Born: 14 September 1960
Birthplace: New York, New York
Best known as: The Oscar-winning mom from The Fighter
Name at birth: Melissa Chessington Leo
Melissa Leo is the veteran character actress who played tough-gal police detective Kay Howard on the TV series Homicide: Life on the Streets and went on to win an Oscar for her supporting role in 2010's The Fighter. Melissa Leo was born in New York and spent parts of her childhood in New York, Vermont and London. She studied acting in the theater program at SUNY Purchase and then at the famous Actors Studio in New York in the early 1980s. Leo was Emmy-nominated (1985) for her brief stint as Linda Warner on the soap opera All My Children and worked steadily in TV and film until getting her big break in 1993 with Homicide. She played the rugged and rumpled Det. Howard on the first four seasons of the series (1993-97), then moved on to film dramas like 21 Grams (2003), The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), Black Irish (2007). Her ability to "play unglamorous characters unglamorously," as the Easthampton Star described it, brought her a steady stream of blue-collar roles and made her a favorite with indie movie fans and critics alike. Melissa Leo was 48 when she earned her first Oscar nomination, as best actress for the 2008 film Frozen River, playing a single mother who smuggles immigrants to make ends meet. Two years later she won the Oscar as the brassy blue-collar mother and fight promoter in the boxing film The Fighter (2010, with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale).
Extra credit: John Matthew Leo, her son with the actor John Heard, was born in 1987. Melissa Leo and John Heard were never married; their custody battle over their son ended up in court in 1994, with Leo being awarded custody... "I lived in London for almost three years when I was growing up. I was 15 and I sort of talked my way into this small theatre school," she told The Observer in 2011.
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