For Sienna Miller, the past few years have encompassed motherhood, hard-won success and, more recently, a love affair with Northern Ireland. Here, she talks to STEPHEN MILTON about her latest project and the next chapter of her life.
During the summer of 2015, Sienna Miller would often cut a lonely figure on the dirty coloured sands of Helen’s Bay in Co Down. Immersed in contemplative thought, she was sometimes acknowledged by a passer-by in the opposite direction. “They’d always nod their head or give a very quick ‘hello’,” she tells me. “It’s so lovely, it’s so Irish, just greeting a stranger like that. “I’d think for a second, ‘Do I know him?’ And then I found myself doing it too.”
Working on period saga The Lost City of Z in the seaside port of Bangor, Miller intentionally annexed herself from her crew and cast, including Robert Pattinson and Charlie Hunnam, in a small cottage by the water near Helen’s Bay. Playing Nina, the wife of explorer Percy Fawcett, who was never seen again after entering the Amazon rainforest in 1925 along with their eldest son Jack, Miller needed the isolation to help tap into the mind of a woman and mother, abandoned and consumed by grief. “I had to cut myself off from the camaraderie in the city. They were all having a great time, hitting the pubs, having fun, but I couldn’t be a part of that. It just went against everything [Nina] was feeling. “I wanted to connect with her loneliness and seclusion, I needed to understand that consuming sadness and isolation of losing her husband and child. I needed to think too much, I needed to wallow in a dark place. It was quite a melancholic experience.” Miller wasn’t completely alone during the eight-week shoot. Ex-fiancé Tom Sturridge and their daughter, Marlowe, flew in for frequent visits, and the trio were regularly spotted on the streets of Bangor, where the star had also shot noir thriller High-Rise the summer before. And she made sure they stopped for Scotch eggs at her favourite haunt, The Salty Dog.
Miller in The Lost City of Z
“I became addicted when we shot High-Rise last year. Literally, after every day, we’d go down to the seaside for our Scotch eggs. I’m sure their stockpiles had only just recovered when I arrived back again a year later, to decimate them all again.” Laughing, she pushes a soft gold mane beyond her shoulders as the light catches a honey hue in her dimpled features. Considering her legacy as a much desired movie star, heralded for her style, and harangued for her romantic dalliances with Jude Law and Balthazar Getty, not to mention a crusade against the press over her direct victimisation in the News of the World’s phone hacking horror, I’d armed myself for an understandably austere and guarded encounter. But there’s a welcoming warmth in her blue-eyed gaze and a fluid ease in her body language. And a new laissez-faire attitude, best represented as we chat about the latest tabloid kerfuffle revolving around her recent performance opposite Ben Affleck in gangster drama, Live by Night.
Days before we meet in a chilly Central London hotel suite, Sienna made a dismissive joke about a love scene with the actor and how they ended up in tears of laughter. The headlines then read, “Miller in tears over sex scene with Affleck”. “It just made it sound like something else, like I was upset and the tears of ‘laughter’ bit had been opportunely removed. But there you have it, a simple, throwaway remark becomes this ‘thing’ and what can you do? “[These headlines] are going to happen, it’s very difficult to control, and if there’s no direct adverse effect, you just have to roll your eyes.” She shifts in her seat and gazes past my ear towards the window. “And I think with changes in your life, comes a sense of not caring about the small stuff. Who cares? It doesn’t matter. It certainly doesn’t matter to me as much as it might have a few years ago.” Sienna’s career has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts. After a superficially dazzling breakthrough alongside Law in Alfie, she bolstered her new fame with form-fitting, eye candy performances in Layer Cake and GI Joe, while her “boho” style stole focus from quality effort, such as fashion icon Edie Sedgwick in Factory Girl. After a Golden Globe nomination for a strong turn as a tortured Tippi Hedren in The Girl, Sienna Miller has since found her feet in critically acclaimed films American Sniper, Mississippi Grind and Foxcatcher.
Miller as Tippi Hedren in ‘The Girl.’
I’ve now found, getting older, more interesting work has come my way. Because I have experience. Because I have my own story.
And Miller thinks she knows why. “I have a better sense of a decent script now. Perhaps that’s what you learn growing up as an actor. Clearly, I’m doing something right if I’m getting to work with Clint Eastwood, James Gray, Ben Affleck… Something has happened, something has changed. I think much of it has to do with getting older.” Has age created more opportunity? “I didn’t realise it then, but in your twenties, it can be very limiting creatively. You’re led to believe that’s where all the work is, that you won’t find much once you get older. “But actually, that’s rubbish! When you’re younger, the work can be – and I’m not speaking for everyone – sometimes one dimensional. Pretty thing on the side.”
“I’ve now found, getting older, more interesting work has come my way. Because I have experience. Because I have my own story.” Her story still revolves heavily around style and fashion. Earlier today, as she deftly strode down the hallway in a navy long-sleeved top and high waisted brown suede cigarette pants, both Burberry, and clashing dark heels, I overheard two clipboard-wielding publicists marvel at her sartorial choice. Last Christmas, she stunned in a lavish Burberry campaign with Domhnall Gleeson… “Isn’t he a dream leading man?” Is this her way of balancing her fashion with film, or could the former outweigh again? “I feel like I’m moving past that focus. It’s hopefully now more on my work on film and on stage. “I’m also a huge fan of Burberry – we’ve had a beautiful, very fruitful relationship for many years, and the opportunity to be involved in a campaign of that beauty and strength, I find myself very lucky and grateful to be able to balance those various sides of my career. And that’s not something I would ever agonise over.”
Rumoured to be in a relationship with her Foxcatcher director, Bennett Miller, Sienna made the move last year with her daughter Marlowe from London to New York, though she’ll return to the West End this summer to play Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. “I love the vibrancy of a new city, getting to have a new adventure. I’m very connected with New York – I was born there. I feel very at home. And my work was increasingly based in the States, so it made sense now that my daughter is in school, and I don’t have to spend any time away from her. It’s a nice change.”
“I still adore London and I’m very lucky that I can return as much as I can, even for short stints like this one.” Is there anything she misses about home? “The English sensibility, the pubs – nowhere else in the world does a good pub…” Miller clocks my raised brow and quickly retreats. “Well, obviously, Ireland does the best pub – I think that’s long been established.” She smiles brightly at her compliment and hugs her slim frame. “I’m not pining that much. Right now, it’s about soaking up the energy of a new place, of a new environment. I like the idea of a new chapter.”
The Lost City of Z is out March 24.