Though many may not recognize her name or face, Melissa Leo has a resume that as impressive as they come. Most known for her work in 21 Grams, the subtle star has made a career out of being the supporting woman, rising in fame and notoriety amongst both critics and fans. Thankfully, after almost twenty-five years in the business, Leo has finally landed the role that she was born to play "“ that of Ray Eddy in Courtney Hunt's Frozen River.
Portraying a single mother of two boys, Leo brings Eddy to life with her subtle movements and raw appeal. Her every move is rugged as she lacks the grace and eloquence that so many other actresses bring to the screen, thus creating a more realistic character than ever thought imaginable. Her performance is real, raw and utterly perfect as she successfully breaks away from her second-in-command stereotype and carries the film with both power and determination.
However, breaking that stereotype was a huge move for the actress, one that she was ready to make, knowing that Ray Eddy was the perfect woman to do it with.
"I felt that I understood Ray. Her circumstances and her reaction to her circumstance," Leo states. "I really liked the idea of playing a narrow minded white woman. She carries the film, and that is a very unusual roll to be offered. It was a great story, and there was simply no reason not to do it."
Additionally, Leo commented on the joy of finding such a complex and complete character "to fully bite into." To Leo, Ray Eddy was ideal because she allowed her to go home at night and think about the shoot, forcing her to process the story and sew it together as it was shot.
Leo knew the challenge ahead of her, yet, but regardless of the odds, she was committed from the very beginning.
"Up at a screening of 21 Grams, a gal came up and asked if I would read her script," Leo recalls. "We ended up doing a short film of Frozen River. It turned out fantastic, and I truly loved the character, so Courtney asked if I wanted to do the feature. It took me three years of calling and asking to do it before it happened. All my jobs have a very unusual fact to it, and this one was no different."
Venturing into a controversial topic of smuggling immigrants across the Canadian border, Frozen River is the first film to offer a strong, stern and fully independent lead woman since 2000's Erin Brockovich. It is this small factor that gives it its edge, and Leo couldn't agree more.
"One of the single saving graces to me as a single mom was that other single moms find a way to get things done even though it is a man's world," Leo says. "Almost every time I play a woman, it is somebody's women. But Ray is a white woman, standing in her own right and because it is so rare to see that in films nowadays, it makes it a very strong aspect of the film."
While Leo got to share the film with her family and close friends over Christmas of last year, she admits that the interest in the film's story and characters is a surprising blessing. In fact, she even calls it a miracle!
"I usually don't see things until I buy a ticket for it somewhere, but Courtney sent a copy of the film out for me to look at. I shared it with my friends and family, people who had been watching my work since the beginning, and it was so great to see them get caught up in the movie."
But even with her close friend's acceptance, Leo says that it is still amazing when you think about all the great things that have happened to this film.
"I have a lot of independents that sit in a director's basement and mold," she laughs. "I knew it was a fabulous story before it was shot, I knew after shooting it that we had gotten it right, and I was thrilled when we went to Sundance and overwhelmed when Sony bought it. And I can't come up with words to express the joy and satisfaction I feel for the fulfillment of this miracle."