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Lock the Gate. All right, let's do this. How are you? What the is what the fuck buddies? What the fuck? Nick, what is happening? I'm Marc Maron. This is my podcast, WTF. Welcome to it. The 20th most listened to podcast. In 2020, according to Edison tracking, what does that mean? What's real, what isn't? I'll take that number. I'll take it after 12 years of this, to still be in the saddle like a galloping Budha, getting mildly aggravated at many of the bumps and jostling.
But trying to maintain an even keel. Is that me? I just described some alien. The I don't know, man, today on the show, I talked to Melissa Leo, the greatest actress in the world, one of them for sure. I don't like to give anyone the big titles because there's always many.
But Melissa Leo is one of them. She won an Oscar. Remember, for The Fighter, which is a movie, I watch at least three or four times a year. And when it's on a plane, I'll watch it there, too. She did the movie Frozen River, which I just watched, and that got her an Oscar nomination. I did not see it or know about it when it came out. And it's a beautiful fucking movie and an amazing performance.
She did TV shows like Homicide and Tremé, and she's in this new movie, Body Brokers', all right. Body Brokers', which is great, directed by and written by this guy, John Swab. And we're doing something we actually don't usually do this week, we're having two people on from the same movie, Melissa, today and Michael K. Williams on Thursday, because this is an independent movie that definitely deserves attention because it's a dark story about a real thing.
And also, Michael K. Williams.
Come on, man. Fucking Omar from the wire.
What, are you kidding me or you kidding me?
There's a million reasons to have these people on, but this movie, Body Brokers', it's an interesting little zone that I don't think a lot of people know about the racket of rehab and just how deep and dark that racket can get you. I've got a buddy who works in in the rehab industry, and he had to quit a couple of rehabs because of the corruption on how they once it became part of the broader insurance.
Umbrella. I think it was a requirement maybe during Obamacare to provide money for rehabs, there were dubious, devious, evil fucking people that just started running money through sick people. They started running money through junkies. They started paying junkies to relapse. They started, you know, providing junkies with with medical procedures they didn't need. They started, you know, hijacking tests like piss tests and taking that money, overcharging, just running billions of dollars through these very sick individuals who are, some of them, hopeless.
That's the fucked up thing about addiction and about knowing about it and understanding it. If you've got the bug, it's one thing.
But really knowing that most people don't recover from it and a good percentage of people die from it and a lot of people just live with it, that, you know, the percentage rate of people that actually get sober and stay sober is fucking painfully low. And the education of people in this country around addiction, alcoholism is still fairly unenlightened. But this movie is a window into the dark racket of exploitation and hustling insurance money through drug addicts and rehabs.
And it's a it's fucking it's it's a like I'm familiar with the world having been in it as a patient and as somebody who is sober. So the language of the movie, you know, was sort of close to home for me in some ways. But the movie is dark is fucking satisfying. And this guy, this guy Schwab, who directed body brokers, he doesn't pull any punches, man.
He gets that ending. Sit there like this. You know, there's a lot of fucking movies with third act problems right now.
Like that's the biggest thing we've got to deal with. A lot of people are without electricity.
There's a winter storm warnings everywhere.
People are freezing to death in their chairs at home and people are broke. The pandemic rages on. We don't know how we're going to bounce back.
But let's just talk about the third act of some of these current motion pictures that are available now. What happened? What what a fucking tragedy.
The third act to some of these movies are. I didn't know if I would. It's just like you get through, you walk into a movie, you get about two thirds of the way in and then they drop something. You're like, come on, how far do you want me to fucking suspend my disbelief to enjoy this movie? Now, I know this is bullshit, you know, and you're not I can't even get back to where I was.
And I just got to hope that the ending is satisfying enough for me to walk away thinking I didn't just waste half my life or a quarter of my life or maybe the last hour of my life watching this fucking thing, this shiny piece of garbage.
Aside from that, movies I can recommend are this movie, The Body, Brokers', Nomad Land, which is a beautiful sort of meditation on grief and the great American disappointment.
I liked the father a lot with Anthony Hopkins, which was a unique twist in that you don't realize initially whose point of view the film is being shot from. And when you do, it's sort of jarring. But then you have to piece it together in sort of a wonderful way. It's a difficult movie, but it's beautifully handled. And I liked Judas in the Black Messiah. They do a great job. And it's a story that a lot of us don't know.
I don't know how true they were to the story or if it's as historically accurate as it plays out to be. But but it's it's an education and it's a painful one.
And it's a fucking beautifully shot movie, to be honest with you. What else?
Of course, the Adam Curtis six part mind fuck that is I can't get you out of my head. And also, I wanted to, you know, kind of spread a little love to my friend Cliff Nesterov, who has been on this show a couple of times. He wrote the book, The Comedians. I'm a big fan of his writing. Nobody writes about comedy like Cliff Nesterov and he has a new book out.
It's called We Had a Little Real Estate Problem The Unheralded Story of Native Americans in Comedy. It's out now. You can get it wherever you get books. I have not read it. I'm looking forward to reading it. I'm just been a little backed up on the books, man. But apparently Steve Martin likes it. Judd likes it.
I thought Cliff's other book comedians and all the stuff he used to write for the WFMU blog on comedy is stellar.
The best stuff, the darkest stuff, the truest stuff he gets in there. He looks into the dark portals of show business and pulls out the gems.
I'm sorry that I didn't get to interview one of the original Native American stand ups, Charlie Hill, before he passed away. It's a missed opportunity. I used to see him at the store. He was a good guy. But this book, Cliff's new book, we had a little real estate problem.
The unheralded story of Native Americans and comedy is out now. And I guarantee you it'll be something you know nothing about and you will come away from it educated and engaged.
And I'm saying that without reading it.
Also, this movie Body Brokers', something to see.
I also want to say about Melissa Leo, you know, in the interview, she she clearly harbors bad feelings toward the people who who didn't believe in her early on.
And, you know, this the interesting thing about people, why say people, why be general? This the interesting thing about me and maybe you let me think this to a minute. Give me a second.
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Trust me, it helps. I'm doing it now.
