Os­car-win­ner Melissa Leo goes to Big Easy

The Daily Herald - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAC­QUE­LINE CUT­LER

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.

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