Andrea Riseborough Has a Hidden Agenda

“I really do wish sometimes that I could do all of this a different way,” Andrea Riseborough said. “But I suppose I just do it the way that I do it. And there are consequences.”

She paused then, pressing her lips into a thin smile. “That all sounds a bit dramatic,” she added.

This was on an afternoon in early March, and Riseborough, 42, a metamorphic actress with a worrying sense of commitment, was seated at a West Village cafe, a basket of vinegar-doused French fries in front of her. She is often unrecognizable from one project to the next, a combination of makeup, hairstyle (what Meryl Streep is to accents, Riseborough is to coiffure) and marrow-deep transformation. Here, offscreen, she wore a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt under a busy leather jacket. Her hair, still growing out from the dismal pixie cut she got for the HBO series “The Regime,” was pulled back with an elastic.

In person, she is a particular mix of gravity and nonchalance. She knows that she has a reputation for seriousness, which she rejects. “It would be pretty strange to apologize for being serious when you’re giggling so much,” she said. But I rarely heard her laugh. She considered each question carefully and her responses were often philosophical rather than personal. “People,” she might say in place of “I.” Or “most people.” Or “everyone.” Her face, at rest and free of makeup, isn’t especially restful. There is a watchfulness to her, a sense of thoughts tumbling behind those eyes.

In her two decades in the business, goaded by a tireless work ethic that sometimes saw her completing as many as five projects per year, she has amassed credits across stage, film and television. It can be hard to find a through-line among those enterprises, mainstream and independent, comedy and tragedy and horror.

In ”The Regime,” Riseborough, left, plays palace master for a despot, played by Kate Winslet.Credit…Miya Mizuno/HBO

In 2022, for example, she starred in the sex-addled queer musical “Please Baby Please,” produced by her production company; the cockeyed interwar drama “Amsterdam”; the boisterous children’s film “Matilda: the Musical”; the bleak Scandinavian thriller “What Remains”; and the wrenching Texas-set indie, “To Leslie,” for which Riseborough received her first Academy Award nomination. (That nomination was complicated by perceived campaigning irregularities, though the Academy ultimately concluded that no guidelines had been violated.) Try to connect those dots.

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