In some ways, Andrea Riseborough’s surprise Oscar nomination for To Leslie has been just as baffling for her as it was to the world at large. Days after securing her long-shot nod in a competitive best-actress race thanks to an eleventh-hour, unconventional, and highly coordinated campaign, the actor spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the ballyhoo—and subsequent backlash.
“It’s been confusing,” Riseborough said. “And it’s wonderful the film’s getting seen. I suppose it’s a really bright ray of light. When any of us engage in anything, we want for that piece of work to be absorbed in some way. You can’t control how people absorb it.”
The profile of Riseborough’s previously little-seen indie with “a big heart” soared thanks to a word-of-mouth campaign from A-list actors including Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Edward Norton, and fellow nominee Cate Blanchett, who mentioned Riseborough at the start of her Critics Choice Awards acceptance speech. “I almost choked. It was just so generous and flabbergasting,” Riseborough recalls. “I’m amazed she didn’t call me Angela. I wouldn’t have blamed her. I didn’t think she knew me from Adam.”
Riseborough said she was also “gobsmacked” by the support her film received, due in part to a series of fervently-worded emails from actor Mary McCormack (who is married to the film’s director, Michael Morris). “When it got through to me that so many people were reaching out with personal and passionate responses about the film,” she told THR, “I was very moved—because the subject matter is very important to me, and I believe in the message of the film.”
After Riseborough made it into a category that notably snubbed assumed locks like The Woman King’s Viola Davis and Till’s Danielle Deadwyler, the Academy conducted a formal review of nominees’ campaign procedures and ultimately decided not to rescind Riseborough’s nomination—though it noted that it discovered “social media and outreach campaigning tactics that caused concern.” The Academy is reportedly considering “whether changes to the guidelines may be needed in a new era of social media and digital communication.”
In an email to THR, Riseborough defended the grassroots nature of any campaigning on her behalf. “The distribution budget was very small,” she wrote. “But having had success at SXSW and Raindance, having seen the impact of the film on audiences and having had some wonderful reviews, we all tried to contribute in any way we could. I showed up for screenings and Q&As and was witness to some incredibly cathartic Q&As afterward, during which audience members shared their own stories in relation to addiction.”
Since then, Riseborough’s nomination has been talked about alongside other Oscar voting scandals, with nominees past and present weighing in. Marc Maron, Riseborough’s costar who has vehemently defended her nomination, is also heavily featured in the THR piece, where he calls the film’s North American and UK distributor Momentum Pictures “awful” and decries that “this experience has to be so loaded and toxic and challenged.”
Riseborough was tactful when addressing awards campaigning, stating that she does “not yet know which measures will best encourage meritocracy” and that conversation surrounding industry inequity has “deeply impacted me.” She wrote the outlet via email, “It not only makes sense that this conversation would be sparked, but it is necessary. The film industry is abhorrently unequal in terms of opportunity. I’m mindful not to speak for the experience of other people because they are better placed to speak, and I want to listen.”
The actor, who was notably absent from the 2023 Oscar nominees luncheon, said she values her ability to “move around very anonymously in the world” for the sake of her career. Circumstances surrounding her To Leslie nomination have undeniably complicated things for her moving forward. “So an experience has been taken away,” Riseborough concluded. “A human experience has been taken away.”
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