CASANOVA - Q&A with Sienna Miller
It is, says Sienna Miller with a huge smile, a dream job. Working for one of her cinematic heroes on CASANOVA in Venice and playing a character, Francesca, who is "just fantastic."
The delightful Miss Miller is unabashed in her enthusiasm. And why not? At 23 she is clearly enjoying herself and proving too, that's she's got the talent to match the belief that has been shown in her by some top filmmakers including Lasse Hallstrom on Casanova who says, quite simply: "She's a film star, make no mistake. And a pleasure to work with."
So far, Miller has played a small but undoubtedly eye catching role in the British crime movie LAYER CAKE, opposite Daniel Craig, and won acclaim for her performance as a needy, insecure young American woman who falls prey to the predatory ALFIE (Jude Law) in Charles Shyer's remake of the sixties classic. And if that wasn't enough, she has also recently made her West End stage debut in As You Like It at the Wyndham Theatre.
But playing the feisty Francesca opposite Heath Ledger in the title role of Casanova has proved to be one of the most vivid experiences of her career so far.
"It's fantastic. Lasse is one of my heroes and he made one of the best films I've ever seen - MY LIFE AS A DOG," she says. "It's one of my top five films of all time. And you can tell by his films that he is a great guy -and he is. He is just very generous and very calm and very focused and knows exactly what he wants. So it's been a great experience."
Filming on location in Venice has proved a challenge, but a rewarding one. "Venice which is like Disneyland for adults," she notes. "And you've got hordes of people coming in and out.
"I would think logistically if you are a producer it has to be your nightmare working here. But if you ever needed something to get you into a role this would be it. I've loved shooting here even though there have been elements of it that are really tricky - it floods a lot for a start."
Sienna has also enjoyed her working relationship with her leading man, Heath Ledger. The two of them became the production's on set jokers. "Heath is such a great guy, he is the most fantastically laid back fun person to work with on set," she says. "He is completely stupid on set which I love."
Sienna was born in New York - she has an English mother and an American father - but grew up in London and considers herself English. She attended Heathfield School in Berkshire by which time she already had the acting bug. After leaving she studied, briefly, at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York before launching her career, first with an off Broadway play, Independence.
Since then she's worked on the BBC television series BEDTIME, and the Paramount TV show, KEEN EDDIE before breaking into film.
CASANOVA is a big film and a great role. How did you get the part?
It's kind of one of those things. They look everywhere - London and New York and LA and your agent, if they are good, puts you up and you read the script. And it's the same process for me at the moment where if I read something and I love it, I start begging (laughs). And so I did a preliminary audition and then screen tested with Heath (Ledger) in LA and then went through the whole process of 'do they need a name?' and then they went with me, which was great.
Were there some big names in the frame?
There were a few names but I tend not to get involved in that side of it. Once you have done the auditions that's kind of your job done, if you see what I mean, and it's up to whoever from that point. But yeah, I was thrilled. I really, really wanted this part.
Had you done ALFIE at that point?
Yes, I had done ALFIE. Lasse went to the editing room and saw a couple of scenes from ALFIE and spoke to Charles Shyer, who directed it. So I think they tend to research and find out if you are nightmare and refuse to get up (laughs) in the mornings.
Are you a nightmare?
(Laughs). No! I'm just horrible in the mornings.
So with ALFIE and CASANOVA, you've been in two films playing opposite the ladykiller characters. Are you going to be typecast as the girl who can tame the men?
Well I didn't really in ALFIE, did I! I tried to - my poor character tried to, anyway. But no, this is completely different. In terms of roles, one was completely extrovert and Francesca in Casanova is highly intelligent and keeps her corset tightly shut which is good for all those people who are saying I have a talent for taking my kit off. (Laughs). So yeah, it's great to be able to do something that is so different.
Is she a comedic character?