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OK, all right.
But I was, as I was about to say, about harboring bad feelings towards the people who didn't believe in you, because this far along I have you know, my success is fine. I enjoy my success. I'm happy I'm successful. I'm not a household name. I'm not a huge star, but I earn a nice living. I have health coverage. I like my house.
I have a certain amount of financial security because I've worked hard for a long time.
But it didn't look like it was going to pan out.
And there are certainly people from my life, you know, without mentioning names who I you know, even if it's little slights from back in the day, you remember them, this isn't like a troll or it's not like a major trauma.
But it was just like. When you're either desperate or or or coming up or really trying your hardest to be a success at something and people either dismiss you or stand in your way. You know, just because they can or they don't see it, I don't see it, it sticks with you and it's like not an active grudge for me.
But if you if you bring it up, it's sort of like, you know, bringing up a divorce to occur to anybody, to some dude, hey, you remember when you were divorced, don't even fucking why are you bringing that up?
Like some of it's very close to the surface, but they're just people were sort of I want to talk to that guy because it happened recently, you know.
There is somebody that was reaching out, you know, to be on this show and, you know, and at the beginning of what we were doing here, this guy slighted us, you know, and it was it was it was pretty quick, but it was loaded because of the tone and the dismissive nature of it. And it stuck. And there's no fucking way that we're going to have that person on this show.
Why? Because, you know, why can't why can't we just be bigger?
Isn't that something that you talk about?
I guess I've talked about a lot of that stuff with people, but there's certain ones. There's certain tones or certain people. There's a certain way in which people trigger you or hurt you when you're really trying. And that just don't fucking go away. I don't care if you're Jesus.
They just don't fucking go away again.
It's not active. My brain's not on fire with it. I don't need to have to pray to have it removed or meditated away. It's not an active thought, but you know, once it's introduced into the soup, into the brain, into the juice, into the fucking gray matter, once you know that that that name or that moment is dropped in the slot, you just want to fucking fuck fuck that guy, fuck that guy.
That's what you win. You drop that coin in the slot.
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Go to zip recruiter dotcom slash meran zip recruiter. The smartest way to hire Melissa Leo. I'm going to talk to her now. The new movie is The Body Brokers and I highly recommend it. This is me talking to the amazing actress Melissa Leo.
Where are you? I'm in New Orleans. Really, how is it down there? Well, it's hard to know truly, because I'm down here working, so I'm primarily keeping myself very safe. Yeah. And it's a very interesting project, wonderful role for me, so. Oh, yeah.
Well, it is it. Yeah. I don't know. Nobody told me I can tell or not. So it's just a pilot for Fox. So whether or not everybody will get to see it will. Time will tell. But it's a very interesting character who, whose brother explains that she's so weird because she's twice exceptional, which is a newer kind of phrase for learning differences. And she's a little bit of a social imbecile and a genius.
Oh, great. Who is interested in forensic genealogy? And to find out more about that. You'll have to watch the show. Oh, I'm in.
All right. So when you get when you embark on a role like that, like what do you study? I mean, what do you do?
Oh, it's fascinating because actually this character I've been sitting on for ten months, we were going to shoot the pilot in March and everybody knows what happened in the United States in March. Yeah. And we all got sent home and with our fingers and toes crossed that we would be able to come back. Yeah. To two and a half months ago, we got the call. Indeed. We're going to come back and try and shoot it now. So I've never sort of hibernated with a character for so long.
I really trust my writer showrunner, the wonderful Chris Levinson. I mostly allow the research to be done by them. Yeah. And not fill it up with other ideas of my own. They've offered I meet a couple of women that the character is loosely based on. I have said no thank you. I'm curious to meet them, but I don't want them or I to think I'm portraying them right. So I just mostly go by the writer and ask the questions as I need to to have an idea of what I'm saying.
But do you go through like when you like to make choices as an actor?
It's somebody who has this in the real world or in the world of people, an awkwardness. But in a world of the mind, you know, a genius. You know, how how do you sort of do you just manufacture that or just go by the script or it's it's a little bit of all of those things.
And playing luckly, these last couple of weeks after waiting so long to be her has been fascinating. And I am informed by my writer and her research. I'm informed by the information she has on the on the subject, the information I've gathered along the way, my own learning differences that probably come into play. Right. And it's it's an incredibly instinctual role. In the end. I did there's a sweet little show about love on the spectrum that. Yeah, yeah.
Watch that. OK, and what I, I really got from that was that there's all kinds of ways this shows up in people. Yes. And that we could both invent things and also be quite factual about the representations of, say, a panic attack. I don't know that I've ever had a panic attack in my life. I don't know that I've ever witnessed a panic attack. Right. Maybe I'm in constant panic attacks.
Well, I know, but yeah, I ask questions and I see if they smile when we finished the take and if they're smiling, I think I did good. Yeah, exactly.
You can you can get to panic though. I mean, panics never that far away is it.
No, I don't think from any of us so far away from any of us learning differences are so far away, you know. That's right.
That's right. So it's just sort of an amplification or a reduction of what's already inside of you.
Yeah. And the smarty pants side. Well, that's all written for me.
But that must that that must be fun to to it's it's very fun to play somebody with that kind of intellect, because I my intellect resides much lower in my body somewhere around my gut. And to have that kind of cerebral intellect, it's it's so much fun to play.
Well, that's interesting. It got into it because, I mean, I think it feels right to me because I watch I've watched you for years. I mean, I've obviously not seen all of your movies. Have you seen all of your movies? You've made a lot of movies.
I've done a lot of movies and television. I've seen most of it because I am not an egomaniac, as many people consider. Used to be most of us are kind of the opposite of that. Yeah, but I watch it to improve, right?
What works? What doesn't work like a game movie game, films like that.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I wish I had a coach. That would be fun. You never had a coach. You could get a coach.
I could get a coach actually. As soon as I said it, I realized I've never really understood that idea of an acting coach. I don't really know what a coach would do. I, I again, I'm using so much my gut on things and then my leader, be it like with the case with John Schwab and body brokers, he's just he knows his film Inside Out. What more information could I bring to it that would sometimes that can detract from the film.
