Hometown: Whitley Bay, England
Why She’s On Our Radar: Andrea Riseborough might be a familiar face for some. The English full-lipped beauty turned heads for her brassy turn in last year’s “Made in Dagenham,” had a small part in Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” and garnered a bevvy of acclaim for her BAFTA TV Award nominated turn as the title character in the TV film “Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley.” This year the RADA graduate is poised to break out in a big way. First up, she butts heads with Helen Mirren as a doomed waitress in “Brighton Rock” and later this fall she stars as Wallis Simpson (aka the Duchess of Windsor) in Madonna’s anticipated “W.E.,” which world premieres at the upcoming Venice Film Festival and then in Toronto.
What’s Next: Lots. She’s wrapped production on “Resistance” opposite Michael Sheen and James Marsh’s “Shadow Dancer,” which stars Clive Owen and Gillian Anderson. Later this year, she’ll begin work on Joe Wright’s take on “Anna Karenina,” starring Keira Knightley and scripted by Tom Stoppard.
iW spoke to Riseborough from the set of “Welcome to the Punch,” in which she stars alongside James McAvoy and Mark Strong.
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You don’t come from a family of actors. What got you first interested in the craft?
I just had this kind of love affair with that guy William Shakespeare. It happened at a really young age.
What I responded to were the stories, the verse and the fact that one man who could be so many people. I just thought that the universal nature of all that he was, was something totally unique. It was the first thing that was really rang true to me, in that way.
That happened to me really early, when I was about nine. I certainly don’t pretend that I understood all of the pentameter when I was nine. I didn’t.
As time went on I realized the stories weren’t his. They were Greek most of them. But I also was very aware it wasn’t just the story, it was the great humanity with which he told them. I certainly didn’t idolize him in any way. I was just set alight by Shakespeare.
Actually, much before I discovered Shakespeare, black-and-white movies and the TV [served as inspirations]. I don’t know about you guys in the U.S., but I know in England it used to be a huge trend to put two black-and-white movies on in the afternoon during weekdays. If they were on, I’d catch them. I’d be mesmerized by them and wanting to climb into the TV.
My interest was just a response to something. They say children at a very young age respond to monochrome, don’t they?
You went on to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before your career really took flight. I read that you took a break after graduating from high school to begin your studies at RADA. What did you learn during that time away from acting?
I was quite young. From about 17 to 20 or 19, I didn’t do anything for a year-and-a-half. Those formative years are for you to explore the world and more importantly, your place in it. Sometimes you need to break away from something in order to know how much you need or want it.
I moved out of home. I got my first flat. I started working and then that was it. I had all sorts of different jobs – that really hadn’t been the plan for me, in terms of schooling. I felt like that was somebody else’s plan, not my plan. So I abandoned them and took up on my own.
[And], it gave me a greater perspective. When I went to drama school, I was so ready. I got a lot of stuff out of my system in many ways. I think when many people go to drama school, or college, they go and it’s like their first time they have independence – get to party – put bread in a toaster. I didn’t have to do any of that while I was at RADA because I had been self-sufficient for such a long time. Being in London wasn’t overwhelming. I was just ready, I felt ready.
What did you take away from RADA?
Huge amounts. The thing about RADA is that…Well how can I speak for the drama school? All I know is that, at RADA we had a training that I felt was incredibly well rounded. It didn’t spread itself so thinly that you were just dabbling. We really circled into every little different nuance, technique and style. It was very much practical. It’s a place to lose the intellectual and gain a playfulness, that you find so hard to reconnect with, especially after you go through puberty.
Puberty is an extremely traumatic process even if you don’t realize it. It kind of lives with you for like 10 years.
How long did it take you to start landing jobs out of school?
I did my first three film jobs while I was still at RADA. They can’t create a film set for you, so they encourage you to work toward the end if it’s a nice thing that might pay you well. They know you’re coming out of there penniless.
Were you selective when starting out, or did you just take what came to you? I’m guessing you had a plan of sorts.
I have no plan. I’m plan-less! What I am is picky. Which is a different ‘p.’ It sounds like a negative thing. I’ve always been quite happy to be discerning I suppose.
What was it about the doomed Rose in “Brighton Rock” that appealed to you? The character is such a departure the feisty factory worker you played in “Made in Dagenham.”
The strength. Bravery. She’s a fascinating dichotomy, that Rose. Externally, she’s extremely vulnerable, timid and almost electrically nervous. Internally she’s probably one of the most brave, fearless, strong, people in the film.
It’s so hard to get to know what the core of [who] somebody is. This period in Rose’s life is the most exciting period she’s ever have. People often say to me, “Oh poor Rose.” Objectively I understand why they would say that. But she’s not bemoaning her state at all. It’s all-relative. This is the most exciting time of her life.
Next up audiences will see you as Wally Simpson in Madonna’s anticipated second feature “W.E.” How did you come on to the project?
I can remember which way it happened, but I can’t remember what the words were. I got a call saying that she’d seen “Margaret Thatcher.”
I read the script and I thought it was really something quite unique. It has these two different stories in it. When I read it was almost like I was interested objectively in the film intellectually from a woman’s perspective. In terms of Wallace, I think so little needs to be said. We all know what a phenomenally unique woman she was.
[Madonna and I] chatted over tea and then worked together. Really from the outset I felt that we were very complicit. We had this artistic complicity about the project. When she expressed to me her passion for the Duchess’s story and really getting into what she believes to be the truth (and making that into something that was a piece of art), I was just even more excited.
You probably get this all the time, but I have to ask…what’s it like working for the Material Girl?
I never really know how to answer that question because I approached it like working with any director. For example when I worked with Peter Hall, from being a little whee thing I heard tale after tale about what he would be like. I didn’t know what he was going to be as man. I just know that when I met him I fell in love with him. The same with Mike Leigh. And the same with Madonna. It was like knowing I was going to work with a new director.
I can’t really explain it better than that. That’s how I felt. To meet somebody, you can never tell who they’re going to be, what kind of artist they’re going to be. I was excited about working with a new director and it was great working with a female director. I’ve worked with so few female directors. It was a very refreshing to tell a story about an incredible woman and have an incredible woman take your hand and lead you through that.
“Brighton Rock” opens in limited release on August 26th through IFC Films in the U.S.