'Novitiate' star Melissa Leo: 'I was never the prettiest girl in the room'

Leo appears on "Popcorn With Peter Travers" to talk about her role in "Novitiate."
19:40 | 11/10/17

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Transcript for 'Novitiate' star Melissa Leo: 'I was never the prettiest girl in the room'
Finally I would like to talk about science. We observe two kinds of silence here regular silence and grabbed science. Getting regular silence if you feel you have the need to speak it's permissible. But when you hear that 9 o'clock at night signifying the beginning of grand silence that means you. Don't. And quest. Put your hand and sister posture constant questions and you are free to go home. Everybody I am Peter Travers and this is popcorn we we tell you what's happening at the movies. And there's a movie now called an issue which is what about. The church it's about nuns who serve in the church and my guess nameless who who abuse and is one. Of the best actors on the plant. It's absolutely at her best in this movie that Gauthier stop listening to us that it go at theaters here and now. We'll update for this. Anyway great to see now. Mind you compliment I think it's all true. I do love what I do I really but I do like I suspect you know what you. I do that makes it better at it but that's kind of great when you love what you do and other people that I. Marty. And Academy Award for the fighter wing suspects it. Well and as it went down in new islands until May I bought small pieces of furniture and one of them has these beautiful locking. Cabinets. With glass of around. And so have very nice cap and house's. Although those that very special but my sag award in mind. And me and mine beautiful gold knowledgeable in the Arabic that they can visit with one another. Chat but you don't TDs don't think about that when you're choosing a part to play be. Now and I do I not even and that even at this point you know I. I like that I have a place to have them at homes they can tell you about it I sometimes come up my stairs and and see the awards there. How me on that's right. But that's sort of in the past and I'm here now talking with you and and initiate helped make that happen and that makes me happy if it. What could tell. Talk a little bit about that mothers period that you're playing in this because. She is Jess spectacular. I just think. She scares a lot of people. As she should what does that line that he has a bad that god can't be here to run this conference room so he's gonna talk through mean. Putting Bayless hit somebody outside the clay stare it sounds a little different and I think there's also that. Catholic school reference that many Americans will have to you know they went to Catholic school in experience none insert jesuit priests in within minutes. The insect cloistered. Nuns this is it different kind of you really are in the conned them. What reverend mother knows better than anyone is what a serious undertaking. These girls are about to me. Take on. You don't want that none UConn went right see you want to put them through a trial. A little bit like Joan potter did with our acting group when we went to SUNY purchase. She wanted the best of justice day so as others dropped out along the way. That she's on courage if you just I may be even in away yet but I think that's kind of against one of the saddest things there is this some of the self identifies an act as an actor and can't get work as an actor. So you know I just keep on. Being very happy. Getting mark. Well you did. I turn around that that you aren't showtime and a guy running that you're running a club and I can't see you on the screen and I mean it's just. But why wouldn't you get war. It doesn't seem to be any reason for but I wonder why your processes. When your plane this character. This mother's appear wouldn't do you prepared to do you hang out with some other severe. Idea wasn't so lucky as to meet anybody so high. I did get to speak which is you know just my own personal research that I did I I got to speak with a couple of ex nuns. Both of these women had happened to leave their convent life around that time Vatican two. This is like 646364. An area. And by both of their telling not because of Vatican two right but but just their own lives and and truth whether Sampson and another life they were meant to lead and have been meeting now. So I did speak with dam and learn some of the this so interesting too because for both of these women it was kind of a memory from their past it was in the present. And so I learned some things about one of the things I act sometimes I worry in the film you see her hands too much because your hands are to be covered. Primarily as well. So. You know little ways. The waves Whipple was attached back then was weave these straight pants. That's stuck into them head. But he ends so tightly at the tops of their heads by these state hands fit the women after years of doing it would have been the and its. Coakley ever in there's scouts. Still I found a way to fashion in this cloth and pin it in that would that helped me feel. More comfortable in and familiar with with that happened. After all habit one be. Mitchell. Yes it definitely had an important here is an attitude that but yes that you you get into it nuns aren't basically wearing this kind of thing anymore. I Aikman and