Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough and James Marsh at a NY screening of Magnolia Pictures' "Shadow Dancer" hosted by The Cinema Society & BlackBerry.
Nick Hunt/Patrick McMullan Co. Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough and James Marsh at a NY screening of Magnolia Pictures' "Shadow Dancer" hosted by The Cinema Society & BlackBerry.

This time last year, few audiences knew of British star Andrea Riseborough by name. Prior to appearing at Sundance in January, 2012 in support of her staggering performance in James Marsh's IRA thriller "Shadow Dancer," the 31-year-old Royal Academy of Dramatic Art graduate had appeared as a scene-stealing supporting player in "Happy-Go-Lucky," "Never Let Me Go," "Made in Dagenham" and "Brighton Rock," as well as Wallis Simpson (aka the Duchess of Windsor) in Madonna's "W.E." But it wasn't until this spring's Tom Cruise-starring sci-fi blockbuster "Oblivion" that many moviegoers finally got their Riseborough fix. Her revelatory performance as Cruise's mysterious romantic and work partner was more transfixing than the bulk of CGI wonders on display.

In "Shadow Dancer" (out this Friday) Riseborough is afforded one of her most challenging roles to date as Collette McVeigh, an active member in the IRA longing to get out. She gets the chance to do just that when she comes in contact with MI5 officer Mac (Clive Owen), who wants her to work as an informant -- or else she goes to prison and never sees her son again.

Below is an interview conducted with Riseborough the day following the Sundance premiere of "Shadow Dancer."

Shadow Dancer

So my first and most pressing question: how tired are you?

On a scale of 'not' to 'tired,' I’d say I’m about an 8.

An 8?

I think I’ve got two left in me (laughs).

This past year’s been a total whirlwind for you. You’ve been promoting Madonna’s film all over the States and the UK for the Weinstein PR machine, all while shooting what seems like an endless stream of projects. And now you’re here! What’s this whole ride been like for you?

It’s something that’s familiar to me in the sense that I’ve done it in Europe for a long time. And certainly it’s much newer for me here. So I’m used to it in one sense, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to be completely used to it. It’s an extraordinary situation, in the sense that you sit and talk to people like yourself who you only have a connection with for a moment, and then life goes on and you never see them again. You talk about something that you’re incredibly passionate about and you do that perhaps, you know, 50 times in a day.

I think the other thing is, when you talk about something that you’re very passionate about, after the fact, you so enjoy letting go of it and analyzing it. And you want to discuss something new every time you have a conversation about it because it’s very close to your heart. So I never wanted to cut off and be remote about it, if you know what I mean.

Was Wallis Simpson close to your heart?

Of course, of course.

More so than other roles?

I wouldn’t say more so. I think every character is. They have to be or really you shouldn’t be playing them (laughs).

Both Wallis in “W.E.” and Collette McVeigh in “Shadow Dancer” are incredibly strong-willed women. But whereas Wallace is fiercely outspoken, Colette seems to internalize everything.

They’re in two very different situations, really. I think that’s the reason that they express themselves in the way that they do.

Shadow Dancer Andrea Riseborough

Now you didn’t go from shooting “W.E.” to “Shadow Dancer,” did you?

No, I didn’t. After “W.E.,” I filmed “Resistance.” Then I filmed something else in Los Angeles and then I filmed “Shadow Dancer,” and then after that I filmed “Welcome to the Punch” and then “Disconnect,” and now I’m doing the Tom Cruise film.

It’s funny because they often don’t come out sequentially. And then you’re revisiting something that you filmed two years ago and then you’re revisiting something that you just finished. So that is odd. There was no marked transition from one to the other.

What about “Shadow Dancer” appealed to you?

The situation is the first thing that appealed to me because the role, the way that we developed the character, was something that James [Marsh] and I collaborated on. And James is totally wonderful to work with. He has a very brilliant mind and he’s incredibly supportive and he’s just full of empathy. It was really, really wonderful. We had a great time.

It was hard and harrowing, of course. The subject matter’s not breezy. There are no moments of frivolity, but there’s a lot of love and a lot of hope. So it was the situation that the character was in and the situation that she’s in. She’s really trapped by the thing she’s trying to protect, which is her family. And her political beliefs have led her quite far away from her very young son. She’s a very young mother and she’s really fighting for her own and for her son’s life. I think that’s really as much as I can say without ruining anything.

Given that you lived through the bit of history this film depicts, how close is the project to you?

Before I came to the project it was certainly part of my life because I’m British and it's a formative part of my upbringing. Did I understand it or have an emotional connection with it more than I do now? Certainly not. As you know, because you’re the expert on this, when you research into anything, it takes a pretty short time before you realize that you’ve either been fed many lies or there’s a public perception of demonization -- manufactured truths. It was a really, really fascinating and valuable experience working on this film. Truly fascinating.