Too much outside information.
I love that movie. I really I like it. I'm a sober guy, so I know some of the landscape was familiar to me and I know people that work in that industry.
So what was what was it sort of a devastating dark movie about a real thing and about the insurance scams around treatment centers.
And at first I didn't love the narrator because I was like, is this going to be glib? You know, but there had to be a way to deliver the information to set up the thing.
And then once you got into it, it what was interesting about your character, the therapist, is that once it's established, you know what's going on, everybody in that industry becomes suspect, you know? So like so I'm sitting there looking at you thinking like, is she in on it? And then so but but ultimately, that doesn't really matter because it doesn't seem like you are. But but I thought I thought the performance was great and I thought the whole movie was kind of ballsy.
It's a very John swab is nothing if not a ballsy director and a smart, ballsy director.
And he's an Oklahoma guy. He seems like a young guy. He is a younger guy. I mean, to somebody like me. Yeah, everybody's younger. But now he's a younger fellow. He's got a lot ahead of him. Here's the funniest story about John Suave and I. He approached me for the film, I believe he calls Run with the Hunted, which was the previous film to body brokers. And he had a role that I felt in many ways I played too often which roles and in other ways.
The character's name is Birdie. She was the character who, in the end, the weight of all this wrongdoing. And you can see in John's films who's wrong, who's right is a slippery slope of complicated realities. Yeah, it's not black and white and good and bad. But in the final analysis, there was actually a line she needed to utter towards the end of the film. Why do I do the terrible, bad things I do in this case, prostituting young women?
I that's like a scary thought to me. A woman prostituting others without the story of how she got there, being told some other interesting story being told and in the end just said, because I'm a bad bitch.
Uh huh. That's no reason for behavior. Yeah. And I was very clear with John, he worked very hard to alter the script in some way. And finally I said, John, you're ruining your movie.
You've got a good movie. Go make that movie. And maybe one day you'll come to me with something else. And by God, he did he did it not just not just once, but twice.
What was the other one this summer? I shot his next film that will be coming out after a bit called I To and I played for him in that Ida Red. And I just I just adored John. I adore the person that he is. I adore the life's path. He has traveled his honest, open nature in sharing that in his work and his work, trying to better the world in some kind of way by examining things that aren't often examined.
Yeah, I think that, like I called a buddy of mine who worked in the treatment world and he said that he had to quit two jobs because of the corruption and just all levels of exploitation of the drug addict, the victims.
But I was really happy. Like lately I've watched a lot of independent movies, but he didn't sell out the ending. He let it happen. And, you know, and it lands hard. And and then that's when I realized that the narrator, in order for that movie to survive the human spirit, that guy had to come back. Do you know what I mean? There exactly. There had to be that button or else we're just going to be like, whoa, you know what?
And but I watched a very smart movie watching on your part because that is something that John himself struggled with. Oh, really? No filmmaker worth their salt wants to have a. Work with a voiceover, right, sort of, but always in the script, that voiceover was there because John already understood what you understood at the end of the film.
Well, yeah, because at the beginning, it's sort of like it struck a note, like, you know, like the Big Short, really. There was, you know, this explaining and there was sort of a kind of like not sarcastic, but kind of a devilish narration to the darkness that's unfolding that gives it kind of a comedic tone initially. And then it kind of diminishes a bit. And then at the end, you realize like, oh, this is a devil, you know, on some level, right?
Yeah. So so I like that.
No, there is definitely people in the world who do wrong, and John's not afraid to talk about that either.
Yeah. And he illustrates the lack of conscience on behalf of those people. But I've watched a string of movies lately that we're all indie movies had this kind of strange like this wasn't one of them.
But I watched I watched Frozen River for the first time last night because I knew I was going to talk to you.
And, you know, I watched a fighter. I watched a fighter, it seems like once a month. So I know that that movie and I know some of your other work. But in Frozen River, I just watched Nomad Land.
Did you watch Nomad Land with. I haven't seen that. I watch that.
And I watched another movie called Minori and then I watched Frozen River. And there are all these like these movies have these bleak, tragic undercurrents. But somehow or another, at the end, the human spirit is enough to lift the movie, you know, to to a resolution where you don't want to shoot yourself. And and that was that was true with Frozen River, too, which was really a breakout movie for you.
Frozen River was a huge breakout movie for me. And I don't I'm not often asked to play the lead. And Britney Hunt asked me to play the lead in that film. And and it's so much more interesting for an actor to really sink their teeth into the whole story. Right. To have the characters, whole story being told and not sort of used as a pawn in the telling of the rest of the story. It's a tricky thing for a supporting actor to try to do is sort of literally support the rest of the film is very different than than carrying the film, really, because you feel that the way to it.
Yeah, yeah. It's just there's a different there's a different intention in it. It would it has to do with the character who's leading their story is more fully told. Right. And the supporting characters you may or may not know about.
And the beautiful thing in Frozen River, although it wasn't sort of sold this way. But Frozen River is a highly unusual film in that it actually has two women who are leading the film, most of them no less than I. Yeah, a lead actor in that in that film.
And also unpredictable, like it's one of those movies where you really you don't see anything coming. And that's and that's really so amazing. It's a really a great experience.
And I am delighted that you had a reason to finally watch that film because and this might be completely the wrong thing to say, but I'll be the girl in the room.
Doing that frozen river is by far a finer film. If you're just looking at filmmaking, then Fighter will ever hope to be a fighter is a fascinating story. It has fascinating elements to it. Dick Eklund alone is enough to tell a story about a fighter is about so much more than that.
Bale nails the character so amazingly, even though he's so far from Deqi and reality. So, you know, there's this wonderful things about fighter, right? Frozen River is an incredibly intentional film made by a female, which not a lot of films you ever hear about are.
And Courtney set out to make a film that her rather straight, quite white father would sit his ass in a chair and watch from beginning to end. Hmm. It's a very intentional film.
What you saw last night is what Courtney Hunt wrote on the page. It's not manufactured afterwords from the footage that's there and the move this year. Move that there.
