Anyone tracking Andrea Riseborough’s career will notice a certain tendency to tackle dark material. That was certainly the case for “Here Before,” an unsettling thriller about a woman who comes to believe the reincarnated spirit of her daughter has moved in next door.
“It’s a huge mountain to climb, the journey of knowing what it’s like to have a grown child pass away,” she told IndieWire during a recent interview. “Stepping into what that might be like for a couple of months while making the film was certainly very difficult. It’s actually quite a lonely experience.”
But she quickly moved on to the next project — and the next one after that, and the next one after that. In total, Riseborough has completed seven films since pandemic shutdowns started in 2020. She only stopped working for three months. “In some ways, I feel safer at work than anywhere else,” she said. “But it’s definitely not been easy.”
The pandemic inspired her to think about the potential of small-scale productions that were complementary to the new restrictions in play. “I’ve been watching and rewatching a lot of cinema and recorded theater, which is set in a more contained space, maybe because world’s gotten so much smaller,” she said. “I found myself watching Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’ not too long ago. He’s a big example of a filmmaker who made a lot of films in very small spaces even though he had access to huge amounts of funding. His films were quite contained and affordable in many ways — other than their stars.”
In terms of more recent work, Riseborough said she appreciated Joe Mantello’s single-location adaptation of Broadway hit “The Boys in the Band” for Netflix (“so intimate and strange than if he’d cut away to their lives”) as well as Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s Oscar submission “Compartment No. 6,” an odd couple story almost exclusively set on a moving train. It inspired her to work with the director on his yet-to-be-announced new project. “When you watch his films, they just sing, they’re so full of character and purity and fun,” she said.
Riseborough works at such a rapid-fire pace that it can be tricky to see how it all fits together. But it’s the edgy, lo-fi work she does with nascent directors that explain her impulses more than higher-profile gigs like “Matilda” and her upcoming role in David O. Russell’s untitled new movie. “The thing that has always interested me about film is auteurs,” she said. “I’ve always been drawn to those filmmakers. I just think it’s very exciting when you see a filmmaker who has real integrity who’s perhaps not yet getting those same opportunities that some other veterans have. it’s a very exciting time to be working with people when it’s formative.”
Her role in Mike Leigh’s melancholic comedy “Happy-Go-Lucky” inspired her director-first mentality. “He’s the cornerstone of integrity,” Riseborough said. “He’s chosen to assume this one path and he’s very passionate about that. He’s also quite funny about what he thinks is crap. He’s not afraid to not like things.”
With 2018’s “Nancy,” Riseborough launched her own production company, Mother Sucker, and continues to focus on supporting young women filmmakers. That includes “Here Before” director Stacey Gregg, who makes her debut in the bare-bones project, as well as Amanda Kramer, whose dreamy sex musical-comedy “Please Baby Please” premiered on the festival circuit last month. “There are a whole bunch of things that factor into what I do,” she said. “There’s paying your bills, but also trying to maintain some integrity, some sort of moral code. And then our own personal taste.”
But there’s one arena that no longer calls to her. Two years after she starred in the latest entry in “The Grudge” franchise, Riseborough said she has no interest in returning to the horror genre. “I know that there’s a huge fan base for it, a big market, loads of people who are very passionate about it,” the actress said. “But it’s definitely not my cup of tea.”
That admission may come as a surprise for anyone who has tracked Riseborough’s penchant for playing disoriented women at the center of tense psychological thrillers, from the kidnapping trauma of “Nancy” to Nicolas Cage’s ill-fated forest wife in “Mandy” and disturbing epistemological sci-fi “Possessor.” “Here Before,” follows a similar disturbing trajectory, with Riseborough cast as a grieving mother who becomes convinced her reincarnated child has returned to her. But Riseborough placed all of these projects in a different context.
“Tarkovsky and Kubrick were formative for me, as was Bergman,” she said. “But as far as the psychologically taxing situations go, I have to be sparing about how many of those do.” After “Mandy” and “Nancy” both premiered at Sundance in 2018, “suddenly, I was just offered so many of these horror films,” she said. “I realized it’s just not for me, that particular world.”
For the lo-fi “Here Before,” which premiered in competition at SXSW last year, Riseborough said she was less invested in genre touchstones — though her character’s unsteady subjectivity has serious “Vertigo” vibes — than the emotional struggles at hand. “It’s quite a singular perspective of somebody who’s imaginatively wrapped up their grief,” she said, citing Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” as an influence on her performance. “To her, it’s all very real as she creates an otherworldly set of circumstances, joining all sorts of dots in the wrong way to reconnect with this thing she’s lost.”
Riseborough also recently acted opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in last year’s somber character study “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain,” and stars in “To Leslie” as a single Texas mother who attempts to put her life back together after spending all the money she wins in the lottery. All that heavy stuff meant that “Matilda” came as a welcome catharsis. “I’m a trained dancer, and that hasn’t been at the forefront of my career,” she said. “It was really hard work that required so much commitment in terms of skills I haven’t used.”
She laughed. “It’s so good to have some balance,” she said. “I can maybe do one psychological thriller per year.”
“Here Before” is now available on VOD.