There's a reason Melissa Leo has 13 films tentatively scheduled for some kind of release between now and 2014: "I like to work," Leo told HuffPost Entertainment. "I just like to work."
No kidding. From indies like "Francine" to awards contenders like "Flight," Leo is becoming a permanent fixture at the multiplex here in 2012. (She's on television as well: Leo also memorably appeared on this season's "Louie.") Out this week is the indie comedy "Why Stop Now," where Leo stars opposite Jesse Eisenberg, Tracy Morgan and Isiah Whitlock Jr. The film -- which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January -- shows off a lighter side of Leo, who is best known for her serious roles in films like "Frozen River," "Mildred Pierce" and "The Fighter," the latter of which won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2010.
In "Why Stop Now" (based on the 2008 short film "Predisposed"), Leo plays Penny, a drug addict being taken to rehab by her son Eli (Eisenberg), a piano prodigy. The problem? The rehab center won't accept her without health insurance unless she's actively high. Hijinks ensue as Eli tries to score his mother drugs before getting to an audition that could change his life forever.
"He's a smart boy," Leo said of Eisenberg. In addition to the shoot, the pair became better acquainted during awards season in 2010, when Eisenberg was Oscar nominated for "The Social Network": "The relationship you see on screen began to develop as we went to those parties and I met him," she said.
Leo spoke to HuffPost Entertainment about "Why Stop Now," how her career has changed since winning an Oscar, and why Tom Cruise is "super human."
You had co-starred in "Predisposed," but what made you want sign on for the feature-length adaptation?
When a young man [Phil Dorling] has written a role for you and actually gets the go-ahead to shoot the movie, how could you not show up and do it, right? That's what happened! By the time we got to Upstate New York to shoot it, we had Jesse Eisenberg, and I would play his mother or his lover or his little sister, anything [laughs]. He's so delightful to work with. We also had Tracy Morgan and Isiah Whitlock Jr., so it's really quite an ensemble to participating with and dipping out to something lighter than my usual fare.
Between this and your appearance on "Louie," you've begun to do more comedy. Is that a genre you're looking to try more of?
With "Why Stop Now," it's just the way it came out. Originally it was a darker film, a more serious film for the most part, but it seemed, perhaps, too dark a subject for financing to feel that it would be sold. So, "How funny could we make it?" So the stroke of genius of putting Tracy and Isiah in the car with us shifted the tone of the film but not the story.
"Louie," I had seen exactly what I was being asked to say. I thought, "OK, Meliss, let's give it a try." I had so much fun. Those funny people are really such deep and amazing people. What Louis C.K. is doing there is his own; it's different and fascinating because of that.
How has your career changed since winning an Oscar?
There's a certain amount of respect, which is lovely, and with it comes a certain amount of responsibility to hit a mark that I'm expected to now. Which I've never had; I've always gone under the radar and was just able to do what I do. But I've never shied away from a challenge, and if it's more of a challenge than that's what it'll be. As I look at the roles of the past two and a half years, they're all pretty much "Melissa Leo roles," but I think it's boundless in a way. I could do anything almost! [Before the Oscar, there was a lot of] "Who is she?" Now, I find in the roles I'm being asked to do, there's a continuance of that. Which is great.
You've got 13 films coming out between now and 2014. Do you prefer doing small indies like "Why Stop Now" or big productions like "Oblivion"?
Every job has some kind of ticket for me. For years and years it was simply that they'd ask me. At this point, when there's a little more choice in the matter for me, there's places to go. I shot something in Romania primarily to go to Romania. I had such a great time on this fascinating film with Shia LaBeouf ["The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman"]. So you never know what's in store; you have to remain open to whatever seems like the best film.
It was rumored that you were up for a role in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."
Oh, honey. If every single role I was up for was on the internet, we couldn't even begin the interview; you'd still be reading it. Long ago, I learned to discard the hope until I get a call from the costume designer. Once they put the costume together, you can be sure the company is going to try like heck to get you onboard. [Ed. note: Before this interview was conducted, Leo spoke about missing out on playing Mags in "Catching Fire" with Moviefone. You can check out her thoughts here.]
You worked with Tom Cruise in "Oblivion." Do you have a Tom Cruise story? Bill Hader recently shared a charming anecdote about how he helped him get home on short notice.
Tom is a total delight -- a completely professional actor, as is well known about him. The two words I use to describe him are "super human." He is a mortal being who has had opportunity and ability to train his mind and his body in ways people could hope to do a fifth of in their lives.
The biggest story in all of it -- with all the questions that have come and will come about working him -- is that it was another day on another set with another actor. The joy and pleasure we get from giving to one another. I'm not even actually physically in the film. You'll see me, but on a video screen. Which is as much as I'll say about my role.
You're also in "Flight," which has a lot of buzz surrounding it because it's Robert Zemeckis' first live-action film since 2000. What was he like on set?
I do a lot of smaller films and I love working that way, but I love getting on the set with a professional director and a professional team, like Bob Zemeckis. Oh my God. So set up, so clear -- what I needed to know, I knew -- taken care of by his departments. We shot it in two days? Maybe it was one day. Sort of the climax of the film. Just a great day of shooting. Really great.
"Why Stop Now" is out in limited release on Aug. 17.
Check out photos of celebrities at Sundance 2012 below: