Interview: Melissa Leo of Treme and The Fighter

Melissa LeoMelissa Leo, who picked up an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Fighter, was at the New York’s Union Square Best Buy for a launch event for  HBO’s Treme: The Complete First Season and Disc Dish was able to have a few minutes with her in a back room (okay, don’t get any ideas!). We only had a few minutes before she had to run off and join her Treme co-stars Wendell Pierce and Rob Brown to sign a bunch of Blu-ray (read our review) and DVD copies for a healthy throng of fans. (The show was released on March 29, 2011, by Warner Home Video.) But, in my short time with Leo, I found her to be exuberant, sharp and funny — and remarkably proud and thankful that she makes her living as an actor. Here’s how our conversation went…

Disc Dish: At the Oscars, you wrapped up your speech by thanking the Academy because “it’s about selling motion pictures and respecting the work!”

Melissa Leo: It’s all about the advertising!

Treme: The Complete First Season Blu-rayDD: And having the patience to appear at store signings, to talk about it over and over and still be able to smile as reporters ask you the same questions a hundred times in a day?

ML: Well, every reporter asks their question in a different way, even if it’s on the same specific subject. Being responsive to that, I usually don’t come prepared, which may be unfortunate for me. So, as with acting, when the same question is asked, I pretend that it’s the first time.

DD: That said, do you enjoy this part of the process? The “selling” of the work?

ML: I’m a very lucky girl, because all the press I’ve ever done has been for work that I’ve been very proud of. And a lot of it, very hard won work. So the notion of doing what I’m doing now, which is about getting the work seen and shared, it’s important. It’s lucky that I have a chance to be sitting here and talking about it with you. The project could be sitting in a can with nobody seeing it. But it’s available now and you’re writing about it, and when you write about it, you get another half-dozen people watching it. And you get another half-dozen people watching Treme, then you’re gonna get another 50 people watching Treme. Word of mouth makes the difference.

Treme scene

Melissa Leo (r.) comes to the aid of Khandi Alexander (l.) and Venida Evans in Treme.

DD: How long were you in New Orleans for the shooting of the first season of Treme?

ML: I was down there for a couple of months prior to Treme shooting Welcome to the Rileys and then back there for Treme from November to May.

DD: And what was native New Yorker Melissa Leo’s experience shooting in post-Katrina New Orleans?

ML: Finding out what the job was all about was a privilege, and that the job was going to take me to New Orleans was thrilling. And, more so, that it was going to be a requirement that I learn about New Orleans beneath its surface as more than just a tourist. Learning about New Orleans’ inner workings, its pros and cons and its history was so exciting. It is, by my assessment, the most unique city we have in this country.

DD: In addition to being one of the stars of Treme, you’ll also have a featured role in the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce. Tell me about your experience working for HBO on such high-profile projects.

ML: Well, you don’t make a lot of money working for HBO. If you get a good job like mine, you make a pretty good steady paycheck. And that’s a delight to me — I think the industry has gotten itself out of its own bounds and the cap that has always been there. A lot of people say that HBO is cheap, but there’s something kind of righteous in it. They’re actually, in their cheap way, producing quality projects. And if there were more quality projects and more of us working, that would be a world I’d want to live in. So, I’m very proud to be working for HBO.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.