Sizzling Sienna Miller was born in the USA, raised in London, and had a successful modeling career before acting. Now she stars opposite Keira Knightley in The Edge of Love, a tale of two friends who make a dramatic triangle with legendary poet Dylan Thomas. Sienna sits down with Buzzine and talks about her new film, her life and career.
Izumi Hasegawa: There’s so much female bonding that’s happening with all the extra little side things, what kind of bonding happened on set between you and Keira [Knightley]?
Sienna Miller: Well, we were friends before we did the film, and we became even closer and, to this day, she’s one of my closest friends. Because it was such an intense relationship between these two women, I think it’s really important that we did get on, and really lucky that we did. She’s obviously a brilliant actress and, I think, amazing in this film, and the dynamic between these two women is so multilayered, but we had a really great time making the film.
IH: I know you did Factory Girl. You obviously chose another role where you’re playing a person who existed, so I was wondering what drew you to the role, and do you have anything to say about that?
SM: Well, with Factory Girl, I had six months to prepare, and that was fantastic, so there was so much research you can do if you’re playing someone who actually existed. But I actually came on to this movie two weeks before we started shooting, so I had no time whatsoever [laughs] to do the preparation that I normally would, and that was major anxiety occurring in the two weeks leading up to the day that we started shooting. But I think there’s something really great about playing people who existed, just for the history that you have and the knowledge that you can dip into. She was a pretty fascinating character, although less pressure than Edie, because not many people know much about Caitlin Thomas.
IH: Because the real granddaughter of the other couple was actually there and part of this, did you feel any self-consciousness at all — got to get this right or you didn’t want to offend…? And did you go to her for questions?
SM: I think, from the start, we were making a bio-pic, and that was made clear. We wanted to focus on the relationships between these people with the backdrop of the war and how people react, and also this incident did actually happen in their lives. But having those people on set was very resourceful. It wasn’t intimidating because of the way they were. They weren’t dogmatic about sticking to facts, although we did on the whole, but were more there as a support system, and actually, Rebekah [Gilbertson] produced the film, so she was very much on our side.
IH: Did you ask her any specific questions?
SM: Well, Keira went to her more because she knew more about Keira’s character, obviously — her grandmother. I spoke to Dylan [Thomas] and Caitlin’s daughter Aeronwy. I had the pleasure of meeting her and she said, seeing the film, that I was a lot nicer than her mother was [laughs], so that was interesting. I think Caitlin was feisty and I think she comes across as a little bit less tough than she was in real life, but again, I had two weeks so I was actually trying to get an Irish accent down, read the script, dipping into the biography in a state of complete indulgent panic…
IH: The title is really evocative. In your opinion, what does exist at the edge of love?
SM: [Laughs] My god. Whoa. I think love is a really hard thing to define. I think it’s multi-faceted. What’s interesting about this film is that you can take these characters and put them in any era, and their responses to the situations they’re in would be the same. It’s a very malleable subject. I’m not sure what happens at the edge of love; I think probably a lack of intelligence. [Laughs] Emotions don’t really have the intelligence… I think some people on the edge of love are just going with their heart, probably, and not their head, I imagine.
IH: When you first read the script, how did you first think you were going to play her [Caitlin MacNamara]?
SM: It was really well-written. Keira’s mother, Sharman MacDonald, wrote the script, and it was all there. I tend to know, when I read a script, that the first way I read it in my head is eventually how I’ll end up playing it, and I’ll try many different things, but I tend to come back to the first instinct that I had, and she really jumped out of the page. From cartwheeling the bar to this and that, the character was pretty clear, but she goes on such a journey. What she begins the film as is such a different person to how it finishes, but it was pretty much all there in the writing, in the way she was described.
IH: What was the most difficult part for you to get ready to do?