It's an incredibly well written film that was incredibly well realized for a much smaller amount of money than anybody will ever know. And by a much smaller amount of people than ever is accepted as a legitimate amount of people to make a film. Right. It's Frozen River is miraculous.
Yeah, I don't. You know how I missed it or why, Mr. Pitt, there's so you miss things, you know, what are you going to do? It's called advertising, advertising. And also like, you know, there's a lot of it. But it came out at a time where I shouldn't have missed it. But I mean, but it's interesting getting back to this this thing that that moves you, that you said something about the reason for behavior that without without a reason for behavior, you don't really know where to go with this gut that you have.
Like, you need to know that for every character. Right? I mean, it doesn't matter how small it is. Oh, yeah.
No, I'll have to answer a lot of questions with Alice Ward is a fine example of that.
I mean, I had to answer all kinds of questions if I were in The Fighter and a lot of those questions were answered because I met them all. I met all nine of the children. I met Alice Ward herself, the guys who are hanging around the set constantly hoping to catch a sight of Alice. Yeah.
Had it all been in love with her at one time or another and that tiny little town of Lowell, and they loved me because they saw me as her and all of that reality of it added to the performance. So there weren't things that as an actor, I had to guess that, yeah, I could just turn to Alice, I could turn to Lowell, Massachusetts, on a town I know well.
But I know enough about New England to understand the long, cold winter. Nine children, several different fathers, you know. Sure. A lot of information. Yeah.
Also, like, you know, in comparing those two movies, the weird thing about those David O.
Russell movies, particularly like Silver Linings Playbook, Silver Linings Playbook, like those two, it seems to me, go together that they're fundamentally it's an entertainment movie. You know, it's going to end good, you know what I mean? It's like there's a happy ending on that thing. So, like, in terms of what's revealed in the story and comparing it to something like Frozen River, I mean, Russell enters that movie knowing that it's going to be glorious at the end.
You know, Frozen River Russell, he adores movies and movie goers and people. Yeah, all kinds of things. You add to the strengths of those films. Sure.
And like those two in particular in Hustle, two is fun. Joy, I got it. Got away from me a little bit, but because I didn't understand what the movie was about. But that's OK.
Yeah but that's OK. Yeah. But the Frozen River movie, it's like you don't feel like everything's going to be OK for anybody, but you do feel like the human spirit transcended.
Right. Exactly. Exactly right. And you just gave me chills that this guy didn't play very, very nice.
So like when you started, where did you where'd you grow up? I was born in Manhattan. In actual Manhattan. In actual Manhattan. I'm a New York, New York.
New York, Brooklyn. Yeah. I was there until I was my brother. And I struggle over this about eight or nine years old when for several reasons we were evicted from our apartment on its Tenth Street. The family. Yeah, the family. My mother, my brother and I.
Your dad was already gone. My dad had gone.
That was part of the eviction. He had to rent controlled apartments in his name. New York will understand that. Yes.
And probably to this day, you're mad that you lost that.
Oh, that apartment when I was a kid was forty dollars a month. It was a garden with a garden on Tenth Street are like in the alphabet's or between between second and third, one of the prettiest blocks in the city.
Oh, my God. It's a remarkable block. The building that I came home from St. Vincent's Hospital and spent the first several years of my life and was actually although there brownstones that all match one another. Yeah, that's on that side of Tenth Street, the other side of Tenth Street. Not so the corner up by Third Avenue no longer either because NYU owns it, but the majority of the block brownstones built by a single architect. Uh huh. In the in the middle of the block it's one twelve and one twelve has a different kind of wider, broader windows in it because it was built originally as an artist's residence.
I came home to live in an artist's residence.
I went to P.S. one twenty two, which is now known in New York as public space one twenty two.
Yes, I've done shows there and that was my grade school. Wow. I also used to go with my mother to the covered market. That is also now a theater. So I was it was just meant to be that I do what I do, you remember.
And you have these memories are clear and the memories are clear of of those places of my upbringing. My family, not so much the memories of going around the corner to the building that eventually became the public theater and working with Peter Schumann and his bread and puppet theater.
What was that? Was that a child theater, not a child's theater? Peter Schumann is a German political avant garde puppeteer, OK, for since nineteen sixty three has orchestrated the bread and puppet thing.
That's his thing. That, that's Schumann's thing.
And he did that out of New York. Originally they were based in New York City, owned that building that that Joe Papp eventually got and called the Public Theater.
It's a huge building. It's a huge building. And for a dollar a month, Schumann and his troupe at a floor available to them in that building that was real estate has changed in New York. But, yeah, and I would go over there and work with clay and papier mâché to build these puppets. Then we were asked my brother and I did we want to be in the show.
I had no idea what the show was for.
I had no television in the house, you know, and we would go and me and a bunch of grown ups would pretend a story. It was the story of the Nativity and we would pretend the story and do it. And they all cared so much about the pretending. It was so serious. It was wonderful.
And then we went over there one time at night and these people sat down and watched the pretending and believed if you could hear them believing, us pretending and that I was sold on, I had no idea he was my first director.
I had no idea this was theater that we were performers. Yeah, it it just related to my favorite childhood game of pretending. And many years later, I realized probably in my late 20s, early 30s, Schumann had been my first director.
Sure. I mean, he obviously planted the seed in a way, right?
Yes. And I gave it gave an outlet to something that was inside of me. That was the one thing I seem to understand. I could understand a game of pretend better than anything real.
Did you find that it was pretending a relief mechanism? Did you did you like to pretend because it was just funnier because it got you out of whatever sadness there.
Anything that I can explain about it is that it was I understood it. I understood pretending in a way that the world full of its complications and.
Yeah, yeah, no, I get it. But I didn't understand like that that moment where you like they're buying it. This is exactly OK.
I'd walk down this street and hold my momma's elbow and say, Momma, I'm blind. Yeah. Yeah. And she would forever fail me by taking her elbow away or look at that. Yeah. I can't say yeah. She wouldn't play along.
Yeah. Not, not, not enough.
She didn't win. She wasn't invited. She didn't want to be part of the improv. Maybe not. Not so.
