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Review of Interview: Melissa Leo Discusses Her Role In Ida Red

John Swab’s crime drama Ida Red is currently available to rent or own on digital platforms. The film features a top notch cast that includes Josh Hartnett, Frank Grillo, William Forsythe and Academy Award-winner Melissa Leo.

“Crime boss Ida ‘Red’ Walker turns to her son, Wyatt, to pull off one last heist to get out of prison,” says the official synopsis. “However, with the FBI closing in, Wyatt must soon choose between family and freedom.”

ComingSoon was able to sit down with Melissa Leo to discuss her pivotal role in the film.

Jeff Ames: I saw you guys had worked together on a previous film, Body Brokers. Is that what ultimately attracted you to Ida Red?

Melissa Leo: Actually, what attracted to the project was another film John had done called Run with the Hunted. He had asked me to be a part of that and when I read the part, I didn’t like the way he was using the female character. I talked long and hard with him about it, it wasn’t an easy conversation to have, he’s clearly a very conscientious careful filmmaker. But, in the long run, he understood me and actually removed the character from the script and went along and made Run with the Hunted.

Then he came to me again! Which filmmakers just don’t do especially if you say, “No, thank you!” But I had told him if there was something in the future to bring it along and by God he did, which was bold and brave and smart of him. I played a small part in Body Brokers. Body Brokers is a fascinating film. If you have not seen that film yet I urge you to go see it. It has a social message in it that is only more and more important to be understood with the insurance scam going on with the drug rehabilitation in this country.

So, then he comes to me with Ida Red and now I’m a John Swab junkie. I think he’s brilliant and willing and able and not just talking about making movies but actually making movies. That makes me interested and excited. So, I agreed to be in a film that may not be my favorite kind of movie, but it’s a lot of people’s type of movie.

I imagine Ida is a difficult role to play because you have very limited screen time, but you have to establish this character whose presence is greatly felt throughout the film.

For that, I have to thank my comrades in acting – Frank [Grillo] and Josh [Hartnett], and Mark Boone Junior. The respect that those grizzly white men pay to Ida Red is what makes you feel that way about her. And for Melissa Leo to play somebody who is respected the way she’s respected, adored, and cared for … that’s a remarkable marching order for a female actor of a certain age who has been asked to play the bitch and the nasty one and the root of all the problems; and all these ridiculous connotations of what a woman of a certain age is.

So, I can see why you say it’s difficult, but for me it was really easy because it was such a pleasure to slip into her clothes and play this woman who, even while behind bars, is still completely respected and adored by her family.

We shot in the summer of 2020, so there was all that going on. It was one of the first films that was being shot once the protocols had been given the giddy up go to filmmakers to start work again, right? And Josh was involved in all the meetings about the protocols and understood them thoroughly and made that very clear to all of us. So, it was an incredibly safe environment. If you’re going to play something with an edge of danger, it’s great to have a safe environment because then you can play with the danger of it because you feel safe.

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What’s interesting about Ida is that, despite everything she has done, I still empathized with her. Was that a sentiment you shared or was that just me?

No, I really appreciate the comment. It’s very important for the actor playing the character, even Josh Brolin playing George W. Bush for God’s sake — you gotta love the character. For me, that’s why Josh was successful in that role because he didn’t sit around thinking about all the ways Josh didn’t like that guy, right? But finds the adoration of him. Finds the way he might think about himself. That’s where the actor’s head needs to be in portraying the role.

Here’s the truth about America today and it’s probably one of the most beautiful things about John’s action adventure film: it’s a complicated world. There are people in very fancy homes in very fancy suites and cars who are committing crimes way beyond anything Ida’s family has ever done — I mean real crimes against humanity and they’re not considered criminals. So, there’s just enough in the story to suggest these people want to live a different life but there’s no way out for them. And if you’ve ever spent time in Tulsa, you will know for a fact there are white people in that circumstance in this country today. And probably many more than are people who are living pristine lives and keeping their families together.

At its core, Ida Red is a movie about a family that, as you said, loves each other and is doing what they can to survive. Is that one of the key aspects that drew you to the film?

I think that’s the truth of John’s film, that it is a film about family. What hangs a family together and what separates a family – you know, there’s the other daughter who’s never going to speak with her mother again. Ida understands that. Her older daughter has made another choice. I think that the younger daughter gets it – this no way-out situation. You could live with nothing – not enough to eat and no clothing – but if you had an opportunity to live a little better than that, would you not live a little better than that and not bring your family to that?

I think that’s what makes the story universal and not simply a story about a crime family but about a family – they’re doing what they can given the circumstances. There’s this assumption by people who live like you and I do in this country that there’s not people who look like you and I who live below the poverty line. I lived below the poverty line for God’s sake! If I wasn’t an actor, I met have very well been a criminal.

It’s not about the excitement it’s about the survival. It’s exciting to watch, sure, but it’s also something to think about.

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