It’s cliché to call a skillful actor a chameleon, and it’s an especially overused word when it comes to Andrea Riseborough. But the English actress has partly been able to keep a relatively low public profile all these years because her transformations onscreen have been so total as to have rendered the offscreen Andrea Riseborough unrecognizable. She has disappeared into all variety of roles, from a member of the IRA in Shadow Dancer to the glamorous American expat Wallis Simpson in Madonna’s W.E. to Billie Jean King’s lover in Battle of the Sexes, opposite Emma Stone, out this week. Here, in an interview with Lynn Hirschberg in the New Royals issue, Riseborough reflects on her cinematic disappearing acts, and reveals the women-centric Shakespeare adaptation she’s working on, via her women-centric production company.
When did you first decide you wanted to become an actress?
It was never really a decision. I started doing it when I was nine. Somebody asked me to be in a play at a theater that did classical work not far from my house. At first I said no and I felt really uncomfortable. And then a week later, I said to my mum, “You know, that play. I might like to read for it.” And that was the first thing I did.
And you got the part?
I did. I mean, I don’t think there was much competition, to be honest. [Laughter.]
And what was the first movie you auditioned for?
Venus, which is a Roger Michell film. My first scene was with Peter O’Toole, and I cried. That was basically my part. I came in, cried in a white wig, and then left.
Were you scared?
I get scared of really simple things and not scared of big things. I’m very calm in a crisis, so I wasn’t scared, but I put myself under a lot of pressure to do a good job. I really wanted to please Roger Michell.
And you weren’t nervous about Peter O’Toole, a legend in your midst, in one of his last performances?
It’s not that… I got nervous when I met Patti Smith for the first time. That really, really shook me, but I think part of me not getting cut up in the headiness of someone’s fame has been kinda good for me because I was always able to go into a room and, you know, call someone by their first name and shake their hand and feel like I was just meeting a new person.
You are an incredible chameleon. Is that important to you to sort of disappear into a character leave Andrea behind and be this new thing?
I think when I was little, it was a form of escapism. Not because things were so f—ing terrible that I had to escape, but because it was, like, a magical world to escape to. Then as I grew older, it perhaps became a little unhealthy. Sort of a way not to deal with life, and now I’m at the point where I just enjoy working that way. I really enjoy picking up the physical rhythm of somebody else, speaking with their voice. I’ve never done in anything in my own voice and I can’t imagine what that would be like. It would be weird, I guess.
To be in your own voice?
To play myself, yeah. It’s part of the job that I really, really enjoy and a big part of that was Shakespeare. Shakespeare was the thing that started me off on that train, you know, and every one of his plays. There are so many different characters, and the wonderful thing about being in an all-girls school was I got to play them all, you know. So I got to play Mercutio and Oberon and Malvolio—it was great.
Have you been Hamlet?
I’m almost finished adapting a female Hamlet for screen.
And you’re adapting it yourself?
What prompted you to do that?
Well, I have my own company. It’s an all-female film company called Mother Sucker, and when I say all female, it’s not like we don’t talk to men or employ them [Laughs.], but every department head is female and that’s just because I think while we’re readdressing the balance in the workplace, if there’s a role for a woman, I’d rather just pick a woman right now. That’s just my feeling.
We’ve finished our first film called Nancy, earlier on this year. I was in it, with Steve Buscemi, John Leguizamo, Ann Dowd. So extraordinary and J. Smith-Cameron, who just gives such a beautiful performance, such a brave actor. So that was very fulfilling.
And then Hamlet.
Next there’s a project that I wrote maybe four years ago, called Great Grandma. It’s about where I grew up. I grew up in the middle-class suburbs, but it’s about where my extended family grew up, the working-class part, and it’s kind of a surreal tale. It’s a screenplay, but it’s written partly in verse and it’s a sort of surreal stream of consciousness. So super mainstream. [Laughs.]
So this isn’t the female Hamlet?
