OSCAR: Melissa Leo Goes Rogue With Her Own Personal Campaign Ads

Apparently she wasn’t content to let the Paramount and Relativity marketing machine do all the campaign work. So Best Supporting Actress frontrunner Melissa Leo personally paid for Hollywood trade ads (including on Deadline.com) Thursday showing  her super glammed-up wearing “Faux (not real) Fur” and a glittery evening gown. The text simply said “Consider”  and then below that, “Melissa Leo”, and in very tiny fine print off to the side the web address www.melissaleo.com, a photo credit, and a faux fur credit. There is no reference to her movie, The Fighter, or her critically acclaimed and  gritty real-life character, Alice Ward. Perhaps the point was to show a completely different side of the actress from the blue collar mother and fight manager she portrays in the film, a Supporting Actress role that has already won her the Critics Choice award, a Golden Globe, and a SAG award. It’s a trophy haul that has put her in lead position to take the Oscar.

So why go rogue now? I spoke to Leo today moments after she arrived in New Orleans to resume her role in HBO’s Treme. She explained the ads followed months of her frustration at not being able to land magazine covers, even with all the awards and attention for The Fighter. Leo is 50 years old and she attributes the media’s lack of interest to ageism and because of that and other factors she’s not considered “box office”.   “I took matters into my own hands. I knew what I was doing and told my representation how earnest I was about this idea. I had never heard of any actor taking out an ad as themselves and I wanted to give it a shot,” Melissa told me. So she and three friends arranged a special “fun” photo shoot instead of using the usual studio-prepared photo from the film for “For Your Consideration” ads.

“I am quite certain I have not overstepped any boundaries of the Academy,” Leo told me. “I did hear a lot of very positive comments, particularly from women of a certain age who happen to act for a living and happen to understand full well the great dilemma  and mystery of getting a cover of a magazine. I also heard there were negative comments, but no one said them to my face, sadly. I like to hear what people think. I could explain myself.” She noted that the night before she had been guest of honor at a party celebrating her nomination and thrown by Robert Duvall, James Brolin, James Gandofini, and Demi Moore. “All I ask of Hollywood is they consider Melissa Leo. If you want to hire me, give me a shout,’ Leo added.

Leo’s ads were limited to this week as ballots went out and “are now Kleenex” as she says. It will be interesting to see if they have made any impact at all on a race that, at this point, appears to be hers to lose. A studio source tells me Paramount and Relativity were completely unaware of the ad until seeing it print themselves. Paramount plans no individual ads for any of their Supporting Actress nominees, a list that also includes Leo’s co-star Amy Adams and True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld. But there are two new 30-second TV spots highlighting Melissa Leo and Christian Bale because both have swept early precursor awards. How Leo’s personal ad will play is a bigger question as it’s rare to see actors these days, particularly frontrunners, go this route.

Oscar consultants have long thought that personal campaigns can send the wrong message or come off as overkill. Some frontrunners have proven you don’t even have to campaign at all to win. Last year Mo’Nique was criticized by some bloggers for staying in Atlanta and doing her new talk show and refusing to “play the Oscar game”. Yet she won handily that year just by letting her performance speak for itself.

On the other hand, Candy Clark paid for a steady series of quarter page ads for her role in 1973’s American Graffiti. As the only cast member to launch a campaign, it paid off with a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the then-little known actress. Similarly, in 1987 Sally Kirkland paid for a series of ads cramming critics quotes into an Oscar ad campaign for her small indie, Anna — and that resulted in a Golden Globe win and an Academy Award nomination for her for Best Actress, a real feat considering the low profile of the film and no budget to campaign it.

Throughout Oscar history, though, there have been some prime and in some cases notorious personal ad campaigns which have backfired after being launched by Oscar-hungry nominees or the reps behind them. The most infamous was the tasteless Supporting Actor campaign which Chill Wills ran for his role in The Alamo (1960). His ad featured a photo of the entire Alamo cast and read: “We of the Alamo cast are praying harder – than the real Texans prayed for their lives in the Alamo – for Chill Wills to win the Oscar as the Best Supporting Actor – Cousin Chill’s acting was great”. It was signed “Your Alamo Cousins”.  It caused star/director John Wayne to publicly take out his own ad renouncing Wills, saying in part, “I refrain from using stronger language because I am sure his intentions were not as bad as his taste”.  Groucho Marx also took out a small ad that said he was happy to be “Chill Wills’ Cousin, but I voted for Sal Mineo”.  Wills later blamed his publicist. He lost to Peter Ustinov in Spartacus.