No. I think probably there is an element when you see it in terms of his reaction and how desperately he wants her. No, she is really, really tough. She is an early feminist and she is not seduced by this man who's the best lover in the world, she just doesn't buy it. She is bright and bold and outspoken and kind of a non-conformist. The film is a farcical romp set in this lovely era. It's flamboyant and it's Venice and decadent and sumptuous and looks beautiful but actually balanced with this comedy is my character who is actually caught in this era where a lot of women are happy to be pretty and sit there in their corsets and bat their eyelids - and she is desperately fighting that. So she is the serious one in the script, because she is going through these real inner dilemmas about being a woman. She dresses up as a man, she writes under the alias of a man, she's doesn't buy it - which is great for an actress to play.
It sounds a little like it might have the same mood as SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE...
Yes, but I think it's probably more slapstick and more farcical than that was. Similar in the way she is a heroine and I dress up in a man. I suppose there are similarities.
You've been here filming in Venice whilst LAYER CAKE and ALFIE were released back home in the UK. Was it nice to be here working or would you have preferred to be at home?
Oh it's been so nice being here because it's great just to focus on the work. I think the waiting on set and the publicity are kind of the things you get paid to do - the acting is great and some of the publicity can be great fun. But avoiding that, particularly in England, is fine by me (laughs). I hear about the odd thing but I haven't read any reviews for ALFIE or LAYER CAKE. I don't know whether that's because I'm away or that I'm terrified of reading them and letting them affect me, you know only the negative. I just think I don't want to get into that trap of believing them because the work was what it was all about and the experience that you take from it and what you learn from it, that's what it should be about. And especially nowadays when a lot of the time making films is more about making money I'm kind of sentimental and old fashioned in the way that I view it which is that it was about the experience, the challenge, what I learnt and, who I met.
Do you think you get that attitude from your parents? Didn't your mother go to drama school?
She did, she went there for six months after she had us, out of curiosity and she is quite adventurous in that way. But none of them were really involved in that industry. I don't know why it is. I think just as a person I aspire to the old fashioned things and I get slightly depressed by what it's about nowadays. By so many crap films that are made solely for profit.
Would you like to have come into the industry in another generation maybe?
I haven't thought about that because it's not an option (laughs). And I'm loving the experience now. I know the way I like to do it and the way I don't. And I'm very happy in this era doing what I'm doing.
What about all the tabloid attention that you have been getting, particularly back in the UK?
Don't get me on to that! (Laughs). You have to accept it and you have to be gracious about it but of course I would certainly rather it wasn't there - be it good or bad. And I know I could have had it a lot worse than I have had it.
Have they been hounding you here in Venice at all?
A little bit at the beginning. But there are only so many photos of me in a brown curly wig that they want and they've done that now and gone. So a little bit but nothing like in London which is nice. I struggle with it, I'd be lying if I said I didn't. It's a level of invasion which happened to me so quickly and not because of work or anything that I felt had justified that sort of interest. You know, if I'm wearing a nice bag or I'm walking my dogs with my boyfriend, it's strange, but you adapt to it. But my life hasn't changed and I haven't changed, my friends haven't changed and again, you don't read it and pretend it's not really happening.
You've got all this pressure and attention so quickly...
Yes, and I certainly felt more of a pressure to be alright as an actress than I would have done had this been my first film and there hadn't been any attention before it. But you know that is just the way it happened, that's the way it goes and I could sit and wish things had been different but over the last year I've had a great time, I had a great time making a film and I have a great relationship and wouldn't change anything for the world. But it is tough at times.
But do you feel better now that there some of your work out there, so perhaps some of the focus might shift to that?
Yes, I do. Certainly I feel more confident. And also doing this film with ALFIE being released whilst I'm away, and doing a project like this that I'm really proud to be involved in. That's great because the focus can't be solely on what you are wearing or your relationship.
What's it like being on location here in Venice?