We’re going to make that the year after. I’m still completing the adaptation of the female Hamlet. I think that’s why Shakespeare was so wonderful writing for women because he wrote them as men, ‘cause he was writing for young boys. Except maybe Romeo. There he kind of slightly faulted, but, you know…
Juliet’s not that interesting either.
I think so. I don’t think Romeo is as interesting, and he wrote that part for a boy who was perhaps in love with… um, well, that’s hearsay. That’s just gossip. Don’t quote me. [Laughs.]
So when you were playing the Duchess of Windsor, how were you cast? How did Madonna find you?
Madonna had seen me play Margaret Thatcher in something that I did with the BBC when I had just finished my drama school training. I went to her house and I had a cup of tea with her, which was weird because it was comfortable and it was lovely. I remember there was this small Picasso behind her head. Like I’d seen in books since I was little, but had never actually been in the same room with. And I guess we hit it off. I think she saw me as the Duchess. I mean, the Duchess is very different to me.
But that’s what I mean about you being a chameleon. The Duchess is different. The woman in Battle of the Sexes is quite different. The woman in Tom [Ford]’s movie [Nocturnal Animals] is utterly different.
In Nocturnal Animals, you know, I was effectively playing Tom’s best friend, who’s so earthy and deeply stylish. He didn’t actually tell me that that’s who I was playing until the evening we started to shoot.
And I’m somebody who likes to prepare. [Laughter.] You know, so much so that I’ve got a pole up my ass about preparation, ‘cause I like to do it and then forget about it and never think about it again before I even start working. So yeah, he told me the night that we were shooting it. So he just talked to me about her for 20 minutes before we started and I just felt like I knew her. And then when I met her, I thought, God, I did a crap job. I would’ve slightly done it differently if I’d met her, but I hope that I did it some justice.
With your character in Battle of the Sexes, is this based on a real person?
The character that I play in Battle of the Sexes is named Marilyn and she was Billie Jean King’s hairdresser on the tennis tour. And they became incredibly close and had a beautiful love affair and it was a very special time in Billie’s life. What we focus on is when they’re sort of falling in love, and it’s blossoming and, and I was playing the embodiment of the free spirit of the 70’s. It was such a joy.
So you’re here because you’re in the New Royals issue. Who is royal to you in acting or in the theater?
The people who who made me want to act were Peter Sellers and Ronnie Barker and, um, a guy called Michael who I worked with in the Royal Shakespeare Company when I was younger. Funnily enough, in my line of work, when I was very little there weren’t a lot of women whose career I wanted, and that was purely because I wanted to play so many different parts and I didn’t see them getting the opportunity. So I love Peter Sellers and his transformation, you know, and I also loved how, with Ronnie Barker, how genuine and heartfelt each performance was, and how you felt like you could relate to him. That’s really what I want to do with every character—you know, how can you relate to Wallis Simpson? How can you be in the room with her and see the loveable parts of her as well? And also expose the human flaws, you know.
Your characters have such a strong relationship to the way they look. With Battle of the Sexes, was that important to you? Do you pick up a garment and it starts to inform the character?
Really picking up a garment is as important as everything else, I think, going into a character for me.
I mean, Wallis Simpson was obviously a fashion icon.
There’s a difference between playing a fashion icon and what a red trench coat can do for you during the troubles when you’re a member of the IRA. Regardless, they’re both powerful. Since I’ve been little, that’s always been huge, you know, wearing different shapes on your own body and feeling perhaps like your body might even be a different shape. That’s always been something that’s really interesting and what you put on your frame certainly dictates how you feel about it, I think.
With Wallis Simpson, it was armor.
I was f—ing terrified when I was playing Wallis Simpson because I kept worrying I was going to drop one of her real rings, which I was wearing, down the port-a-loo.
[Laughs. ] And didn’t Madonna loan a lot of her own jewelry for this?