SM: I think the transition was probably quite hard — going from having this tough exterior to being quite a feisty person to falling apart is always challenging emotionally to do that, and the scenes when I’m breaking down are always quite emotionally difficult to do, so that was probably the most challenging part. But, to be honest, it didn’t feel like a challenging project because we were all having such a good time, and it was such a great script and such a lovely group of people that it was very supportive, and John Maybury, the director, was a great friend, so I never felt like I was drowning in any way, but when you push yourself emotionally, that’s always hard.
IH: You mentioned the setting during the war, and now we’re two generations away from the people who actually experienced that. So what is your touchstone, especially given that frantic preparation that you did? Is there something physical, or do you try to find somebody who lived the experience? How do you get in touch with another time?
SM: I just think I studied history at school, and we studied the war from the English perspective. It was obviously a huge part of the culture, and my mother was born during an air-raid in 1943, so she has her own experiences of war and also post-war England. I think people were affected, obviously, by that war, but it’s nothing we can really relate to. We’re at war now, but it’s nothing like the war that they were all at then, and I think what was interesting about this film, to me, was the way that people behaved was largely due to the fact that death was essentially imminent. I mean, around any corner you could die, and therefore they were all living life to the fullest, and that’s why I think a lot of these situations occurred, because they were living with abandon. They didn’t know, when they were in the pub and they were all having a drink, and a bomb goes off nearby and it goes black, that could have been it. So they’re all living on the edge, and I think that’s kind of mirrored in the title The Edge of Love. I think it’s ambiguous, in that sense, because of the backdrop of the war, but obviously nothing I can, thank god, relate to fully, personally.
IH: Even though it’s not a bio-pic, did you gain any insight into Dylan Thomas and why these women were so drawn to him?
SM: From what I’ve read about him, he was obviously very charismatic, and I think there’s always something that certain women are drawn to about a tortured artist. He was this fantastic poet — one of the most brilliant poets that ever lived — and I think people were drawn to that ability to express emotion in a way that most normal people can’t express, and I think it’s probably a very alluring quality to be able to describe love in a poetic way — probably good chat-up lines. [Laughs] He wasn’t the most beautiful man, by any means, but I guess he had a certain charisma, by all accounts, was very childlike, and I think people are drawn to that. But I think for a slightly pudgy, not massively attractive man, he did quite well, from what I hear. [Laughs]
IH: How are you choosing your parts at this point — from the period bio-pics to the big, splashy, studio GI Joe...?
SM: I think it’s the variety that I really like, and also I sometimes read amazing scripts and I know that I can’t play those roles. I respond very instinctually to things. Every now and then I’ll read something and I’ll know, if I start reading it out loud, that it’s something I should do. And other times I can see that this is a great role, but I just don’t relate to it. These are really character-driven pieces, and I think, ultimately, that’s the kind of film I really enjoy watching and therefore enjoy making. On the flipside, I’ve never done a huge studio movie like GI Joe, and I felt like it was time to do something where I wasn’t having a breakdown or addicted to heroin or dying at the end — something that was really great fun and that people went to see and actually just had a great time seeing and weren’t left damaged. I think my parents were also like, “Please just stop doing these films — you’re killing us.” [Laughs]
IH: How did that experience compare then?
SM: It was another different world, it’s a huge budget, a huge crew, things blowing up all around you all the time… I think, initially, I was just completely overwhelmed. I’ve never done fight training, let alone been to a gym, so this was a whole new experience, but then, once I realized what I was doing, it was really fun to make a movie that is just pure entertainment and a completely different style of acting. You have to commit to slight overacting and really performing in a different way, and I think the variety of doing a film like this to doing something like GI Joe is what’s really exciting. Next I’m doing a play on Broadway [laughs], just to really throw my head around.
IH: What’s the play?
SM: It’s an adaptation by Patrick Marber of Strindberg’s Miss Julie called After Miss Julie.
IH: When does that happen?
