This month, "Extra" is spotlighting the top 2011 Academy Award nominees, beginning with the Best Supporting Actress category. After seeing "The Fighter," many asked, "Who was the actress who played Mark Wahlberg's mom?" The answer is Melissa Leo, a character actress with a long and illustrious career in Hollywood, with appearances in many highly acclaimed films.
Here's the "Extra" scoop on this talented actress!
Oscar Nominee Trivia File: Melissa Leo
Her Early Years
Melissa always knew she wanted to be an actress. At age 15, she attended theater school in London. After graduating, she went to New York City, and in her first year of auditioning landed a role on the TV soap opera "All My Children."
Melissa's first movie role was in "Always," playing Peggy, the sister of a middle-aged woman on the verge of divorce. It starred Patrice Townsend and Henry Jaglom.
Find Your True Path
Speaking to students at the New York Film Academy, Melissa passionately speaks about the tenacity of being an actor and determining whether or not it's one's true calling.
Homicide: Life on the Street
Melissa is best known for playing tough-minded Detective Sergeant Kay Howard on the NBC TV series, "Homicide: Life on the Street" in seasons 1-5, from 1993-1997.
'21 Grams' (2003)
In 2004 Melissa won the PFCS Award at the Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards for Best Ensemble Acting for 21 Grams shared with castmates Kevin Chapman, Benicio del Toro, Teresa Delgado, Clea DuVall, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Danny Huston, Eddie Marsan, Marc Musso, Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. She was also a runner-up for the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for Best Supporting Actress.
'The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada' (2005)
In 2006, she won the Bronze Wrangler at the Western Heritage Awards for Outstanding Theatrical Motion Picture for "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," shared with the cast, including Tommy Lee Jones and January Jones.
'Black Irish' (2007)
Set in Boston, Leo plays Margaret McKay, an Irish Catholic mother to a teenage boy who longs to win the attention of his emotionally distant father.
In 2008, Melissa won the Method Fest Independent Film Festival Award for Best Actress for her role as Stephanie, an American mother who receives word that her son has been kidnapped by a drug lord operating in South Africa.
'Frozen River' (2008)
Her performance as Ray Eddy, a desperate single mother who is drawn into the world of border smuggling, the film Frozen River earned her an Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress, and nominations for a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Broadcast Film Critics Association award, and an Oscar nod.
Watch Melissa explain her character in the film!
Melissa had a small yet striking role as a policeman, alongside Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell in the movie Conviction.
Here Melissa talks about her experience on the film ...
'Welcome to the Rileys' (2010)
A 2010 Sundance pick, Leo plays the wife of Doug Riley, played by James Gandolfini, who has been drifting apart from her husband since the death of their daughter.
Watch Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo and Jake Scott's interview with Fandago!
'The Dry Land' (2010)
In this official Sundance selection, Melissa plays the mother of a U.S. soldier returning home from war and struggling to reconcile his experiences abroad with the life and family he left in Texas.
Starring in HBO's critically acclaimed series "Treme," the story of rebuilding New Orleans post-Katrina, Leo plays Toni Bernette, a clever and determined local civil rights attorney.
Watch the behind-the-scenes video!
'Mildred Pierce' (2011)
While Leo filmed "Treme," set in the 2000s, she also shot HBO's miniseries "Mildred Pierce," set in the 1930s — a true test of acting stamina. In this five-part miniseries, Leo plays alongside Kate Winslet.
For her critically hailed role as Alice Ward in "The Fighter," Leo is nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, among nominees Amy Adams ("The Fighter"), Helena Bonham Carter ("The King's Speech"), Jackie Weaver ("Animal Kingdom") and Hailee Steinfeld ("True Grit").