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Melissa Leo crosses Frozen River and lands Oscar

Melissa Leo is enjoying her Oscar nomination to its fullest. Her portrayal of a single mother in Frozen River has her on a career zenith. Frozen River also earned a screenwriting nomination for its creator, Courtney Hunt.

Frozen River, an Oscar nominated film on DVD

A powerful film

The fact that Frozen River is crafted by a woman, Leo believes, is simply an afterthought because the story of Frozen River is so universal it knows no gender. The struggles of these single mothers could exist with any person and in any country.

“First of all I want to say to all the SheKnows women, bring your men to see this movie,” Leo says and laughs. She is serous. Leo’s joy is palpable and much of it has less to do with a Lead Actress nomination for the acting veteran. Ninety percent of her delight is the spotlight Oscar is shining on Frozen River.

“It’s not a woman movie. It was made by a woman and is an integral part of its quality, weight and its merit,” Leo says. “But in the end the talent arises and you are just making a movie.”

Frozen River arrives on DVD February 10 for audiences across the country to discover Leo’s riveting performance in an astounding piece of filmmaking.

The Oscar-nominated actress and I spoke into each other at the Oscar luncheon and days later Leo phoned SheKnows to share her excitement with our readers.

SheKnows: I have start by saying that at the Oscar luncheon, there was a lot of glow at the Beverly Hills Hilton, but I was especially taken with yours.

Melissa Leo: Oh, it has truly been so much fun for me. I’m old enough to see it for what it is and really enjoy it and not mistake it for something that it is not, which is very little, because this is a lot. I’m just really trying to enjoy it fully. I was there with my son that afternoon and nothing could make me prouder than that.

An Oscar artist’s collective

SheKnows: What was the actual lunch like for you? Was it surreal?

Melissa Leo of Frozen River has every reason to smileMelissa Leo: Kind of surreal in a way and kind of honestly real. Ellen Kuras has her documentary nominated (The Betrayal). I shot one of the first films that Ellen held a camera. It was for a short 26 years ago.

SheKnows: Wow! That’s incredible. What a small world.

Melissa Leo: There were other shooters there that I had worked with too. Being there recognized with these other people that I don’t know from yesterday, but from years of us walking the paths that are our lives. Josh Brolin was there, he’s an old, old friend from 20 years ago from doing Young Riders with him. Richard Jenkins, who I shared a manager for so many years, was there. 

SheKnows: It’s almost like a reunion, an excuse for everyone to get together.

Melissa Leo: It’s a reunion, but also a delightful meeting of people. The other ladies in the Lead Actress category are so gracious and really special in the meeting of them. It’s something actors understand. It rarely happens, but sometimes we’ll find ourselves, just actors alone in a room. It’s very different when anyone else is there. No one walks the path that actor’s walk. Our feet are killing us and the dress we can’t pee in for another three hours. There’s that shared experience. Although I had never met Kate Winslet, passing her at this beautiful dinner, there’s a warm greeting like a sister.

SheKnows: You two are forever connected now.

Melissa Leo: Yes, I think so, I feel that way.

SheKnows: Also, to have this attention on such a wonderful film as Frozen River, this is becoming so close to so many people’s hearts, it was greatly received. But there is another level of reception when you get to an Oscar nomination. What has it been like for you having been part of this film from the first table read to where you are standing today?

Melissa Leo and filmmaker Courtney Hunt work a scene in Frozen River

Melissa Leo: It really truly is an independent film, where if you stick closely enough to that great idea, miracles can happen. Hard work and heart do pay off. It is probably one of the reasons you see that joy in me over at the luncheon and throughout all of this – – I am intensely proud of my film. What Courtney did, she kept in the role when others suggested others, that partnership that we have that I am so proud of, and where you began this question, the quality of the film itself. I can recognize, I am both an integral part of it and I can step back from it and see it like anybody else would. It’s a damn fine picture.

SheKnows: It truly is magic. At the end of the day, that’s exactly what it is I have to say. I don’t see it being talked about a lot, but with the immigration theme to the film, Frozen River is incredibly topical.

Melissa Leo: (Laughs). I’m laughing because it’s incredibly topical, my darling Courtney who is more worldly wise than I, with each interview in each town throughout this whole year, we kept waiting for someone to be insightful enough to ask about that. Homeland Security didn’t want to talk to Courtney about what she knew about it? It is the unasked question until you, Joel, asked it. It is a big deal if you cross the puddle and go to Europe. They’re much more intrigued with how much do Americans know about this. People who live in the United States at the northern border are acutely aware of it. Whites, Indians, everyone knows that there is this trafficking. Be it on Amish roads or across the frozen St. Lawrence, there is this traffic that is occurring. It turns more topical as the world is getting close to this great precipice we seem to be on and you cut the end of the movie, and there’s Lila and Ray doing what hundreds of thousands of Americans are finding out they have to do: move in together with family to make ends meat.

Leo in a spellbinding performance in Frozen River

SheKnows: It strikes a chord on so many levels.

Melissa Leo: That’s art!

SheKnows: For you, I would think the accolades and the nomination is fabulous, but that experience of working on Frozen River, I suspect, was very inspiring for you.

Melissa Leo: You got it. You got it! This has been lots and lots and lots of fun. But, nothing will top those 24 days in Plattsburg where I was getting the chance to lay her down on film.

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