SM: We start rehearsals in August and we open in October. I kill myself at the end [laughs], so it’s not like a Broadway baby play — it’s pretty heavy, but Patrick Marber is an amazing writer and it’s an amazing role.
IH: Are you comfortable on stage?
SM: I’m not comfortable in any of it [laughs], to be honest. I think that’s kind of why I do it — slightly self-destructive in some way. I did a Shakespeare play in London and I really enjoyed that feeling of doing live theater, and I think there’s nothing that can really beat that feeling when it goes well and connects, and having a live audience. I think it excites me because it terrifies me as well.
IH: When I saw this film, I couldn’t understand why Dylan and your character keep doing cheating things. How do you see why they put themselves in this kind of situation?
SM: I wish I could talk to them to ask them. I think it’s complicated. It’s obviously a very complicated situation, and from his point of view, he can’t help it. It’s his excuse; and from her point of view, she doesn’t see it as cheating. He falls in love with them and she just sleeps with him, and both of them think that they’re entitled to do it, but both are very hurt by the other one’s behavior, so it’s obviously a very complex situation. Personally, I can’t really answer it [laughs]. I think it’s definitely a destructive relationship, but I think, fundamentally, there was a deep love between them.
SM: The hardest scene, emotionally, for me was when I was crying and pulling the stitches out. John Maybury, as I said, was a great friend and knows which buttons to push as a result of having been a great friend for six years [laughs], so he knows my weak points, and he locked me in a trailer with the saddest music that I’ve ever heard and said, “Come out when you’re ready,” and kind of tortured me in a good way. But that was obviously to get yourself to a state where you’re sobbing and snotting all over the place — it’s quite heavy. In terms of the weather and all of that, there’s a scene with Keira and I on the beach and the wind. It was our first day shooting in Wales and we were like, “We can’t shoot in these conditions. This is ridiculous. There’s hair all over the place…” and John is such a free-for-all, impulsive person, he was like, “It’s great; it’s only going to enhance it,” and actually I think the scene really works. The weather really made that scene, in a way. But we were freezing cold. [Laughs]
IH: Can you talk about working with Keira and what you would usually talk about off the set?
SM: Working with her was brilliant. She’s one of my favorite actresses, regardless of the fact that she’s a friend of mine. I think she’s hugely talented. And she’s so professional and ridiculously mature for someone her age. I’m 12 compared to her. And we’re quite nerdy. [Laughs] We talk about books and we play cards and do The Guardian crossword, and there was a lot of that. We were living together in this house in Wales that was really beautiful, and we walked around in our pajamas and went for long walks and…you know, what you talk about with any girlfriend — just what’s going on in your life… She gives me good advice and hopefully vice versa, and she’s a very loyal — a very great woman.
IH: You describe these people as living in abandon, and that would be for like 1940. But in 2009, we’d have to say they have issues. Have you ever known anyone like these people, and do you think you would be friends with them?
SM: I think everyone can relate to these people. I think the circumstances, because of the war, are unique, but I think the relationships in real life are very complex. Often, in films, they get sugar-coated… I think I have certainly met people who have destructive relationships. I’ve had friendships where there were complications in layers, and I think this is part of life. I think it’s a very honest look at human behavior, but not many films look honestly at that kind of behavior.
IH: The way you described your friendship with Keira — you said that she gives you advice. What sort of advice does she offer you?
SM: I think both of us often find ourselves in similar situations in terms of great things, and there are challenges that come with this job, and sometimes it’s just nice to have somebody who’s in a similar situation to talk to you about the things that, to other friends who have different jobs where they’re in an office would find whiney and annoying. [Laughs] Like, you’ve got a great job, it’s great, but you don’t understand! She understands and I understand, and I think we keep ourselves afloat if things happen. The press that are hard to deal with, or the awful temptations to occasionally Google yourself and just be mortified at what people can write about you… [Laughs] Don’t do it! And we’ll talk each other out of the situation, and it’s hard sometimes to not want to know what people are saying behind your back and to ignore certain things that are written, and to be resilient with that kind of journalism, and that’s one of the things that we help each other out with.
