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Actress Andrea Riseborough on her new movie, "To Leslie"


We sometimes see lottery winners hoisting a big check on the local news.


SEWELL WHITNEY: (As newscaster) Leslie, now does it feel to win such a life-changing sum of money?

ANDREA RISEBOROUGH: (As Leslie) Oh, well, I feel a hell of a lot better than yesterday.

PFEIFFER: But we rarely find out what happens to them after that. The new movie, "To Leslie," is about a single mom in West Texas years after she buys a lotto ticket worth $190,000. She quickly squanders her winnings and loses family and friends along the way. The film follows her battle with alcoholism, her relationship struggles and her attempts to redeem herself.

The star of "To Leslie," Andrea Riseborough, is with us to talk about what it was like to play this role. Andrea, welcome.

RISEBOROUGH: Oh, hi. Hello. Thanks for having me.

PFEIFFER: This feels like an odd thing to tell you right off the bat, but you play a really excellent drunk, and that is not easy to do in a convincing way. But you capture the range of emotions that Leslie can go through when she's drinking, from angry to flirty to despondent to raging. And I wondered what your mindset was during those scenes that allowed you to make them seem so authentic.

RISEBOROUGH: I think for Leslie, actually, those moments are the ones of escape. It's the sort of waking hours of sobriety when the vast spectrum of guilt and shame, you know, a bunch of horrible, horrible feelings come in, which is kind of what keeps her trapped in this spiral that she's in. And so when Leslie sort of gets to that place and leaves her body, she can be desperately unhappy as well, but for the most part, it's never satiating, drinking. She feels before she's about to do it like she's going to soar every time. And the disappointment - everything comes crashing down.

PFEIFFER: She thinks the alcohol will make her soar, that will fix everything. Is that what you mean?

RISEBOROUGH: No, I don't even think she thinks that. It's just a hope. When you're faced with the reality of your own life and actually the emptiness and the hopelessness is so vast, the idea that something may quell that, even momentarily, is magical. And there are so many beautiful, funny, spicy parts of Leslie's personality...

PFEIFFER: That's true.

RISEBOROUGH: ...That are able to, you know, shine when she's relaxed in that way. And so in a sense, she's become her own demon because she's, you know, enmeshed with her own alcoholism.

PFEIFFER: Speaking of the beautiful, funny, spicy parts of Leslie, as you put it so well, we heard that clip of Leslie whooping and hollering and celebrating that she won all the money. That's how the movie opens. But soon after, she is literally on a curb, thrown out of a motel she'd been living in. So we see her defiant and aggressive and sometimes funny, other times depressed and defeated. You had to play many different versions of Leslie. Did you think of yourself as playing a single character or multiple characters?

RISEBOROUGH: A single character, of course. I think often in cinema, the breadth of the human experience is so reduced. I think, actually, humans are extraordinary, all of them. And we do very odd things. We're deeply inconsistent. That's perhaps our only consistency. So I very much saw her - see her as, you know, one person. But I think in the life of one person - if you yourself think about Sacha, like, 10 years before now, it can feel like a completely different person.

I'm really, really interested in embracing all the different parts of a human being and not reducing that one human being to their addiction, their gender, sexual preferences, whatever it is that is reductive, but rather kind of exploring. I hope it's a bit more of an accurate depiction of humanity.

PFEIFFER: Let's hear part of a scene involving Leslie and her son, James. This is as he's let her live with him for a while, with great reservations. And it doesn't go well.


RISEBOROUGH: (As Leslie) Hey. Hey.

OWEN TEAGUE: (As James) What did I say? No drinking.

RISEBOROUGH: (As Leslie) I'm your mother. You cannot talk to me...

TEAGUE: (As James) Mother?

RISEBOROUGH: (As Leslie) ...This way, James.

TEAGUE: (As James) Mother?

RISEBOROUGH: (As Leslie) Yes, your mama. Stop it.

TEAGUE: (As James) You're a drunk.

RISEBOROUGH: (As Leslie) I am sick.

PFEIFFER: Andrea, some of the reviews of this movie so far have credited it for a really nuanced look at addiction. Did this affect your own understanding of what it's like to be a person with a substance use disorder or a person who's a substance abuser in any way?

RISEBOROUGH: It's a real leveler, sort of studying human beings. I've said this before in relationship to Leslie, but I think that but for the grace of God go I sort of thing, where none of us can choose where we're born in the world, geographically or economically or, you know - it's such a roulette wheel. There are those of us who get so horribly forgotten by society.

And then there are those of us who have an opportunity like Leslie has. Leslie doesn't have the tools to invest money. She doesn't know - she's - there's nobody in Leslie's life that may help her make her money work for her, so to speak. It's a huge responsibility. She's also so desperate to be accepted.

PFEIFFER: And you're right, she does have a pretty limited support network to get better - or she's burned that support network.

RISEBOROUGH: It's been burned. And - but it also started off with huge generosity because that's how she tries to garner that acceptance, is by buying everybody in the bar a drink, you know? And everybody in the bar is everyone in her community.


RISEBOROUGH: They've all been generous with her. She's been generous with them. But she's also quite firmly lodged in the position of victim, internally.

PFEIFFER: Marc Maron has a cute, charming role in this movie. He plays someone who comes into Leslie's life when she basically has nobody left. And at first, he shoos her off like shooing away a vagrant, basically. But let's hear part of a scene of what happens next.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Did you just offer her a job?

MARC MARON: (As Sweeney) I don't know what's wrong with me, man.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) But look, you better go back out there and tell her no.

MARON: (As Sweeney) You go tell her.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Damn it, Sweeney. Where's she going to sleep?

MARON: (As Sweeney) In my room?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Well, where are you going to sleep?

MARON: (As Sweeney) In your room?

PFEIFFER: Marc is thinking, what have I done? In real life, Marc Maron has been very open about his own struggles with alcohol and drug use, so there's a personal layer to this. What was it like working with him on this movie?

RISEBOROUGH: It was wonderful. We felt like a team, which is as much as you can hope for. It's such a strange thing to play two completely different people who are slowly, like, does Bambi-ing toward each other, to try and (inaudible) intimacy, you know, again, having been kind of bereft and washed up by life. What Marc brings to his character is that little piece of us that even though we know we can't quite do it, wants this time to be able to fix the next partner, you know? And he realizes that he can't do that with Leslie. But it's actually really beautiful how far they're able to go together as really more than anything, I think, as friends.

PFEIFFER: Yeah, he accepts her with all her flaws.

RISEBOROUGH: He does. But he also, you know, tells her the truth and sets quite a few needed boundaries...

PFEIFFER: Yeah, that's true.

RISEBOROUGH: ...And tells her to stop being a child because it's not helping her, and she knows that. And she has a child. And her own child is parenting her. And she's so lost in that dynamic. How wonderful that humans are able to come to a place having felt so isolated and lonely where there's a sort of rebirth and excitement about life again, about the most simple things. I think the most important thing, which is what the film is about - you know, a healthy connection with others.

PFEIFFER: Andrea Riseborough stars in "To Leslie." It's in theaters and on demand now. Andrea, thank you.

RISEBOROUGH: Thank you very much, Sacha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.