And many think Diana Ross could have won the Best Actress Oscar in 1972 for Lady Sings The Blues were it not for the daily barrage of big gaudy ads paid for by producer and mentor Berry Gordy. They were generally seen as way too much and in-your-face. She lost to Liza Minnelli for Cabaret.

In 1985, The Color Purple Supporting Actress Margaret Avery ran an ad that read: “Dear God, My name is Margaret Avery. I knows dat I been blessed by Alice Walker, Steven Spielberg, and Quincy Jones who gave me the part  of ‘Shug’ Avery in The Color Purple. Now I is up for one of the nominations fo’ Best Supporting Actress alongst with some fine, talented ladies that I is proud to be in the company of. Well God,  I guess the time has come fo’the Academy voters to decide whether I is one of the Best Supporting Actresses this year or not! Either way, Thank You, Lord for the opportunity. – Your little daughter, Margaret Avery.” Avery was roundly criticized for the ad which was written in a dialect not even used by character in the film. She lost to Anjelica Huston for Prizzi’s Honor.

    1. Good luck to Melissa Leo – if memory serves me correctly, Cliff Robertson shocked this town when he took out ads for “Charly” in 1968 and, guess what, he won the Oscar!

  1. at first i thought how pretenious, but she may be on to something about the ageism, so good for her, hope it doesn’t backfire & blow up on her. She was amazing in that role and didn’t need this to win.

    1. Not sure whether ‘pulling your own chain’ works for me. Always a lot more subtle if someone does it for you. OR, at least, pay someone else to do it!

      Or, if the above isn’t possible and you still want to remain in the voters memory, advertise yourself with a bit of tongue in cheek irreverence – always used to work in Britain where we Etonian types used to get into self flagellation just in order to fit in with the common folk – “I may be over the hill and staring my best years in the rectum but just think, I have had all those years to practice and the wrinkles on my face (great pardons to my cosmetic surgeon) and callouses to prove it!”

  2. Well Bravo, Melissa Leo! She’s a beautiful woman, why shouldn’t she take an ad showing another side of herself? And shame on magazines for not wanting this lady who gave one of the best performances OF THE DECADE on their magazine covers. Our youth obsessed culture is unhealthy and I commend her for taking matters into her own hands. But she didn’t need an ad to win the Oscar – her performance is going to do that for her.

  3. Ms. Leo never heard of actors taking ads out for themselves? Guess no one told her about Sally Kirkland!

    Regardless, I agree with the (sad) ageism treatment, and she’s def been my pick for Best Supporting Actress since I saw her amazing performance in THE FIGHTER.

    Better things are in store for this talented actress! Good for her — I dig this proactive move!

    1. Indeed, Martin, you are correct.

      Unfortunately, I think we all know how seriously this town took Sally Kirkland after that…

  4. Agree with Andy. This youth-obsessed culture is completely unhealthy and I hate that my daughter is growing up in it. Kudos to Ms. Leo for standing up and saying “fifty is sexy and beautiful.” Like the Susan Sarandons and Meryl Streeps we can count on our fingers that are working in Hollywood over the age of 40, this woman is a talented force of nature and, quite frankly, SHOULD be on the covers of magazines.

  5. Whatever happened to good work being it’s own reward…especially since a win in the best supporting category almost never results in much of a salary bump particularly for working actors of a certain age. I can’t help finding this a bit off-putting. The picture isn’t even particularly enticing. Why Melissa, why? You’re good. Really good. win or lose. This isn’t a classy move.

    1. It looks like Melissa has been working hard for over 20 years. She even has awards for her work and a previous Oscar nomination. I can’t blame her for wanting to speak up for herself. She did it in a very classy way. Sometimes a great performance in a town with so much tinsel can go unnoticed.
      She was quiet the first time the Oscars came around, and it didn’t get her anything. This time I hope she gets noticed because she was fabulous in that role!!

  6. Oh, God, Melissa. Just shut up about the ageism already! You booked the role, gave a great performance, have been nominated for (and have won) awards…seriously, just shut up already. Be modest and have some self-confidence.

    I remember during her Globes acceptance speech how she commented on how she didn’t think she’d be right to play Wahlberg’s mother because she wasn’t ‘that old.” What issues she must have.