She did, yeah, and we had this really wonderful ritualistic thing every morning where she would dress the Duchess. So she put the jewelry on me and it was a moment that we had to, you know, start off the day off solidly. And I really enjoyed that. It was great. But I was wearing a lot of her own jewelry and there were, like, six guys. God bless them. I mean, I still know them. That’s how much time I spent with them. Six bodyguards who would follow me around, I’d never really had any experience of that before in my life. So it was kind of irritating. Like, you couldn’t have a poo, you know, because there was somebody outside the door. But also, really special because you’re holding something that has been touched by the person you’re playing. It has this energy to it. There was this absolutely grotesque little pug head broach that I wore, which was my favorite, favorite thing because I felt like I could feel her heart in it, you know. It was like the beating heart of all her fears and about being a disappointment to [Edward VIII]. Him having given his career up for her, in a way.
Royals 2017: Why Pharrell Williams, Winona Ryder, Tracee Ellis Ross and More Are the Role Models of Today
Winona Ryder wears Fendi dress; Angela Friedman bra; M&S Schmalberg brooch; Fogal tights; Gucci shoes. Beauty: Chantecaille.
Tilda Swinton wears Loewe jacket, shirt, and pants. Beauty: Chanel.
Hailee Steinfeld wears Valentino dress. Beauty: Maybelline.
Tracee Ellis Ross wears Vetements dress. Beauty: Lâncome.
Saoirse Ronan wears Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello shirt and pants. Beauty: Nars.
Chris Hemsworth wears Boss shirt and pants; his own belt and necklace. Grooming: Hugo Boss.
Pharrell Williams wears Sacai shirt; Bulgari necklace (top); his own necklace. Grooming: Giorgio Armani.
Robert Pattinson wears Dior Homme turtleneck; Haider Ackermann pants. Grooming: Dior Homme.
James Corden wears Ann Demeulemeester shirt and hat. Grooming: Neutrogena.
Jared Leto wears Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants; M&S Schmalberg brooch; Artemas Quibble belt. Grooming: Gucci.
New Royalty: Movie Star
My first kiss was on set. It was my very first film as well. My character really liked this boy, and she didn’t know if he noticed her. In the end she got to kiss him. At that time, I was only 11 years old, and not ready to kiss a boy. I asked the director, “How long do you want me to kiss him? How many seconds?” And the director said, “Three seconds.” So while kissing, I counted in my head. Every single take I was like, One, two, three. And then: “Okay, kill, cut!” I definitely suffered for art.
Ronan wears a Louis Vuitton top, cape, and shoes; Falke tights.
Classic Royalty: Movie Star
Is there anything that scares you? I’m not easily scared, and I’m wary of being bored. I think risk-taking is a subjective thing. One person’s risk is another one’s comfort zone. And, to be honest, I’m too lazy to get easily scared. Maybe I’ve got a bit of my brain missing, but I love not knowing what I’m doing next. What about when it comes to clothes? Did you always have a fashion-forward outlook? Again, what somebody might think of as unusual is, to me, supercomfortable, inspiring, and interesting. I’ve never truly been that aware of fashion; I’m interested in style.
Swinton wears a Haider Ackermann shirt; Alexander Calder necklace from Stephen Russell, New York.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
Where do you get your ideas? The shower is a frequent place. Actually, near any running water—whether it’s the faucet or the shower. And sometimes I get ideas on a plane because of the sound deprivation.
Do you record your ideas on your phone? I just hold on to them. The best way to remember something is if you home in on the excitement. That you don’t forget.
Is there a song that makes you cry? It’s been maybe 10 years since I heard something that made me cry. There is an old Donny Hathaway song called “Take a Love Song,” and it would make me emotional. But I think I was eating a lot of weed candy at the time, so that may have pushed me over the edge.
Whom do you consider Royal? Wes Anderson. I love what he does. Bill Murray running from a playground in Rushmore made me very happy. Anderson’s composition is amazing: his color, the music that he uses. I’m not an actor, but, in a heartbeat, I would just walk by or whatever he asked me to do in one of his films.
Williams wears a Chanel jacket and necklace; G-Star pants; Adidas Originals = Pharrell Williams shoes; his own shirt, belt, bracelets, ring, watch, and socks.
Classic Royalty: Renaissance Person
When did you start dancing? When I was 3. I loved it. I did recitals and I loved being onstage. I particularly loved the collective mind of the audience. Applause was nice, but I liked the silence of the audience better. The silence means, Oh, my! You have their rapt attention.
