Melissa Leo

Melissa Leo Biography

Actress (1960–)
Melissa Leo is an American actress best known for her Academy Award-winning performance in the 2010 film The Fighter.

Who Is Melissa Leo?

Actress Melissa Leo was born on September 14, 1960, in New York City. Leo starred as the mother of boxer Micky Ward in the 2010 film The Fighter, also starring Mark Wahlberg. The role garnered her both Golden Globe (Best Supporting Actress) and Oscar awards. Other accolades include award nominations for the film Frozen River and the HBO series Mildred Pierce.

Melissa Leo Photo

Melissa Leo

Movies and TV Roles

Leo's breakthrough role came in 1993, when she began playing Detective Sergeant Kay Howard on the NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street. After five seasons, she was written out of the show. Over the next few years, Leo found it challenging to break out of the type-casted role based on her previous character.

Leo rose back to prominence with an impressive performance as a wife of an addict in the 2003 film 21 Grams. Her role garnered an award nomination for Best Supporting Actress from the L.A. Film Critics Association. Many film opportunities followed, including The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) with Tommy Lee Jones, Hollywood Dreams (2006) and Black Irish (2007).

'Frozen River'

Leo went on to win acclaim for her performance as a struggling mother in the heralded film Frozen River (2008), most notably Independent Spirit Award, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nominations — all in the Best Actress category. That same year, Leo received praise for her role as a mother of a kidnapped, drug-addicted son in the film Lullaby.

'The Fighter' and Oscar Win

More films followed, including Everybody's Fine (2009) with Robert DeNiro, Conviction (2010) with Hilary Swank and The Fighter (2010) with Mark Wahlberg. In the latter film, she played Alice Ward, the mother of boxer Mickey Ward (played by Wahlberg); she garnered wide acclaim for her performance, including a Golden Globe and an Academy Award, both in the Best Supporting Actress category.

'Mildred Pierce'

Moving back to TV in 2011, Leo showcased her talent in the HBO series Mildred Pierce, starring alongside Kate Winslet; she earned an Emmy nomination (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie) for her role as Lucy Gessler in the series.

'The Butler'

Leo went on to work on several projects, including the 2013 film The Butler, also featuring Forest Whitaker, Terrence Howard, Jane Fonda and Oprah Winfrey. That same year, she won an Emmy Award for her guest appearance on the sitcom Louie

Other projects include: Olympus Has Fallen (2013) and its sequel London Has Fallen (2016), Oblivion (2013), Prisoners (2013), The Equalizer (2014) and its sequel The Equalizer 2 (2018). 

On the small screen, Leo's recently been seen on the Fox TV series, Wayward Pines (2015 to 2016), and she also starred as famous atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair in Netflix's The Most Hated Woman in America (2017).

The actress is humble about her success, once telling The Guardian, "I'm very happy with where I am. I think it's what Joseph Campbell meant by 'follow your bliss.' I can walk past almost everybody in an airport or a supermarket unnoticed and I'm fine with that. Acting is a lowly job. I never set out to be a celebrity."

Personal Life and Son

Leo had a three-year relationship with actor John Heard, which resulted in the 1987 birth of their son, John Matthew. The couple split in 1990, and Heard lost a 1994 lawsuit over custody of their son. He began harassing Leo in 1996, and the next year was arrested for stalking. Leo's live-in boyfriend, John Russell, filed charges against Heard for harassment and assault.

Early Life

Melissa Leo was born in New York City on September 14, 1960. Leo was raised by father Arnold Leo, an editor and fisherman, and mother Peggy Leo, a teacher. After her parents divorced, she moved to Vermont and then London with her mother.

Leo learned to love theater while in London and returned to the United States at age 18 to study at the State University of New York at Purchase. After two years there, Leo dropped out to pursue acting. Not long after, she landed a recurring role on the soap opera All My Children, which led to a Daytime Emmy nomination in 1985. Leo next appeared in a series of TV movies and indie films through the late 1980s and early '90s.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!