Childhood & Early Life
Melissa Chessington Leo was born on September 14, 1960, in Manhattan, New York City, USA, to Arnold Leo III and Margaret (née Chessington).
Her father was employed at the Grove Press as an editor and was an ardent fisherman as well as a spokesman for the East Hampton Baymen's Association. Her mother was a teacher who hailed from California. Melissa has one brother, Erik.
While her early days were spent in the Lower East Side, where she performed with the ‘Bread and Puppet Theater Company’, she, along with her mother and brother moved to the Putney, Vermont to take up residence in the Red Clover Commune following her parent’s divorce. She spent her summers with her father in Springs, a neighborhood in East Hampton, New York.
She attended Bellows Falls High School in Bellows Falls, Vermont and also pursued her passion for acting at the Brattleboro Center for the Performing Arts. At the age of 15, she went to London to study acting at the Mountview Theater School, a leading drama school.
In 1978, Melissa returned to the USA to study theater at the State University of New York, Purchase. Even though she spent two years there, she did not complete the course and instead moved to New York City where she gained admission to the Actors Studio and looked to pursue a career in acting
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Her first career break came in 1984, when she bagged the lead role in a soap opera, ‘All My Children’. She did justice to her casting by winning the ‘Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Ingénue/Woman in a Drama Series’ at the 12th ‘Daytime Emmy Awards’.
Following the award, she appeared in a number of films, including ‘Streetwalkin’, in which she played the lead role of a prudish girl who gets drawn into prostitution. Other notable films during this period included, ‘Last Summer in the Hamptons’, ‘A Time of Destiny’, and ‘Venice/Venice’.
Melissa also acted in a number of television shows; her role of Detective Sgt. Kay Howard in the first five seasons (1993-97) of ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ was extremely well received.
After a short break from acting, in 2003, Melissa put in a superb performance in ‘21 Grams’, an Alejandro González Iñárritu film. She received the award for the best actress from the ‘Los Angeles Film Critics Association’ and shared the Phoenix Film Critics Society’s ‘Best Ensemble Cast’ award.
In 2005, Melissa appeared in the films, ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘American Gun’. She also had a minor role in Mr. Woodcock, a comedy film.
In 2005, she appeared alongside Tommy Lee Jones in a French-American neo-western film ‘The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada’ that was also directed by Lee Jones. Her performance was recognized at the ‘Western Heritage Awards for Outstanding Theatrical Motion Picture’ with a ‘Bronze Wrangler’.
In recognition of her scintillating performance in ‘Lullaby’, a Darrell Roodt film on the drug mafia, Melissa won the ‘Geraldine Page Award’ for best actress and the ‘Maverick Actor Award’ at the 10th ‘Method Fest’ in 2008.
Her intense performance as a heroic woman fighting against all odds to maintain her family after being abandoned by her husband in the 2008 film, ‘Frozen River’ won her critical praise as well as several awards and nominations, including one for the Oscar for the ‘Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role’.
Melissa continued to act in independent films, including ‘Righteous Kill’, a 2008 crime thriller with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro with whom she had co-starred earlier in the American-German psychological horror-thriller film, ‘Hide and Seek’.
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In 2009, she acted in films like ‘According to Greta’, ‘Veronika Decides to Die’, ‘True Adolescents’, and ‘Stephanie's Image’ where she played the title character.
In 2010, Melissa acted in what was unarguably her biggest hit to date, ‘The Fighter’, a David O. Russell biographical sports drama film centered on the lives of Micky Ward, a professional boxer and his half-brother, Dicky Eklund. Melissa played the role of Alice Eklund-Ward, mother to the two, alongside Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams.
For her brilliant performance in ‘The Fighter’, Melissa won the ‘Oscar Award for the Best Supporting Actress’ and the ‘Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress’.
Melissa’s role in the 2011 ‘HBO’ miniseries ‘Mildred Pierce’ also received a lot of appreciation and got her nominations for ‘Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie’ at the ‘Primetime Emmy Awards’.
She acted in the 2013 action-thriller, ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ in the role of the Secretary of State held hostage by terrorists attacking the White House. In the same year, she also played the role of the main antagonist in ‘Oblivion’, a Joseph Kosinski post-apocalyptic science fiction film.
The year 2013 was especially productive for her as she got the chance of playing roles in films as diverse as ‘Queen of the Lot’, ‘Prisoners’, ‘Call Me Crazy: A Five Film’, ‘Bottled Up’, and ‘Charlie Countryman’, besides which, she was the narrator in ‘Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy’
In 2014, she appeared in films like ‘The Equalizer’, ‘The Angriest Man in Brooklyn’ and lent her voice to ‘Dwegons and Leprechauns’ and ‘BoJack Horseman’.
2015 saw the release of two thought-provoking movies, ‘She's The Best Thing in It’ and ‘The Ever After’. She also was the narrator in the film on Louisiana’s ecological disaster ‘After the Spill’ and acted in 10 episodes of the TV show, ‘Wayward Pines’.
In 2016, Melissa continued acting in movies with unusual but strong storylines like ‘Snowden’ based on the CIA operative who leaked highly-classified documents and ‘All the Way’ that told the story of Lyndon B. Johnson's eventful 11-month journey to being elected to office after the assassination of JFK. Other releases included ‘London Has Fallen’ and ‘Burn Country’.
Notable releases in 2017, included ‘Novitiate’, the story of a young nun in the Vatican coming to terms with issues of faith, sexuality, and the changing mores of the church in addition to ‘The Most Hated Woman in America’ and 14 episodes of ‘I'm Dying Up Here’ that took a peek into LA’s infamous but celebrated 1970s stand-up comedy industry.
In 2018, she has four scheduled releases; ‘The Equalizer 2’, ‘Furlough’, ‘Unlovable’, and ‘The Ashram’. Future projects include ‘Red State’, a satirical horror film, ‘Predisposed’, a comedy, and ‘Dead Circus’, a crime thriller