Oscar-winning actress pays tribute to the late Robin Williams, with whom she co-starred in one of the comedian and actor’s final films.
Melissa Leo, who won an Oscar for her role in The Fighter, has spoken about Robin Williams calling the late comedian and actor “a very, very special human being and a very, very fine and hardworking actor.”
Leo starred in one of Williams’ final films, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn.
Speaking to ScreenDaily at the Sarajevo Film Festival, where she is on the competition jury, Leo said: “He’s a magical man… It’s a great loss for all of us.”
The actress also recalled their connection over TV series Homicide: Life on the Street, in which Leo starred in nearly 80 episodes and Williams once guest starred in 1994.
“As we were working, I must’ve mentioned to Robin that I was going to work with Jake Gyllenhaal [on Prisoners] and Robin remembered that Jake was his son in Homicide,” said Leo.
“I hadn’t even thought of that and Jake was like “What? Oh yeah, yeah! My dad directed that… Oh my God! That was my first acting job!” Both Jake and I had to think about it but Robin completely remembered.”
Here is Screen’s full interview with Melissa Leo…
Is it you first time in Sarajevo? What are your impressions of the festival?
Melissa Leo: I am so pleased to be invited here and even more pleased to be here. The town of Sarajevo, from what I have seen, seems quite interesting. I think it’s so beautiful here in the valley of the mountains. The people are what I noticed more than anything. I think that they are living life and everybody’s going to be OK. And, from the news we’ve gotten over the years in the US, it’s a relief to see everywhere you go. People are people and government is government. And the festival’s so delightful. The films from the Competition – I won’t mention one name or another – have an incredibly high standard. Now, I’ve done a fair amount of being on juries in different places and the standard of the work is remarkably high.
You are once again on a jury. Can you say something about that?
M.L.: I really love doing it. I don’t watch very much and I like to think that I have a fairly pure heart in seeing and making a comparison between this filmmaker and that filmmaker. I don’t know about them. Quite frankly, the other members in this particular jury know all about them. They spend their lives watching films at other festivals and things like that. I come with a clean, fresh slate and I know a little bit about filmmaking so I watch a film and I enjoy the story or I don’t enjoy the story or it interests me or it doesn’t interest me. My taste and my opinion are not important. All I’m looking at is the filmmaking and the things I can recognize as someone who is part of making films and where the quality is.
Can you comment on being a woman in the film industry today?
M.L.: Mostly, I’m trying to undermine the argument because it’s more like you say “Oh! I am a Black person” or “I am being treated this way because I am a Black person…” You know, it’s the same way with being a woman or being a Croatian or being a Bosnian because we are all human beings and the art of acting is the portrayal of human beings in all kinds, both in real and unreal situations. I am a female, that makes me a female actor and I play females. Yes, there are all kinds of problem with it. I feel like it’s better when I go quietly to each woman that I play and find two sides of her, that I find the whole complete woman to play and maybe it’s a little bad and a little good. We’re all like that.
How has the Oscar changed your career?
M.L.: For the changing of my career, it’s made it more complicated in a way. I don’t want to sound like I am making any complaint. I am thoroughly honored by my Oscar. But, career-wise, I made a terrible mistake that taught me so much. And, I thought that now and also because everybody says “Oh! So now, what’s changed?” and “Oh! So, Steven Spielberg calls you up to do all these movies” and not Spielberg, not anybody has called me up, banging on my door to be in their movies. I’m still a fifty-something-year old woman whose eyes are too dark underneath and whose breasts aren’t big enough to please the American public, apparently. You know, it’s just a ridiculous nonsense of it all so, in the end here I am, still me but now with an expectation: “Oooh! Academy Award winner!” and I’ve just always worked. If people said “Oh! She’s good!”, that’s a nice surprise… Now, it’s expected. It’s very, very complicated.
They say now that it is the “Golden Age of Television” and you have starred in numerous TV series. Do you prefer them to film?
M.L.: I’ve always been between both of them. They’re both as much the same as they are different. And the same goes for the work on stage. Acting is acting is acting. And you can do two films side by side and they can be more different to film or to theatre because of who you’re working with and what the part is. I think that it’s a marketing tool that they’re saying “Oh! All the big stars are doing television shows now”. The writing for television shows is also being done by people who have had success in film. An actor can only be as good as the writing allows him to be and by my observation, from my experience as someone who has done both of them, I think that the actors who have done films have simply been given permission to do television as well. And that’s all it is. It’s not a Golden Age. American television has always had some of the worst, most worthless, and some of the best. It’s just a way for, forgive me, the press to talk about it.
Why is film still valid?
M.L.: Film, like the dinosaur, is killing itself. So, even a young filmmaker who has never made a movie before is thinking about how to make it to Hollywood. Just 20 years ago, a young filmmaker was thinking, “How do I make my film?” And, it’s the business… Instead of spending $200bn on a single film, you can make 20 films that we might not want to talk about.
You worked with Robin Williams on an episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets and in one of his last films, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. How do you remember him and working with him?
M.L.: As we were working, I must’ve mentioned to Robin that I was going to work with Jake Gyllenhaal and Robin remembered that Jake was his son in Homicide. I hadn’t even thought of that and Jake was like “What? Oh yeah, yeah! My dad directed that… Oh my God! That was my first acting job!” Both Jake and I had to think about it and Robin completely remembered. He’s a magical man. A very, very special human being and a very, very fine and hard working actor. It’s a great loss for all of us and beyond that there’s not much that I can say. Just too sad… Thank you for asking.
What are your next projects? I hear that you might be involved with The Fixer by Ian Olds that also stars James Franco?
M.L.: Oooh! I really hope… We needed a Middle-Eastern man as the lead actor and we had found one. I am hoping we can keep him because Ian worked very hard to find him and the dates of the film have been pushed. We did a short together, called Bomb and I think that even Ian feels this way, that it’s not the best short ever made but somehow Ian’s talent is completely apparent in it and he went on and did his documentary work he got so beautifully recognized for. I’ve known him for close to ten years now. He will make The Fixer but I am not sure when and I’d be so thrilled to be on the set with Ian again.