You could say that Andrea Riseborough made it with a little help from her friends. Proving to be the breakout star of this year’s Oscar nominations, the 41-year-old English actress scored a seemingly out of the blue nod for her starring role in the barely-seen independent drama To Lesley. But behind her surprise nomination was a cleverly orchestrated and star-studded word-of-mouth – with the participation of Hollywood royalty such as Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet – that defied standard awards season procedures such as buying billboards. million dollar and “Consider This…” ads.
Riseborough – whose previous credits alternate with major studio films such as Forgetfulness and Amsterdam in addition to smaller cult dishes such as Mandy and Stalin’s death — also seems surprised that her once-long-ago nomination became a certainty. “I’m stunned,” the chameleon-like actor told TSTIME in the wake of the Oscar announcements. “It’s such an unexpected ray of light. It was so hard to believe it could ever happen because we really weren’t in the running for anything else. Even though we had a lot of support, the idea that it could actually happen seemed so far away.”
Riseborough’s friends and associates within the industry are also thrilled for her. During an interview about his upcoming horror movie infinity pool, Alexander Skarsgård gave Yahoo Entertainment a near real-time response to the news. “I just found out – I’m so excited,” he tells me The Norman stark, adding that it was Riseborough who encouraged him to collaborate Swimming pool director Brandon Cronenberg after working with the filmmaker on his 2020 feature film Possessor. “She’s great in the movie, and it’s well deserved.”
Watch an exclusive clip of To Lesley below:
Movie star vibes like Skarsgård’s can be attributed to Riseborough being pushed over the top on Oscar morning. But the genesis of her stealth campaign can be traced back to an unexpected source: actress Mary McCormack, the star of movies and TV shows like Genitals and In plain sightand wife of To Lesley director Michael Morris.
In a recent issue of his widely read What I hear newsletter, puk journalist Matt Belloni reported that McCormack opened her own Rolodex and personally asked every celebrity she knew to watch and post positive feelings about Riseborough’s performance in the film, which had an ultra-short theatrical release in the fall and is now available on most VOD services. Belloni had also previously reported that the actress’s agents helped raise the film’s profile in Hollywood, while TSTIME reported that Riseborough used its own money to help the campaign in its early stages.
Filmed in Texas on a shoestring budget during the height of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, To Lesley had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival, where it received mostly positive reviews and was acquired for distribution by Momentum Pictures. Written by Ryan Binaco, the film casts Riseborough as Leslie Rowlands, a West Texas single mom whose life seems to change for the better when she wins the lottery. But flash-forward a few years and all that money is gone, spent on her serious alcohol and drug habits.
Homeless and shunned by her family – including adult son James (Owen Teague) – Leslie is sleeping outside a run-down motel when she is discovered by its owner and recovering addict, Sweeney, played by comedian, podcaster and well-known recovery guy. Mark Maron. Hoping to help a fellow addict, he offers her a job and shelter. As she slowly puts her life back on track, Leslie must reckon with her self-destructive past and plan for a future that is less financially rewarding but more personally rewarding.
While Riseborough’s lived-in performance has been consistently rave reviews ever since To Lesleys SXSW premiere, the film failed to make much of an impact as awards season kicked off in the fall. The film debuted in just a handful of theaters in the US and UK in October, grossing just $28,000 in its short theatrical life. When Riseborough appeared on Maron’s WTF podcast in early January, her co-star complained about the way To Lesley‘s release was handled by Momentum.
“The f***king distributor dropped the ball by facilitating something that would bring a lot more attention to the movie,” Maron complained. “It did, and now this movie with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating that everyone should see because of the work you’ve done and the work we’ve all done. [is struggling]. It has been hampered by the people responsible for putting it out.”
But behind the scenes, McCormack’s stealth awards campaign was already on the verge of going viral. Charlize Theron became one of the first celebrities to go on record, organize a screening in November where she said the film “stays in your head… and stays in your skin”. A month later, Frances Fisher took to Twitter to publicly show her support for Riseborough with a December 30 post describing her performance as “amazing” and “authentic”.
That initial trickle of activity became a flood as the Oscar nomination period approached on Jan. 12 Edward Norton, Paltrow and Jane Fonda posted glowing reviews of Riseborough on social media, while more internet-hostile celebrities like Demi Moore and Winslet featured her work at special screenings and other events. On January 14, the Titanic star moderated a virtual Q&A with Riseborough and Morris where she described the actress’s work as, “The best female performance on screen I’ve ever seen in my life.”
The campaign literally reached primetime as Blanchett praised Riseborough from the stage while also collecting her Best Actress award tar at the Critics Choice Awards on Jan. 15. (Riseborough didn’t make it to Critics Choice or Golden Globes, but she was nominated for both a Gotham Award and an Independent Spirit Award.) Extraordinary achievements have been made by women [this year], not just in this room, but also Andrea Riseborough and Tang Wei and Penélope Cruz. The list goes on and on.”
The fact that Riseborough is now officially on the list of Best Actress nominees could usher in a new era for future Oscar nominees, one where personal industry connections can help smaller films drive big-budget productions and prominent media campaigns. vanquish. “You always think, ‘If we’ve done it well enough, it’s going to break through the noise,'” Riseborough remarked to TSTIME. “But a lot of times it’s just impossible to compete with millions of dollars in advertising. It’s been special to feel so supported by the community – especially by actors – and to feel like the work has broken through that. It’s really not something I’ve experienced. experienced before.”
But her success hasn’t come without some controversy either. Many online have already noted that Riseborough’s nomination may have come at the expense of Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler, who were widely expected to be nominated for The Queen of Women and Until, respectively. It also hasn’t gone unnoticed that many of Riseborough’s most prominent backers are white, and that black performers were eventually excluded from the Best Actress category, bringing back memories of previous #OscarsSoWhite campaigns on social media.
Win or lose on Oscar night, Riseborough chooses to focus on the wider exposure her nomination means To Lesley. “The responses we’ve had all along have been so personal from people,” she told TSTIME. “It felt like there was room to touch so many people. It felt like the most natural thing in the world to keep talking about it, even though people weren’t very interested in it, because as soon as they watched the movie, they immediately got interested and they couldn’t shake the story. The movie drove itself that way.”
To Lesley is currently available to rent or purchase through VOD services including Prime Video and Vudu.