British actress Andrea Riseborough is in the midst of a whirlwind. For the first time the actress has broke into American audiences, and is now in demand by seemingly everyone on every level of the playing field. Starting her career as a theater actress, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art graduate has been a silent driving force in several projects over the last two years. These projects range in material and stature, but Riseborough always has an effective presence on screen. Her supporting roles include Never Let Me Go, Madonna’s W.E., and Brighton Rock. However, Riseborough really rose to another level of notoriety this spring when she starred opposite Tom Cruise in the sci-fi blockbuster Oblivion. Playing the complex role of both Cruise’s romantic partner and co-worker, Riseborough managed to cut through the CGI and get down to the heart of her character’s arc.
In Shadow Dancer she returns to independent film for an emotionally-driven role playing Collette, an IRA republican who’s arrested after getting caught in a London bombing gone awry. A single mother, Collette has to choose between losing everything by being imprisoned or to return to Belfast to spy on her family for the MI5. With a plot that acts more as a psychological conflict, one would expect an overtly emotional performance, but Riseborough remains understated in the silent moments of James Marsh’s frame. Not only is she a striking lead, but Riseborough does something not most can do this early on, she finds the power to engage through wordless emotion.
The Inquisitr’sNiki Cruz spoke with Andrea Riseborough about Shadow Dancer, blockbuster films, and showing emotion.
THE INQUISITR: In Shadow Dancer did you read the book that the film is based on prior to taking on the role?
ANDREA RISEBOROUGH: The film and the book are very different beasts. We discovered that the book was unhelpful, especially as an actor. Essentially you start playing two different people because the character in the screenplay is adapted just for that purpose. There are some traits of the character that don’t translate in a film. There are others that the character doesn’t have in the book that the character may need in the film. For the purposes of our piece it was entirely unhelpful for us to read the book. However, Tom Bradby who wrote the book and the screenplay was with us at every turn.
THE INQUISITR: How was it mapping out your character’s emotional journey?
RISEBOROUGH: When I first came to the script Collette was more a situation than a purpose and she talked an awful lot. I had no idea about who she really was, so after the academic research and then into the archival footage the thing that I needed to do was get on the ground. So I went to Belfast, and stayed there before we started to shoot the film. Then her inner life became very clear to me. The power of the potential silence for Colette became very clear to me. It’s really interesting that the only way the audience can figure out exactly where she stands is through her eyes.
THE INQUISITR: People talk about the mysteries of the movie. What is her real feeling with Mac [Clive Owen], what is her feeling about betraying her family? Did you chart her journey before you started?
RISEBOROUGH: I think one of the most enjoyable and unique things about the film is that each audience member can have their own relationship with what Collette’s truth is. For me to talk which could be endless, about the millions of things that she was feeling in each different moment, is interesting but in a sense it happened, it was what it was. It’s an obstacle in the way of letting an audience have a relationship with the piece of art. It’s just a slice of somebody else’s life.
THE INQUISITR: Did you try to apply this moral dilemma to yourself?
RISEBOROUGH: Inside of that world once I was there, I didn’t then step back out of it and say, “How would I feel?” You just have to submit and feel. There was no remove in that way. It’s kind of a difficult thing to explain how to get into character. It’s not like you sit down with a whole list of checkpoints, purely because emotions don’t work that way as we all know. It’s so difficult to rein your emotions in and to keep control of them. Emotional memory forms you as a person so much, to separate myself from the character would have been detrimental and I just had to feel how it would be. I met lots of people that could have been her, and the empathy that I found for them was extraordinarily helpful.
THE INQUISITR: Is this the approach you always take?
RISEBOROUGH: No it’s different every time. With each character it’s instinctive. You get a feeling for what’s appropriate with each character. You have to forget what you do know. I think the thing is not to waste time on attempting to know things that aren’t useful. For example, you’re playing a 13-year-old girl in Russia, why read every facet of Russian politics of that time? The girl doesn’t know every facet. Who are her parents affiliated to? What are their jobs? What do they talk about in the house? How biased are they? What has she heard? Those are important things – they’re valid, and they’re relative.
THE INQUISITR: You were recently in a huge blockbuster film Oblivion, and you’ve had your share of independent films. As far as the experiences on set, do they differ?
RISEBOROUGH: They’re so similar. Surprisingly similar because we have 35 people or 350 people going crazy or with a different agenda, they’re two things you’re worrying about — time and money. You would think there would be more of those things on a bigger budget movie but there’s not because you have seven times as many people. The other similarity is apart from the problems is the solution. If you work with a great director, and with great actors, the point is to always try to preserve that sacred space in which you remember why the hell you’re doing it, and you create something great rather getting caught up in the hubbub and fail to achieve the emotional crux in the story.
THE INQUISITR: Are you filming something new? Your look is radically different than Shadow Dancer.
RISEBOROUGH: I just finished a movie with Alejandro Inarritu here in New York, called Birdman. That’s with Michael Keaton, who I would say is the lead, but it’s a real ensemble piece and it’s with Naomi Watts, Ed Norton, Zach Galifinakis, and Emma Stone. It’s a film about many things but the sort of basic story is that some actors are putting on a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver short stories.
THE INQUISITR: How did you prepare for that role?
RISEBOROUGH: Laura is very sexual, and has no filter. She’s from Los Angeles, and it was great fun to play her. In terms of having to go into theater and research, I’ve been doing that since I was nine [LAUGHS].
THE INQUISITR: But the idea of playing a theater person in a movie is there a different style that you had to adapt to?
RISEBOROUGH: I don’t want to give you too many spoilers so I’m not going to talk about that. The difference for me was that she was somebody who hadn’t worked in the theater before. You’ll see how it all comes together.
THE INQUISITR: Do your characters stay with you after a film finishes?
RISEBOROUGH: Yes. I think they all do. It’s very difficult to forget things and the same goes with characters. If you felt something, or learned a certain amount about whatever or whoever it is, then it does live with you. That’s not to say that you adopt their ideas. I’ve played Margaret Thatcher and I have no affiliation with her political beliefs. She stank politically. The information will always live on.
SHADOW DANCER IS IN THEATERS IN LIMITED RELEASE TODAY.