Sienna Miller’s new film is about an actress whose private life upstages her work. Sound familiar? She tells Leigh Singer why the media attention won’t stop her going for a pint – or autographing women’s breasts.
October 29 - November 4 2007
So here’s the dilemma: you’re about to interview a young actress who unwittingly became world famous for her private life rather than her career, and the film up for discussion is about a journalist who interviews a young actress described in the first scene as “more famous for who she sleeps with than anything else.” Moreover, throughout the film, Interview, journalist and actress tussle over, amongst other things, the inherent speciousness of much modern PR. Okay, then…
“The journalists have been all nervous, which is actually quite amusing,” says Sienna Miller, with a wicked glint in her eye. “They don’t want to ask the generic questions that she finds boring in the film, so they’re trying to be creative. They’re suddenly feeling like the bad guys.”
Rather than this be a genuine challenge of one-upmanship, Miller’s guileless, frequent laughter makes it clear that it’s all in good fun. Still only 25, fresh-faced and equally alluring in the flesh as through the endless lenses she stares down on a daily basis, what such photos inevitably don’t reveal is the openness, earthiness and, well, niceness behind the party-going sex symbol: the girl-in-the-pub-next-door. In light of the treatment regularly dealt out by the media (more on this later), that’s pretty remarkable in itself.
First to Interview, directed by and co-starring Steve Buscemi, adapted from the earlier film by late Dutch director Theo Van Gogh, murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist for his own outspoken honesty. It’s almost entirely a two-hander between cynical, disinterested hack Pierre and flouncing B-movie starlet Katya, both of whom are far more than meets the eye.
“What’s interesting to me is the dynamic between these two very complex, very flawed characters going head-to-head in a psychological war,” Miller explains. “It’s like playing with your food before you eat it, that’s how they are with each other, completely cat-and-mouse.”
When she gets impassioned – which is often – hands fly around, so the microphone gets moved for its own safety. But it’s this unfettered spontaneity that Miller or indeed journalists – hard-bitten or soft touches – wouldn’t want to change. “To work opposite Steve, who was one of my – and everybody’s – favourites, when he called and asked me to do it, I said yes without reading the script - very uncool,” she enthuses. “He just…he’s [Reservoir Dogs’] Mr. Pink!”
Presumably she was also canny enough to note the similarities between Katya and preconceptions about herself? “There’s an element of sending myself up, which I find funny,” she agrees. “The fact that she’s known more by reputation that for her work, obviously that’s true in my case, unfortunately. But Katya loves that attention, that’s the difference and can walk into a restaurant with sunglasses on and ask for her usual table and pose for photographers – stuff I would never do.”
To test this out, Miller gamely agrees to a ‘quickfire round’ of questions, comparing her character’s beliefs and experiences with her own. So: do scars make a man more attractive? “Not necessarily, no.” The weirdest thing you’ve ever had to autograph? “Hmm…a chest, I suppose.” Male or female? “Male!” Just checking. “No, no, no, I’d sign boobs, of course.” Are fishnet stockings and high heels a male conspiracy to entrap women? “I like the concept,” she laughs, “but I wouldn’t give men the credit to be that analytical!”
Does she ever Google herself? “No,” she replies quickly, somewhat more seriously.” It’s a can of worms. Once someone told me, there’s this story on imdb.com, check it out. So I went on to read that allegedly I’d met this person and had this encounter that was untrue. And I just saw comments like ‘Why is this slut famous?’ That was the last time I went on.”
You realise very quickly that for someone with a slim body of work and an inordinately bulging pile of press cuttings, everything Miller does is filtered through the unforgiving spectral glare of celebrity. All the more reason, then, not to rehash here the names of Miller’s purported romances, past or present, because a) let’s face it, if you want to know it’s not hard to find out; and b) really, who cares?
“People weren’t interested in what I had to say about my work, they only wanted to know personal stuff,” she states of numerous past interviews, “and weren’t afraid to ask it, which I found quite rude. Before when I was younger and naïve I didn’t want to offend anyone. And I find it very hard to not be honest as well.”
“I remember on live breakfast TV in New York, about six in the morning – ‘So America wants to know, why did you take him back?’ And I was just like…” she does a good impression of open-mouthed incredulity. “It was just so personal. Afterwards you kick yourself and think of the brilliant replies you could have said.”
If the morals of certain journalists can be called into question, they’re beacons of integrity compared to the packs of paparazzi who literally hunt Miller - and others in similar positions - every single day.
“There’s very little you can do,” she shrugs. “They have rights and as long as they don’t touch you, they can do what they want. I do feel constantly threatened by men I don’t know who are big and scary and aggressive and verbally abusive. And they know where I live and they sit outside my house and they follow me. But I just find, at night, running down the street with ten grown men chasing me, and I’m trying to get to my door, it’s a very weird psychological thing to accept.”
The feeding frenzy probably reached its peak when Miller was in the midst of a very high-profile break-up and treading the West End stage every night. “What I really needed at that time of my life was to get the fuck out of England and go and hide somewhere,” she rues, “and I couldn’t do that. I’d go out to have my lunch and it would be ‘Oh, do you think it’s because you’re not good in bed?’ or ‘At least I can keep my dick in my pants’ - shouting stuff to try and make me cry so they’d have their cover and it was just… too much.”
At the same time, no one, least of all Miller, is blinkered enough to deny the reality; as an actress she was – maybe still is - a largely unknown quantity. Why would anyone focus on her work? In addition, many of her roles, from Layer Cake to Alfie, from her acclaimed turn as Warhol protégée Edie Sedgwick in Factory Girl to even Interview, all alluded to an image the press were ready to project: the carefree yet damaged party girl.
“That’s true actually,” she admits. “But I like playing flawed people; I’m not very good at being just the generic girl, I’d get bored. I think the choices that I’ve made creatively I’ve made for the right reasons. But the focus came on my private life before I had a film come out. I shot the film that I’d met that person on but then just became famous for that reason rather than for the work.”
So basically an industry that loves to knock people down, chose to smack down someone who hadn’t yet stood up? “Absolutely. That’s a lovely way of phrasing it,” she grins. “Can I nick that?”
Yet Miller is adamant that she has no regrets with how events have transpired. One way or another, it seems, she was destined to act. Her mother ran the London branch of legendary Lee Strasberg’s ‘Method’ school; her early Berkshire school years were filled with dramatic productions and at eighteen she got a place at the original New York Strasberg academy (“the stage where Brando pretended to be a fucking baboon,” she jokes, “it was so inspiring”). And ultimately, beneath all the media attention, that’s her focus.
“I’m really happy inherently, in my core,” she maintains. “The fact that Steve asked me to be in his film is just the biggest honour. And in a certain community, people who’ve seen the smaller films I’ve done, they do start to see you first and foremost as an actor. So to the people that matter, it’s changing.”
“I don’t let the fuckers get me down. I don’t have security or a driver or a personal assistant. I live a very normal life, I’ve got the same friends, I go to the pub for a pint. If they want to write that as me going nuts then fine. But I live a life that a 25-year old should be living and I’m not going to conform because they’re telling me to. As long as I don’t miss a day’s work or turn up late then I can do what I want in my time off.”
No doubt plenty of people will be there to photograph it. And who knows, maybe even write about her day job too.
Interview is out on November 2nd