Most remembered for her Academy Award-winning role as Alice Ward, the mother to Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale‘s characters, Mickey Ward and Dicky Eklund, in The Fighter, Melissa Leo is once again starring as a mother in another sports drama, Seven Days in Utopia.
The film tells the story of a down-on-his-luck golfer, Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black). He finds himself stranded in the small town of Utopia, Texas after he made national headlines for having a breakdown during a major tournament.
Leo stars as a local townswoman, Lily Hawkins, the mother to Deborah Ann Woll‘s character Sarah. The two, along with Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall), help Luke realize there’s more to life than winning every tournament he enters.
This week, Leo kindly took the time to sit down with us to discuss with us what it was like filming Seven Days in Utopia, which is set to have a limited theatrical release on September 2. The actress talks about enthusiastically taking the opportunity to work with Duvall, and continuously portraying mothers in many of her roles as of late.
Question: So how many movies have you done in Texas?
Melissa Leo: Oh no, now you’ve got me. I know I spent a day in Austin doing something.
Question: Wasn’t The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada in Texas?
ML: Oh, yes indeed, out in West Texas.
Question: So you’re a Texas girl.
ML: Well, you know, the hill country in West Texas is like Florida and New York. (Laughs) Utopia is gorgeous, the film is beautiful.
Question: You acted with two of the best actors of all time, Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall. They both have Texas or southern roots, right?
ML: I’m not even sure with Duvall. Mr. Jones was directing us (in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), as well as acting with us, so he’d sneak up on you. So that experience of being near an actor, and working with him, like Mr. Pacino, Mr. De Niro, masters at work, probably the most fascinating to me is how completely different they are.
Christian Bale taught me something (on the set of The Fighter). I finally got him alone-his wife was always there-and said, talk to me about your technique. He was basically telling me he had no technique or formal training, which I didn’t know about him. What he does is exactly what an actor needs to do. I know it wasn’t my training that made a better actor out of me, (but) it’s made a better person out of me. (Laughs) It’s fascinating what it takes to do that thing.
Question: How did you get attached to this project?
ML: The chance to work with Mr. Duvall! Plain and simple.
Q: Did you not read the script?
ML: No, I read everything. I can’t do something without reading it. I don’t know, I guess I would only find it hard to say no to playing a character if she was groundless. Putting on Alice Ward was really hard, because she was supposed to be the bad guy. Having accepted that job, I had to get my feet in her shoes, and walk on her ground, and understand that people don’t do things, going “this is bad.” Well, there might be a few people, like people in the white house down the river, and I don’t mean the leader. It doesn’t matter about the size of the film, but the chance to go work with Mr. Duvall. I had an extraordinary experience when I went down there.
Question: When you were promoting Frozen River (in 2008), you were worried about whether you would work again. Are you a little shocked that you are still working?
ML: My career has been characteristic in one way most of all, in that work has not led to other work. Y’all (journalists) have been so good to me over the years, in every single thing I’ve ever done, to where I’ve seen written in print, “we should see more of her. I wanted to leave the movie when Melissa left.” With Frozen River, most of y’all understand what matters and write it down about the movie. You can sell tickets or shut it down in every way.
Oddly enough, I don’t think it’s work that will bring work, it’s the little golden man. The little golden man has made a difference in what the offers are, it’s made a difference in a side of me, in which I go, wait a minute, the little girl who didn’t deserve anything is all grown up now, and maybe by now she deserves something. I always wanted to not be cocky and full of myself. I still hope to live without expectation. But right now, it’s really quite lovely. I do believe that the work will rise and fall, and now, maybe halfway through my life, if I’m so lucky, I’ve moved towards that dream I dreamt when I was a little girl, to get to do this all the time.
Question: How did you establish your bond (with the other actors in the film), and work on your relationship?
ML: It’s sort of summed up in one line for me. I’m a mother, and I bring my son in many ways to much of my work. I’ve never had a daughter. I’ve played a mother to daughters, but not as often as sons. The seven daughters in The Fighter, those girls were awesome. They were actors, every one of them. They had the actual sisters to talk to, and get to know. It was incredible.
But Lily says to Johnny at one point, something about how much of a father’s girl Sarah was. I think Lily is a mom that’s unlike me, who knows that she does not know, or connect, with her daughter in that special way. That special relationship with Deborah’s character was with her father. That seemed to work best.
I just played Jesse Eisenberg‘s mom (in the upcoming comedy-drama Predisposed). He would stay up all night long, talking to me about it, coming up with ideas. They’re in post (production) now.
Question: Was it easier to relate to him, since he was a male child?
ML: No. But the movie is about me and Jesse.
Question: Is it a comedy?
ML: Well, Tracy Morgan‘s in it.
Question: You must have had a lot of fun on that set.
ML: Oh, hallelujah, did we ever. Then there’s an actor, Isiah Witlock, Jr., and the four of us in a car, day after day after day. Oh my gosh, funny times.
Question: You’ve played your share of moms, the mom in Welcome to the Rileys was pretty intense, too.
ML: It was a lot of mom work. I’ve actually started looking at veering a little bit away from that. I don’t know, maybe men are more rarely drawn as fathers when they’re drawn as characters in a movie.
Question: Do you have any projects coming up next?
ML: I’m going to do a really tiny movie, it’s not completely cast yet, but we’re going to do it. It’s called Something in the Water.
That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank Melissa Leo for talking to us. Make sure you read our review of Seven Days in Utopia. You can catch the film in theaters on September 2.