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Andrea Riseborough

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Jun 07, 2013 Web Exclusive
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With three films in U.S. movie theaters this spring, English actress Andrea Riseborough suddenly is seeing her visibility gain ground on her reputation as one of the U.K.‘s finest and most versatile actresses. In the futuristic sci-fi adventure, Oblivion, she appears opposite Tom Cruise as the navigator of his character’s drone-repair mission. She plays an ambitious television reporter in the Internet-focused cautionary tale, Disconnect. And for Shadow Dancer, director James Marsh cast her as Collette McVeigh, a single mother who is an accomplice to an IRA bombing plot. Riseborough has a theory as to why she’s offered such diverse roles.

“I think that’s possibly because people still don’t have a clue exactly what kind of person I am, which I’m very happy with,” she says with a laugh. “It’s one of the things I really wanted to achieve in my career, is to never be pigeonholed and always have the good fortune to explore lots of different characters. I would hate to play the same kind of character over and over again.”

Shadow Dancer is writer Tom Bradby’s screen adaptation of his own book, which was informed by his experience as a TV correspondent in Northern Ireland. In the film, set in the ‘90s, Collette is arrested after an aborted London bombing. An MI5 officer (Clive Owen) gives her the choice to either go to prison, which will separate her from her young son for years, or return to Belfast to spy on her IRA brothers and disclose their plans. Marsh, the Academy Award-winning director of the 2008 documentary, Man on Wire, reached out to Riseborough about playing Collette after seeing her in Rowan Joffe’s 2010 adaptation of Brighton Rock.

Among her varied roles, Riseborough has played real-life personalities and historical figures. While attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she landed her first part on camera as Scottish aristocrat Anna Wallacea onetime flame of Prince Charlesfor the 2005 TV movie Whatever Love Means. Three years later, she starred in the title role of another TV movie, Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley. In 2011, she played the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, for Madonna’s W.E.

Other jobs in 2008 included the pilot for the supernatural TV series Being Human and a small part in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, which required five months of prep work. Coincidentally, Riseborough and Happy-Go-Lucky star Sally Hawkins would appear in the same film two more times in 2010 with Made in Dagenham and Never Let Me Go, although they did not share scenes in the latter film.

Under the Radar met with Riseborough in Los Angeles to discuss Shadow Dancer, her early interest in acting, and her upcoming films.

Chris Tinkham: How did you prepare to get into the mindset of Collette? Did you do research for the part?

Andrea Riseborough: My relationship with the IRA was really peripheral, in the sense that, when I was growing up, it was the first or second news story every day on the television, because that’s what it was to be a child in Britain or Ireland. And it was possibly the first fearful thingpotentially truly of dangerto me in my life as a child. That and the first time we went to war with Iraq. Those are the two things that, as a child, I felt like either my father might be conscripted or there may be a bomb at a train station. There was a real sense of unease. So it was very much in my consciousness; it was very much part of how I grew up.

When I started to look into it, I had had no idea the extent of the average person’s ignorance. We’ve been so censored by news sourcesnews broadcasting stations that I continue to trustbecause it was really impossible to report. Great political journalists, their hands were tied, because they were unable to report on the whole story. They couldn’t report on informers. And there was not only censorship but incredible bias [with] what we did receive. We received this very small portion of news. When I started to delve into it, I discovered so much more, as much as I possibly could. And then you do all the usual ports of call. So you read everything that you can, you watch every piece of footage that you can, you try and watch people talking about it and speaking about it. And then there’s a point where you just need to get on the ground. So I went to Belfast and spent a lot of time in Belfast. And then, as we were shooting, I would go back and forth to Belfast. We were shooting in Dublin, which was geographically very close but endlessly unhelpful because, as you know, the two places are politically and socially, and even economically, words apart as close as they are. So, we tried to remain in our little Belfast bubble. And I was kind of the carrier pigeon. I was almost like a messenger bringing authentic information back.

The script had been written by Tom Bradby, who’s a political journalist, a very brilliant one, and he had written a book called Shadow Dancer, which the film’s adapted from, which is a completely different beast, really. And when James offered me the rolehe’d sent me the scriptI sat on it for maybe a month. I wasn’t entirely sure about it, and that’s really because she was a situation more than anything else. Collette talked a lot in the script. She had a lot of dialogue, but I hadn’t had a sense of who she really was. The really interesting thing about her situation was just that, was the conflict of her situation. So James and I talked, and I liked him so well, and I held him in such high esteem as a filmmaker. He’s such an extraordinary filmmaker, and what I really like about his documentaries is that he just leaves the camera rolling for that second longer than you anticipate, and then you capture the subject questioning themselves just a second, or you see a little sad glimpse in their eyes. He has a very kind and gentle approach to documentary making that breeds that voyeurism. So, I was hoping that we could create that same thing with Colette, but what I needed to do was go and build an inner life for her. And the more time I spent in Belfast, the more I realized that we just really needed to be far more economic with the way that she spoke, and how much she spoke, and that her power was going to be in her silence. And so I suggested that to James, and daily we kind of chipped away at it. And James was totally on board. And Tom was totally on board, and it was a real collaboration in that sense, and that felt wonderful.

