Woodstock Film Festival - Actor's Dialogue with Mary Stuart Masterson & Melissa Leo - Oct. 5, 2009
Actors Dialogue: Mary Stuart Masterson & Melissa Leo
Sunday, October 5, 2009
(Mary Stuart Masterson, center, and Melissa Leo, far right, observe Martha Frankel, far left, making last-minute notes before the Actor's Dialogue as Meira Blaustein, off-camera, makes an introduction) Photo by Brian Geldin.
The always hilarious, often risqué and well-researched celebrity interviewer Martha Frankel (whose memoir Hats & Eyeglasses is now available) followed up last year’s Top 10 panel discussions with another great Actor’s Dialogue at the Woodstock Film Festival this time with Mary Stuart Masterson, a juror this year at the festival and whose feature directorial debut The Cake Eaters was among the festival’s official selections last year, and the sure-to-be remembered at Oscar time for her performance in Frozen River, Melissa Leo, who was at the festival this year with not one, but two short films, Teressa Tunney’s This Is a Story About Ted and Alice and Philip Dorling’s Predisposed (both of which I saw two days prior). Below are some highlights from the Actor's Dialogue.
Frankel: Talk about your films that are/were at the festival and what it’s like to be here.
Leo: I have a short I’ve never seen (Predisposed) and I short I saw in New York at Columbia University (This is a Story About Ted and Alice)…I’m looking forward to seeing it again, because…January had already happened…Frozen River was at Sundance and got the Grand Jury Prize and that’s when my life as you mentioned did in deed begin to change after almost 30 years of doing it…I had a really big part, I get a third single card or something really nice like that in Mary Stuart’s The Cake Eaters. We worked together, oh golly, five hours.
Masterson: We did some additional photography to do some changes to the structure to the narrative…Melissa was kind enough to be in some home movies of a character who’s a mother passed away…Of course, we offered her to be in the head credits…alphabetical, she’s third.
Frankel: (To Masterson) Do you know your Woodstock connection…about your dad?
Masterson: No. You didn’t sleep with my dad?
Frankel: Shut up, I wasn’t go to say who it was. I was just going to say that a friend of mine is getting married and another friend of hers smuggled Abbie Hoffman’s script to your dad and he bought it.
Masterson: He lived with us for a while (as Barry Freed)…I think I was 11 and 12…I think he was a little confused having been underground for so long about this identity. They worked together for a long time on the script.
Frankel: Who did your friends think Barry was?
Masterson: They didn’t meet him. They thought he was Barry, if they met him, just Barry.
Frankel: (To Leo) Did a fugitive ever live with you?
Leo: No comment.
Frankel: You both worked with my favorite actor, so talk to me about Sean Penn. (Masterson in At Close Range and Leo in 21 Grams)
Masterson: It was a great experience. Sean was great. We were very close. I met Sean, I met Christopher (Walker) and James Foley (the director) separately…for a meal. When do I audition?...So I didn’t ever audition and I just ended up in Franklin, Tennessee, working in this very intense way and at one point…Sean had come from the school where…you manipulate the other actor from off camera for what you might want to get out of them for the scene, not necessarily just playing the scene with them, but try to manipulate a response. I was like, ‘you don’t even know what I’m going to do, don’t manipulate me yet, later maybe.’ I gave him some attitude and we got along great.
Leo: I did audition for (At Close Range)...the biggest lesson I learned in an audition…he said, ‘do you have any questions?’…Chris Walken was there. Sean Penn was there…in the room…at least I’ll get some information…I did not understand at this time…’why do you want to make this film?’ Mary Stuart got the role…When I worked with Sean (on 21 Grams) I didn’t work with Sean (not in any scenes together)…but I did get to talk to him in the hours after he returned back to the United States from Iraq.
Frankel: Tell us about The Cake Eaters.
Masterson: We premiered it at Tribeca, then came here…we’re still out their on the circuit…We’re supposed to be in theaters in February and I don’t know that we are going to be as of a couple of days ago. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m usually the last to know…It’s the same story so many independent filmmakers are facing right now, which is that it’s really hard to sell a movie. The traditional distribution models have just totally broken or changed or are about to change, so the state between the old and the new is panic and paralysis…I know that (The Cake Eaters) will be out there at some point in some way, in some order of events either day-and-date and theatrical on a limited basis, then DVD, video-on-demand and all that.
Frankel: I love IMDB because they’re wrong so often. It says ‘Mary Stuart has never done a nude scene, nor has she ever posed nude or topless in her career.’
Masterson: Well I have, they just didn’t put it in the movie…I did a scene with Sean in At Close Range. It was terrifying for both of us…where we meet in the corn field and he sees a trail of clothes and we went behind the corn and I’m naked and running. Don’t run naked, people! Unless you’re Bo Derrick, don’t do it. I don’t know, I was 19 or 18.
Frankel: Melissa said upstairs…and I’m not making this up…she said ‘I haven’t gotten roles because my breasts aren’t big enough.’ Am I making that up?
Leo: It’s the truth…I asked Tommy Lee Jones if he wanted me naked (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) of if he wanted me Hollywood naked, and I didn’t really know how to ask Mr. Jones and he really is just the smarted fucking cowboy you’ll ever meet…so I said, ‘I’m not sure what you want here. I’m not just going to take it from the costume and make up department that you want me stark-raving naked on the couch, but if you like it, of course I’ll do it,’ and said, ‘Yep!’…I said, ‘Mr. Jones, I’ve been milked,’ and he said, ‘that’s the most beautiful thing ever.’ That is the man!...Way back, Sexual Perversity in Chicago…one of the first times I was ever flown out to Los Angeles to be tested on something and in the room with, oh what was that boy’s name? Rob Lowe…and they asked at the end of the audition…with the director left behind, and he said, ‘I have to see.’ I don’t think he could say a word for what they were, but his eyes were telling me what he meant.
Frankel: What are you working on now?
Leo: I came up from New Orleans where I was doing this film…Welcome to the Rileys…It’s a lovely title…because it’s very appropriate to the film. It’s a film about The Riles, James Gandolfini and myself, who lost a daughter eight years before. It is the welcome back to themselves that must happen after the loss of a child and a very difficult path to walk. Kristen Stewart, who I didn’t even know…I saw her in Into the Wild and she’s wonderful in that…I didn’t know and I spent a week with her in New Orleans, that she was that remarkable young woman in Mary Stuart’s film The Cake Eaters.
Masterson: She has a neuro-muscular degenerative disease in the film. A lot of people see the film and say, ‘how did you find this disabled actress?’…I’ve been producing a lot the past couple of years and spending a lot of time on the road with The Cake Eaters. I’ve gone to about 30 festivals…I produced a film called Tickling Leo that my husband wrote and directed with my fledgling production company, which is called Barn Door Pictures…Then I wrote a pilot that Fox optioned…It’s called Community Property…about a couple in Brooklyn who are in the middle of a divorce and they still occasionally sleep together, but they live on separate floors in the house, because neither will sell out of their property.