So you did that as a kid and then like did it evolve into did you, did you act throughout high school. Did you, did you continue.
Well, I didn't. I had very unconventional upbringing and very unconventional educational reality was well, I was thrown out of eighth grade because the art teacher didn't like me and she claimed I had not done my homework. And I showed her the painting I had done again. And I said, well, I did my homework. But she said it didn't fulfill the assignment and I didn't know what that meant. And I told her she could shove it up her behind.
And they sent me down to the headmaster. And the headmaster was I just don't know what to do with you. And I said, well, how about I just don't come to school anymore?
And then I went a little bit to high school, but not really. I don't really remember any classes. I remember skipping classes much more than me to go to class. That's weird. And then my mom got a job in England and that brought us over there. And I landed eventually in a small theater school there in London.
That was a core to this shift.
Yeah, it was. I mean, and I had also, as a freshman in that high school up in Bellows Falls, Vermont, I had gone to them and said, I see we have this big theater here. Do you do theater? Oh, yes, we do. We put on a production every year. Yes, it's quite serious. And I said, oh, good, well, I'd like to be involved in that. And they said, yes, well, dear heart, when you get to be a what is it, a junior or senior?
You can be in the theater program and say, well, you know, I'm going to do this with my life. And so I think it might be a really good idea to let me be in the theater program. It might keep me interested in school. Yeah, and they didn't see it that way. And I like that.
You can still tap into what seems like a visceral resentment of these people.
Like I was sitting here listening to it. I'm like, Jesus, she. Yeah, I like it.
I mean, look at you. You've got to hold on to that. I mean, it doesn't it's not far from the surface with me either, you know.
Well, the people who stop you in your life when you have a fairly clear idea of something, that's it. That's a dangerous thing. I mean, it really could have stopped me. And I don't know what I would have done with my life if I hadn't kept on finding the door. That said acting right, going through right. I very seriously do not know what I would have done with my life. And there were enough influences that I probably wouldn't be here now.
And those people are usually doing it out of some dumb personal issue of their own, like just some dumb power, you know, stupid insensitivity protocol.
Yeah. And business as usual. I mean, there's nothing more dangerous than business as usual in the United States of America.
Exactly. So but that's and I think it seems that, you know, you fought that fight before.
I mean, like it seems like in terms of you establishing yourself to be the amazing actress that you are was was no easy ride.
Well, on the one hand, that might be so. And on the other hand, I knew and I say still to people of any age that think, oh, I want to be an actor. My first response is and I said it to myself for many years, if anything can stop you, let it be.
I mean, I tell people that about comedy to just, like, figure out another thing that will make you happy. Yeah.
It's not it's it's not for the faint of heart or the ones who feel like they think that'd be really cool. That's right.
It's not for people who actually think in terms of like it. It's not a choice if you're going to do it. That is so right. And that's what people don't understand. It's not like I'm going to try it. It's not like I do this other thing. But I want to try this. It's like there's no other thing. This is it.
And I bet I bet when you were being funny as a kid, I bet you were really funny and I bet you got in trouble for it all the time. All the time.
I got kicked out of schools, you know. Yeah, sure. But like when it came down to it, there was I just didn't see any other option there. You know, there was just there was never a plan B outside of, you know, like, you know, working at a restaurant.
And even that went away so bad at that you wouldn't want me as your waiter, get your own fucking coffee. You tried, though, right?
I tried it, tried to help me.
And then there was this idea that, like, you know, as things as a as a you know, I get more bitter and less successful. I'm like, I can always teach.
Teach what? What am I going to teach? Let me go back. But, you know, it just yeah.
I think it's really a matter of like there's no other thing that you could do and, you know, that that that to me is what an artist is, whatever kind of artist they might be.
I think that's right. And like there are some people like, you know, who I talked to. Do you know Oza Jacobs director?
His parents were experimental film people in New York and they're still at it. And it's a small world of like experimental film, Kenneth Anger's type of stuff. But they've been doing it for fifty years and they have no desire to change anything. This is what they do. And, you know, and he's archiving some of it.
But but like when I just talked to him and I realized, oh, my God, there's there's there was never there's no other choice. This is this is it.
And success has little to do with it. Yeah. Yeah. Success might let us eat a little better and have a little nicer roof over our heads. Right. Right.
Perhaps, but it's it's not it doesn't change that instrument.
It doesn't change the sense of oh it might make it a little better even you know, in terms of like, you know, if the the the baseline desperation of fear of destitution or or not getting any work is relieved a little bit. Yeah. Maybe you shouldn't complain about that and just use it, use the space wisely, right.
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. That that. Use the space wisely. Exactly, and then it also, who knows at any point any one of the jobs could be the last job I did. Definitely that I'm not. I have dipped my toe into producing. I dipped my toe into working with a writer to develop some. I'm not I'm an actor for hire. Right. That's what I am.
Oh, so you had to come in a way, you were Previte. You were given opportunities to do these other things and you had to come back around to like, you know what? I just want to act. And, you know, that's what I mean.
I think I have very strong feelings about the way that actors are sort of kept out of a lot of the conversation about what we do. We talked about an awfully lot. We're talked to very little.
Is that true? Like in what way? Very true. Well, how do you mean?
Like, is my understanding before I started doing more acting as a director was that, you know, a director's going to tell you what to do. But a lot of times directors hire you because they they believe that, you know what to do. So like so in that context, in a broader context, what do you mean that actors are left out of the conversation?
Well, I mean, there simply is a phase of making a television show or a film that we call preproduction in which daily meetings are taken, investigation throughout the area you'll be working in to find the locations. Yes. Conversations about those locations, which will eventually be my character's home.
Yeah, right. Do not include me. Right. And that kind of can then also continue to the sense of, you know, well, on this, I eventually I had been asked several times what did I think the character would wear? What did I think the character. Well, I think she might wear this and that and talk to the costume designer and try on a bunch of clothing that turned out neither the showrunner nor the network were interested in seeing me.
And they had another idea of how the character would look. And then I said, well, you tell me because I'm happy to do as I'm told. That's actually the job of the actor. It's very difficult in today's world where half of the time or more than you're being told what to do by somebody who does not know what they're talking about, that's when it gets hard.
