How Andrea Riseborough's last-minute Oscar campaign for To Leslie cinched her a nomination

Andrea Riseborough
Andrea Riseborough

Of all the surprises that happened with this year’s Oscar nominations, one of the buzzier ones is the Best Actress nomination for Andrea Riseborough. Her eleventh-hour, word-of-mouth Oscar campaign for her performance in Michael Morris’ indie drama To Leslie was a success, with her name sitting amongst fellow nominees Cate Blanchett, Michelle Yeoh, Michelle Williams, and Ana de Armas.

“I’m astounded,” Riseborough tells Deadline. “It’s such an unexpected ray of light. It was so hard to believe it might ever happen because we really hadn’t been in the running for anything else. Even though we had a lot of support, the idea it might actually happen seemed so far away.”

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To Leslie quietly debuted at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival in March, with only $27,000 grossed over its subsequent theatrical release.

Riseborough’s backing by the powerful CAA finally came into play in November, when she and Morris turned to their famous friends to help spread the word with screenings and a word-of-mouth FYC campaign.

Charlize Theron hosted a screening at CAA, followed by screenings hosted by Gwyneth Paltrow, Courteney Cox, Edward Norton, Jennifer Aniston, and Minnie Driver. Fellow actors (mostly women) such as Kate Winslet, Melanie Lynsky, Demi Moore, Jane Fonda, Naomi Watts, Laura Dern, and Frances Fisher began to come out of the woodwork to praise Riseborough’s performance as a single mother living in West Texas who squanders her lottery winnings.

“I was just struck by its authenticity. I felt like I was watching a movie from the ’70s, a time when so many of my favorite films were made. Coming Home, Tender Mercies, Badlands. Movies about the human experience. Made without judgment, or commentary, just that magic of watching people behave,” actor Sarah Paulson told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this month. “Andrea’s performance affected me profoundly; achingly human and without vanity—and I do not mean ‘vanity’ in terms of appearance, I mean ‘without awareness of how one is perceived or how one will be perceived’—just total embodiment. Immersion. Movies like this, made for little money, that are this powerful and true, should be given the same attention and consideration as those that have huge studios and therefore budgets behind them.”

Ultimately, the campaign worked. Riseborough cinched a nomination, her first like many other nominees this year.

“You always think, ‘If we’ve done a good enough job it will break through the noise,’ but often it’s just impossible to compete with millions of dollars of advertising,” Riseborough says. “Every year, for some reason, there are spotlights shining brighter in some places than in others, and maybe it is just all to do with money, though I try not to be cynical in that way. It has been special to feel so supported by the community—especially by actors—and to feel like the work has broken through that. It’s really not something I’ve ever experienced before.”

Riseborough’s no stranger to giving gripping, well-executed performances, seen in Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor or Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman. She is not a nobody actor without a full body of work. She’s been waiting in the wings for years now, and hopefully, this nomination means we’ll see more center-stage performances from her.

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