Woman of Interest: Melissa Leo

The Oscar-winning actress opens up about her "self-invention"

by David Hutchings
melissa leo image
Photograph: Art Streiber/August

Her HBO hit Treme begins final episodes December 1.
I love playing a woman [lawyer Toni Bernette] who is great at her job but not as a wife and mother.

She also shot six movies in 2013 and won a Guest Actress Emmy for Louie.
The delight of my work is that it requires me to change with every morning I wake up.

Life’s work
I always knew that acting was what I had to do. When I was a kid, I worked with puppets, and after college I survived by performing on New York City streets—I danced on stilts. My break came when I was cast as a bad girl on All My Children.

Her Oscar for The Fighter
That real-life mother of nine was the part of a lifetime. I found a lovely antique case for my golden boy and his buddy, the SAG Award, to live in.

Still figuring it out
My own self-invention has been inordinately slow. Here I am, 53 years old, yet in other people’s paradigms I might be in my twenties. But I love constantly learning about myself.

Maternal pride
My son is my best accomplishment. There were some tough times. When he was nine months old, his father [actor John Heard] and I got involved in a custody battle that was fought for over 10 years. I had to learn to be OK with separation from my son. He’s 26 now, and even though we live on different coasts, we have a very close relationship.

Keeping calm
When I was on the set of The Fighter, Amy Adams took me to a yarn shop, and now I’ve taken up knitting. Knitting is a great way to take your mind off things. One of the crew guys gave me a sticker: I knit so I don’t kill people. That kind of says it, doesn’t it?

Next: Octavia Spencer, Our November 2013 Woman of Interest

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First published in the December 2013/January 2014 issue

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