And the decision really know that right away.
Or does it take a it sometimes it's a slow burn to that. You're hopeful, always hopeful.
That's a great but that's that horrible realization where you're weeks into and you're like, oh, my God, they don't know what should not be listening to a word.
They're saying, hey, man, there's little tricks you can do something.
One should not talk about it in interviews where you can sort of go, oh, yes, of course. And do what you know is right.
Right. That, you know, you agree to, you know, do do the one thing that they want and then do it.
Yeah, you're way. But the truth of that is even worse, because the truth of that is that, you know, as an actor, just like like seaman on a ship, right? Yeah. Captain says all hands on deck, all hands go up on deck. Right. That's just what we do. Yeah. So when the director says do it more brightly. Yeah.
You can't even hear that. Yes. So even though you know, it needs to be darker, you find yourself doing it more brightly.
Right. And then and then you have to watch it and go like, fuck what.
And that's why we watch our work. But also the other sacrifice you have to make when you have the sort of like, sure, I'll do it that way and you do it your way, is that when your way works better, they're going to take responsibility for it?
Oh, I have no problem with that. I don't need to I don't need any of that. I don't need to people to know my name or know my work or. No, it was my idea I have that is of no importance to me.
Does it work? That's all I want to know, and you can you know that I just don't have I don't I'm not it's in my own nature to not take the ownership. Right. And in fact, you want a director who very much wants to take the ownership. It's a joy of working with John Swale. John Suave is has no fear of being the leader of all of us. Right.
And that makes it it makes you feel like you can, you know, even take more risks, I would imagine a hundred percent that, you know, you trust the guy and he's got a vision. So if you're part of someone's vision and they know what it is, it's sort of like, OK, great. And now.
Exactly, I have I have space to work. So what exactly did you did you train at all?
Did you go to acting school at all?
I did. I did several different bouts of of my training course. There was the very early days with Peter Schumann, who would have even known I was training. And then I went to the small theater school in London where I don't know that I learned that much. I think that I learn things about the discipline of theater and and things like that. I was a really good time. I spent there having a year going to Mount Fuji Theater School.
And then I came back to the United States and I wasted some time, oddly enough, out in Oklahoma and do a swab. Oh, working in a gas station, working in a bakery, trying to make a living.
Why Oklahoma? I had a notion that I could, in the middle of the country there, make a bankroll like maybe a thousand dollars or something like a lot like that. And then from the center of the country, I could work my way west to act or I could head back east. Come on, Oklahoma.
I just had a girl. You decided there was a fella. There was a fella there. There you go. There you go.
That's a little young for it, but there was a fellow involved and no one goes to Oklahoma just because.
Yeah, no, that turned into a boy and that turned into just nothing and all sorts of nonsense. And my father worrying about me perhaps more than he ever had in his life to that point. And he applied to college for me.
Now, where's now? Where's your dad?
I mean, I know he split and there was a problem with the apartment and he lives out on the east end of Long Island and there's a relationship there. I won't say that it's as close as a father and daughter could hope to be.
It's probably my bad, but I have a hard time with that disappearing when when I most needed him. Yes, but there's a relationship there. And I'm I'm glad my son developed a relationship with his grandfather that feels very, very important to me. How this man, my son is thirty three. Wow.
He's a grown man. He's a grown man. Yes, that's right.
In his own way in the world outside of show business, he is. No, no, no. It's a much more stable industry he's in. Oh yeah. He's a fine artist.
Oh. What's his medium.
He primarily paints but he was he trained for some time at Cal Arts, also gone to a very known art school in Germany.
And he's living now in Berlin and making his first steps as an actual artist. That's that's great. Quite remarkable. Amazing. And I'm not the only one who thinks what he does is not only very good, but quite interesting. What's his name, which is important in art? His name is John Matthew Mortimer. Heschel heard we call him Jack.
Jack Hurd. Is he also his dad was John heard right. I'm sorry for that, guys. Was what a great actor.
Yes. Yes. Very sad loss. I have a psychic that tells me he's right here.
Well, he's right there. It's so funny because I just watched Cutter's way recently.
Oh, my God. Yeah, that's some good acting, right? Everybody was so damn good. He was great. So damn good. I love him in that.
And he sort of aged beautifully as an actor, really. Were you guys together when he passed away?
No, we had not been together for a long time. By the time my son was nine months old, we had separated. He was well known for being pretty hard on women and myself included, and a wonderful dad. I have no complaints as of John is as a father. He was he was a hard partner to help.
Oh, yeah. If you've had quite a life there, Melissa. Oh, there's been one or two ups and downs and around the blocks and one thing and another. So I feel very lucky and blessed in the long run.
So what happens? So you OK, so you did the one thing and then where do you train? Oh, so then some training there in London and then I went to SUNY Purchase for sort of two and a half years and I really was not going to graduate within the four year program. I excelled in theater voice.
They had a good program.
They had a very good, very interesting program. My acting teacher, Joan Potter, is no longer with us. She's much beloved by me and many of the students. After being in her class, she was a little difficult to be in the class with.
But like some actors that we know were in that class, didn't Chris Cooper's either did I think I'm not sure about Chris Cooper stand.
She was in the year ahead of me. Edie Falco came in behind me. So you didn't finish it out, though?
No, I didn't, because there was a very small handful of academic classes that the theater arts majors were expected to pass, including theater history. But let's go back in the conversation a little bit. I didn't really go to school. Right. Right. So I never really learned any of those things to and we had a wonderful theater history teacher, Norris Hotan. He had designed the theater program there largely and the beginning of the semester with him. He had this all by a book, a wonderful book called The Concise History of the Theater.
And every time he gave a lecture once a week, there'd be page numbers on the blackboard. I did not know I was supposed to have read those pages.
Yeah, you just you didn't understand the how a classroom worked.
