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Five Minutes With Sienna Miller

Maxine Wally

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The world came to know the name Sienna Miller in the early Aughts. That’s when she starred in “Factory Girl” as Edie Sedgwick, costarred in “Layer Cake,” married Jude Law and the fashion world’s interest in the actress piqued.

But this year, Miller is experiencing the most meaningful and gratifying turns of her career thus far, with her new movie “American Woman.” It’s her first role as a main character, not bolstered by any other actors or playing the supportive wife or girlfriend of a man whose story stands front and center. The film also marks the first time she’s been able to delve into a woman character’s life in nuanced ways — and portray that experience on camera.

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To celebrate the film, she and friends Emily Blunt, Aaron Paul, Helena Christensen, Billy Crudup and more attended a special showing sponsored by Gucci at Metrograph in New York on Thursday night. On the red carpet prior to the screening and the subsequent after party at the newly opened restaurant and club Omar’s, Miller discussed getting into character for “American Woman,” and her ambitions to branch out from acting — which includes starting her own production company.

WWD: I’ve read that you don’t really read criticism or reviews about yourself.

Sienna Miller: Yeah, as a rule, I don’t. I got sent a few clips this time around.

WWD: But there is this narrative bouncing around surrounding “American Woman” — that this is a big, career-changing role for you. How do you feel about that narrative?

S.M.: I don’t think it’s my first big role, I think it’s the first time I’ve single-handedly been the lead character without the support of somebody else. So that felt daunting — I leant on the supporting cast, but I was in every scene, which has never happened. These opportunities have been few and far between, and that’s intrinsic to being a woman in film. I think it’s quite rare; not necessarily specific to me, but at 37 years old, I’m thrilled I’ve had this opportunity. I’ve done good supporting work in fantastic films and had to work very hard to show something in smaller moments. I loved being able to have the space and time to really do everything I want to with a character. 

WWD: You’ve talked about fantasizing retelling your previous movie characters’ stories from the nuanced perspective Deb had in “American Woman.”
Are there any characters in particular that you’re thinking about? 

S.M.: All of them, I can’t think of one specifically. I could look at all of those films and be as interested in the woman’s side of it as what the focus of the film was — the man’s view. That’s how women were represented often in history and in some of the period pieces I’ve done. I’m always interested in that: the woman left behind, what did that feel like? 

WWD: Your costar Christina Hendricks said director Jake Scott went over the characters nightly with the actors before shooting. Can you tell me about these nightly character studies?

S.M.: He had backstories for all of us, which he’d written and worked extensively on. Everything was informed in some way and it was the first time that a director’s done that for me. He really minded the density and subtext of everybody’s experience, and I think as a result of that, it feels authentic. These people are very rarely looked at, let alone examined. And he put the work in examining them, which helps all of us make it real.

WWD: How did you find getting into character as Deb different from getting into character as, say, the character you played in “American Sniper”? I’m sure it’s totally different.

S.M.: With “American Sniper” I spent time with Taya Kyle, who I played. That was the main difference. This was much more imagined and more internal, less about reading source material and more about conjuring the experience. I play these American women, but this accent was really specific so a lot of it was [learning] that. But I loved her, I don’t think I’ve ever loved a character more than Deb. 

WWD: I’ve been hearing about you getting behind the camera, working on writing…

S.M.: Nascent stages of all of those things.

WWD: Can you tell me a little bit about these other projects you’re pursuing?

The first step is going to be setting up a production company — which I want to do in the new year — and option books and hire writers and start developing material. That is where I’m at, in the early stages. I’m still deciding what the name of the company’s going to be. In moments when I’m not working, I’m often dissatisfied. It can be so intense, the work. It would be good to have something that I’m always working on for other people, not necessarily for myself. But also, at the same time, making the kind of films that I want to see and be in and finding those characters. I feel like I’m at the beginning, at this moment of female empowerment, imagining doing something other than just motherhood and acting, which is overwhelming enough. I feel ready to start thinking about it.