She’s portrayed Margaret Thatcher and Wallis Simpson on screen, is a trained classical ballet dancer, and has her own all-female production company. While talking shop, Andrea Riseborough embellishes on happiness, growth and being human.
Photography by Nathan Seabrook.
DISORDER: What people, places or things inspire you?
ANDREA RISEBOROUGH: Women. Really anyone with a vagina I find inspiring. Anything that has an artistic life I find electrifying. I love all sorts of places. I love the Appalachians and Africa. Being in Africa... I always feel a sense of homecoming. I think probably because genetically that’s the cradle of mankind, you know?
What artists turn you on?
Tracey Emin, Bukowski, Walt Disney, Germaine Greer, Patti Smith, Susan Sontag; the list is kind of endless.
What is your ultimate ambition?
To be happy, I suppose. To be fulfilled. That’s a daily reprise and that’s something you can’t expect to feel all the time. That’s the beauty of life. When you feel it, you really do feel grateful for it.
What got you started as an actress?
I was in a play when I was nine. There was something tantalising about being in a theatre, being around grownups speaking complicated speeches, about going on tour. I was doing a lot of classical theatre (Shakespeare and Jacobean texts), so I sort of consider having been an actor since that time even though it wasn’t necessarily professional. I was fortunate to have a theatre near where I grew up – about ten miles from my home, which had the first free youth group in Britain. A lot of actors have come from that group in the North East [including comedian Ross Noble and Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant]. It was a blessing to be able to be somewhere like that and discover Ibsen and Caryl Churchill.
Has there been a particular point in life where you’ve begun to feel more at home with acting?
No, I think just for a long time, as a woman, I felt like I was beating my head against a brick wall. [My profession] didn’t feel diverse enough, it didn’t seem to be in line with my own beliefs and after a while I just stopped questioning it and thought – maybe I just have a different take on it. I felt very displaced in film; it took me a long time to feel worthy. Now I have my all-female film company; that’s what I can bring to my work.
When do you think you’re at your worst / what’s your worst trait?
Oh god, how long have you got? There are lots of times I’m at my worst (laughs). Obviously the basics: being tired, hungry, if I haven’t seen my mates, if I haven’t given myself enough time to be human. I think I’m at my best with a film I’m in or producing – like I’m firing on all cylinders. It sounds biblical, but I feel that there’s a time, or a season, for everything. You know, the times when you feel highly productive, or those when you feel you need to be reflective and more introverted. Joni Mitchell talks about times like that. She talks about the 80s being a dreadful time in a sense – everything became harder, faster, quicker, stronger, and there were a lot of shoulder pads and it was all angular and edgy and everything was about being on top and up all the time. That period of introspection, of depression, of searching for purpose – in between projects or the great loves of your life – should be respected. It’s a bit like driving down a fork in the road and then reversing back down the fork, then driving down another one. It’s such a human thing. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s healthy.
What injustice do you hate the most?
Female circumcision. Any kind of genital mutilation. The extreme inequality between men and women in the world, which is easy to get out of touch with living in such a privileged society. But, I think that’s natural, [and] something which propels me to do things.
What would you change about the world?
I am in no position to make any good decisions for the world. I try and focus on what I can – the best way that I can live my life. That’s all I have control over. I certainly don’t know what’s best for anybody else, and I certainly only see the world from my perspective. As an actor, I have gotten a glimpse of different perspectives, which has been the greatest gift of my life. But we each have our own survival mechanisms and agendas and I don’t think it’s any of my business to change anything.
If you could have another talent what would it be and why?
It’s kind of a tricky question. Everybody regards talent as a different thing. Some people think you can acquire it as a skill and some people think it’s god given. I’d love to be able to speak another language as well as my first. I like the different rhythms of different cultures. There are certain phrases which cannot be contextualised from one language, one culture to another. I think that is so cool.
What’s your most dominant characteristic?
I think strength. I am quite strong, but I think being strong only comes from being sensitive.
Who are your favourite fictional heroes / what fictional character can you most relate to?
Maybe all of the women in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls.
How would you like to be remembered in years to come?
Loved and celebrated by my friends. I’d like to think that they would smile when they think of me.
You touched on this earlier, but what is happiness is to you?
This feeling inside where my actions are in line with my ideals. It’s a warm fluffy place. It’s not really easy to advocate for yourself from that place. I’m quite scared of doing that. But I try and do it every day.
What would you be doing had you not started in theatre all those years ago?
I guess life always turns out the way it’s supposed to because we have no control over it. I’m not great at it, but I always try and focus on what’s happening now. It’s taken a long time for me to concentrate on just being present. For that reason, I have more acceptance about where my life’s at, and I feel really grateful for it. Just accept that satisfaction is a fleeting feeling for human beings and that it doesn’t need to be there all the time as life is full of different humps and curveballs.
Did you dream about becoming anything other than an actor or was it obvious that was what you were going to do?
No, it wasn’t obvious at all. In fact, I shied away from [acting] for quite a long time. I remember I wanted to be a dustbin man because those were the people I saw coming into my street doing a job. Soon after, I wanted to work for NASA and be a rocket scientist, then a barmaid. I also really wanted to be an animator for quite a long time as well as a classical ballerina. I used to sell my art and I am a classically trained ballerina, so I did do those things. But not as much as acting. I think that was because of literature. Being involved with theatre as a kid you really get to fortify a relationship with literature, which was very addictive. Language is its own score... It can be interpreted and conveyed in so many ways, loved and hated by so many people.
Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m producing a film called Nancy with my company. We’re in post-production. I’ve made four films this year and we’ve just wrapped the fourth. I’m in a film with Panos Cosmatos and Nic Cage (Mandy) that I’m really excited about – I think Panos is a real innovator. I also did Black Mirror in Iceland – due out in December – which was amazing. I have Battle of the Sexes due out in November and The Death of Stalin late October.
The Death of Stalin will be released in cinemas on the 20th of October 2017
Battle of The Sexes can be seen in cinemas on the 24th of November 2017
Black Mirror is due for release in December 2017