After her surprise Oscar nomination for Best Actress, Andrea Riseborough has kept a low profile, skipping out on the Oscar nominees luncheon earlier this week, and the London Critics Circle Film Awards last week. She has a built-in excuse, as she is working on The Palace, an upcoming limited series for HBO starring Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant, but you kind of have to think she’d be showing her face a little more—in the UK, where The Palace is filming, if nowhere else—were it not for the controversy that blew up around her Oscar nod.
But now, she is speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in a new cover profile, arranged after her nomination but before the blowback, and conducted after everything went sideways. Riseborough has to walk an impossible tightrope. She can’t really express enjoyment of her nomination, and is obviously conflicted about the whole thing.
The interview, conducted by Seth Abramovitch, goes with a “she’s just here for the work” angle, which is supported both by Riseborough’s To Leslie co-star, Marc Maron, who says, “…she’s in it for the work, dude. I mean, if that’s not clear from this woman’s career — that she’s the real deal and she does it for the work — then you’re not looking at her correctly.”
And yeah, Riseborough’s CV backs that up. Her IMDb is not littered with mainstream projects. She’s often a supporting player in higher-profile films, such as Oblivion, Birdman, and Amsterdam, or the lead in offbeat and/or artistic efforts like Please Baby Please and Madonna’s W.E. She’s not a household name, and nothing about her career path suggests she’s trying to become one. So it is fair to say “she’s here for the work”. To Leslie is a classic case of that, a no-budget indie drama shot in less than three weeks, the kind of movie for which no one makes any money or expects fame.
The initial intention of this interview was likely to draw attention to the against-all-odds path of Riseborough and To Leslie to the Oscars, but because of the controversy around how she got nominated—and who didn’t get nominated because of it—the interview is halfway a typical trajectory trace for the star of the “little film that could”, and halfway an attempt to soothe the hullabaloo surrounding Riseborough. The article does note that the Academy investigation didn’t find any wrongdoing worthy of disqualification (they were never going to disqualify her). Academy president Bill Kramer issued a statement: “We did discover social media and outreach campaigning tactics that caused concern. These tactics are being addressed with the responsible parties directly.”
The rules are probably going to get tweaked for next year, and that’s that. What I find a little disingenuous, though, is how this article, and The Discourse, in general, continues to play it off as a mere grassroots campaign that got the better of the big, rich studios, and everyone got mad (Marc Maron espouses this theory). That might be part of it, but THAT IS NOT ALL OF IT. The issue isn’t studios versus indies, it’s the about the privilege Riseborough was able to leverage with her powerful, connected, white friends and colleagues, and how that simply does not exist for Black actors and creatives. But you can feel the desperation to steer the conversation away from that, even as Abramovitch mentions Gina Prince-Bythewood’s op-ed about being Black in Hollywood in the wake of The Woman King’s Oscar shutout, and Danielle Deadwyler’s comments about misogynoir’s impact on Black women. Abramovitch calls misogynoir “a fairly recent neologism”, aka, a new-fangled word oversensitive young people use. (It was coined in 2010 by the writer Moya Bailey, it’s not THAT new.)
But that IS what all this is about. Had, say, Danielle Deadwyler been nominated (for Till) and Ana de Armas was not, we are not talking about this today. The Riseborough controversy didn’t blow up because studio publicists got their panties in a twist—they might have done, but the driving factor was, as it so often is for the Academy, social media blowing up with allegations of bias in the Academy. And what it comes down to is that Andrea Riseborough, with nothing but the money in her pocket and her “rolodex” of connected (white) Hollywood friends, was able to secure a nomination that Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler, both backed by expensive, high-profile awards campaigns, were not.
You cannot make this a discussion about money in Hollywood without talking about how that money does not mean the same thing when it is used on behalf of Black stars. In this case, a connected white woman with limited resources beat out two Black actresses with all the money in the world to spend. You can try and make that a conversation about indie vs. studio and grassroots vs. polished PR, but we’re not idiots. What it comes down to, as this article outlines, is that Danielle Deadwyler and Viola Davis struggled to get Academy voters to watch their movies. But when Andrea Riseborough called her friends, suddenly the biggest names in Hollywood rallied around her. And that’s not about studios, or money. That’s about privilege.
Live long and gossip,