Melissa Leo Talks 'Treme' and Being a Football 'Hater'
By Mike Ryan Posted Apr 11th 2010 09:24AM
Show creator David Simon pronounces 'Treme' with a "may" sound at the end. I have friends from New Orleans that swear it's pronounced with an "ee" sound. Where do you stand?
I'm employed by David Simon and I was taught to say "Tre-may." But you do hear things all the time, right? I played another character down here and she was from Indiana and, of course, she said "New Or-leens." And then I came down here [for 'Treme'] and I had to learn "New'awlins." And then I had to talk about the Orleans Parish Prison -- well, it's not "Awlins" Parish Prison, it's Orleans. So everybody's got there own story and I hear "Tre-May."
After 'Homicide' and 'The Wire,' is Baltimore sighing in relief that it's not the focus this time?
I doubt it. I'm very proud of the fact that the film industry, as wasteful as it can be at times, does come into a community and make a fiscal difference. And it's very hard on the local crew when things move out. Now, what does the town think? People get excited that it's there and they get board with it that it's there...
Though, neither show really portrayed Baltimore in the best light.
I thought it showed Baltimore in an incredibly beautiful and brilliant light.
Well, I was thinking of the season of 'The Wire' that focused on the inner-city school system.
That's the universal quality in it. It's no different anywhere. So, you can say, "Oh, not in my town." But the first town that says, "yes, it's going on," and goes and asks their neighbor, "is it going on with you?" -- then we can find solutions for God's sake.
'Treme' takes place shortly after Hurricane Katrina; your character is a civil right attorney -- that job probably keeps her pretty busy.
I think in this town you'd be pretty darn busy anyway if you had an eye on the musicians. As much as it's an integral part of the town and a big money maker for the town, there's that big schism between the musicians and the officials -- causing trouble for them that might not be so if they didn't have a horn in their hands. Those kind of prejudices, that's where Toni's love of the musicians then fell, the way of life. She does what she can to protect them.
The music is a huge part of this show.
The music is in fact, I think, a central character in the show -- more-so than the neighborhood of Treme. We go to a lot of neighborhoods in New Orleans but the music comes with us.
Is it hard to find the balance between a social statement and entertainment with a show like 'Treme'?
I think television is a powerful tool. I'm in an industry that is called the "entertainment industry." The entertainment industry has always addressed issues on hand. Drama, comedy: All of it is about human beings, the human condition. So the writers, whoever they are -- whether it's David Simon and his gang or if it's Tennessee Williams -- there are social issues being addressed. It comes hand-in-hand with the other side of what I do, which is art. The art of film-making. And art must address social issues or it's not art. And it's from our art that we draw our entertainment. That's too long of a thought...
No, that wasn't too long at all...
When you're on [a movie or television show] and you're aiding and abetting miss-telling -- women have great big boobs and wear lots of lipstick -- that message is going out just as powerful on the coal fire. So if the coal fire can spit out something that does a little human teaching...
Were you filming when the Saints won the Super Bowl? Could you notice the city's mood changing as they progressed through the playoffs?
Oh my God. You're talking to a football hater. I don't dislike it ... I hate it. You have to hear: This was one of the most glorious experiences of the time down here. To see an entire town, every single person, represented and thrilled; their Saints. 'Who Dat? We Dat!' And then a friend from New York was down visiting and he kept on going on about how the Yankees and they were in the blah, blah, blah. I was like, "no baby, na-ah." I had never seen anything like it. And it's the same belief that got them to the Super Bowl that got his city going again.
As a matter of fact, I do believe we had to re-shoot something. We had used a whole crowd of extras and I think it was in between the [NFC Championship Game] and the Super Bowl. We had to re-shoot it because every extra came wearing black and gold -- that wasn't working for 2005.
This isn't a question. I just want to state for the record that I quite enjoy John Goodman.
Oh, me too! It's so much fun to be [fictionally] wedded to him. Really fun and just brilliant and what he does. Yeah... funny, sweet, smart man. But, Jesus, a really gifted actor.
You were nominated for an Academy Award in 2008 for 'Frozen River.' Now that it's been a couple of years, what did that nomination actually do for your career?
Well, it gets David Simon to call you when he hasn't called you in 15 years and you've been doing sh*t. The reality is not as much a fairy tale as people might think. I had a long road with many, many highlights along the way. One of the things that's just great that's mentioned in the press -- I'm going to be 50 in September! Things just are looking sweeter and sweeter. I think that's a different story than the myths we get told.
And considering the so-called "Best Actress curse" that's been talked about over the last few weeks ... maybe you dodged a little bit of a bullet by not winning.
I don't know what that is! Who knows? Who knows how it all really works in the end. What kind of choices one makes and what kind of choices one is actually even presented with. We all do the best we can.
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