Melissa Leo revealed in her exclusive video interview with Uinterview that her work on Flight, in which she plays the calculated Ellen Brock responsible for interrogating Denzel Washington’s Whip Whitaker, was in many ways like preparing for a stage play. “What I knew would be the most important thing would be that I knew my lines the way an actor would know their lines on a play,” Leo told Uinterview. She later added, “So really the biggest job, and it’s an oddly difficult job to do all by one’s self alone in a hotel room, was to learn that script inside out.”

Leo, 52, was born in Manhattan, and grew up on the Lower East Side. She broke into acting in 1984 as Linda Warner on All My Children and was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award. After a number of smaller television and film roles Leo landed the part of Det. Sgt. Kay Howard on the NBC police procedural Homicide: Life on the Street, and she remained on the show for five seasons. Many more smaller roles followed until the late 2000s when, in 2008, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in Frozen River, and two years later received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Alice Ward in The Fighter. Recently, Leo appeared in a memorable episode of the hit FX series Louie as a woman who aggressively hits on the show’s lead character, played by Louis CK.

Leo’s versatility served her well on the set of Flight, which was under a very tight production schedule and limited her to only one day of shooting. “An actor always goes home at the end of a day’s shooting and goes, ‘Oh, I could have done…’” Leo said. “So rather than me getting a second chance at it and not knowing would he [director Robert Zemeckis] do the first part of the scene one day and the second part of the scene another day, we just need to get all in that one day.”

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Q: How did you prepare for shooting this movie on a tight schedule? - murphb7

What I knew would be the most important thing would be that I knew my lines the way an actor would know their lines on a play. Sometimes when we work on television, I remember back in the day working on this soap opera opposite Peter Bergman, the very first time I ever saw an actor [say], ‘Take a quick last look at the script and then tuck it under the cushion in the couch. In the theater we put our scripts down at a certain point so line-learning can be sort of gently learned and [you] sort of know it, or it can be deeply learned like you would need to to do Shakespeare where you don’t want to get a single word [wrong]. So basically I needed to learn this script like Shakespeare. She [my character] says the same things sort of, but not really, three or four times over. She’s working toward a point very carefully and cautiously. So really the biggest job, and it’s an oddly difficult job to do all by one’s self alone in a hotel room, was to learn that script inside out. Mr. Zemeckis had an amazing crew that he was working with, the designers and so on, so that the hair and the makeup, that wonderful red jacket that I wear in the film designed by the costume designer and slipped onto me in a very sneaky and lovely way, all pulled [my character] Ellen Block together, and then we just shot all day long, all day long.

Q: Were you anxious to only have one day to film most of your parts? - murphb7

In a way it feels more anxious, but on the other hand I think it’s much tighter footage for Mr. Zemeckis to take away then. An actor always goes home at the end of a day’s shooting and goes, ‘Oh, I could have done...’ So rather than me getting a second chance at it and not knowing would he do the first part of the scene one day and the second part of the scene another day, we just need to get all in that one day. So it was in a way more difficult and in a way much more to the advantage of the film and tighter.
I was so lucky in that Mr. Washington had been playing Whip Whitaker for almost his entire time by then, they were very near the completion of shooting the film and so Mr. Washington was deep in the character of Captain Whitaker. And actors feed off of one another so I didn’t have to pretend that I was playing opposite this very brilliant man with deep and sad troubles, I simply was opposite this man with all of that going on.