Melissa Leo

Olympus Has Fallen has an amazing cast. You’re dealing with a variety of talent with some impressive credits. One of the strongest actors in the bunch is Melissa Leo. She’s a recent Oscar-winner for her fantastic supporting role in The Fighter. This time around she plays Secretary of Defense in one of the most action-packed movies of the year. We spoke to the actress about her long-running career as well as her latest film.

A lot of your recent roles involve you playing tough women. Is that by choice or coincidence? 

Melissa Leo: It doesn’t feel to me that it’s my choice. I can’t imagine that if indeed Aaron Eckhart was the president and the way that he played the president, who would he choose, right? I think that he wouldn’t have chosen her and I think that to take that particular high position in the United States government, you’d have to account some military background, especially if she was a girl. So all of those things are going in the back of my mind. The more I know about her, the more it helps. If she comes across as tough it’s because somewhere in her life she had to have some tough training. Some people think I can just play tough characters. I can also play a shrinking violet, fragile, delicate woman. So it’s really what’s being asked of me and if I can find the inner strength of a woman in a way that matters to me in my work, in a different way than other female actors, maybe that’s what’s noticed. I don’t mean to be so tough, I’m just trying to be the lady that they’re asking me to play.

Most of your screen time involves Aaron Eckhart. You guys were pretty much holed up in one room for most of the shoot. How was that?

Melissa Leo: Exactly right, for a couple of weeks. We were all holed up there in the room together and it was really a delight working with Aaron. He’s a very serious actor. Antoine [Fuqua] had to shoot in tiny little pieces. A close up here, over from this angle, which is why it took a couple of weeks to shoot. Even a single moment in it can mean several shots. You’ve got to get little short things and cut it all together in the editing room.

There was a seriousness in which [Eckhart] took. Who is this man? How did he become president? What would he do in this situation? And no matter how simple the shots might be, Aaron’s commitment to that as an actor was so beautiful to watch. To be there playing with him, I realized when I saw the film for the first time that I think that Ruth McMillan is a little bit in love with him.

If you have a president that looks like Aaron Eckhart, it’s kind of hard not to be.

Melissa Leo: [Laughs] Exactly! And then he’s just so darling and dear. He lies to me about my hair when it’s such a big mess in the film.

How was it like on set? Were you allowed to play around with your lines?

Melissa Leo: Aaron plays the role from the beginning to the end of the film, and this guy has to go through many many changes, and some pretty drastic hope you never have to be there, God forbid, moments. So really that … although a pleasure to work with, the pleasure was about the work. Dylan McDermott on the other hand, who was there a great deal of the time, a complete and utter delight and hoot to be around. A jokester. A prankster.

He looks like he could be a total goofball.

Melissa Leo: When characters play on opposing sides, and especially with the actors enjoy one another as Dylan and I clearly did. We hadn’t really spent time around one another before that. And then to hate on each other on camera, that’s pretty fun. That’s some pretty fun stuff.

It looks like you’re in a lot of movies coming up. There’s Oblivion and The Butler. This isn’t the last time we’re going to see you in theaters this year.

Melissa Leo: I’m really happy to say that my darling agent over there at CAA has done a really wonderful job of getting me employed this year in spite of shooting Treme over a lot of the last year. I’m all over the place in all different kinds of roles in films that you have not seen me in, like this kind of action thriller nature! And I’m delighted about it and I hope all y’all enjoy what’s coming out and there’ll be a lot of other things. There’s Francine, a little movie that’s available now on VOD.

Olympus Has Fallen hits theaters on Friday, March 22.