Well, you're in Venice which is like Disneyland for adults. And you've got hordes of people coming in and out. I mean, I would think logistically if you are a producer it has to be your nightmare working here. But I haven't been too affected from my point of view for all of that stuff. And it's so fantastic to be shooting in a place where a film is set. If ever you needed something to get you into a role this would be it. I've loved shooting here even though there have been elements of it that are really tricky - it floods a lot for a start. And you are thigh deep in water getting to your boat in the morning and then there's the problem of getting around on boats, you know, it's not like having a car standing by. But it is an amazing experience and it will really register on the screen - I think Lasse actually said that he wouldn't do it unless it was entirely shot here. You could have done a lot of studio stuff, but you just get so much, an essence, a wonderful vibe from actually being here. And such a sense of a place, I think it's impossible to recreate the light anywhere else.
Had you been here before?
No, but I'm practically Venetian now (laughs). I've been here for what feels like a long time..
How's your Italian?
Terrible. I can say 'a glass of white wine please.' I speak Italian menu and that's about it. It's not good. I spoke a little Spanish before and for some reason that's hindered my Italian. It's not good.
Can you talk about working with Heath Ledger, Was he an actor that was on your radar?
I'd seen some of his films and the one thing I remember thinking that he was really brilliant in was MONSTER'S BALL. And it was a really small role but I just remember when I watched it that he was captivating and interesting. And he is such a great guy, he is the most fantastically laid back fun person to work with on set. He is completely stupid on set which I love (laughs). We play this game of stuffing grapes into our mouths. I've got eight and a half grapes and that's the record (laughs). Eight and a half and walk up to the DP and say (mumbles) 'can we shoot around this?' So we have hours of fun. But he's silly like me and we have a complete giggle. As an actor I think he is really brave and he has a lot of work about to come out that I think will really show his range. He is perfect for the role. To be honest, I hadn't seen a lot of what he had done before but as soon as I met him I liked him and I knew he was perfect for the role.
When you are about to meet somebody like Jude Law for ALFIE or Heath Ledger with CASANOVA, do you do any research about their previous films?
I think at the stage I'm at, I'm so desperate to work (laughs) that I wouldn't start researching anyone. With Jude I'd seen a lot more of his films than Heath, just because he is really big there (in the UK) and I'd seen a lot of his stuff. I'd seen Heath in A KNIGHT'S TALE but I wasn't as familiar (with his work). But now I get to see him working every day and he's just great. But I'm not a big people researcher. I think you get a sense from meeting people as much as from the work they've done. And actually some people make horrible films and you meet them and think 'I know you can do it, I know you are fantastic, you've got something...' I'm sure that will happen and then you go with your instinct as opposed to what they have done. But I would have jumped off a cliff to work with Lasse. I've watched pretty much all of his films and working with him cements pretty much what I thought before - the man's a genius.
Has he lived up to your expectations?
Oh yes. Working with him I've no idea what he is doing, which I love. He directs us, obviously, and he has a very clear idea. As far as I'm concerned and I haven't spoken to him about this, he has this entire film cut, finished, credits, everything in his head. He's seen it. So he is shooting only what he is going to cut, which is extraordinary and you just kind of sit back and watch this man who you trust implicitly. And I think he trusts you. The casting process was really long for me on this and I think the reason was that he just wants to make sure you are perfect for the part so when it comes to shooting it's like 'right it's yours, you can't do any wrong, you are this person.' and occasionally he was say 'bring it down, bring it up' give you little notes, but he trusts you and you him, and there's this dynamic of respect. I've no idea of what this film is going to be like, I haven't seen any dailies, any rushes, we kind of all jumped, but I know it's going to be fantastic. You watch him and he is so calm and centred and still and you know there is so much going on in there.
What have you been filming today?
This is the big Palace Ball which is very grand. And that's the only time I really dress up, because she's not really into that kind of thing. I dress up as a boy - oh God, I hope that's alright (laughs) to tell you. We did this scene the other day when I dress up as this man and pretending to be a lawyer to get Heath off death row. And they did a two shot at one point and there is this rather small thin man- kind of boy, 12 year old - and it's me! (Laughs). And there's Heath who is six foot two and I'm going (deep voice) 'Right, well, let's see...' And I'm thinking 'what have I done? Everyone is going to laugh!' But I've been able to do lots of different stuff - I've ridden horses, I've dressed up as a boy, it's a dream job. It's pretty extraordinary and diverse.
