Melissa Leo and Richard Jenkins are both respected veterans of the independent film scene, having played a full roster of supporting characters over the years. But their respective Oscar nominations for lead actress and lead actor -- a first for both of them -- have finally landed them on Hollywood's marquee.
"For this to happen for both Richard and I at the same moment is even more spectacular than my being nominated," said Leo by phone from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where she is participating in a spoken-word event geared to the upcoming history documentary "The People Speak." "I have known Richard for 15 years, we shared the same manager for many years. We don't usually get a chance to go to events like the Oscars, so it's such a very powerful thing for both of us to experience this at the same time."
The actress has won a stream of accolades for her performance in "Frozen River," which premiered at Sundance last year. In the film, Leo, best known for her role in TV's "Homicide: Life On The Street," plays a desperate woman driven to smuggle illegal immigrants into the U.S. from over the Canadian border.
Jenkins scored with critics and audiences for his role as a depressed, widowed economics professor who undergoes a personal awakening through his relationship with an immigrant couple in "The Visitor," released in theaters last April.
Leo, who was born in Manhattan and now lives in New York and Los Angeles, said her and Jenkins' nominations will dramatically affect their lives and careers: "I do believe for both Richard and I that this will open doors for us, that we will be given a little more weight to carry. Things will be different from now on. This morning, perhaps, my life has changed."
But that might take some time. Jenkins wasn't even thinking about the Oscars on Thursday morning when he got a call from a family mem- ber that he had been nominated.
"I was up having a cup of coffee in my living room," Jenkins said from his home in Long Island. "I didn't think I was going to be nominated. I was stunned and humbled, that's the truth. It's not something that was ever on my radar. This whole year has been a surprise."
Hardly a fixture on the Hollywood party scene, Leo said she was looking forward to her time on the flashy Oscar circuit, with all its glamorous soirees and events.
"I'm a 'learn as you go' kind of girl," she said. "I'm having a lot of fun doing it. I'm getting a lof of amazing help with jewelry and everything. I'm going to enjoy it while it's here."
Freelance writer Lisa Rosen contributed to this report.