Andrea Riseborough W.E. Interview
Andrea Riseborough W.E. Interview
Leading British actress Andrea Riseborough had featured in the likes of Brighton Rock, Made in Dagenham and Never Let Me Go. Having taken on the role of the most famous American divorcee of the 20th century, here she talks to View's Matthew Turner about playing Mrs. Wallis Simpson under Madonna's direction.

How do you become such a chameleon? You astonished us when you did Margaret Thatcher – you were scarily like her. You're astonishing in this too because it's a tremendous portrayal of one of the most famous figures of the twentieth century. So how did you go about it?

Andrea Riseborough

Starting at the same place, really. Starting with the script – the scripts always the first thing that motivates you to look at somebody's life, because you could look at it in all sorts of different ways and there are all sorts of ways to explore someone's life. I'm not sure that a straight biopic has ever been my personal choice. So I found it very interesting that this modern day character, Wally [played by Abbie Cornish] sort of lives vicariously through Wallis Simpson [Riseborough] and that's how we see her life and I found that really unique. More unique, I found that they had their own relationship and the two time frames intertwine and that Wally has the freedom that Wallis could never have obtained, because she's the victim of her time, as a woman. And then Wallis has what Wally believes is this unconditional love, but of course there's such a huge price that comes with it.
Did you find your opinion about Wallis Simpson changing? Were you unsympathetic before and changed or vice versa?

Andrea Riseborough

Of course, it always changes. Even if it's a minuscule change, it always changes, because you go from knowing such a very small amount to such a great amount. But my relationship was largely peripheral with Wallis – I had a tenuous link to her and it was just a still monochrome image, like a footnote in a textbook or a flash of an image on a TV screen. I had no emotional connection to her.

I had a feeling that she wasn't well received. I can't remember a time but I know that I'd heard her name mentioned and people bristling to it, in some way. I later understood that that was because the working man (essentially my family) really took Edward to their hearts and so it was a great shock when Stanley Baldwin released, two weeks before the abdication, these photographs of this twice-divorcee from Baltimore, clad head-to-toe in couture and dripping with England's jewels, that she'd been gifted.
How did you go about the research with that, because obviously you'd heard different accounts from different people. I know Madonna did lots of research beforehand – did she direct you a lot or how did you go about gathering the information?

Andrea Riseborough

Well, you really start with the literature, you go back to the literature. And so you read anything that's ever written about Wallis, everything that's written by her, between her and Edward, of course and twice as many letters between Aunt Bessie and Wallis. Those letters were really invaluable because there were things that one might not always divulge to a partner who's so very important to you. I don't want to say offloaded, because she did it in a very gracious way, but she corresponded with Aunt Bessie about.

Then there were still images, which are extraordinary insights because you capture a moment in time and so still images I always found fascinating. And moving images, of course. Here, especially in Britain there are some wonderful video archive sources. I think that's one of our great strengths in this country, is to document moving image. You know Mediatheque at the BFI? It's free for absolutely anybody to go in at any time and they have pretty much all the resources that you could possibly want. ITN, they're just incredible – the ITN archives are wonderful.

In its inception, it had been alive for ten years, so there was no leaf unturned. It was incredible. And I appreciated that so much and it excited me so much and [Madonna] was so passionate about it and so fuelled with this story and uncovering what she believed to be the truth, and all of that is in the script. I had to bow down to not only the amount of research she'd done but also the delicate and emotional way she'd understood their plight. And that's really something very difficult to do – it's not always possible. It doesn't matter how much material you have, you need the capacity to be able to understand it in a personal way.
You talk about how passionate she was and how committed, so you know better than any of us how different directors are, so what was she like, compared to others that you've worked with?

Andrea Riseborough

I can explain to you what she was like, the qualities that she had. She was totally prepared, every single day, utterly passionate, a real support. Totally intuitive, in the way that you always knew that you could take her hand and she would lead you in the right direction in terms of tone and where we were in the landscape of the piece. You know, I've dealt with a lot of stories that encompass a long period of time in somebody's life – this is the longest period of time ever, I was 26 to 70. So you've got to keep a handle on that and she just always had the instinct of exactly where were should be.
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Content updated: 18/10/2017 00:33

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