“To Leslie,” the indie drama that brought Andrea Riseborough one of the biggest Oscar nominations in history, opened at the Monica Film Center in Santa Monica on October 9, where she was going back and forth after performing at an empty house for five days.
It ended its theatrical run shortly thereafter with a worldwide box office of $27,000—that’s a thousand, not millions. Marc Maron, who co-stars with Riseborough in the downbeat drama about an addict who returns to her West Texas hometown to rebuild her life, was outraged by distributor Momentum Pictures’ handling of the film, complaining on his WTF podcast. : “The damn distributor dropped the ball to facilitate something that would bring a lot more attention to the film. And Now This Movie With A 100% Rotten Tomatoes Score That Everyone Should See [has] been hampered by the people responsible for publishing it.”
But something funny happened on the way to the dark. A talented English actress who has worked with everyone from Mike Leigh to Alejandro G. Iñárritu and gained many fans and allies in the process, Riseborough somehow entered the awards season conversation. She didn’t see her face on billboards along Sunset Boulevard or in ads for your consideration in stores. There was no money for that.
But she had connections. “To Leslie” director Michael Morris knows many actors and celebrities from his long career, as does his wife, actress Mary McCormack, and they contacted almost all of them, asking their friends to see the film and, if they liked it, spread it. the word.
Charlize Theron was the first to sign up and hosted a screening of the film at the Creative Arts Agency in Century City in November. “It’s the kind of movie that stays in your mind. It stays in your bones. [It] It even stays on your skin.” Theron said, introducing “To Leslie” as a throwback to the independent films of the 1970s. Edward Norton and Jennifer Aniston lent their support that same month, opening their homes for private screenings.
Shortly after that, Riseborough met with Shelter PR, who agreed to campaign. Other than what Riseborough and Morris were willing to spend, there was no money. Riseborough and the Shelter team drew up a list of actors they could possibly recruit and, backed by McCormack and Morris’s connections, began working the phones. Over the holidays, while the rest of Hollywood was quiet and trying to navigate the film academy’s streaming platform, they built a support base that sparked when the calendar shifted to 2023.
“It went from zero to 100 faster than anything I’ve ever seen,” says a source close to the campaign. “It was a movement of support and love for a performance.”
Gwyneth Paltrow hosted a screening in early January, calling the film a “masterpiece.” Courtney Cox did the same. Voting for Oscar nominations began on January 12, and the next day, Rosanna Arquette presented “To Leslie” to a packed theater at the Directors Guild on Sunset. After the credits rolled, Riseborough, Morris, and actors Allison Janney, Maron, and Andre Royo came onstage to speak with Demi Moore. No one in the theater left.
The campaign went virtual the next day with Kate Winslet, who worked with Riseborough on the upcoming drama “Lee,” leading a question-and-answer session. “You should be up for anything,” Winslet told Riseborough. “You should be winning everything. Andrea Riseborough, I think this is the best female performance on screen I’ve ever seen.” Amy Adams led a similar event hours before voting closed last week, saying she was “happy to spread the word… about this incredible cinematic feat.”
In between, social media was inundated with praise from the likes of Susan Sarandon, Helen Hunt (“If you’re voting for performances, don’t vote until you see Andrea Riseborough”), Melanie Lynskey, Mira Sorvino, Minnie Driver and many others. to possibly mention. Cate Blanchett, who would eventually join Riseborough among the lead actress Oscar nominees, even waved at her as she accepted an honor at the Los Angeles Film Critics Dinner the weekend before the voting deadline. (Blanchett reaffirmed the endorsement the following night during the low-rated televised Critics Choice Awards.)
Given all that, can Riseborough’s nomination really be considered shocking? If you’re just going by the work itself, Winslet says, the answer is no.
“I am so charmed by her that the acting community has spoken on behalf of her phenomenal performance,” Winslet told me Tuesday. “Actually, no matter how many voices have been singing her praises in recent weeks, those voices didn’t give that performance. She did.”
“This nomination was hard for her to win,” Winslet continued. “She has worked and worked and toiled for years. None of it is easy. This nomination is profoundly and widely deserved.”
That said, Riseborough herself was “astonished” and told Deadline that “it was so hard to believe it could ever happen because we hadn’t really been in the running for anything else.” Even though we had a lot of support, the idea that it could actually happen seemed a long way off.”
How much support did she need? The acting branch of the academy has 1,336 members, which means that if every one of them were to vote, Riseborough would require around 200 citations. But in the Oscars’ preferential voting system, where members rank their choices, a passionate core of first-place votes can catapult a nominee further up the race. I’m no math expert, but given the low visibility of “To Leslie”, Riseborough must have sat on a lot of ballots.
Riseborough’s staggering success could prompt every actor in Hollywood to call their managers next year, hounding them for a similar word-of-mouth campaign. “It’s probably just limited to the actors,” says a veteran awards consultant. “It would be less likely that such a grassroots campaign would take place within other branches. I can’t imagine directors being asked to jump on a bandwagon to aggressively lobby for another director, or cinematographers, or producers, who are competing with each other. You would have to believe that there is a disinterest in Hollywood for that.”
In the immediate aftermath of her nomination, there were rumors that Riseborough’s campaign may have circumvented film academy regulations, which specify and limit the type of contact allowed to reach voters. Others took to social media, expressing outrage that no black women were nominated for lead actress, despite powerful performances from heralded nominees Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”) and Viola Davis (“The Woman King”).
But Riseborough did not replace either woman. She earned the nomination for her by delivering an astonishing, uncompromising performance that caught a wave of love. Who knows? She may well have come third or fourth in the voting. The academy doesn’t publish those numbers, so we’ll never know.
Riseborough’s campaign understands the speculation about how he got a nomination. (“They have a right to,” says a rep.) But now they’ve moved on to the next chapter: Getting Riseborough to the Lead Actress Oscar.
“There’s really no time to enjoy this,” the representative said. “We have more work to do.”