James Marsh noted how you would give him different nuances with each take. Is that something that you like to do, or is it that James’ manner of directing allows for that?

It’s just very natural, to live through a moment in a completely fresh way each time. If I were to ask you to sit there for five minutes, and I would just watch you, and then I come back, and I ask you to sit five minutes and watch you again, you wouldn’t do it the same. It’s that kind of natural response to any given situation. The more that you do it, things may be slightly different, elements may be slightly different. And James is very supportive of actors’ instincts. So he really cultivates that kind of environment where you feel that you can follow your instincts.

You’ve been performing since you were a kid. What inspired you to take up acting at such a young age?

Shakespeare was the first thing that I really got a bug for.

How did that happen?

Just through different avenues: school, seeing occasional bits of theater, seeing animated versions of Shakespeare on television. There was a beautiful animated series of Shakespeare on television in the ‘90s, maybe the late ‘80s, that was really mind blowing, really captured my imagination. Before that, though, really the first thing that I came to was film, and black and white film, especially in the afternoon, because in Britain, we used to have a lot of black and white films between maybe two p.m. and five p.m. And, as a child, before I went to schoolso say maybe three or whateverI would come back from playschool, and I remember seeing a lot of that on the television, being really captivated by that: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Bogart. Vague memories, glimpses, but that’s the first dramatic relationship that I ever had with anything, the first time that I saw drama or entertainment in any way that I remember being moved by, that I remember forming slightly the way I see the world. And then Shakespeare, yeah, later on at nine. [Laughs] The old age of nine. And then I was just in as many plays as I could be in, as many short films or student films, anything that I could be in. And the love for film and theater and all sorts of things. Literature and art, everything just continued. Music has been a huge part of my life. And then I ended up doing what I’m doing, really.

Was Venus your first feature film role?

My first job was playing Anna Wallace in something [Whatever Love Means] about Charles and Camilla, as in Prince Charles and Camilla. That was like a television film, and I was still at RADA. And then the second one was something [A Very Social Secretary] about David Blunkett, who was the home secretary in Britain, so it was a political thing. And then something else, and then a play, and then Venus for about two minutes. [Laughs] I had to run on and say something and then run off and cry, and open an envelope. And Peter O’Toole watched me. That was about the extent of my working relationship with Roger [Michell, director]. I hope to work with him again in a more full way, and I’m sure we will. But I was still at drama school, I think at the time, and it was a day’s work.

You were in the pilot for Being Human, but the show and your character, Annie, went on without you. Why was that?

I decided not to do it. It wasn’t for me. I really thought that it was going to be something that was almost like a dark comedy, because it was kind of written that way. What I loved about it was, it was a ghost, a werewolf and a vampire who just happened to have a flat sharewho were roommates. And it was so dry and so funny. When we were developing it, it was great. And then when I saw the pilot, I realized it just really wasn’t for me. It was something that was a bit more perhaps for a teenage market. It wasn’t as sophisticated humor as I’d hoped, and it became a little pop-y. However, it has great actors on it, and I did very much enjoy doing the pilot.

Having played Margaret Thatcher, what sort of impact did her recent death have on you?

It’s funny, I was less affected by it than I thought. Not because I was going to be. It’s very tricky, because there’s a family involved, and that must be terribly sad for them. For me, I had no affiliation with her at all. Politically, I thought she stank. I think she had a real fight on her hands to get where she got, but I don’t believe that her conviction was for the greater good as much as the good of what she believed to be great. So, my sympathy goes out to the family, but politically I wasn’t a fan. Who was? Reagan! That says it all.

You used to make short films?

I used to be in short films. I have my own film company, which is called Mother Sucker.

What can you tell us about your role in Birdman?

It’s about actors putting on a Raymond Carver adaptation of a short story called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. And it’s been a very funny process making it. It’s been so enjoyable. We’ve had so much fun. It’s a comedy, it’s dark. It’s Alejandro Iñárritu. You can imagine it’s going to be dark. My character is sexual, she has no filter. She’s from L.A. She operates in a very thin-level existence, although she has a lot of depth beneath her, and you get to see into that a couple of times, which is really satisfying and rewarding. She’s having a relationship with an older guy, Michael Keaton. And it’s been one of the most joyful experiences I’ve had on set for years. It’s been so much fun, and we were such an odd family, the whole cast. We were really an unusual mix. [Laughs]

And Hidden?

Hidden is a film that I made with Warner Bros., and it’s about a woman fighting for her family in kind of a mother swan way. It’s almost like a ferocious way that she has to fight for them, and I was really attracted to it, because it was a female-driven piece. I have no idea what they’ve done with it. I haven’t seen it. I don’t know if it will be that when it comes out. I can’t tell you what happens because it’ll spoil everything in the film [laughs], because it does exactly what it says on the tin, it is hidden. So, I can’t reveal anything.

Can you say with whom you’re sharing scenes?

There are only three people in the movie. It’s myself, Alexander Skarsgård, and Emily Alyn Lindwho is 10 or 11, she might be 11 nowwho plays our daughter.

Shadow Dancer currently is playing in theaters in select cities and is available on VOD. Click here for a list of cities and theaters.


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