Melissa Leo has long proven herself to be one of the greatest character actresses of her generation. And when an actress of that caliber who’s played very human characters decides to take on a mysterious sci-fi character, it seems to show where the quality roles are starting to appear. There isn’t a doubt that sci-fi is having a new renaissance where the writing sometimes goes to near Shakespearean levels compared to all else out there.
Considering Leo usually plays commanding women of all stripes, whether that’s a wife, a mother, or a professional, it’s not surprising she’d also play a commander of a space station. Her villainous and seeming omnipresence in “Oblivion” as head of mission control is not to be missed. When Tom Cruise’s Tom Harper disobeys, a certain reveal from Leo’s Sally character will probably take fans of Leo’s by surprise.
With this being Leo’s first foray into sci-fi, it seems she’s following other A-list actors doing the same. Everyone from Jodie Foster to Matt Damon have long been known for strictly human dramas, yet they’re finding some true gems lately in the sci-fi genre. Up for question is whether Melissa Leo will want to continue in the field or if she merely did a fly-by to temporarily do something different.
The good news about sci-fi movies is that they’re starting to explore more social themes rather than being only about aliens and special effects. No matter your opinion of “Oblivion”, it has a strong social context that continues with “Elysium” later this year starring above-mentioned Foster and Damon. Just about every character Melissa Leo plays is usually a subject of a social analysis as she was playing the tough-as-nails mother in her Oscar-winning “The Fighter.”
Many of those same themes are starting to be explored again in sci-fi. And with crime being centered into more sci-fi plots, Leo’s past crime-oriented TV and film work can definitely correlate. She could easily fit into the mold of another complex sci-fi villain, particularly someone of salty tongue as she does so vivaciously.
If Leo does more sci-fi film work, it’s a benefit to the genre in creating more realism over characters with flatter personalities. At one time, sci-fi films taking place in the future would portray characters with little emotion, obviously to differentiate between how society acts today and the possible future. Much of that started with the Dave Bowman effect and the entire cast of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
For Melissa Leo, her colorful personality may end up turning sci-fi into the equivalent of a mob matriarch going into a time machine.
Leo goes to the past, in the immediate term, playing Mamie Eisenhower in the upcoming Presidential biopic “The Butler.” It reminds us of how a female character with a dominant personality can still bridge the depicted timeline between yesterday, today, and tomorrow.