The first time the world took notice of Andrea Riseborough, she was wearing a blue tailored skirt suit with padded shoulders and pearls. She was playing a young Margaret Thatcher in The Long Walk To Finchley. A tongue-in-cheek biopic of the former British prime minister’s early life, it was an extraordinary role Riseborough accepted with utter relish. In fact, it earned her a television BAFTA nomination as it expressed precisely where feminism stood in the 1980s.
Since that moment five years ago, Riseborough (a RADA trained actress) has been carving out a name for herself. She has become known for her graceful ease on stage and screen as well as for her ability to play diverse characters.
“That piece was really a romp through the imagination of what Maggie's life could have been. That is why I loved it so much as I got a chance to explore what she might have been like as a girl with a huge amount of fun,” she said.
At 31, she has already increased her star power with Hollywood films like Oblivion (where she starred opposite Tom Cruise) Welcome to the Punch with James McAvoy, Resistance with Michael Sheen and Disconnect with Alexander Skarsgard.
“I like a role where there is an opportunity to do the ground work and pad the characters out, and part of the reason why I really enjoy my job is because it’s such a challenge and everything I have always worked on has been a great challenge,” she said.
The British actress recently received the Best Actress Award from the British Independent Film Association, London Film Critics’ Circle and Evening Standard Awards, plus a BAFTA EE Rising Star nomination for her role in her latest film Shadow Dancer, which premiered at the Sundance and Berlin Film festivals to rave reviews.
A conspiracy thriller set around betrayal within a tight knit family, Riseborough plays Collette, a single mother forced to question her loyalties after being arrested for her part in an aborted IRA bomb plot in London.
Directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire) and based on a book written by Tom Bradby during his time as a TV correspondent in northern Ireland in the 1990s, Shadow Dancer tells the story of the poisonous effect politics has on the life of a single family.
“Once you understand all the things [Collette] might have to sacrifice, you can start to instinctively feel what characteristics she might need to have,” said Riseborough.
Also starring Clive Owen and Gillian Anderson, Shadow Dancer is set in a very real conflict called The Troubles – it was a conflict between Ireland’s Protestant and Catholic communities that began its peak in the 1960s.
For Riseborough, the film offered an opportunity to bring a real occurrence to light.
“It was very much a part of my childhood, and it was on the news every day,” reflected Riseborough. “People had their close family members killed and terrible things happened and because we were representing a time that was very tumultuous, it was really important that we served it with a certain amount of authenticity moment to moment.”
After being caught attempting to bomb a London underground station in 1993, IRA member Collette (Riseborough) is given a choice: lose everything and go to prison or return to Belfast to spy on her own family. With her son’s life in her hands, she chooses to become an informant. However, when her brothers’ secret operation is ambushed, suspicions of an informant are raised, and she finds both herself and her family in danger.
“She is a very interesting character, and one of the things I liked about the story is that it explored not just the usual generic redemption tale of somebody who fought for a cause and saw the error of her ways, but that she was true to the courage of her convictions,” said Riseborough, who credits Marsh for fostering a collaborative environment.
“James [Marsh] and I have a great relationship, and we worked together really well…it was very collaborative and a warm feeling working with him,” she said.
She continued, “Collette is a very interesting character and initially she spoke an awful lot. The more that I built the inner life that she had in the film that we see through her eyes, the more I understood her not to speak. I asked James if he would be comfortable if she was far more economic with her words. So, we went from somebody who spoke an awful lot in the script to a character whose most powerful quality is her silence.”
But don’t expect Riseborough to stay quiet on the Hollywood circuit. The actress has a few projects coming up, including Hidden with Skarsgard. She will also star alongside Emma Stone, Amy Ryan and Edward Norton in Birdman.
Shadow Dancer will release in L.A., New York and select cities on Friday, May 31. The film is currently available on VOD.