IH: Well, I know when I write the story up and I quote you as saying, “We’re actually very nerdy,” they’re going to say, “No sorry, we can’t print that,” because you can’t make stuff up.
SM: [Laughs] You see? That doesn’t sell newspapers, but it’s the truth. We swap books. She’s learning the flute at the moment. [Laughs] I’m learning the piano — quite nerdy.
IH: You’re known for having your own very distinctive sense of style, but this character isn’t exactly the most stylish. Is that something that’s fun for you to go get dressed up and forget all that…?
SM: Yeah, I think my style isn’t necessarily glam. I think I want to try to be a little bit more glam in my style, but I think putting on a costume for a film…the character really falls into place for me. It was such a specific look, I actually think it’s quite fantastic — big cardigans and the dresses and the Wellington boots is quite a great look. But I’m definitely more undone than Keira’s character in this [laughs], with my messy hair.
IH: Is fashion something that helps you with your moods?
SM: I think with any woman, if you’re feeling a bit down and you put on a great jacket or a great top, you can feel a little bit better about yourself with clothes, but I think people think I’m more fashion-y than I actually am as a person. I don’t have a stylist; I don’t plan outfits. It’s quite thrown together and I often look quite disheveled. [Laughs] But I think clothes and bright colors can definitely help a mood, the way you feel, yeah. But I actually love the clothes in this.
IH: Do you have anything to say about your line? You just had fashion shows…
SM: We did, we just had our debut fashion show at London Fashion Week, which was great. It’s really fun. It gives me an opportunity to work with my sister, which is wonderful. I don’t get to spend enough time with her, and she’s got a first in design from Saint Martins, so she’s a proper designer. When she was at Saint Martins during her clothing design, I’d get involved and say, “What about making this shorter, or this longer or taking this in here…” so it was a very organic thing to do, and obviously my involvement is really great for the label. But my passion is acting, and that’s kind of the enabler for the label, but we have a really great time doing it and I think it got a really good response.
IH: The singing, which Keira does in the movie is fantastic and it’s been getting a lot of press. Did she speak to you at all about it? Were you there when she was filming that scene?
SM: I wasn’t there when she was filming, but I remember the first read-through that she had. It got to a point in the script where it was the lines of the song and she kind of went, “Uh oh,” and we were like, “You can do it; you don’t have to do it now.” It was a read-through and she was like, “No, I’m going to do it,” and she suddenly sang. She’s got a brilliant voice — she was so nervous about it. Angelo Badalamenti did the music, and he’s just obviously a genius. She got to sing with him and rehearsed with him, and I think that was a wonderful experience by all accounts. But who knew you could be beautiful and talented and sing? It’s just even more reasons to be really furious with Keira Knightley.
IH: Lindsay Lohan had left the role. Is that why you came on?
SM: Yeah, initially Lindsay was going to be doing the film — that’s all I know — and then I was on holiday in Mexico and John phoned me up and said,”Get out of the sun,” and I was like, “I will not get out of the sun; I deserve this holiday,” and he said, “No, you’re coming back to London to be in my ’40s film; you can’t be brown.” So I got on the next plane, flew back and…I was very lucky.
IH: Had you expressed interest in it before?
SM: No. I knew, through Keira and John, that they were doing this film. I was like, “I want to be in Wales,” so I was going to go up and visit and hang out. I’m not really sure about the ins and outs, but lucky for me…
IH: You said nerdy…
SM: Oh god! [Laughs] She’s going to kill me now. She’s not a nerd. I can be. No one will believe it anyway. None of you are going to write it.
IH: Are you jonesing to see The Watchmen like everyone else?
