act even before she knew what to call it. She loves to work, which is why she’s hoping “Treme” is renewed and she continues working with series creator David Simon.
Page 19 TV Crossword answer: Sam Waterston
Melissa Leo stars in “Treme,” Sunday on HBO.