The following interview with Sienna Miller took place during the Venice Film Festival in September 2005 where Casanova played out of competition.
How are you enjoying the film festival and in particular the reception for CASANOVA?
It's good. It's intense. But last night's premier was so lovely and I'm so proud to be a part of this film with Lasse and Heath and everyone. And just being back in Venice is heavenly.
What was it that you liked so much about this film?
Well, initially a brilliant script. I think that era in Venice was so decadent and debauched, the wonderful clothes and the legend of this romantic Lethargic was just very appealing.
And it's a role where you get to do a lot of different things...
Yes, it is. And for a woman my age you don't very often see a part that is that meaty. So having read a lot of scripts where they want you to just be 'the girl' to something like this where she is an early feminist, dresses up as a man, she's outspoken, strong, fierce, feisty and sword fighting, it's a dream role.
Was it also daunting?
Well, I felt like I had to do it justice because it was such a brilliant role. And it was daunting but as soon as I got here with Lasse all of that went away because Lasse's great gift is creating a set that is so harmonious and so easy and any intimidation just evaporated.
And how did you approach working with Heath Ledger?
Eventually just naturally evolved. I think we were both on the same page in terms of what we wanted the relationship to be. And there's a lot that goes on that you can control, like if you have chemistry or if you don't. We became very good friends and I think that helped and I trusted him as an actor and he was great to work with.
What is your view on Casanova as a real person?
I kind of love him. I think whereas he can sometimes be perceived as this Lothario who sleeps with all these women, he loved women, he worshipped women and I think he made them feel loved and he made them feel special. So it's not like he was with them and left and they felt used. I think it was a fulfilling experience for both sides, so I think he is fantastic.
Tell us about the character. She's like an early feminist.
Well she is living in this very repressed society, strapped into these corsets - which kill by the way - and there's a line in the film which says 'a woman's place is in the hearth and in the bed.' and she's up against a lot and fighting against it. Most women are content to sit there and flick a fan and say 'well this is how to behave.' but she is far too intelligent to do that. She wants to be educated, she wants to go to university and her demands aren't feminist in any sort of radical way. I mean, damn right, she should be able to be allowed to do these things. But she is in a very repressed society and so she has to dress up as a man to get inside the university.
Could you find parts of her character that you could relate to?
I think when you play a character you have to be able to relate to certain aspects. I think I'm more stubborn than she is (laughs) and not nearly as intelligent. I aspire to be more like her because she is so outspoken and unattached to what people think. She's a great woman, but I'm not as bold and a bit more vulnerable.
Do you think that the figure of Casanova means something today?
I think women have evolved to a place where you get female Casanovas and male Casanovas. But I just think it's the charm that is interesting about him, not the fact that he slept with a lot of women. And our film is more about this man and less about his conquests although I would love to see a film about Casanova and what he did this is more about the spirit of Venice and the era. It's just a different take and it's not pretending to be anything else but an honest romp. I think Heath has created a character that is vulnerable and frail and sexy and amusing and it's all done with a wink and a nudge. And I loved that.
You've been performing in As You Like It in the West End recently. How has that been?
It's fantastic. It's a completely different medium and it's like en endurance test and you are climbing this mountain. We had our hundredth show and that means I've done 300 hours of Shakespeare which is full on. And you do it fifteen times and you are forced to start changing it otherwise you would go demented because you are doing the same thing night after night. So what you learn is to find different things about the character to change things and in front of a live audience it's a terrifying thing to do but you do it and then you start changing relationships with each other. And it's just given me a different approach to how I can do roles in the future - I've learnt a lot but it's great. A live audience and when it goes well it's just fantastic.
What will you do when the play finishes?
Take a long break. Disappear for a month or something. I need to get away for a little bit because it's been a very intense couple of months in terms of press and paparazzi and all of those nasty things. So a holiday and then there are a couple of film projects which I'm deciding upon.
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