    Get over it already. Taking out ads like this comes off as so desperate.

    1. Uh, get your facts straight, she said shen’t that old as she is only 10 yrs older than the actors playing her sons. A valid point.

    2. But Hollywood casts, or should cast, on how you look. Not your real age. It is obvious that she looks old enough, especially in makeup, to be their mother. We all age differently. I think there is some self-acceptance issues going on here.

      If I were her, although a hard pill to swallow, I would embrace the character actress thing and save the glam photos for the red carpet. That’s what Helen Mirren does.

  7. Awesome. As a female screenwriter, I’ve learned first hand in order to get heard/read, you have to start mixing it up. Go Melissa Leo!

  8. are we not sure she isn’t really looking for a date for Oscar night? That photo screams, “I clean up nicely!”

  9. Odd that this would receive such lengthy treatment on here. Did a rival campaign sensing Leo being vulnerable put you up to this Pete?

    I really have no problem with it. She is right about the ageism. It will be shown again when Leo loses to 14 year old Steinfeld and Bening/Kidman lose to 29 year old Portman this year.

    They are also ageist towards younger males just starting out as evidence by Ryan Gosling and Andrew Garfield being overlooked for their superior work so a bunch of veteran “actors actors” can get in.

    1. She probably did this – which I agree was a mistake – because she’s been reading or hearing through the grapevine all the ridiculous shit perpetrated by the online Oscar pundits about how there could be an upset in Supp. Actress.

      The truth is, the pundits are bored with the predictability of the Oscar race and are craving upsets on Oscar night. They WANT it to happen, not because they dislike Leo, but because they’re BORED. Since Firth, Portman, and Bale look set in stone, that leaves Supp. Actress as the most likely place where an upset could happen. So you hear all this idiotic speculation from people like Anne Thompson who would do better to just shut the hell up. Ironically, Leo could lose the race by panicking and campaigning too aggressively. Melissa: just ignore these loudmouth experts and relax.

      If she ignores the reams of speculative nonsense by the Oscar pundits, she’ll probably win. Let’s not forget that children win Oscars even more rarely than women over 50. If Oscar history is anything to go by, Steinfeld is not winning this thing. And Anna Paquin and Patty Duke won in conjunction with their adult co-stars, who also won – Steinfeld doesn’t have anyone’s coattails to ride since Jeff Bridges isnt getting it this year. That only leaves Tatum O’Neal as a true parallel with Steinfeld. I still say Leo will win. Bonham Carter is too subdued, Jacki Weaver’s nom will be considered reward enough, and Amy Adams was overshadowed – slightly – by Leo. Leo will get it as long as she doesn’t overdo it on the campaign trail.

    2. “She is right about the ageism. It will be shown again when Leo loses to 14 year old Steinfeld.”

      I agree with your Steinfeld prediction, but I don’t think Leo is going to lose because of ageism so much, as she will because of splitting votes with her costar, Amy Adams.

    3. It’s sad that two better performances by annette bening and especially nicole kidman will lose out to Natalie portman just because she is younger.

      It’s also very apparent that the reverse is true for male actors — i’m glad that robert duvall did not get in but Leonardo dicaprio has been passed over way too many times but i guess they filled their quota for the year by nominating jesse eisenberg and james franco. still don’t understand the jeff bridges nomination — no way he will win.

      still praying for an upset in best actress that annette bening wins but i’m resigned to the fact that the academy will just rubberstamp everyone else’s choices.

    4. Yeah my theory is that the Academy is filled with a bunch of shallow old men who vote for the younger women but are jealous of the younger actors.

  10. You know it’s probably easy for some to pass judgement on this but I’m not a 50 year old actress, who is trying to sustain a career and certainly deserves one with her talent. So good for her.

    1. Nailed it, Frank.

      Yes, my first instinct was to roll my eyes. I’ve been taken aback by a couple of Ms. Leo’s remarks in acceptance speeches, comments that lead me to believe she isn’t as secure and confident in both her talent and attractiveness as I am (of HER talent and attractiveness).

      Having eagerly watched her, and for her, since “Homicide…” I found it hard to believe she is anything but highly sought-after and enormously respected.

      I’ve since read her words here and, like Frank, I gotta say I ain’t a 50 year old actress, so I don’t know her reality. And given the roles I’ve seen her in, I GET that she’s frustrated with trying to get folks to imagine her in different roles.

