Most recently cast opposite Tom Cruise in the futuristic sci-fi thriller Oblivion, the talented Andrea Riseborough has appeared in such diverse films as Happy Go Lucky, Made in Dagenham and W.E.
In Shadow Dancer, Riseborough joins Clive Owen in a dramatic thriller set in 1990s Belfast. As an active member of the IRA, Riseborough’s Collette McVeigh becomes an informant for MI5 after being arrested for an aborted IRA bomb plot in London. The single mother is offered two choices: lose her son and face a 25-year prison sentence or return to Belfast to spy on her own family.
In this one-on-one interview, Riseborough provides some insights about her role in Shadow Dancer and the variety of roles that make up her remarkable body of work.
Shadow Dancer is an immensely powerful film. What attracted you to the role of Collette?
Andrea Riseborough: Director James Marsh sent me the script. He offered me the role and I sat on it for months. I was such a fan of his work. He’s such an extraordinary filmmaker. We talked two or three times before I finally accepted the role. It’s not because I wasn’t interested in the situation. I was. The situation was the thing that drew me to the script, but I needed to research and do the groundwork to figure out exactly what Collette’s inner life was. Originally, in the beginning, the script was Collette talking a lot throughout the piece. But the more time I spent in Belfast, the more I realized that for authenticity’s sake, so that we don’t misrepresent the people, her strength must be in her silence. I felt that was something valuable that I could bring to Collette. And James and Tom (Bradby) were really on board with that. It was a really enjoyable collaboration that way.
You’re known for exhaustively researching your characters. How did you prepare for the complex role of an IRA terrorist and single mother?
AR: Spending time there. Exercising empathy. The wonderful thing about working with James is that he’s a very gentle, very kind person with a very, very brilliant mind and wonderful instincts. He is so interested in allowing you just to be led by yours (instinct). So as Collette developed, it was very natural in everything that we found out about her—that she was stronger than we originally thought. Because, as I said in the beginning, she was only a situation. She wasn’t really fully formed.
What do you regard as Collette’s greatest strength, and her greatest weakness?
AR: Her greatest strength is her keen sense of self. And her greatest weakness is not knowing who she is.
There are so many emotionally charged scenes in Shadow Dancer, scenes that have no dialogue. How do you get into the mindset to convey so much, often without saying a word?
AR: That was my suggestion. People have asked me that a lot, saying it must have been so hard, but if it was hard, I brought it on myself. I thought it was really valuable, that it fit. The thing I love about James’ documentary style is that he always leaves the camera running that second longer, so that you see someone talking about something with great conviction, then you also see the moment afterward, where they just morally question themselves. And he really lets you into peoples’ self-doubt, longing and sadness in those moments. And I was hoping that we’d be able to use his talents to capture those moments. In making Shadow Dancer, I feel we really managed to achieve that—in my silence, and in his peering almost voyeuristically into Collette’s soul through her eyes.
What do you think audiences should take away from Shadow Dancer?
AR: I find that question possibly the most difficult to answer—always with every character. And that’s because, as an actor, your relationship with the film goes from being very subjective to then having to be very objective, in talking about it after the fact. As you know, it was never really my job, it was James’. So I also feel like I’m treading on toes if I answer it. I just really don’t have one thing that I think anyone should take away from it.
You have a remarkably diverse body of work. How do you pick your roles?
AR: I look for real people, not half beings like most women are in scripts. In a way, Collette was a blank canvas. Her situation was so fraught, but then the exciting thing was her inner life, which I was to develop and bring to her. So she was slightly different. I suppose I look for the opportunity to create a whole person. Sometimes it’s already there on the page and sometimes it’s not.
You once said that if you weren’t an actress, you like to be an author. What types of novels would you write?
AR: I have no idea (laughs). I should probably form a plan just in case all of this goes tits up. I love both fact and fiction. I think I’d be really interested in both, actually.
What was it like being in a sci-fi film like Oblivion?
AR: The two elements that attracted me were Tom (Cruise) and Joe (Kosinski). I read the script on a flight from Idaho to L.A. and ended up in Tom Cruise’s house. Tom, Joe and I talked, and we felt instinctively that it was going to be a wonderful artistic experience. And it proved to be. Vicky was in such a difficult situation because she was trapped inside a box, yet very happy to be there. It’s funny because she was probably the most hopeful character in the piece because she’s the one that was so looking forward to what the apocalypse was going to bring to her life. She couldn’t wait to get to Titan and start a family with Jack.
You used to like watching black & white movies—what was one of your favorites?
AR: Key Largo.
What can you tell me about your upcoming projects—namely Birdman and Hidden?
AR: Birdman was just a fantastic thing to film. I had so much fun. Alejandro Iñárritu wrote and is directing it. It’s about a group of actors putting on an adaptation of a Carver short story, “What we talk about when we talk about love.” It was really like filming a play and we had so much fun. The character is very sexual. She has no filters. She just wants to sleep with anything standing, male or female. She’s from L.A. and she operates on a very thin level of existence. But she has a lot beneath the surface, untapped, and we get to see that in the film, which is really challenging and enjoyable. I loved working with the cast members–Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Zach Galifianakis.
Hidden is a film by Warner Brothers about a family in an extraordinary situation. I can’t really divulge too much because, you would guess, as the name suggests, I might ruin the film. What attracted me to that film was a strong female protagonist who was almost like a mother swan protecting her family. I have no idea how it turned out or what they’ve done with it so far. There was a screening the other night, but it’s still in the edit.