Melissa Leo, an award winning actress who frequents films with relevant social issues, guides the cast of The Space Between through a heartbreaking tale of a Pakistani-American boy trying to reach his father, a World Trade Center worker, on September 11th. Throughout the cross-country struggle writer, director and producer Travis Fine made sure to follow an accurate hourly timeline in order to capture the true essence of that day we all remember so well. The connection between Leo's character Montine and Anthony Keyvan as Omar is notable and unique with Melissa continuing to leave audience satisfied.
Melissa Leo / Photo by: Leslie Hassler
You play these gritty and raw women, do you pride yourself in being a powerful and independent woman or do you pull the necessary qualities from women you admire?
ML: I don't have a lot of pride, my mother wouldn't let that happen. In fact, I think it's the lacking in pride and vanity that allows me to look at the script and find the woman who is there. My objective is to be as true to the portrait drawn by the writer as I can be. I don't walk into my career with intent of any kind, but I discover after a while that it is what I am cast as. I'm now doing the HBO show Treme down in New Orleans and because there's the David Simon connection with Kay Howard (Leo's role on Homicide: Life on the Street), so many people I have worked with before know me for that role. Kay was the epitome of the gritty hard-boiled woman. So in turn I wanted to switch it up a bit, I like for my character of Toni Bernette, although she's very driven and passionate about the work she does, to have a soft and prettiness about her. They also cast John Goodman as my husband and I really want him to like me!
With Treme and The Space Between you're dealing with America's most recent tragedies; how do you approach these subjects that are still sensitive?
ML: From where I sit America is in some pretty tragic shape right now! The world is in pretty tragic shape right now and I think that what I do is connected with the ancient healing art as what Greeks saw drama as. If I am lucky enough to land a job that can inform people about the actual state of things and to show them ways of responding that are maybe not so helpful and friendly. I'm thinking of the relationship that develops between Omar and Montine and what I hope might come out of it is that you might go "Oh, you don't have to judge Omar by the tone of his skin and where you think he might be from but maybe who he is, in fact." When that teaching can be included in the work it is really great. New Orleans is a very hard portrait to draw and the New Orleanians hate when the movies come in to be about them, they're like "You're not gonna get it!" However the response to Treme down there made me cry. David Simon and that team don't want to make a statement, they want to show a portrait of all of the people, the people who think moving from New Orleans to Houston would be the stupidest thing to do and the people who get to Houston never having been out of New Orleans and say "I think I'm going to stay here! I don't have to live there!" There are two sides to every story, and the writers want the voice of the people.
Having been a veteran in this industry, what does it feel like to have your show renewed after one episode?
ML: That's a really good question, because the fact of the matter is that HBO doesn't have to say a damn thing until August! So we wrapped out at the end of this week down there and during shooting this season the whole time I had imagined we would get to the end of April and go home and wonder, "Should we keep the house we got in New Orleans? Should we leave anything there?" With Homicide I have waited those months to hear the show had been renewed. The generosity and good will of HBO to make that announcement after the first episode was an amazingly beautiful gesture that the entire cast and crew felt, a very powerful thing in the industry.
In The Space Between and in Frozen River there are a lot of scenes within a car. As an actress do you find that constricting at all?
ML: It's not that it's better or worse. To tell you the truth I'm not a terrific driver, I mean I manage but it's not something I love to do. I actually find it to be a pain in the ass to drive, but when I am playing a character, without intending, I take on their driving ability. Ray Eddy was a really good driver; I imagine she could have been a race car driver had she wanted. I do from my own life know about driving on the snow and in conditions like that so that was very helpful in the shooting of Frozen River. In the shooting of The Space Between the funny old Volvo just becomes and extension of the character. For me the car is a lot like the costume or the hair or the make-up. So I guess the short answer is it's an extension of the character. Like a really big bracelet.
Brad William Henke / Photo by: Leslie Hassler
Did you take yourself back to 2001 and reminisce on where you were on 9/11 or did you create a new perspective for this role?
BH: Both. I thought about that and I also thought about the relationship with my sister, I'm estranged from my own sister so it's just kind of nice to have those feelings. So I took that and I created my character with the fact that he has failed as a husband and as a preacher so at least trying to do something good by taking care of his Mom. But then that feeling of trying to do something good that you really don't like doing makes you feel guilty in the end. You try to make other people think that you're embracing it.
How did you feel at the end of each shooting day, were you able to leave your character's depression aside?
BH: I only had to work for four days, so I kind of just felt miserable for four days. Afterward I was fine.
Down the line do you have any goals as far as writing, directing or producing?
BH: I do have goals to direct. I taught acting for eight years in order to prepare myself for directing. I'm developing a television show for myself so hopefully something will come of it.
Phillip Rhys / Photo by: Leslie Hassler
Did you speak to any of the World Trade Center workers when you were preparing for your role?
PR: No, I had enough of an emotional response within myself with the events, as we all have, that that kind of work I didn't need to do. You always want to be personal in your work and I had that connection with the material. What I did do work on was the accent of the character and the prayers, the religious and cultural aspect of the character because you don't want to mess that up and that's where the real work came in. The script honored them and it was respectful, so it wasn't needed.
Anthony Keyvan / Photo by: Leslie Hassler
How was the premiere last night?
AK: It was really fun to see me on screen. It was really cool to see the completed project I thought everyone did a really great job. I signed autographs!
Have you ever been to New York before?
AK: I've been to New York once before when we were filming but for only seven hours.
You were only one when 9/11 happened, did you watch any old newscasts or look through pictures?
AK: I went on YouTube with my Dad and I saw the planes crashing and the towers fall down, it was really scary for me.
For screening times of The Space Between visit: www.tribecafilm.com
For more information on Leslie Hassler visit: www.lesliehassler.com
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