Of all the snubs and surprises among the 95th Academy Award nominations, there was one that united most in a collective shock: Andrea Riseborough’s best actress nomination for her role as the title character in Momentum Pictures’ To Leslie.
Directed by Michael Morris from a screenplay by Ryan Binaco (inspired by his own relationship with his mother), To Leslie follows a woman who, many years after winning a $100,000-plus lottery jackpot, is estranged from her family and caught in the throes of addiction. When she shows up on her now-grown son’s doorstep — only to immediately cause conflict with her binge drinking — she returns to her childhood home to reckon with the past and the people she has hurt, and to get her life back on track.
While the indie film had been absent from Oscar precursors and the awards race at large, it gained momentum just ahead of the Oscar nominations voting window thanks to a social media campaign that saw A-listers like Edward Norton, Jennifer Aniston, Susan Sarandon and Zooey Deschanel tweet their endorsements of the film. Norton and Aniston also hosted screenings of the film, as did Charlize Theron and Sarah Paulson.
While that celebrity support no doubt influenced Academy voters to consider To Leslie’s central performance, Riseborough herself says that receiving the best actress nomination says just as much about the power of her film as it does about her performance. Just hours after hearing the news of her Oscar nom, Riseborough spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the significance of the movie and why capturing the attention and appreciation of her acting peers is so important for her.
Were you watching the livestream of the nominations announcement? There were a lot of cheers in the room when your name was called.
No, I wasn’t. My partner was watching it, and I was busying myself — sorting out socks, or looking for a sock, you know, just sort of taking my mind off of it. For the most part, [I thought that] this would not happen. It’s very difficult to imagine, considering that we’ve not really been in the running for the other previous [awards] ceremonies, and they all tend to go hand in hand.
What does this nomination mean for both you as an actor and for the film itself?
I’ll address the film first, because I think that’s the massive win. So many more people than we anticipated are going to actually have access to the film, and I hope it brings only good things in terms of being able to see it. It’s a beautiful film. It’s shot on film, and I think it’s a very simple, pure story about somebody who’s very magnetic and hugely self-destructive. People seem to have just connected so deeply with it. I’ve actually not been in this position before — not just the position that you and I are talking about today. (Laughs.) So many people have shared deeply personal things after having seen it. [We’ve had] so many personal connections with the audience. It’s fantastic that people are going to be able to connect with that on a much larger scale. And for me, it’s such warmth to feel the support of my community, which at the end of the day, is what we all aspire for. I think in whichever industry we’re in, it’s a marker of achievement when the people you admire appreciate something you’ve been part of.
Was this a challenging role for you? The character requires you to be very raw and vulnerable.
From the moment that I read the script, I felt very much like I knew who she was if I were to play it. I do feel like each piece is a challenge for a different reason. And for this, I think, the most challenging thing was spending such a good deal of time without hope. Leslie’s really battling with that internally, and the isolation was no picnic. The creative experience was such that we became such a well-oiled machine, because we had so little time. We were shooting on film, and that gave us all sorts of different constraints. We knew we didn’t have too many takes, and there was a sense of total commitment from every crewmember, every castmember, in order to be able to realize the film.
You brought up the attention you’ve received from your peers. So many talented, A-list actors came out and endorsed the film in the past few weeks — not just bringing it to audiences’ awareness, but also helping you achieve this honor. Is there anyone in particular whose support was especially meaningful?
That list is endless, and it’s almost embarrassing to talk about. I’m still in a bit of a state of dissociation with all of that, to be honest. I’m aware it’s happened but … the support has been astounding and baffling. Maybe not everyone’s driven by this, but for me, that’s very important — being accepted by a community as an equal, to be doing things and have them be seen and appreciated. It’s important that we celebrate each other’s work; very, very important.
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It’s completely taken me aback.
Interview edited for length and clarity.