‘There is a glimmer of hope,’Sienna Miller says when she calls, the first words out of her mouth after a warm ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ We are approaching a year of lockdown but in London spring has finally arrived after a tough winter.
A native New Yorker, Sienna has made the city her home since 2016, but she is back in London these days, having returned before Christmas with Marlowe, her eight- year-old daughter from her relationship with Tom Sturridge. She is thrilled to be back – ‘I was craving family’, she says – but she is here for work, having taken the lead in Netflix series Anatomy Of A Scandal, based on the best-selling book by Sarah Vaughan.
In her downtime, Sienna has got through lockdown in much the same way as we all have. With jigsaws, baking and new addictions. ‘I’ve suddenly become a true crime junkie,’ she announces. ‘I’ve been watching the Cecil Hotel documentary on Netflix, and Night Stalker [about serial killer Richard Ramirez], which was unbelievable and horrifying and intriguing. Now, I’m on Married At First Sight Australia. I’m so far behind though!’
Bingeing on bad television was the self-care she needed after an emotionally taxing project. Her latest film, Wander Darkly, sees her play new mother Adrienne, who is caught in a relationship buckling with strain. Following a car crash, Adrienne wakes up standing over her own body as she is pronounced dead. And then she must go back through her life, through her love story, and analyse where it all went wrong.
‘The script really held me,’ she explains. ‘I love the notion of going back and revisiting moments in your relationship with the person that you’re kind of falling apart with. I tend to respond really emotionally to things, and it just moved me so deeply.
I felt like I had to jump in.’ When writer/ director Tara Miele called cut at the end of the day, Sienna had to find ways to dispel the emotional strain.
‘That can be a painful experience,’ Sienna, 39, says. ‘I don’t ever feel like I want to completely bury the person that I’m playing. But I’m quite good at disassociating in moments where I need to be present, like with my daughter or when I’m making dinner. You just have to be able to compartmentalise. This is really specific to women: there’s so much that was required of me as a person other than my job, you know? Women are good at multitasking.’
The reviews of her performance have been effusive. But does she actually care about star ratings and award nominations (as so many actors claim not to)? ‘It would be a total lie to say that I don’t want people to respond positively,’ she laughs. ‘I had to dig extremely deep, so it would break my heart if everyone said, “She’s shit.” Any positive response is greatly appreciated: it just can’t be the driving force of why you do something.’
Sienna has been on our radar since 2004’s Layer Cake and Alfie, when a relationship with her Alfie co-star Jude Law – and an enviable boho style (the maxidresses, the disc belts) – made her a media fixture and a regular on the front row. More recently in New York, she co-parented Marlowe with her ex, actor Tom, and was in a relationship with gallerist Lucas Zwirner. She has expressed a certain frustration that headlines concerning her personal life may have eclipsed her work. ‘The noise of everything else was louder,’ she reflected in a February interview. ‘It was, like: “She can’t possibly be good and be doing all these other things.”’ She has well proven her talent beyond the headlines, though, especially in recent years, with turns in American Sniper and American Woman (plus she was BAFTA-nominated for playing Tippi Hedren in 2012’s The Girl).
Sienna prefers not to look back, at least at the films. ‘I’ve never gone back and watched films that I’ve been in,’ she insists. ‘I haven’t even seen all of them! There’s a director’s cut of Factory Girl that apparently is a better version. I had moments, when I was younger, where there would be a screening of some of the first films that I did, and I would watch in a total state of anxiety, wishing that I had worked harder. I was very, very critical.’
Promotion for this latest project has replaced junkets in swanky hotels with Zooms from her sofa. ‘There are elements of it that are nice,’ she concedes. ‘The travelling is hard when you’ve got a child in school. But then again, there are times when getting on a plane to go away and sleep in a hotel is heaven on Earth. And it’s quite weird, doing a talk show from your kitchen, trying to muster up the adrenaline you get from being around a live audience.’ Though she still tops best-dressed lists, she isn’t missing red carpet looks: it’s comfort all the way. ‘Oh, I’ve been dressing like this at home for the past decade,’ she says. ‘Comfort is really priority number one to me. I wear a lot of slipper-type shoes: if it’s loungewear that can be disguised as normal clothes, you’ll find me in it.’
Having moved to TV in 2019’s The Loudest Voice, Anatomy Of A Scandal – boasting Big Little Lies’ David E Kelley as co-showrunner – takes her to Netflix. Sienna plays a woman who stands by her politician husband, played by Rupert Friend, after he is accused of rape. She has real-life courtroom experience, having spoken on press practices at the Leveson Inquiry. The question of who gets to decide who possesses someone else, what right they have to another person’s being, hovers over both experiences.
‘I was really interested in exploring that grey area of consent,’ she says. ‘What is consent? What is privilege? From my character’s perspective, she’s dealing with a lot of betrayal. But she responds in such a different way to how I’ve responded in my own life that I thought was interesting. What is that psychology? It’s a familiar circumstance and an unfamiliar reaction. It’s a great part.’
Being back on set after months was a ‘total blessing’, Sienna says. ‘Being around other people, having a place to go to... I feel extremely lucky to break the mundanity of the routine of home-schooling and being stuck in one place. Because the first lockdown got challenging!’
‘WanderDarkly’is on digital download