Quick: Name a movie Sienna Miller has been in.
Drawing a blank? Don’t feel bad — only three (Layer Cake, Alfie, and Casanova) have been released in the U.S., and none of them have grossed more than $14 million at the box office.
Okay, now name a scandal Sienna Miller has been in. A bit easier, right? There’s the one where her fiancé, Jude Law, cheated on her with the nanny. There’s that interview she did from the set of her upcoming drama The Mysteries of Pittsburgh in which she referred to that city as ”Shitsburgh.” And there’s that supposed fit she threw after a bouncer denied her admission to a watering hole last month — that one really gets her goat. Sitting in a downtown New York café, Miller knows she’s supposed to take the high road, but she can’t help it. ”I would like to clear up that I never, ever, ever had a tantrum outside a bar, screaming ‘I am a famous actress,”’ Miller says, good-humored but clearly exasperated. ”I have 10 witnesses to vouch that I calmly left.”
Ah, the plight of a tabloid mascot. Largely because of others’ actions, Miller, 24, has become the British Lindsay Lohan, a promising young performer whose talent has been obscured by her flair for fashion and train wreck of a personal life. ”It would be nice to be respected as an actress because I take my job very seriously,” she says. ”But there isn’t a huge body of work to look at. Hopefully, as that builds up, people will start ignoring the lies.”
That could happen with the Dec. 29 release of Factory Girl, in which Miller plays Edie Sedgwick, the privileged socialite who became one of Andy Warhol’s favorite muses in the mid-’60s before developing a drug addiction that led to her death at age 28. ”I didn’t know anything about Sienna at all — it was before the whole Jude/Nannygate thing,” says Factory Girl director George Hickenlooper, who picked Miller’s head shot out of a lineup and soon learned that she and Sedgwick had some surface similarities. ”They both come from elegant backgrounds, they both have a sense of originality in terms of style, and they both have a real vulnerability.” Once she landed the part, she dug deeper than she ever had for a role. ”The more I read — and I read everything — the more I became really intrigued by her,” says Miller, who was born in New York to an American father and South African mother but grew up in London. ”I know I couldn’t have done any more. I couldn’t have learned any more, studied any more, given any more emotionally.” (Not to mention physically: To replicate Sedgwick’s scratchy, singsong voice, Miller says she ”was coughing and screaming before takes.”)
Because Factory was a low-budget indie, filming in sequence was out of the question. ”My most emotional scene was my second day. I was just terrified,” Miller recalls of Sedgwick’s final confrontation with Warhol (played by Guy Pearce). ”But it was good to feel in flux and thrown around because the one thing I really wanted to capture was that she always looked terrified no matter what. So real fear was good. There was an awful lot to do, but as an actor, I can’t imagine that it gets any better.”
It’s certainly more appealing than outrunning a horde of paparazzi. Miller says that at the height of Nannygate, she even considered abandoning acting altogether. ”I felt like, if this is the sacrifice I have to make, it can’t be worth it,” says Miller, who speaks about Law as if they’re back together (though, if you care, on this late October afternoon, her engagement ring is nowhere to be seen). ”I have to be able to go to a park and walk my dogs. I don’t want security guards. If acting meant I couldn’t leave my house without 10 men chasing me, then there’s no point. I could be equally happy knitting in the country.”
If she’s feeling better now, it’s because she has spent the past year immersed in work. Since last December, Miller has shot five films, including the two-person drama Interview with Steve Buscemi, the dark honeymoon comedy Camille with James Franco, and the fantasy Stardust with Robert De Niro. Will she finally win acclaim for her professional achievements? The answer may come in the form of award nominations or future offers. And if all goes well, Miller may experience the difference in how she’s recognized on the street. ”People say, ‘You have great style,’ or they get really personal and try to give me relationship advice, which is strange,” she says with a shrug. ”But no one really says, ‘I loved you in that film.’ That would be a refreshing change.”