they can't agree but they after Vatican two has basically you are part greeted community that you're part of in your character doesn't like. She's not interested in freedom he's quite happy in her marriage to god Jesus and Annie and stunned that this decision would be man. Basically. Nullifying her entire. Existence. That she has lived with out question. And happily live on content to flee. You don't see reverend mother in the film prior to getting these papers from Vatican Clinton's. But I believe she was very much at peace. And this is what I'm does have its themselves. Information that the men have decided that you not his right. Those men have decided. They have done learning Ali Mann act it's really for. We know that is slow. But you don't play her or see her even though a lot of the nuns that are under her tutelage and guidance. Look at her sometimes as a tremendous bill. But weak U planner I basically fuel for her I think through all. And that's another way to approach to roll where you could've played there as yes this tyrant. With nothing else and yet her life's been devoted to. Yeah and and that. That is perhaps the most important thing to me means so much to me you see that in her her vulnerability. Her true commitment. That anger the upset and confusion. That she's in is I'm mind me yet very much. Precipitated by these changes and asked for unexpected. Change. I'd love about humorous is that your total rebel you you don't you what you did you go your own way. And I when you won your Oscar for the fighter remember that big controversy. Because you had helped along by buying an adult. And you say you can't do that. There were certain rules that had to. And you broke well I did it because they keep getting rich but it can't get my picture. And that's true I was trying to get a cover magazine anything. And I had publicist working for me to that end that I was too old and not known well known and a what I thought well how is one going to win an Oscar without a beautiful picture like that on the glossy pages easy. I didn't know that I was ruled break game I don't know them much about the Oscars in the history in the public eye on the one thing in another I knew more. That was not so and I need I probably would not have done that you can say rebel and I think me. I'm Kabul. I look at it as you one well. At Manhattan Anthony two and it has left me and market do everything Ellis he writers. Say hey little lady here want us. And that was phenomenal. I don't think he ever played a role. Where you approach and said or it doesn't come off that way on screen that I'm not gonna go there and these scenes that you go. We come from who are you Melissa Leo. We care who what what form do in this world to be the person ward the actress. I am my mother's daughter re. She would not allow a vanity. From me and hounds and I think that female actors are. Brought up in the industry. With how they book being the primary. Thing. That's not why I approach to acting I was never the prettiest girl and around. I approached it because of that thing your admiring because Melissa could high need weaving in these characters. It was a protective coating to pretend to be somebody. It's not brain injuries. Abject. Fear. You could of wasted all that time and therapy you have to Ed Ed doing this so that we all get to see I had at bear this in college to brief that to me. I I work. Do it. Go an act just do whatever it is that you do. All of the performances that I feed you hand. Always looks like yes you're part of the community of actors doing it. But that what you're doing is emanating from you in some really important way and he. That's what Amy is there is that defied his. Yet it can be quite a struggle that it's very very trim my job is as like have a cough taught me. There is the actor and they character and my job is to make them one. That's on my job gains and then to try within that to navigate this script and that found main. In and be in the filmmakers found that's what my job it. And I day. Because my mother's daughter I just found that ago it oh she's the bad cat. She's done. She's somebody's partner she's somebody's mother. Who we see them where was she boring how did she grow up how long as she'd end here. And that's my job as an actor that's the actor's work. To two. And and that's a part of it that's always come very easily and naturally to me it's not like I am and histories for them and write journals that particular character. It just feels like that split you know the cost him informs me the words she speaks inform me. Chinese I go with it and I don't fight it. If somebody is watching. And they're listening to you as I am and and saying because they don't go to many movies. I like car. And I'd like to see more of what she did would be the three of war of things that you've done on screen that you can. That you learn the most from not that you think it's the best thing that you're ever did but that that those movies when you look at them think I'd. There was some that he year that helped me grow and take me to. The next level. We thank. The three burials and not yet at this. Directed by on the unnamed unmentioned meets one of the best directors I have ever worked around because he didn't over talk it. He did not over time he was not nice when he talked about what he said he man and it mattered. All the