MacLaine wears an Akris turtleneck.
Classic Royalty: Activist
I came to New York in the ’70s to become president of Planned Parenthood. It was a time of great difficulty for the city—and for the country—but also one when women made tremendous progress toward being in control of their lives and their bodies. My position allowed me to be a spokesperson for women in the midst of the great changes that were taking place and the turmoil that occurred as a result of them. Today, 40 years later, the continuing opposition to Planned Parenthood comes from people who want to roll back the clock.
Wattleton wears a Row coat; Vhernier earrings; Verdura necklace.
New Royalty: Activist
When I was 11, my parents gave me an iPhone. I think it shaped who I am as a person because I had access to everything very, very early on. But now I’m 18 and I have gotten rid of it. I was worried about the mental-health effects it was having on me. The phone was taking over my life. I felt like I was floating away, and part of that had to do with being in a virtual world without any tangible substance. I felt like I was always refreshing Instagram instead of refreshing my life.
Stenberg wears a Prada top; Buccellati earrings.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
To me, Paula Abdul is royalty. I just saw her live, and the whole time I was watching her, I was hitting the person next to me and saying, “Oh. My. God. Yes!” I’m late to the game, but Paula Abdul is completely amazing.
Steinfeld wears an Yves Salomon coat; Nili Lotan dress; Mahnaz Collection ring; Lynn Ban earring.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
There were eight boys in The History Boys, and we were all at a similar point in our careers. The other seven would get incredible scripts for Spielberg movies or big HBO shows, and I would get a one-page script for the guy who drops off a TV for Hugh Grant. I remember thinking, These decisions are being made based on the way I look. I realized then and there that I needed to try and start creating stuff on my own. And I did.
Corden wears a Berluti jacket; Burberry shirt; Balenciaga scarf.
New Royalty: Society
The notion of being born into the right stratosphere no longer exists. More and more, young people want to dedicate their lives to doing something meaningful that has a positive effect on the world. That’s what is valued now—not your name or your lineage.
Bush Lauren wears a Ralph Lauren shirt; Zimmerli of Switzerland tank; Hermès scarves; Vicki Turbeville earrings; vintage bracelet from Stazia Loren, New York.
Classic Royalty: Society
You got involved with God’s Love We Deliver during the ’80s AIDS epidemic. It was a terrible time. We delivered meals to people who were sick. A lot of my friends thought I had lost my mind. There was so much fear.
How did you meet Robert Trump? At a fundraiser. We were married in 1984. But years later things changed, and, in 2007, we divorced.
Did you go to your former brother-in-law’s presidential inauguration? Yes. It was kind of an out-of-body experience. [Laughs] It’s like, Am I really here? I went to all the balls, and there was a wonderful small lunch, and Donald and Melania were there. She looked beautiful.
Is it strange to see your last name everywhere? Yes—very, very strange. I mean, forget paying with a credit card. It’s always, “Are you related?” It never ends.
Trump wears a Chloé dress; David Webb earrings.
New Royalty: Model
I always go into a zone when I’m posing for a photographer. I like to try and get into whatever character is wanted for the photos. For this shoot, I tried to be kind of vulnerable and soft because I can be quite hard with my resting bitch face. I wanted to look innocent, but mysterious. And royal. Very royal.
Aboah wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC dress; Stephen Russell earrings; Vhernier bracelets; her own rings.
Classic Royalty: Model
What is your secret skill? Fucking.
Fucking? Mm-hmmm. It’s an awfully good thing to be good at, no? And it goes on forever, guys and girls. You should remember that.
Hutton wears a Row coat.
Classic Royalty: Superhero
My first audition was for some random sort of commercial. I remember walking in and having to tell them about myself, and none of it was very interesting because I never got those jobs. My first regular acting gig was on a soap opera called Home and Away. I did that for three and a half years, and I went through every melodramatic tragedy that one can go through: plane crashes, fires, robberies, landslides. I had three different kids with three different women. And my character was 19 for three years. I never had a birthday. Never aged.
