Sienna Miller stars in James Gray’s elegant adventure tale The Lost City of Z as Nina Fawcett, wife to 1900s British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who must cope with her husband’s protracted absence as he heads into the Amazon jungle.
MiNDFOOD sat down with the 35 year-old British actress, whose past work include the remake of Alfie (2004) and Casanova (2005), alongside Heath Ledger. More recently, she starred in Clint Eastwood’s hit war movie American Sniper (2014) and Ben Affleck’s gangster saga Live By Night (2016).
How did you find it, making James Gray’s The Lost City of Z?
I found this experience realty isolating. There was something about this character – I loved her and I respected her. But they [the rest of the crew] were all living in Belfast City and I put myself in Bangor away on my own, with my child, suffering by the sea! It was beautiful but it was quite melancholic. The experience of it was just lonely, which I think subconsciously I wanted and needed.
As a mother yourself, did you relate to playing Nina that way?
No, not necessarily. I related to her reaction to her environment more than anything else, I think. She rebels against it but she feels very oppressed by it, and maybe that’s a very contemporary view of what it would’ve been like, but for me, it really resonated, the struggle that she felt. The responsibilities that she had and her desire to be more appreciated and emancipated from that world. It was just not an easy time to be a woman.
Is it a little strange that you’re playing the mother to Tom Holland in this film, the young British actor who has just appeared as Spider-Man?
It is. Obviously, this films spans a long time. I think I begin as 20 and age to 65. So it’s quite weird for me in real life when I feel like his contemporary, even though that’s slight denial on my part! He’s incredibly professional and incredibly brilliant and enthusiastic, and he’s about to obviously become a monster superstar. It felt like everyone who was cast in this film was a fan of James’, and they were happy to be there for that. He’s an auteur director. He’s on a lot of actors’ lists to work with. So I think everyone was happy to be there, and I loved Tom. There was not one bad apple in the cart.
Was this a role you really felt you worked hard for?
Yeah, I worked really hard for it. More so, [I gave] a lot of consideration for Nina and about how to do it. On paper, it quite easily could’ve been a role where you ask for a lot of sympathy and that would’ve been the low-hanging fruit version. That is an easy trap to fall into and I have in the past…but you learn as you go along. In my mind, courage, resilience and stoicism, especially with this kind of story, is more devastating than being a victim. And I felt sorry for her, when I first read it. And that would’ve been a pitfall. She sees the plight of her situation but she keeps it together. She’s a mother and she’s strong and she’s accepting, but she’s not submissive. She’s got her own thing going on. But she’s accepted her lot in a way and she attacks it with ferocity, vivaciousness and dignity, and I found her courageous. I liked that about her.
Is that how you approach all roles, working extremely hard?
I have in the past done something where I don’t think I’ve given as much as I could’ve done…but you can’t just phone something in. You feel empty at the end and tired. The jobs I’ve given most to or worked hardest on, and really researched or applied myself to, are the ones that I look back on with the most fondness.
You’ve collaborated with some great directors recently, like Clint Eastwood and Ben Affleck. Do you think word has got round Hollywood about you?
I think this is exactly how this town works. I think the directors all talk to each other. And if they’re giving good feedback and it comes from someone who is respected, that counts. If I really wanted a job, I could probably phone up one of those heavyweights and say, ‘Can you phone this director and badger him about me?’ And they probably would! And that helps too….but for a creative industry, it often lacks vision and sometimes people need someone to affirm something. A great audition might not be enough.
When you started in the business, your personal life was raked over by the tabloid media. Have perceptions changed of you lately?
I think not being in the tabloids every day probably meant that I could work with great people and get good work. I don’t think I suddenly became more able. I just think the perception was so strong and so dominant. So, yeah, it has changed. It has changed because I have the space now to be private and to be an actor and not all the other things that I was being, or portrayed to be, or scrutinized in that way. It’s really hard…I don’t think people want to go and see films with people in them, who they’re seeing photos of every day, and know everything about. I think anonymity in this profession is essential in some way.
You’ve worked with the likes of Johnny Depp, Bradley Cooper and Ben Affleck. Who was your favourite?
I could never say that! But genuinely and annoyingly all I can do is lavish praise on them because they are three incredibly bright and charismatic and fun and clever and talented people. It’s a good line up.
In the past, you established a boutique fashion label, Twenty8Twelve, with your sister Savannah. Would you consider doing that again?
Not right now. I haven’t thought about it much. Maybe one day. I do like making things. But nothing right now. I’m more focused on finding books to option and develop. I’d like to maybe start producing. That’s something that’s fermenting in my brain.
The Lost City of Z opens in Australia on 24 August.