Sienna Miller Comes Clean: The Actress on Her Comeback, Battling the Tabloids, and ‘Black Mass’
In the Aughts, she was written off as a carefree party girl, but the British actress is back with a renewed sense of purpose and demands to be taken seriously.
Sienna Miller would like to set the record straight. No, it’s not what you’re thinking, you tabloid-swigging rapscallion, you. It’s about the rumors surrounding her role being cut from the recent Whitey Bulger biopic Black Mass—the one with vampire Johnny Depp waging an all-out war against the hot—which last month reached scorned-Directioner levels of hysteria.
Black Mass was, to the casual IMDB prowler’s eyes, one-third of a triumvirate of plum roles in Oscar-bait biopics for Miller, coming on the heels of her impressive turns in Foxcatcher, and more notably, as Taya Kyle in the $550 million-grossing American Sniper. She was to play Catherine Greig, who was on the lam with Bulger for 16 years until her lover-boy’s arrest in June 2011 outside his apartment in Santa Monica, California. But when the symphony of Bahstin accents debuted at the 2015 Venice Film Festival, Miller was nowhere to be found, and director Scott Cooper vaguely called the chop a “narrative decision.”
And the 33-year-old British actress is none too pleased with the way the media handled the development, to say the least. “Thanks to the wonderfully hyperbolic media coverage, it’s been totally blown out of proportion,” says Miller. “I shot four days and it was a cameo. I’d just worked with Warner Bros. on American Sniper and they asked if I could pop in, work with Johnny Depp, and do a Boston accent. It became this media shitstorm that I’d been cut out of a film, but when you pop in and do a cameo, it was always a possibility. In that particular story, when he met Catherine, he quit being a gangster and disappeared, so I can understand why it was cut. Not too devastating.”
“I thought it would die down, but it kept snowballing!” she adds. “It was not a big loss on my part in any way.”
Indeed, whenever a big-name actress gets cut out of a major Hollywood film, it tends to get blown completely out of proportion. Remember Shailene Woodley’s excised role as Mary Jane—and the subsequent “shitstorm”—in The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Like Woodley, Miller being given the ax from Black Mass wasn’t too big of a deal for her since she’s got bigger and better things going for her at present.
One of those is Mississippi Grind, the latest from the filmmaking duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck—the team behind the brilliant Half Nelson, which remains one of the very best films of the 2000s. Grind, which is now in theaters and on demand October 13, stars a different easy-on-the-eyes Ryan (Reynolds) as a young gambler named Curtis who takes a degenerate one (Ben Mendelsohn) on a lifelong losing streak under his wing, hoping to change his tide.
The two embark on a tour of Middle America, hitting grimy casinos and back-door poker games from Alabama to Mississippi to New Orleans, and along the way they encounter Miller’s Simone, a riverboat entertainer of sorts who gives Curtis hope of settling down from life on the road. Throughout the film she remains his conscience—a Gatsby-esque beacon of light amid one smoky, caliginous gambling hall after another.
“She’s kind of a lady of the night, I would say,” says a chuckling Miller. “I’ve always really loved Ryan and Anna’s work and I just had my daughter and had made a decision to try and work with really interesting filmmakers in whatever capacity I could, regardless of the size of the part.”
Miller worked just eight days on the monthlong shoot, but found herself not only attracted to Ryan and Anna’s skills behind the camera, but also the movie’s ’70s-style aesthetic. Although don’t count on catching her at the tables anytime soon.
“I like a bit of blackjack, but I’m one of those people who doesn’t leave when they’re up so I never leave too satisfied at the end of the evening,” she says, playfully noting the double entendre. “I’ve made a little bit, but no, I’m not a compulsive gambler in any way, but I’ve made films in strange cities in your country and have stayed in a casino and done it. But to be honest, I find the whole world a little depressing.”
To pass the time on the set of Mississippi Grind, Miller did engage in a bit of gambling with her co-star, Ryan Reynolds. “Me and Ryan played Shithead a lot on set, and we played for small bits of cash,” she recalls. “We’d sit in the corner playing. I think we pretty much evened up, and it was just for laughs.”
I have a bit of a bone to pick with Miller. Back in 2012, following a three-year hiatus from acting, she gave birth to a lovely daughter with then-fiancé Tom Sturridge. And she named her daughter “Marlowe,” after the playwright. Even though my name is “Marlow” sans the “e,” inspired by the protagonist of Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, when the news broke of Miller’s baby name so many of my friends posted the news item to my Facebook wall in jest, eager to point out that my name had been co-opted by the fairer sex.
When I bring it all up to Miller—in jest, of course—she laughs. “I have a daughter called Marlowe, so I was expecting a woman!” she exclaims.
But back to that three-year hiatus. After the release of the mediocre blockbuster G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, where she played a leather-clad baroness, Miller took a break from acting to focus on her personal life. She rekindled her romance with the actor Jude Law, and after they split again, began dating Sturridge. The two had Marlowe in July 2012, and eventually separated this past June.
In the interim, Miller also gave tear-filled testimony to the Leveson Inquiry after it was revealed that the actress had been hacked by the pernicious tabloid News of the World. She was awarded £100,000 by the British courts for the gross invasion of privacy. It was the final straw for Miller and the tabloids, who had long relished in painting her as a party girl prone to excess.
“It was definitely a real struggle,” she says. “When I became successful, the culture in England where I lived was incredibly tabloid-heavy, and obviously there was phone hacking going on. I had to fight legal battles to have to get to a place to not have that in my life. I do feel like it’s so far behind now. I have an injunction against paparazzi in England so I never get photographed there, and I do think that’s helped me do the work that I wanted to do, because it’s hard to battle the sense of perfection and the relentless media coverage of a girl in her twenties, which is distracting. It’s been a long time now, and I do feel like a very different woman.”
Motherhood seems to have played a large role in Miller’s resurgence, as well. For years, she opted for juicy parts in lackluster productions (see: Alfie, Factory Girl, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh) instead of focusing on who was behind the camera.
“It was because, more than anything, the size of the roles have been perfect being a mother because American Sniper was three weeks and Foxcatcher was a couple of weeks,” she says. “You can pop in, be in these great things, and you’re not committed to a five-month shoot. I can’t get my head around balancing that and motherhood. But I was tired of giving a lot and putting a lot into performances in films that in the end, didn’t live up to my expectations. I would go with the role instead of the people making it, and I switched that up. I think it’s a combination of luck and maturity, and not feeling the burning ambition of having to work all the time that motherhood gave me.”
In addition to Grind and the aforementioned biopics, Miller has booked several juicy roles in the coming months, including the female lead opposite her American Sniper co-star Bradley Cooper in Burnt; as a freewheeling hippie in the excellent psychedelic drama High-Rise with Tom Hiddleston; and as the female lead (again) in The Lost City of Z, an action-adventure also starring Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson.
But the project Miller is most excited about is Live by Night, a Prohibition-era drama directed by Ben Affleck and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. Miller plays the female lead, Emma Gould, in the organized-crime flick that’s about to begin filming.
“It’s so exciting!” she shrieks. “I start shooting that in a month and cannot wait because it’s the most exciting character. I play Emma Gould, who is a Prohibition-era Boston lady and the daughter of a pimp. She’s definitely a character that’s on the fringe of society, that’s complex and a little dark and damaged and broken, which are always characters that are much more fun to play than normal people.”
She pauses. “I think it’s going to be fantastic and I’m so grateful.”