respect in the world mr. Jones. Francine I mentioned because the tiny little movie that very few people song it was incredibly difficult issue. This shot by a couple. That had been documentaries. I'm treating me like a subject that I'm not her and playing her. Very hard issues. Beautiful little film. Francine. And end because he is one of them biggest reach is I've ever known as section two in the way and we are going back for seconds from. I'm saying that hearings and. Where you're just running that club. I loved. Look. As though. Seven season everybody wanting to be with Johnny Carson. I don't even mind you're oldies misunderstood because that's set to part of everything. I'm surprised you didn't mention frozen river in Wenham because like that fits it would let it recognition with frozen river area does come up with demand and eight cents and all the women on the one minute and replace it tends to. They Eddie I got to play for set to Lon time because they Eddie and frozen river which made a short. Almost five years later that she got the money to make the feature. So I had lived with misty up and Kourtney and ray Eddy the character I had lived with it for so long by the timing to the teacher. She too was. To some wonderful man and and 21 grams and well I could just go on and keep mentioning that but you people out there and I didn't you let out where was so violent bands where it's because. Gamma. Wrote the camera at a at a wrote that script in what he calls. An emotional continuity that's more like a poem than a story. I'm Mary and the character I played. You see in perfect sequential order through the script so it she's the grounding member of that ensemble. And that was suspect tactful and did you ever get an acting as and when you are two you purchased that you have could it you have taken with you to this that. All I add. Yes and yes and definitely yes it is. We were taught Kristen linkletter voice work from her amazing book freeing natural voice that is work I still used today. Both to free my natural voice and also to have helped a motion mines to freeze it channels and Kristin link better work John Potter are acting mentor we teased her relentlessly. Not understanding what a spectacular actor she had been before she became an acting teacher. And that discipline. I carry with me and that makes me an overly serious factor that can get me in trouble but also get nice. I like yeah. Understanding all current potter are you staying. In character on that ticket I don't mean to but I do like to the way I describe it is of course I keep her clothes. Why would I dropped her over there and have a funny conversation with you about when I drank last night Eaton. And then go out time to shoot a panic and it went abbey right but you have to get her back to where we're seeing the wet my what. So by they characters days I don't mean it too but I find she stays very close to me while I work. And there are some bittersweet moving away from her after it's over. As the mother superior near this year you have. Many moments where you make the sisters to the punishments especially. Saying a catalog of their faults they have to say these are the things that are wrong with me. He had any of them all false I'll put god yes what's the worse here. Now it's it's like anything its two sides of the penny right I I have very little filter. So that's great for my acting and it's great for truth telling might not everybody wants to hear the true. I. Look. And I AM I really we do in the end you know in my mount every. He went to the truth will set you free I don't know where that's from but I know that's true. I really willing and it's so there's that and faults too I think I am really. Mary call that my mother gave me in terms of being female on the planet and sure of myself thing I can do any thing. My brother and I both agree were not terribly well socialized. We've had to learn to be polite in ways that. Many others we find our product. And I have it in time it's about politeness when it's simply politeness. There is. Human decent me ugly and racist Anis. That is that's that's not a bad thing to happen until I had to work to have to have. That's seen what really fault they there's the six. Of what. You're doing. It being honest about who you are and if they can't take it then get advocates. Beloved and they come up to me when you ask the question they come up this fault because I do know they are the things they get need trouble. And I think you'll always get. I hope and I. Art will be shall always ends in fall out. She pretension of him had grant. Run your freeing everything he can fit that cut and where jets come out a minute and think what ever is that your. I don't know what mother superior was listening do her thing but I'm guessing there wasn't much. I don't think she was much of the songs to thirty. Now we do you have something in I know it. Bouncy reminiscing the sun went into court. OK and and I hear it down. Six in our whole weather rain gets in and keeps my mind. One thing. I live clue. Song. Silly people running around one no lag they can end Matt dole line. Beatles. B tell me tolls from a list when they set your joy always always. That question with the go warm. I have any of the gun. And he could be.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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