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Melissa Leo says 'Prisoners' subject matter difficult to confront

Published On: Dec 24 2013 06:22:33 AM CST
Updated On: Sep 17 2013 04:37:47 PM CDT
Melissa Leo and Paul Dano in 'Prisoners' (photo -- Warner Bros)(1)

Warner Bros.

Melissa Leo and Paul Dano in "Prisoners."

While she readily admits that the script for the new kidnapping drama "Prisoners" is compelling, Melissa Leo said locking her down for the project wasn't an easy thing.

In a recent interview, the 2011 Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress for "The Fighter" told me the script came her way before it landed with French-Canadian director De Villenueve, and the first time around, she had a gut feeling that all the elements were in place for her to sign on to the project.

"I actually met a few years ago with a very fine director -- a very different director I love and who have worked with -- and I went very hesitantly to that meeting, asking, 'How do you make this film work?'" Leo recalled. "It's beautifully written and absolutely complicated but clear on the page, but how do you do the film?"

Leo said the project went by the wayside and she wasn't sure what happened in the interim, until she got a persuasive call from her management.

"I said, 'I think I said no to that part,' but my very wise representation said it would be very wise to meet with Denis Villenueve. Since I had seen 'Incendies' I figured I'd better meet with him," Leo said. "It was Denis who had won me over. I realized the much finer points of the story -- not the selling points -- but the finer points, could be realized in his hands. I'm proud that I went with it. It is a very carefully and beautifully made film."

"Prisoners" tells the harrowing tale of Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a father who goes to unthinkable extremes trying to extract information from a suspect in order find his 6-year-old daughter and her friend who go missing on a cold, damp Thanksgiving Day in Pennsylvania.

The complex tale also stars Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Detective Loki, the lead investigator on the case, and Paul Dano as Alex Jones, a mentally-challenged man who is the first person arrested in connection with the case. Leo plays the pivotal role of Alex's protective aunt, Holly Jones.

Opening in theaters Friday nationwide, the film's all-star cast also features Maria Bello as Dover's wife, and Oscar nominees Terrence Howard and Viola Davis as the parents of the other young girl who goes missing with Dover's daughter.

As a mother of two in real life, Leo said despite the brilliance of the script, "Prisoners" was a very difficult film to confront.

"I love my work and I dive into it, but with Holly Jones, she was hard to walk toward," Leo said. "Paul Dano and I did a lot of scenes together, and both him and I agreed that it was far hard to walk toward the project than doing it. When you are there shooting, you have your comrades and you're being guided, especially by a someone like Denis, who was one of the most trustworthy, safest I've ever had the pleasure of working with. He was so appropriate with what he was asking of us."

Nonetheless, Leo said, when it comes to a horrifying subject like child abduction, the idea is bound to gnaw at actors when they're unable to come to grips with it as a unit on set.

And for some of the cast members -- depending on their place in the story -- the process can be agonizing, Leo added.

"Once you get a call time and are brought to the set to work, you have that comradeship, but there's also very lonely aspect of being an actor which I usually thrive on," Leo said. "But when you're alone in a hotel room, learning words that you normally wouldn't speak -- never mind finding a reason behind them and seeking to understand -- it's difficult. Still, it's your job to tell the story with as much truth as possible."