Hemsworth wears a Boss jacket, shirt, and pants; Western Spirit bolo tie; stylist’s own belt.
New Royalty: Superhero
I don’t fuck with karaoke. I tried it once, and it was the biggest disaster. The song I bombed on was “Eye of the Tiger.” It was at a wedding, in front of hundreds of people. The only line of the song that I knew was “eye of the tiger,” so I just mumbled, and it was awful. Deep shame. Now I stick to singing my own songs onstage with my band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. There are some things you just know you’re not good at.
Leto wears an Ann Demeulemeester shirt; Gucci pants; Mikimoto pearls; his own ring and necklace.
New Royalty: Television
As a boy, I was very, very sensitive. Ever the emotional young thing. In eighth grade, a drama teacher put me in a play, and I got really involved with theater. Within a year, all the kids who were making fun of me were my allies. I remember thinking, Instead of being a weird guy in the corner of the classroom, now I’m the weird guy that everyone has to pay attention to! And, like, Wow—maybe someone will kiss me!
Middleditch wears a Prada shirt; Coach 1941 pants; Artemas Quibble belt; Calvin Klein 205W39NYC boots.
Classic Royalty: Television
Since signing on to Stranger Things, I’ve become a binge-watcher of TV. My favorite show is The Americans. It’s brilliant, and Keri Russell is just mind-blowing. I watched the entire last season all at once, and I was crushed when it ended. I met Keri, and I was like, “What’s going to happen?!” I had turned into a fan-geek. But she wouldn’t tell me. Everyone in TV has to keep things a big secret—which I’m learning.
Ryder wears a Dior dress and hat.
New Royalty: Movie Star
I didn’t think I could play Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton. I was asked to audition, and I remember saying no because I didn’t want to be the one to mess it up. I was nervous because it was Dr. Dre. And now, after the film, I walk down the street and people ask, “Is that Dr. Dre?” Nobody did that before Compton. Now everybody does it.
Hawkins wears a Giorgio Armani jacket, shirt, and pants; Tom Ford shoes.
Classic Royalty: Movie Star
What was your first acting job? When I was 15 or 16, I was cast as Reese Witherspoon’s son in the film Vanity Fair. I went to the screening, and no one had informed me that I had been cut from the film. But the casting director felt so guilty that she gave me a first run at the part of Cedric in Harry Potter, which I booked. So, in the end, I was quite glad to have been cut from Vanity Fair.
How did you prepare for your role as a bank robber on the run in Good Time? I stayed in character for several days and got a job at a car wash. I wanted to change myself so that people would not be able to recognize me for the whole shoot. And it worked. We were filming in a packed subway at rush hour; I was directed by text message, and no one could tell we were making a movie. Not one person took a cell-phone picture, which would have ruined the whole thing. It was great to not be recognized.
Pattinson wears a Berluti jacket; Charvet scarf.
Classic Royalty: Television
After Everybody Loves Raymond ended, it wasn’t hard to say no to other sitcom offers. This sounds awful, but I had all the money I needed, my wife had all the money she needed, and creatively I wanted to do other things. I thought, Suddenly I have time, I have money, I have a bit of fame, and this is going to be fun. After three months, it wasn’t fun anymore. I had a kind of emotional breakdown until I started creating the next show. People ask me sometimes, “How do you keep going?” And I like to say, “I have to keep moving, or I catch up with myself.”
Romano wears a Balenciaga shirt.
New Royalty: Television
Your mom is Diana Ross. Did you ever borrow her clothes? I’m not going to lie: It was more like stealing. One time, she left the house and I saw her car go down the driveway. I marched myself into her bathroom and started taking clothes. I liked to put them in my closet and live with them as if they were mine. Just as I was loading up, my mom walked into the bathroom. She said, “What are you doing?!” I was like, “I’m organizing your closet for you!” To this day, I visit her closet and call it shopping.
Ross wears an Alexander McQueen dress; Gianvito Rossi shoes.
Emma Stone sucked her thumb until she was 11 years old: