The Notorious Sienna Miller
TOTAL FILM, NOVEMBER 2007
Would you mind swapping seats with me?” asks Sienna Miller.
On a rare bright day, we are enjoying drinks and sunshine outside a typically overpriced South Kensington café when Miller spots a car parked some 50 yards down on the corner of the road. Paparazzi?
“I have a radar for them,” she grimaces, moving around so her back is to the offending long lens.
This is how it is for the 25-year-old actress, whose growing body of work has not yet surmounted her tabloid past. Relationships and rumours, primarily with Jude Law and Daniel Craig respectively, have made her a figure of red-top notoriety.
“I was well-known before I even had a film out,” she acknowledges sadly. "You become this tabloid ‘thing’. But I don’t court attention. I don’t go to other people’s premieres, I haven’t been out to a club in London for years. I sometimes go to the pub. But, of course, when I leave I am shitfaced, and shagging God knows who...”
She sighs at the absurdity of this life in papers that she insists bears only a passing resemblance to her own. “Apparently, I’m having an affair with Sean Bean at the moment,” she says with mock exasperation. “Who I’ve never met. Oh, and I cook him beef stew. I’ve actually been in a cab and the driver asked, ‘So how’s Sean?’ I’ve. Never. Met. Him! Papers have the power to fucking say whatever they want and the frustrating thing is people believe it. These days, the only thing I believe in a newspaper is the date.”
In the flesh, she doesn't seem like a man-eating party godzilla of lore. For a start, she's petite, maybe a little pixie-ish. She can do old school movie star glamour when she needs to though. As this month's US Vogue makes clear, devoting an extravagant cover feature to the actress.
She claims such things “are not important” but they clearly generate heat in an industry that has a fondness for Brits. After all, not every role can go to Kate or Keira.
Still, her press treatment, particularly with gossip rags and tabloids remains a sore point (“I could never be friends with a tabloid journalist. It would be like sleeping with the enemy”) and it’s probably fair to say that all the hoopla distracts from a career of some promise.
Born in New York, Miller moved to London when she was one. Her mother Josephine was a South African model, her father Edwin an American banker who became a dealer of Chinese art. After attending public schools in Britain, Miller returned to New York for a year to study at the Lee Strasberg Institute and once back in London was signed up by the Select model agency.
After a few of the usual model-turned-actress roles, where she did what was required tidily enough, Miller began to show a real spark with her starring turn in Factory Girl, bringing a bright-eyed commitment and no little craft to a script that perhaps didn’t merit such effort. She’s good again in this month’s Interview, a two-hander directed by, and also starring, Steve Buscemi. Miller took the role without even seeing a script.
“I was so uncool,” she says with some glee, revving up to deliver the first of the afternoon’s numerous rapid-fire monologues: “My agent told me Steve wanted me to do a film with him and I said ‘Yes, just say yes!’ It’s true, I hadn’t seen a script, or anything but if it was good enough for Steve Buscemi, it was by far good enough for me! But my agent said, ‘Well you should have a conversation first.’ And I was like ‘Ooh, a conversation with Steve Buscemi!’ So I did. And he said [puts on flawless American drawl] ‘Hey it’s Steve Buscemi, how are ya?’ And I was all ‘I’d love to do it!’ And he said ‘Well, will you read the script?’ And I said I didn’t need to, and he laughed and was a bit shocked. But he thought I could maybe do the role. He took a gamble on me and I’m very grateful he did.”
She pauses, then deadpans: “And, I’m probably cheaper than half the people he would want...”
This is fairly typical Miller. Breathless, vibrant, a little bit lovey (nearly everyone we discuss is either ‘a close friend’ or ‘a genius’) but all underpinned with a vivacious likeability. It's easy to warm to her.
Directors meanwhile have been happy to tap into her notoriety. She excelled playing a party animal in Factory Girl, and her performance as the initially vacuous-seeming Katya in Interview is smart and layered. Katya is a famous soap actress, frequently harassed by the press and now being interviewed by Buscemi’s newspaper reporter Pierre.
Despite her admiration for Buscemi, she admits it was “a little odd” acting opposite her director. “Although it was obviously harder for him trying to be in his character in one sense and watching what I was doing in another, and checking what the camera was doing in addition to that. I mean, I never felt for one second like I lacked an acting partner or a director. But it was different...”
The movie’s tight budget and schedule also created challenges, although Miller says she relished the close-knit nature of the production.
“If I had the chance to work on every film like we worked on this, it would be bliss. We were doing like, eight-minute takes and 30 pages of dialogue a night. There was no waiting around, there were no trailers to get bored in. It was nine nights. All night shoots, so that was funny. You know when people are exhausted and you hit that witching hour of just giggles and insanity? There was a lot of that. And Steve’s willing to be as silly as I am, so that’s good!”
As the film unfolds, the cat and mouse of the interview process reveals ever more about the two protagonists. It’s a process that, despite her own tabloid tales of woe, Miller admits to quite enjoying.
“I wouldn’t say I look forward to interviews... but, as is probably apparent, I do like to chat,” she grins. “Although I get nervous because I have a very large mouth so sometimes I put my foot in it. I get excited and I need to calm down.”
Tips for future interrogators: she prefers “heavy” interviews to “fluffy”, finds American interviewers “sometimes more charming” but also prone to “sweetly smiling while stabbing you in the back”. British interviewers “tend to be a bit more honest and confrontational”.
“I don’t mind questions,” she explains. “I’d just rather they weren’t vacuous, or treating you like this blonde. I don’t mind being challenged because I get off on that.”
She does like to be stretched. It crops up several times. She says she's turned turning down roles in bigger productions because the characters aren’t interesting enough.
“I'm open to things, but if I’m just playing ‘the girl’, I’ll be crap. I know I will - because I’ll be bored. I’d love to do a really good comedy but, again, often you’re just the girl who serves the funny men. And I don’t think I’d be very good in an action film because I’m lazy. “ She shrugs. “I don’t work out or anything.”
She doesn’t appear to be a fan of much of the blockbuster fare that comes out. “I think that a lot of people who go to films want to see the perfect girl but I don’t find those roles interesting. I have to use my brain. It would be nice to find something a bit more commercial but I’d rather not work than do something that I didn’t want to do.”
Do her ‘people’ push her to take bigger roles?
“Well, their 10 per cent would probably be a lot more interesting if I wasn’t being so picky!” she laughs. “But to be fair, they’ve been very supportive. They understand that the reasons I’m in this are because I love doing my job and not because I want to make millions. They’re okay with that..."
Another one of her pauses. "Although there have been a few battles!”
Nothing though, approaching the scale of her run-ins with the press. The car up the road still hasn’t moved. Possibly because today’s papers carry pictures of Miller helping an actor friend move furniture – the inference being she must be sleeping with him.
“God! I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!” she mock-shrieks. “But I’m not going to change. I have a lot of male friends, always have, who I hang out with, go drinking with. Now and then, they stay on my couch. They’re my best friends; that’s normal. But with the press, you’re ‘not allowed’ male friends. Perhaps I should conform to a certain degree if I want to get rid of the speculation but then again, you can’t really win anyway. I’ve been out to places with my mum and they still write I’m out on a bender.”
“Anyway, “ she continues, warming to her theme, “I refuse to conform! I’ve never missed a day’s work in my life and I take my job very seriously but when I’m not working I want to be a 25 year old. I don’t have assistants, bodyguards, or even a driver because I try and pretend in my own head that this isn’t happening. I think a lot of actresses tend to living sheltered lives and then you become egotistical. Your life revolves around you and you live in this cotton wool world. But I’m very free spirited and I want to be able to live the life I do. Also, I find it very sexist and misogynistic. There are no boys that the papers focus on. It’s ridiculously unfair. I know so many boys who do whatever they want. It never affects their work. And I know girls far worse than me...”
She laughs despite herself. She has the ability, even in the midst of a big rant, to stop and mock herself for taking anything too seriously.
“I know, boo-hoo! Life’s so tough. You know, I’ve always been one of those people who gets caught, doing everything! And never wins a prize! [Laughs] I was that girl at school. So if everyone was out having a fag behind the bushes I would be the one caught doing it. The funny thing is I’m actually quite prude-ish, believe it or not! I’ve never had a one-night stand or anything. Maybe I should just be more ‘mysterious’ and not comment on any of it."
Over the forthcoming months you’ll be seeing plenty more of her, and not just in the papers. She has a brief appearance in Stardust (“It was just two weeks work”), where she at least got to meet Robert De Niro, if not share any dialogue with him: “There was one scene near the end where we’re both in the same room and I had to look in his direction. I made the look last about 10 minutes!”
Also in the can are lead roles in comedies Camille, where she plays a “really kooky girl from Kentucky” alongside the “brilliant, lovely, funny, fantastic” James Franco and Mysteries Of Pittsburgh (adapted from the Michael Chabon 80s-set coming-of-age novel) which may debut at Sundance. “My character Jane was quite conventional,” says Miller, “But we managed to flaw her up a bit! She’s really kind of a good person. It’s a sweet role.”
Plus there’s The Edge Of Love, formerly known The Best Times Of Our Lives ("Actually, I heard talk the title might be changing again,” says Miller) where she stars as Caitlin MacNamara, wife of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, alongside Matthew Rhys, Cillian Murphy and Keira Knightley (“three geniuses”).
The role of Caitlin was initially Lindsay Lohan’s, before the American – no stranger to the tabloids herself, dropped out. “Obviously, I came on board really last minute,” says Miller, skirting away from any Lohan comment. “But it was a fantastic experience. The director John Mayberry is a friend of mine. And he’s such a genius. Do you remember Love Is the Devils [artsy biog of the painter Francis Bacon]? He does things in such a quirky way. It’s a terrifying process and if I didn’t know him I think I would have been horrified because you’re lucky to get two takes because he knows exactly what he wants and when he’s got it. It’s very arty. I think he’s made a beautiful film. And it was really good to work with Keira, who I have a lot of respect for. She’s another girl who’s in a similar position to me – although she still has her reputation intact!”
She laughs. “Naturally, I intend to sully it before the year’s out!” Then, perhaps mindful of her quotes being taken out of context by those pesky tabloids adds: “Of course, I’m only joking...”
She looks at her watch. “Have you got enough?” she enquires. She has a dentist’s appointment, for which she in now considerably late, before continuing with her preparation for her next flick, Hippie Hippie Shake, based on the book by sixties counterculturist Richard Neville, the founder of the infamous Oz magazine.
“It’s a great 60s ensemble piece,” she offers with typical enthusiasm, between hugs and kisses goodbye. “With really good actors and a really good script. And it’s a Working Title film so potentially quite commercial, I think. I’m really excited about it.”
With a flourish of bags checked and sunglasses gathered, she skips off down the road.
The parked car on the corner kicks into life and slowly pulls away.