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Cover of Frozen RiverBy BOB ANDELMAN

I think it was the hair.

A Niagara Falls of cascading, curly, dirty red tresses framing a face that could alarm the viewer with its world-weary concern or lighten up any scene with a rare outburst of laughter.

That was how most of us came to know Melissa Leo, a.k.a., female Det. Sgt. Kay Howard, on NBC’s long-running series, Homicide: Life on the Street. She was a hardened veteran investigating murder among a crew of tough guys who treated with respect and a smidgen of trepidation.

Homicide was one of TV’s all-time great shows, continuing the careers of Yaphet Kotto and Ned Beatty and introducing us to new talent such as Leo, Andre Braugher, Kyle Secor, Callie Thorne, Clark Johnson, Michelle Forbes. And it caused the transformation of legendary standup comic Richard Belzer into what must be one of TV’s longest running character, Detective John Munch, who started on Homicide in 1993 and lives on today in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, having wise-cracked his way through more than 260 episodes all told.

But I digress.

Having survived her Homicide partner, Daniel Baldwin, Melissa Leo’s career was low-key for a few years as she became a frequent guest star in TV dramas from The L Word and CSI to Shark and Law & Order.

So how she then went from appearing in Mr. Woodcock with Billy Bob Thornton to being Oscar-nominated for Best Actress for 2008’s Frozen River has got to be a good story.

Melissa Leo is about to join us to talk about a raft of new movies she’s in-—including: Welcome to the Rileys with Kristen Stewart and James Gandolfini; The Fighter with Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg; Betty Anne Waters, starring Hilary Swank; and the just announced Mildred Pierce remake in which she stars opposite Kate Winslet, who beat her for the 2009 Oscar—as well as the April 11 premiere of the HBO series Treme, in which she co-stars with John Goodman.
MELISSA LEO AUDIO EXCERPT: "Kristen Stewart will grow as an actress as she works. She's interested in learning and expanding. She doesn't think she knows it all. She is not going to be caught in the persona she played in those Twilight films. She is going to make a choice to step out of those parameters. This is an actor, not a movie star." 
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You can LISTEN to this interview with MELISSA LEO, star of FROZEN RIVER, WELCOME TO THE RILEYS, HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET and TREME, by clicking the audio player above!

Copyright 2010 Bob Andelman. Click here for copyright permissions!