How a starry social media campaign helped Andrea Riseborough land a surprise Oscar nomination

What do Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, Mia Farrow, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Amy Adams, Sarah Paulson, Melanie Lynskey, Susan Sarandon, Helen Hunt, Tan France, Rosie O'Donnell, Howard Stern, and Jane Fonda have in common? They're all huge fans of Andrea Riseborough's Oscar-nominated performance in To Leslie.

You'd be forgiven if you hadn't heard of To Leslie until recently. Michael Morris' low-budget indie flew way under the radar, starring Riseborough as an alcoholic Texas woman who won the lottery years ago, only to squander her winnings. The film premiered last year to little fanfare, earning only about $27,000 at the box office. But in recent weeks, To Leslie has become the talk of Hollywood, as starry A-listers like Paltrow, Norton, and Theron have all sung its praises. That last-minute momentum helped propel Riseborough to her first-ever Oscar nomination.

Speaking to EW just hours after her nomination, Riseborough opened up about the "surreal" groundswell of support and her surprise at being nominated.

"It really has been baffling," Riseborough told EW. "It's felt so warm and heartening. I have felt so supported. There's nothing more rewarding than being recognized by your community and inside of your industry. I'm sure that's not exclusive to my industry, but we all mark our achievements in comparison to those we aspire to be like. So when there's feedback that a film's been enjoyed by those people who do the same job as you do, it's really rewarding — and a little unbelievable."

TO LESLIE, Andrea Riseborough
TO LESLIE, Andrea Riseborough

Everett Collection Andrea Riseborough in 'To Leslie'

The 41-year-old British actress has built a long career, including roles in projects like Birdman, Mandy, Black Mirror, and Battle of the Sexes. Just this year, she also starred in David O. Russell's Amsterdam and Netflix's Matilda the Musical. But it's her emotional performance in To Leslie that's captured Hollywood's attention. The film is the directorial debut of Morris, a TV veteran known for helming episodes of Better Call Saul, 13 Reasons Why, and Bloodline. Riseborough stars as the titular Leslie, and the film follows her as she struggles to reconnect with her son and navigate the ups and downs of addiction.

"I don't think I've ever been part of a film that has resonated with so many viewers," Riseborough says. "What I mean by that is that often with past films, there are millions of people we don't meet who've been touched by that film. But this film is so personal for so many people, and because we've been sharing it in a smaller environment, I've gotten to meet lots of the audience members afterwards."

She adds, "The character represents somebody that we have all experienced, or she represents us. She's mired in shame and some self-pity, and we all can get to that place. But she has so much love for her child, and in so many ways, she's vivacious and magnetic and a really compelling character. She's somebody you want to be around but who can ultimately break you if you get too close."

The Oscars often reward little-seen indies and powerhouse performances, but part of what makes Riseborough's, um, rise so unusual is how it seemingly came out of nowhere. Oscar campaigns are a whole business: Award season can stretch for months, and for a film to be a serious contender, it often requires expensive screenings, FYC ads, and buzzy media appearances. To Leslie had none of those things — but it did have a slew of gushing social media posts and celebrity-hosted screenings. Norton, for example, said Riseborough's performance "knocked me sideways," while Paltrow said the film was"a masterpiece" and called for Riseborough to "win every award there is and all the ones that haven't been invented yet."

Even Blanchett — who's arguably the Best Actress frontrunner for her role in Tár — is celebrating To Leslie. In her recent Critics' Choice Award acceptance speech, Blanchett used her time to shout out Riseborough.

Riseborough herself says the full wave of support didn't hit her until the night before the Oscar nominations. She's currently in London prepping for an upcoming role in HBO's The Palace, a Stephen Frears miniseries starring Kate Winslet. (Winslet herself recently moderated a Q&A for To Leslie, calling Riseborough's turn "one of the greatest performances I have ever seen in my life.") On Monday, Riseborough attended a panel discussion, and the moderating journalist collected screenshots of the many celebrities singing her praises.

"I'm not on social media, so that was the first time I'd really absorbed it in that way," Riseborough explains. "Visually, it's different, isn't it? You hear that there's great support, or you have people you've worked with who are reaching out to you to offer words about the work. But he created this slideshow of the groundswell that there was, which made me a bit shaky."

"It was overwhelming, and I still feel a huge amount of dissociation," she adds with a laugh. "I feel like I'm watching it in a newsreel in my mind or something."

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