I had no idea how a classroom works. And the then dean of the theater arts program, the wonderful Docx Stockdale, saw in me something that made sense to him, that I was not good at that side of things, but that my talent was elsewhere. And that brings us back to this woman I'm playing now where there's an uneven she's twice exceptional. One thing that she's got some feeling socially on the characters part academically, I would say from Melissa, I needed some kind of special help to get the basics.
Yeah, you don't get the basics. You can't ever really go forward. And I never really got the basics. I've learned how to read reading scripts. Yeah, I learned everything I actually know through my work, not through being in school. Huh. So there's a lot of things in the world that still are surprising and interesting to me that people learned about in seventh and eighth grade. Right.
Like, yeah, I like math. Math is a is a quandary to me. I have a theory of numbers I just don't understand. But like, I can use my fingers anyway with good.
So your whole semblance of life and understanding of I imagine some of the things that you missed learning you've learned through characters like if you will.
Absolutely. Because because you do like a million movies.
I mean, I brought that up before I you know, in 2008, you were nine movies that were released.
According to what they were. Yeah, that's right, but like in the same two thousand nine seven movie, so it seems to me that once you started going like if the if the if it took if it was two to three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, you could line up maybe three or four or five movies a year.
I never I haven't had the kind of career where I see the work well ahead of me. Right. Yes. It's it just it comes, I do it. And in the last eight, nine years, 10 years, there have been things that have sort of come in on top of each other.
Right. And because I don't know any better, I say to my representatives, well, it'll work to both of them.
Right. And they work very, very hard with scheduling and negotiation. Right. Things. And I, I, I still remain. It's a rare necessity that I refuse work. There is a role I consistently refuse. And that is this person I've alluded to in the conversation, the woman who is not really explained. Most recently there was a film that came to me. I didn't even open and read it. All I read was the byline. And I know I'm not interested.
It's about a young woman. She's got some issues. Apparently her biggest issue is her mother and the stepfather in the house. But we're not telling their story, which might be very interesting, why somebody ends up being such a louse as a parent.
Right. But I don't know that story. I went through very hard parenthood, but both me and my son's father were the best parents we knew how to be to our son. So to be a shitty parent, I just I can't relate to that because I played Alice Ward.
That's what people see. Yeah, but Alice Walker was far from a shitty parent. Right. And that's why I got an Academy Award for it, because I refused to simply play the shitty mom. Right. Right.
And if you're saying that if you're not given a script that at least involve some reason why this behavior is what it is, you know why.
But even that said, sometimes that filmmaker will sort of try and write a great, big, long speech. Yeah, but.
Right. Right. Yeah. But the character study is not in the script.
No. Exactly right. And that is a part that very consistently I have refused. I don't think we need to see too many more when, when, when my parents were mean to me coming of age films. I really think that we've really exhausted that genre in my lifetime. Sure.
But also in The Fighter. What's interesting to me is that, like, it's about what you said earlier about those people who who have power or make choices and they're stupid because to box you in to compartmentalize that performance as like, well, she played that crappy mother in that movie.
It's so shallow that you know that to typecast you as that. Based on that, you know that that's not that's a dumb person.
I, I would have to agree with you. And that then says very sadly that there's a lot of dumb out. Yeah.
Yeah. Well, there's no doubt if there's one thing we've learned as of late that there's no end to the parade of stupid.
So but but getting back to this idea of learning through life, because it's interesting to me that if you were kind of a a blank slate, you know, in terms of education outside of the things that interest you, that the process of playing even a character like you did in in the body brokers, you know, engages you in a way of thinking that that is unique, it's proactive, it's helpful.
It's interesting. It has its own context.
And you learn to be a therapist in a way.
Exactly. Exactly right. And it's interesting what you were saying about the therapist and body brokers as well, because the questions that you were asking about her are exactly the questions I asked of John and she in on it and is she in on it?
And you see a good therapist, is she a bad therapist? And the most that John would give me on it. And it was brilliant way to direct me was to say, well, I'm sure she thinks she's good at her job. Right. You know, that she's trying her best. That's what people do. Right.
And in the context of that, it's all right because how could you not know?
And whether or not she knows that all that insurance shenanigan doesn't matter? I don't need to venture a guess that. Right. Because what John is telling me by answering my questions the way that he did is telling me that doesn't matter to the film. Right. It's another great director gave me exactly the same direction, basically when I asked Zemeckis. Yeah, I was going to face off with Denzel Washington in the final scenes of flight. Mm hmm. And I said to to to Zemeckis, I said, what do you want me to do?
Do you want me to mother him, coddle him, be angry with him? He was drunk flying a commercial airliner. You know, what is what is he how does he want me to come at him? And Zemeckis brilliantly said to me. I want you to get hit, get Denzel to tell you the truth, any means necessary. That's what he's saying to me. He's saying any means necessary. Yeah, and giving the actor a very clear objective.
And Denzel is, you know, he's he's a real acting animal. That guy is like that's like high octane shit. So what was that like working with him on that super exciting day and a half of my life?
Just thrilling day and a half of my life to have something so clearly set as my objective costumed in exactly the right way. Little did I know it. Just everything about that was it was also, if you remember in that film, Zemeckis has Denzil's face up on these screens the whole time. Yeah.
So whether or not the camera was facing where I was or facing where where he was. Yeah, he was on screen the whole time. Yeah. Very, very present and alive. And it was although I never got within, I think 10 feet of him, it was some of the most intimate playing I have ever experienced.
And so that like so those kind of moments, like with this guy who directed a body brokers and with Zemeckis, I mean, like who were some of the other directors that you found gave you stuff that you could take away forever?
You know, Alondra in Ureta came up to me and whispered in my ear when I was trying to figure out how to deal with Jack, the husband in 21 grams. He said to me it was such a good remark because it wasn't about the character, it wasn't about the scene, it wasn't about the way I was playing it.
It was about me in front of a movie camera, which was not what I was trained for. Right.
And he whispered in my ear, Melissa is much better when you don't clench your jaw.
I thought that was my strong right. And he was saying to me it looked like shit on film.
Right. And I'm a mouth breather, so you're going to cut to me, I'm always going have my mouth open so I have to really pay attention.
