"The thing that leaps to my mind about that less-than-a-month last summer: Jesse Eisenberg, Jesse Eisenberg and Jesse Eisenberg," she told Moviefone during a recent chat ahead of the film's August 17 release.
"I knew the first time I met him that there was a great hope that he'd play my son in the film," she said. "[I would have been upset] if anybody else would have ended up playing that boy, because he was so perfect for it, the maternal instinct I had for him the second I met him, and the respect and the admiration."
As luck would have it, Eisenberg would end up joining Leo for "Why Stop Now." The film tells the story of a son trying to get his drug-addicted mom, Penny (Leo), to rehab, and himself to a performing arts college. To get to their happy ending, the mother-son duo must navigate red tape, a dealer named Sprinkles (played by Tracy Morgan) and a sock puppet with a vicious temper.
Leo, who was recently passed over for the role of Mags in the second installment of "The Hunger Games" franchise, spoke with Moviefone about dysfunctional families, cliches that don't make sense to her and how a little gold man named Oscar changed her life.
It sounds like you have a long and involved history with this project, from the short "Predisposed" to now this full-length feature, five years later. Well, ["Predisposed" and "Why Stop Now" co-writer and director] Ron [Nyswaner] had suggested to [co-writer and director] Phil [Dorling] that he should pick an actor he knows of and write a role with that actor in mind. I got an email from Phil asking if it would be all right [if that actor was me], and I said, "You plow on, son!" And the short came of that. We shot that and learned from that, [but] we were told that the story would sell and be more likely to be seen if it had some more humor in it and a dark statement that was being made. It was quite a challenge to bring the humor and lightness to this story of a dysfunctional family. So we were blessed with Tracy Morgan!
What was it like to work with Tracy Morgan? He has a reputation for eccentricity, to say the least. I don't know if you know the list of the roles they've given me thus far, but not a lot of them fall in the comedy category! Tracy's not a straight-up comic character, but there's a humor in the film that's a necessity. Having Tracy there, a prince of the genre, was a boost in my confidence. He would laugh at my jokes off-camera, I don't think he was just being polite. We had such a hoot. He's a dear, sweet man and, like most comics, a deeply misunderstood and complex man. It was a pleasure to meet him and I see him out and about now, what a beautiful human being he really is. Those comics, man, they're something else.
You said Tracy is misunderstood -- can you be more specific? I don't follow a lot of public perception, but there was some big hoo-ha and it didn't seem like it was the first time and I don't think it'll be the last. Something he said as a joke, because he walks an edgy, racy line. [He's] brilliant, like so many of the great, great funny people before [him]. He's really standing reality on its end so perhaps it can really be seen in its truest light, you know? So that way when someone is so adored by the public as Tracy is, sometimes every breath means something or another to one person or another. It's at that level that things can be thrown out of proportion.
Between this and the episode of "Louie" you were on recently, it looks like you're taking on more comedy roles. I've always been interested in doing everything that the art has to explore and the few cases on which I'm asked to do something with humor in it, there's nothing like sitting in a theater and hearing something that you intended to be funny being laughed at by a crowd. There's no applause, no -- ugh, just amazing. It's really an accomplishment. I know there'll be some chuckles along the road, I just know it!
The first time we see you in "Why Stop Now," you're painting kind of an earth goddess version of yourself on your living room wall. Is that a Melissa Leo original? Did you really paint that? Well, there's great joy and disappointment in the question for me. The intention was that it would be a Melissa Leo original, but what was there was so far from what I would have put on the wall. It was put on the wall by a man, and I asked, "Who did it?" Because we had talked long and hard about me doing it. I had the time, I was on the location, it was really, really important to me. While you see me painting [in the movie], I got permission from the supervisor and the director and cameraman that it would be all right for me to embellish on what was there.
I know that Tracy Morgan is known for riffing. Did you join in on the improvisation during the shoot? I'm not a big fan of it. I'll jump in there, and the better people that you're riffing with, the better it can be. I probably have too much self consciousness to improv. When you're allowed to repeat it on angles is really the way you use it on film. I'm an actor who likes to know what they're doing. That's not always the case, there's sometimes this kind of devil-may-care and following a direction, a style of acting that's to be admired. That's just how I work, I was trained in a way that the preparation is everything. The name of the book on which my whole teaching was based is called "An Actor Prepares."
In the film, you have a daughter who communicates almost exclusively through a sock puppet that she wears all the time. The growly little hell voice that she used was really jarring to me. What did you think of that? The psychology about the sock puppet was understood by each of us in a different way in the way that, perhaps, it would be in the family. The little girl was a good little actress. She was doing what she was told. For Penny, it is, as she says in the film, an instrument of communication for the child. It's saying, "F--k you," but at least she's saying something.
Penny thinks it is right as rain. And there's a lot of people who complain about rain! It's a funny expression, because really no one likes it when it's raining, but it has to rain. So it's right as something that, maybe it's a little uncomfortable, but what are you gonna do?
How have things changed for you since winning an Oscar? The short and most concise answer to that question is that the biggest change has been within myself, within my self perception. And grounding in a group that is both illustrious ... it's like, "By God, I'm there!"
That's so, so much in the work. Everything you see will have a Melissa Leo role to it. A lot of supporting work, which is what I've always done, which is what I won an award for. It's good, there's sort of a self confidence in it. I guess up until a couple years ago I kept on like I was gonna be an actor one day. And I am, as they say, I am an actor. I will work, I certainly hope, as long as I like to.
"Why Stop Now" hits theaters on August 17