      I wish her luck, but I also wish the results of the Academy votes were as unimportant to her as they are to me. Whether she’s awarded an Oscar or not has not one whit of impact on her phenomenal talent.

  11. In a x platform media marketplace that is increasingly competitive I think its natural this would happen…and normal. The sad part is this article, not the ad itself because if she had simply remained silent about it she would gain positive exposure…now she looks like she is biting the hand that feeds her. Not good with voters. Backfire time…I can’t believe she agreed to comment…too bad really.

  12. Tacky. She’s lucky enough to have even been considered, let alone nominated, first of all.

    And ageism huh? Try this instead: you’re not a star, Ms. Leo. Bridges, Streep, Clooney, Bening, etc – all over 50 and plenty of pub behind them. Know why? Because the Academy loves to reward the star for being more than just a star.

  13. In this world of Kardashian’s and Nicole Richie types taking up magazine covers, who are famous for doing nothing, I am all for Melissa Leo doing whatever she feels she needs to do. I applaud her moxie and though I didn’t love the shot, (she looked better at the Sag awards) the fact she couldn’t get covers with the year she has had, plus her past work that was also saluted, is very sad.

    She turned in a wonderful performance and was utterly fearless in her character’s unlikeablility and her refusing to pander to let the audience like her. Unorthodox, yes, but I don’t think it will matter, what is the down side of a talented performer making the system aware that it has turned into what gowns women are wearing and not what the guts of the performance is.

    There are many great performances this year in the lead actress and supporting the studios should be supporting all of them.

  14. She always seemed real fun in her acceptance speeches and now just seems really.. real. Sure it’s offbeat but what actor isn’t?

  15. I have always considered Melissa Leo a good actress and I have no problem with her ads. They are simple, not overbearing, and to the point. As a SAG member myself, I voted for her and wish her all the luck.

  16. Good for her! I saw The Fighter and was overwhelmed by her performance. To me, she was outstanding in her role as Alice Ward. I am happy she won awards as she deserves all the recognition she is getting for her performance. It is unfortunate that ageism is rampant in Hollywood and an actress like Melissa Leo, who is so talented has to deal with this harsh reality.

  17. I find it interesting/telling that no one has commented on this article yet. To me, Leo is still riding a wave of goodwill from her memorable performance in “Frozen River.” She deserves the Oscar this year for “The Fighter.” And there is much truth to what she says about being an over 50 actress in Hollywood. I don’t see this campaign harming her unless it mushrooms into something bigger. It must be so frustrating to work so hard and pay your dues and still be ignored by the Hollywood press when your time comes. It must be tough to see those Vanity Fair cover stories with 20-year-old actresses, many of whom will be forgotten by the time they’re 25.

    So good luck Melissa Leo. If I had a vote, you’d get it!

    1. I subscribe to Vanity Fair and I haven’t seen a 20-year-old actress on the cover in a while now. The last few have been Meryl Streep, Cher, old pictures of Jackie O and Marilyn Monroe, and Justin Bieber. Unless you count Justin as a 20-year-old actress, I’d say mature (and dead) women have been well-represented lately.

  18. True fact-I grew up watching Melissa Leo on “Homocide” and have been thrilled to see her develop a movie career post tv-work. That’s a hot shot of her there, and good on her for doing it. I’m no academy member, I don’t know how the politics and protocol of campaigning work so I don’t know if this will be seen in bad taste or not. But if Natalie Portman can get up on talk about creating the creation of all creations within her blessed womb and not be penalized, then who should judge Leo for asking to be considered on her own terms as well? Love you MElissa, just watched you in Welcome to the Rileys and looking forward to seeing you in the Fighter too!

  19. I hope I look as half as good as she does when I hit 50.

    Seriously though, good for her! The ad is simple, one word and no ‘speech’ for viewers to read through. I don’t think this ad will backfire, but as you said – it’s a tad late for most Oscar voters to see.

    As Ms. Leo stated, it serves a double purpose: A wave to Oscar voters AND a wave to directors for future projects.

  20. Ageism? Let’s vote for Jacki Weaver then, a true outsider whose performance was miles ahead of anyone else in this category and who seems far too modest to ever run such a desperate, self-serving campaign.

    1. Jacki Weaver’s performance is outstanding. Melissa Leo is doing an homage to Sharon Stone in the last act of CASINO. Oy – such mugging.

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