So I guess I want to ask you a little bit as we kind of this anything like, you know, I I grew up I was a doorman at the Comedy Store. And I you know, I've had a lifelong obsession. You know, I worked there and I still work there. And, you know, I had an obsession with Mitzi and you sort of played a character based on her. And I'm dying up here, which I guess sadly didn't last.
But it was it must have been interesting being in that world for a little while.
But you didn't really you didn't really study Mitzy. You did what you wanted with that thing. Right?
When I went to shoot the pilot for I'm dying up here, I had never heard of Mitzy. I had never been to a comedy club.
Wow. I had been inside the Improv in New York. Marty, back in nineteen eighty four, invited me to take his improv workshop for free.
Marty Martin. Marty Friedman. No kidding.
Yeah. And and he had I met him through a friend and he said, come and take my class. And I said, I can't afford a class. And he said, no, no, no, just come. I'm inviting you for free. OK, I did at one time the most terrifying experience ever in my life. And what you went in there and be funny, I'm guessing. Eighty four. Eighty five somewhere in there. And thinking back, it was such a big thing and it was the only time I was ever so it wasn't up and running comedy club.
It was a comedy club during the day when this. Sure. Sure. Yeah right. So I went out to do I'm dying up here. I had never heard of, of Mitzie. Of course I'd seen the store up on Sunset, but I never did. I just that seems it seemed odd to me to go someplace to be made to laugh I guess. Anyway, whatever.
I get it better now, I get it better now.
And I have such respect for the comics. I mean, not only the comics, the comics that we were telling history about, the comics that were on the show with us.
Actor. Yes. Bless their hearts that were being asked to play comics.
Right. It is actors. No, funny is the hardest thing. Yeah. Drama is easy peasy. Funny. Sure. It's such a it's such a on purpose thing.
I make somebody laugh that's like wow, get your mind around that. So I, I knew that the character I was playing was Jewish because in the pilot episode she has a long, long speech about a relative in Treblinka.
So how does this go from New York, the the Jewish lady out in California?
Well, you know, I had New York, so that's that's a third of it. Exactly. So I could do New York. That would be easy reach. I had to dye my hair that really Rassi blond. Your name was Goldie, for God's sake. What else would a Jew from New York do when they got to California?
So those were all things that informed me in finding my Goldi. So then we're in the midst of shooting the pilot and I find out that it's based on a book. But no, no, it's not necessary. I read the book. Yeah, OK, so I don't read the book. We finished Pilot and somewhere after we went to series, I did open the book and read it. I find it an extremely misogynistic book.
I, I both like what he's saying about Mizzi on the one hand, but despise it all. The hatred toward her I think is completely unwarranted. And then I heard at one point that poor Paulie, just months before his mother passed, as a matter of fact, was like, but my mother never did cocaine and my mother never was like, Jesus, somebody tell Pauly Shore I'm not playing his mother. Yeah.
Oh, yeah. So that was the biggest problem.
That was that was. Yeah, it's complicated because I have at this point played real people. Lady Bird Johnson, Alice Ward. Yes.
That's a very different thing than inventing a character. And I feel too, I am always protective of the women en masse to play. I was very protective of Mizzi. There was a lot of things of Mizzi. Of Goldie. Yeah, it's very protective of things, you know, that they were asking me to do within the show and that I felt were downright disrespectful of her.
Didn't offer a chance to underside understand her side of the story. Melissa Leo understands very well why Mitzi Shore didn't pay those comics in the beginning.
The comics never. Once thought about what it costs to buy that booze and keep the place going, and I mean, I get the whole dialog, but they they wouldn't they wouldn't. Right. Say that exactly in the show. So that was hard.
So there was a lack of a lack of empathy with because it's a weird subculture.
It's a very specific thing, the Comedy Store, and it had a profound effect on a lot of people that went on to become very big players in the world of entertainment. And she's sort of like represents something almost magical for both darkness and light. I'm I'm guilty of it myself. I did a documentary with Mike Binder and I was in her office and like I was a doorman there and I worked for her and I was so it was like she was the dark queen of this world that was you know, she was like the mother to all these wayward borderline criminals.
You know, it's crazy, man.
I think that is that is that documentary on Netflix. It's a comedy store documentary. It deals with her a bit. Yeah.
It's on as one segment that deals with her. I love that. Yeah, I love that. Because that was much more gracious towards Mizzi then. I'm dying up there. Ever was there really. There was a seeking of an understanding of it. Oh yeah. For sure. Yeah. Yeah. Unique individual and I really enjoyed that. It is my belief and maybe I don't know enough that she invented modern day comedy. Mitzy. Yeah. When the husband left and the store was there.
Yeah. And she said paint it black.
One spotlit. Yeah. Only comics. Yeah.
And that had never been done before. And there's, there's comedy shops, all of that.
And it was the I was one after the other showcased room like her and Budd probably created this sort of like you know, you can see twenty comics in a night thing. Yep.
So that was comedy. Only know vaudeville. No. Right. That's right. Just stand up there and be funny.
The original improv was sort of a burlesque. It had more variety. So did catch a rising star back in the day. But you're right. Straight up comedy.
Yeah. Well I love the movie. I love you.
And it was great talking to you. And I wish you all the the luck with this film because I think it needs to be seen.
I thank you for talking about Buddy Brokers' today and bringing John Squabs name to the forefront. You're going to hear a lot more about this young director. I know. OK, Melissa, take care.
Thank you so much for the time. There you go. That was Melissa Leo, I, I love her and the movie Body Brokers' is in theaters and video on demand now. We'll have Michael K. Williams from the movie on Thursday show. Hopefully maybe one day I'll get to talk to that director. I'd like to pick his brain, but check that out. Also, check out that other movie that that we talked about, Frozen River. Tremendous. I mean, you got the time.
And don't forget, if you're struggling right now, check out Better Help. It's a secure online service providing professional counselors who can listen and help you just fill out a questionnaire to help assess your specific needs. And better help will match you with your own licensed professional therapist. It's a more affordable option than traditional offline counseling. WTF with Marc Maron is sponsored by Better Help and our listeners get 10 percent off their first month of online therapy when they visit.
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