Andrea Riseborough’s Oscar Nomination Story

Watch: Trailer of Andrea Riseborough’s drama To Leslie

In March 2022, To Leslie, a new film starring beloved British film actor Andrea Riseborough, premiered at the South by Southwest Festival. The drama received good reviews, with Riseborough being singled out for particular praise for her portrayal of an alcoholic Texas woman who tries to mend her relationship with her family after wasting lottery winnings on drugs and alcohol.

The film had a limited theatrical release in the United States in October, followed by the United Kingdom in November. It’s a small movie and nobody noticed it. According to Box Office, Mojo grossed just over $27,000 (£22,000) worldwide. Avatar: The Way of Water grossed about 5,000 times more in the United States alone in its opening weekend alone.

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But people are noticing It’s Leslie now. Seemingly out of nowhere, Riseborough was shortlisted for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Very fanciful big hits like Danielle Deadwyler in Till, Margot Robbie in Babylon and Viola Davis in The Woman King failed to succeed, but Riseborough did.

How did it come about and did Riseborough actually win her first Oscar for this film?

A weaker story

Andrea Riseborough secured a surprise Oscar nomination for her role in the brutal drama To Leslie.  (eOne)

Andrea Riseborough secured a surprise Oscar nomination for her role in the brutal drama To Leslie. (eOne)

It’s not entirely fair to say It Leslie came out of nowhere. It was one of the more respected independent releases of 2022 and holds a 98% critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s a better critical hit rate than any of the top 10 Best Picture nominees – albeit based on far fewer reviews.

Riseborough has also gained recognition from award bodies. In November, she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Leading Role, and the National Board of Review chose To Leslie as one of the top 10 independent releases of the year. The film and Riseborough also won several festival awards, including the British Raindance Film Festival where To Leslie was named Best Actress and Film of the festival.

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But it’s all pretty quiet when it comes to prize hype. Riseborough got nothing when the nominations for the Golden Globes, Baftas or Screen Actors Guild Awards came in. Even among countless critics’ associations and smaller award precursors, only the Chicago Film Critics Association nominated Riseborough for Best Actress.

So for that to translate into the Oscars, something had to happen.

An extraordinary campaign

Andrea Riseborough plays an alcoholic mother in To Leslie.  (eOne)

Andrea Riseborough plays an alcoholic mother in To Leslie. (eOne)

The Oscar campaign is often seen as a black magic business. Before he was imprisoned for his horrific array of sex crimes, Harvey Weinstein was considered the master of this underbelly of awards season. He could take a well-loved but unloved movie—Shakespeare in Love, for example—and turn it into a Best Picture winner by campaigning aggressively and smearing the competition if necessary.

However, there doesn’t seem to be a Weinstein-like figure behind To Leslie. Money was scarce, and director Michael Morris told The Hollywood Reporter that the film couldn’t even afford the campaign’s publicity. He added: “We live or die depending on how people react to the film. We were so under the radar and our only strategy was to get people to watch the movie.”

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It doesn’t sound good enough until you see a list of names of people who not only saw the movie, but decided to publicly promote it. To name but a few: Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton, Cate Blanchett, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Aniston, Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Zooey Deschanel, Howard Stern, Alan Cumming, Amy Adams, Kate Winslet and Minnie Driver.

Paltrow – a friend of director Morris – was one of those who enthusiastically shared their joy of the film, writing on Instagram that “Andrea should win every award there is and all those yet to be invented.”

So it looks like Riseborough’s reward strategy has finally used the simplest tool in the book for a business like Hollywood – “it’s not about what you know, it’s who you know.”

Friends in high places

She’s a much-liked character who never really made the awards season as big a deal as it unquestionably deserves, and Morris – a feature debut but a veteran of TV shows like Better Call Saul and 13 Reasons Why – He also has a lot of famous friends. Many of them seemed happy to take only a few moments to publish a video they liked, starring a colleague whom they respect very much.

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But it’s not as healthy as it seems. A savvy Redditor at /r/OscarRace noticed earlier this month that many tweets by celebrities praising the film contained very similar text, including the viral phrase “small movie with a big heart.”

We all know this technique from the attack of almost identical tweets from Conservative MPs, whenever they respond to a government scandal, they were probably sent a sample text somewhere in a WhatsApp group.

All in all, the To Leslie nomination probably came about as a combination of many things – clever use of Hollywood relationships, WhatsApp group campaigns, and a genuine desire to support an underdog star for their bold work.

Playwright Jeremy O. Harris tweeted that Riseborough’s manager Jason Weinberg deserves a lot of credit, saying “This man was running an Oscar campaign in a group chat for a client he’d seen him cum her ass for years with little or no credit, who gave a bravura performance in a small picture and that it worked. This should be investigated.”

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Some expressed concern over the white actor’s optic of using a string of mostly white friends to secure a nomination ahead of black performers like the aforementioned Deadwyler and Davis. While this may seem like a rude critique – Riseborough didn’t “take a seat” any more than, for example, Michelle Williams or Ana De Armas – it is certainly legitimate to ask whether people of color in the industry can claim the same wave of goodwill to trigger a wave of votes cast at the last minute.

Whatever happened, Riseborough is now a real Oscar contender – albeit a very tertiary to the main race between Cate Blanchett’s daring work in Tár and Michelle Yeoh’s gonzo twist in Everything All At Once – and there are a lot more eyes on To Leslie than they were there before.

The film can be viewed in the UK through various digital platforms.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 07: Andrea Riseborough poses at a special screening of the Netflix film in New York

Andrea Riseborough poses at the New York special screening of Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical. (Bruce Glikas/WireImage)

Even those who are critical of the dynamic that led to Riseborough’s nomination have nothing negative to say about the star who has worked incredibly hard throughout her career.

In the last year alone, she has appeared in five extremely diverse films, including Amsterdam and Roald Dahl’s musical Matilda the Musical, as well as the much more serious To Leslie.

Sometimes Hollywood is just motivated to be behind something like this – a small movie with a big heart.

See: Andrea Riseborough responds to the Oscar nomination

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