Andrea Riseborough doesn’t get starstruck, and it’s not surprising. In just twelve short years the 36-year-old British actress has amassed a wealth of top-tier credentials and worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. It also makes her incredibly charming, even when a humble interviewer such as myself completely butchers her date of birth during an interview for her new movie, Battle of the Sexes. When not kindly correcting me on my math skills Riseborough talked about her role in the Emma Stone tennis drama, working with Peter O’Toole and wondering why she hasn’t been asked to voice an animated film.
We’re seeing a rise in stories set in the 1970s this year. Being a Brit who wasn’t born when the “battle of the sexes” took place, how did that affect how you approached the script?
I’ve been calling it a fairy tale allegory for the election.
You’ve played Wallis Simpson, Margaret Thatcher and now your character in this, Marilyn Barnett. Is there an appeal to playing a real-life figure versus one created from someone’s imagination, and is there a distinction in how you approach each?
Not only are you working with limited resources, but you also create a character who doesn’t fall into supportive girlfriend tropes like we’ve seen in other films.
In just twelve years you’ve worked in nearly every genre. What attracts you to a project?
Is there a genre you haven’t work in that you’d like to?
For me it was the Little Mermaid so I understand!
Right, I wanted to be Ursula or Eric. I never really wanted to be the Mermaid.
We need to get you into an animated film ASAP!
I’ve been knocking on doors for quite some time now. I’m no good for one of those because you’ve gotta have one of those voices that’s so recognizable in every character you play. I could totally understand why I haven’t been cast in one because I’d want to play a hundred different characters and no one would know it was me. I can’t see it working.
You’ve worked with so many amazing directors before this. What was it like working with Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, especially compared to the likes of Inarritu, Madonna and Tom Ford?
I tend not to compare them because they’re apples and oranges. Everyone has their own style. Jon and Val are seamlessly in tune. They’re so sweet and when I met them I knew straightaway that they knew what an important and timely story they had in their hands with Battle of the Sexes. They were so respectful with it and took such great initiative, and gave it all of their heart. When I watch it…there are parts of it that are hysterical and parts of it that are really sad. They approach every character with love which is what’s so special about Jon and Val. You find compassion for every single person in that film.
Playing Marilyn puts you in the center of a predominately female cast. Do you feel there’s a difference working opposite all women versus being the lone female in a male production?
Yeah, it just never happens. I mean it happened once before; I made a movie called Made in Dagenham which was about an equally important group of women who paved the way for legislation of equal pay in Great Britain, but it was also undocumented in terms of not being in the history books. I have an all-female film company called Mother Sucker. Ultimately I just want everything in the world to be all-female because we need to give women more opportunities and redress the balance of it, that’s all. I went to Pixar today and they said they’re 15-20% women and I said, “Oh, that’s interesting. How many did you have when you started?” [and they said] “Oh, none. We were a very small company.”
You’ve got such a great slate of titles coming out over the next few months including the Waco miniseries. What’s it’s been like to jump from so many different projects?
I can’t comment on Waco because I haven’t seen it yet, but what I am doing as well is The Death of Stalin. It’s a beautiful movie and a ruthless comedy. Svetlana Stalin was a very interesting character.
We know Disney had an impact but were there other films or performers you were inspired by growing up that made you want to become an actress?
I never really wanted to be an actor; I wanted to be everything else and that’s why I became an actor. Acting just kinda fit the bill because I can be everything, have a thousand different jobs. I didn’t idolize someone growing up. There are things that have changed my life. Tarkovsky changed my life; Gene Kelly’s dancing changed my life; Eugene McDaniel changed my life; Jermaine Greer changed my life. I loved watching Peter Sellers; I loved watching Peter Ustinov; I loved watching all the Peters – Peter Cooke, Peter O’Toole.
Peter O’Toole was the first person I ever did a scene with in a movie. It was he and I, and it was a Roger Michell movie called Venus. I was still in drama school at the time and I had to run in, burst into tears and run out. I just remember Roger being so kind and respectful of this thing I had to do. I couldn’t quite believe it; I spent three years at RADA [The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] crying every five minutes on demand. Somebody picked me up in quite a nice car in the morning and I went to the set, put a bunch of white makeup on and a white wig. People were very nice to me, and feed me because I hadn’t eaten in three days because I was in drama school. The Peter O’Toole part of it was “there he was.” Just like every other person who you meet in real life who you think “Oh my goodness, I’ve seen him so many times.” I’ve never had that glamorous relationship with meeting people in real life.
I need to use that mentality because I almost sobbed in front of Julie Andrews one time.
That’s so not who I am. There would be no sobbing. Sometimes I get mesmerized by people, I think that’s fascinating. We’re such funny animals, aren’t we? Our hierarchy, you can’t even explain it if you’ve tried. And don’t feel bad about crying when Julie Andrews talks to you; I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
Battle of the Sexes hits theaters today.