Andrea Riseborough breaks silence on her contentious ‘To Leslie’ Best Actress Oscar nomination

In her first major interview since she scored an unexpected 2023 Oscar nomination for Best Actress, “To Leslie” star Andrea Riseborough expressed some ambivalence about the response to the academy’s recognition of her performance. 

“I don’t know what I know,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview published Wednesday. “I think once I have time to process everything, I might understand it a bit better.”

Riseborough’s Best Actress nomination is already the stuff of infamy or legend, depending on the perspective. The veteran performer played an addict struggling to reconnect with her son in “To Leslie,” which debuted at last year’s South by Southwest Film Festival to rave reviews but was quickly pushed aside by bigger movies and awards campaigns. “To Leslie” barely scored a theatrical release, earning just about $27,000. To even put the film on the radar of Oscar voters, Riseborough and director Michael Morris used their own money to submit the film on the academy screening site. 

“The distribution budget was very small,” Riseborough told THR in an email after declining to speak about her campaign and the controversy it sparked during the in-person portion of her interview. “But having had success at SXSW and Raindance [a film festival that took place in London in November of last year], having seen the impact of the film on audiences and having had some wonderful reviews, we all tried to contribute in any way we could. I showed up for screenings and Q&As and was witness to some incredibly cathartic Q&As afterward, during which audience members shared their own stories in relation to addiction.”

Riseborough’s work was embraced by a cadre of A-list performers, many of whom already won Oscars, including Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron, Helen Hunt, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Starting late last year and continuing through the voting period in January, the stars posted about Riseborough on social media and urged voters to put Riseborough on their ballots. At first, the gambit seemed like a long shot. But when the nominations were announced, Riseborough landed among the five Best Actress contenders, ahead of presumed nominees like Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”) and Viola Davis (“The Woman King”). The exclusion of the Black actresses from the Best Actress field in favor of Riseborough – whose ascent into the race was largely driven by white performers – led to much disappointment and a public outcry about the academy’s failure to recognize Black women.

“My issue with what happened is how people in the industry use their social capital — screenings in their homes, personal calls, personal emails, personal connections, elevated status. People like to say, ‘Well, Viola and Danielle had studios behind them.’ But we just very clearly saw that social capital is more valuable than that,” “The Woman King” director Gina Prince-Bythewood wrote in a recent piece for The Hollywood Reporter. “That type of power is exercised in more casual ways in social circles, where folks are your friends or your acquaintances. There may be diversity on your sets but not in your lives. And Black women in this industry, we don’t have that power. There is no groundswell from privileged people with enormous social capital to get behind Black women. There never has been.”

Deadwyler, who is nominated at the BAFTA Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards, also called out the academy for its failure to embrace the work of Black women. “We’re talking about people who perhaps chose not to see the film. We’re talking about misogynoir, like it comes in all kinds of ways, whether it’s direct or indirect,” she said in an interview. “It impacts who we are. I think the question is more on people who are living in whiteness, white people’s assessment of the spaces they are privileged by.”

Following the nomination, the campaign tactics that led to Riseborough’s inclusion were investigated by the academy. But despite acknowledging that some “social media and outreach campaigning tactics” had caused “concern,” academy CEO Bill Kramer said the “activity” on behalf of Riseborough “didn’t rise to the level that the film’s nomination should be rescinded.”

Speaking about the controversy to The Hollywood Reporter, Riseborough’s “To Leslie” co-star Marc Maron scoffed at the academy’s investigation and the outrage around how Riseborough’s work was promoted. “If they need to fix the rules around how social media works for the voting process, just do it next time,” he said. “But somebody put a fire up their butts about, you know, ‘How could this happen?’ It just became loaded on a lot of levels. They freaked out.”

Maron said that Momentum Pictures, the small studio that distributed “To Leslie” ultimately “botched” the submission process. According to Maron, the film wasn’t submitted at the Screen Actors Guild Awards or Golden Globes, or even the Oscars. If not for Riseborough and Morris pushing for Riseborough’s inclusion, Maron said, the film would’ve been lost to the awards cycle altogether. 

“So in light of that, you know, when I saw this grassroots thing happen, and then it delivered her this nomination, I was thrilled,” Maron said. “I was thrilled for her, and I was thrilled for the movie. It’s upsetting in retrospect that this experience has to be so loaded and toxic and challenged.”

He added, “A few highly paid consultants for big-money campaigns for big studios got blindsided and then started a bunch of shit. Andrea, she’s in it for the work, dude. I mean, if that’s not clear from this woman’s career — that she’s the real deal and she does it for the work — then you’re not looking at her correctly. But now that she’s targeted and at the center of this fake controversy, I hope it works in her favor.”

For her part, Riseborough said the nomination itself left her “in tears.” “It was just this feeling like this impossible thing had happened,” she added.

But despite the initial euphoria and the success of her campaign, Riseborough said she isn’t sure what should happen to awards campaigns going forward. “Awards campaigning is as acerbically exclusive as it has always been. I do not yet know which measures will best encourage meritocracy,” she said. “I’ve been working toward discovering them and will continue to.”

Of the conversation about the academy’s failure to recognize Black performers, she said, “It not only makes sense that this conversation would be sparked, but it is necessary. The film industry is abhorrently unequal in terms of opportunity. I’m mindful not to speak for the experience of other people because they are better placed to speak, and I want to listen.”

PREDICT the 2023 Oscar winners through March 12

Make your predictions at Gold Derby now. Download our free and easy app for Apple/iPhone devices or Android (Google Play) to compete against legions of other fans plus our experts and editors for best prediction accuracy scores. See our latest prediction champs. Can you top our esteemed leaderboards next? Always remember to keep your predictions updated because they impact our latest racetrack odds, which terrify Hollywood chiefs and stars. Don’t miss the fun. Speak up and share your huffy opinions in our famous forums where 5,000 showbiz leaders lurk every day to track latest awards buzz. Everybody wants to know: What do you think? Who do you predict and why?

SIGN UP for Gold Derby’s free newsletter with latest predictions

More News from GoldDerby