SM: I’m not nerdy in that way. I think it will be a great. [Laughs] I know a lot of people are incredibly excited; the trailer looks great. But I’m more nerdy like I go and see the arthouse films… I think I’m tripping up here. I’m looking forward to seeing The Watchmen. [Laughs] I’m not a comic book person, is what I meant.
IH: You mentioned enjoying books with Keira. What sort of books and films have you been enjoying lately?
SM: I’m reading, at the moment, 100 Years Of Solitude, which I’m enjoying very much. I was on holiday and I was like, I don’t want anything heavy. I was about to pick up Twilight and I was like, no. So, I’ve been reading this book, which is just one of the most fantastic books I’ve ever read. I’m still keen to read Twilight; everyone’s read it, I know, and then a 12-year-old came and went, Oooh, can I read that?” and I was like, “Yes it’s not mine.” [Laughs] On The Road I reread. I’m quite into the beats and poets and Bukowski, and Ham On Rye I’ve got lined up to read next. She’s given me a book, and I wish I could remember the name, but it’s called The Journalist… and the something but it’s about journalism, which is a quite fascinating book. I’m trying to go back into some of the classics I haven’t read.
IH: How about films?
SM: I just saw this amazing film called Oh Boy last night — a Korean film. I’m just amazed by that. It was just obviously disturbing and fantastic.
IH: You’ve played counterculture characters. In the Richard Neville film [Hippie Hippie Shake], you were also in another aspect of the counterculture. I’m interested in the character, but I’m also interested in the relationship that develops, even though you’re playing different characters. Is there a certain comfort level, once you’ve worked with someone, when you get the opportunity to work with them back to back?
SM: The thing about this film is that Cillian [Murphy] and I had really, I think, only two scenes together. It was very much me, Matthew [Rhys] and Keira, and then Cillian and Keira; there was very little crossover. So although we became friends, obviously, when we were doing this film, I didn’t feel like I’d properly worked with him, but I’ve always been keen to. I think he’s such an exciting actor, but we worked very intensely on Hippie Hippie Shake and that was great too.
IH: There’s a line that I stole from somebody that “the past is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there…”
SM: I wouldn’t mind living there.
IH: Really, that era of the late ’60s was something…
SM: I think it would have been a really exciting time to live. My mother was a real ’60s baby, and all of her friends was just like, “Ah, you kids, you have no idea…” It was kind of the first time that boundaries were broken down, and I feel like a lot of what we do now is recreating what was going on then. But the youth kind of ruled, and it was a time of revolution and people were proactive, and I feel like we’re at war now, but none of us do half as much protesting, and everything is so far removed in the culture we live in with the Internet — you can sit in your room and feel like you’re a part of something. But in those days, they’re out marching…and I love the music of the time. I love the films of the time, and it’s a great time, but then I’d love to live in the ’20s. [Laughs] It’s a great world to visit through my work, but I’m also happy now.
IH: There’s a nice scene in this movie with you and Keira on the bed and Caitlin says, “Who’s going to nuture my talent?” And Keira says, “I’m going to nuture my own.” Are you a self-nurturer of your acting, or do you have someone that’s helping you with it, feeding your talent?
SM: Just from watching other actors and going back and watching films like Oh Boy, there are certain things I can do to keep me inspired. I’m not somebody who sits there and I’m not a self-nurturer. I think I’m more hard on myself than that. Maybe that’s something I should try to be better at, but I think I draw massive inspiration from art and poetry and literature and other great actors and other great performances, and I’m nutured by that.
IH: You said you were learning piano. Is there a movie you’re doing it for?
SM: No. I used to play the piano when I was younger, and I’m now going back to it, but I can’t read music so I play it by ear, so I need someone to play it first [laughs], so it’s a little complicated to do on my own. But it’s fun.
IH: Is there anything especially fun from GI Joe for you?
SM: Learning how to fight! [Laughs] A little bit of exercise, which is not so bad.
Capitol Films' 'The Edge of Love' is in theaters on June 20, 2008.