Whether she’s in a sci fi fantasy, playing Margaret Thatcher or Wallis Simpson or a modern-day journalist scrambling for a story, Andrea Riseborough is always searching for what’s real.
In the wrenching drama Disconnect, which opens Friday, Riseborough plays an ambitious television reporter working on a piece about an older teen, Kyle ( Max Thieriot), who’s part of an online sex ring. She’s drawn to help him but also hopes the story will attract attention from a national network and earn her a better job.
The plot is one of three that make up the film, which also stars Jason Bateman as a distracted father and Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton as a couple reeling in the wake of their baby’s death.
Riseborough’s character, Nina, was originally conceived as a man, and like all the characters in Disconnect, she’s multi-faceted, her negative qualities on display for all to see.
That complexity drew Riseborough, 31, to the role.
“You saw all the less appealing sides as much as her tenacity and drive and ambition,” she says. “She felt like a real person.”
As an actor, Riseborough says, she seeks “the human quality in each character, rather than being able to associate only with the more redeeming features. Nina’s been in a man’s world. ... She’s come up against it for so many years it’s driven her to be ruthless but also very savvy and quick thinking. ... This boy is the first person in many years to force her to be present in her own life, and she admires him for his freedom of spirit. She cares for him and she’s attracted to him, even though it’s totally inappropriate.
“The message of the film is about reconnecting; there have been such emotional disconnects in all of the characters’ relationships, and technology is the symptom of the problem but not the root of the problem. The characters, including Nina, are finding it difficult to engage in life, and it’s so much easier for us to remain as islands in order to maintain an even keel.”
Sharing scenes with Thieriot ( The House at the End of the Street, TV’s Bates Motel) was a delight, she says.
“It was wonderful working with Max. Both on and off screen we had an electric, awkward relationship. We had great chemistry, and he’s such a sweetheart. He’s also really playful and charismatic. I could be sucked into Max the way Nina is sucked into Kyle.”
Riseborough also appears in the sci fi spectacle Oblivion with Tom Cruise, which opens Friday. She has played several real-life characters, including Wallis Simpson in Madonna’s W.E. and the late prime minister in Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley.
There are differences between portraying a person who actually lived and one who rises from a writer’s imagination, she says.
“When you play someone who is a creation, there’s a liberation. There are so many possibilities,” she says. “But playing someone who existed, it’s almost like a tantalizing goose chase, to get inside of who they might have been, not how we perceived them publically. ... With Margaret Thatcher, I didn’t necessarily agree with her politics, but I ended up understanding why she was the way she was.”
Whatever sort of character she’s playing, Riseborough seeks the same thing, she says.
“The thing you’re looking for is the truth. You have to create reality.”